Morning audio link: Galatians 2:1-3
Evening audio link: Acts 15
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“Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. ” (Galatians 2:1–3, NAS)
The Acts conference in Acts 15 is what Paul is referring to here.
There were some basic questions that needed answered: for people forgiven by the grace of God, how much of the Law were they bound by?
The Acts discussions ended with these conclusions: the whole law does not apply, especially to Gentiles. There were a few issues given as commands: don’t eat blood, food sacrificed to idols and abstain from sexual immorality. These instructions were simple, practical, and valid.
What wasn’t mandated was circumcision. Now, a little background: Genesis 17 shows circumcision as the outward sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. Exodus 12 shows us that participating in the Passover was only allowed for those who had undergone circumcision (male members of a family had, at least).
This action was the gateway into Jewish life. It was not considered an option. It was done for baby boys at 8 days of age, and for any other males when they tried to enter Jewish life.
At the time, it was a big deal. It remains such within Jewish circles, though not so much outside of them. What had really elevated circumcision in Jewish life was that the Greeks/Romans didn’t do it.
Circumcision had been the command of God to the Jewish people going back to Abraham. 2000 years at this point. It had been an internal, almost privately Jewish practice until about 300 years before the time of the church. Then, as Greek practices and culture took root, it became evident that there was a cultural clash. Some Jews began to not circumcise to fit in, others even had the procedure ‘reversed.’ Thus circumcision grew in importance. By this time, there has begun an insistence by some that to become a Christian, one first had to be a Jew, so those who were coming to Christ were being told by a group of teachers called “Judaizers” that they had to be circumcised first.
One thing to note: this grew out of the changing perception of circumcision: from a shared, private devotional act towards God into a public demonstration of Jewish-ness. While our Christian faith has publicly demonstrable components, we do this not to please others or to show off ourselves, rather we do to please God and show forth His glory.
The overall debate boils down to this question:
How righteous must a person be before God? How righteous before God’s grace is enough?
The answer given to Paul is what we see recounted here: Titus is acceptable without going through the steps of becoming Jewish.
The principle is not that the Law is bad or useless---only that the Law cannot make you a Christian
Only the Spirit of God can do that.
The apostles met, prayed, considered and discussed and came to this conclusion:
“After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” ” (Acts 15:7–11, NAS)
Now that we have settled what they decided, what about us?
Realistically, there’s not too many people roaming Arkansas insisting that you must be circumcised to be saved.
Yet we do have our own public signs of holiness we want to see—
Can she be saved if she has a nose ring? Can he!?!?! Oh, they’ll take it out when they’re saved.
Saved people never touch alcohol, tobacco, whatever---
How can you be depressed? You must not really be saved!
Here is what truly matters: obedience to Christ.
It does not matter whether we’re rich or poor, whether we are religious or not.
Our outside view of other people’s lives does not give us the ability to determine who will be saved and who will not. Rather it is the power of the spirit of God to save all who are called by his grace.
We must avoid the mistake of turning the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the work of God’s grace into behavior modification. While the gospel results in certain actions those actions do not replace the change of heart those actions do not replace the work of the spirit of God in your heart. Those actions rather are the fruit of the change from God has made in our lives.
We must guard in our church and in our lives against allowing rules to overcome relationships.
- Cannot replace our relationship with God
- Cannot replace our relationships with each other
- With our spouses
- With our children
- With our parents
- With our church family
- Cannot replace our relationships with the world
- With the lost
- With the culture
- With the government
The question forced to answer today is simply this “have I accepted God’s grace?” have you come to God recognizing that only his grace is enough for you? We must make certain that we have not come without expecting to be rewarded for ourselves when we have nothing to offer.
So the question today is really and truly all about you and whether you’ve come to God on your own or through the blood of Jesus Christ.
We looked a little at this in the morning, mainly in context of what in meant for salvation.
Tonight, though, I want us to consider what this may hold for us in terms of solving problems in a church.
Let’s set the stage here with some basic understanding:
1. Christianity was, initially, viewed as the next step of Judaism
2. As that started to change, with Gentiles being added to the church, this led to some difficulties
a. Gentiles did not hold to all of the cultural laws of the Jews
b. There were questions of how everyone should behave
3. The church then had to solve the problem of division.
a. Imagine the challenge of something so simple as a meal---
b. Times of worship
4. What did they do?
a. Gathered the leaders of the church
b. This is a little different than the last major problem
i. Acts 6->appointment of deacons to address complaints and practical issues
ii. Acts 15->questions of theology
iii. Acts 6 lends itself to understanding that we all vote to solve problems
iv. Acts 15 shows us that matters of truth are not decided by majority vote.
5. What should we do?
a. Work together on practical matters
b. Consult others that understand the truth
c. Then, however, Stand, alone if necessary, on matters of the truth
6. Then, be public with our understanding of truth.