It was so good to be back at my own little church today to sing, to pray and to study with my church family. It is always so sweet to return after time away from them.
My pastor was continuing our study through the book of Acts and today we were going through Acts 15:6-12 (saving the rest of this section for next week). It’s a historical passage but with pertinent information about the issue of salvation. This post stemmed from the message my pastor preached this morning.
Acts 15:6-21 (ESV):
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
This chapter shows that there was a dispute over whether Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians could be saved without being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses. Although the context is specifically whether Gentiles have to adopt Jewish practices in order to be saved, the broader matter is a question that is relevant for all of time: how are people saved? Is it grace + something else? Or simply grace?
As my pastor noted as we went though the passage, they convened a council and ultimately, Peter, Paul and Barnabas and James all affirmed that salvation is by grace … and grace alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. Peter points back to the salvation of Cornelius and cites proof that Cornelius and other Gentiles believers were actually saved because they were indwelled with the Holy Spirit just as Jewish believers had been (vs. 7-9).
“[W]e believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will,” Peter says unequivocally in verse 10.
Following Peter’s statement, Paul and Barnabas testify that God proved salvation had come to the Gentiles by working signs and wonders among them, and James affirms Peter’s testimony by saying, this is exactly what had been prophesied earlier.
Many people and many churches try to add to the Bible’s doctrine of salvation by grace and through faith alone. Many of the things people try to add sound good or sensible, holy even. But Acts 15, as well as passages in Galatians, Ephesians and Romans opposes those notions and makes it clear that salvation comes by God’s grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ.