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A Letter of Encouragement (Acts 15:22-35)
– In the Book of Acts, chapter 15, we’ve seen that some of the Jewish Christian believers have gone out to the Gentile churches teaching them that they have to be circumcised to really be saved.
– This distressed and confused the new believers who were taught that salvation is thru Jesus alone.
– Paul and Barnabas disputed this new claim, and took it to the Apostles in Jerusalem for a ruling.
– Peter and the rest of the Apostles agree that the gentile believers have been saved as evident through receiving the Holy Spirit, and Paul and Barnabas testified to this.
– God, having saved them by grace through faith, the Apostles saw no reason to add to the gentile’s burden, and only required them to:
– Acts 15:20, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.
– The Apostles wrote a letter to the churches to straighten out this issue for the Gentile believers.
– Read Acts 15:22-35
1. Who is your truth source?
– I had a boss who used to say, when people began getting upset about a rumor, go talk to your “truth source”, the person you know can be trusted to tell you the accurate story. (It wasn’t him!)
– Verse 24, “Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying (that) you must be circumcised…”
– These Jewish believers, at minimum, misled the gentiles into thinking they spoke a message with the authority of the elders/apostles, which they did not. Every good lie has a measure of truth!
– Example: 10 years ago, Rush and NPR reporting same story with different “facts” and conclusions. The conclusions they drew were to influence my opinions and actions.
– So much CLICK BAIT, and seemingly credible articles on social media, that are designed to get you to freak out, and fear that if you don’t listen, bad things will happen to you.
– How do you know who is really telling the truth?
– With the gentile’s salvation seemingly on the line, no wonder they were unsettled.
– The truth: circumcision WAS the symbol given through Moses for God’s chosen people. So, if the gentiles were now grafted into God’s people, then they should have this symbol too, right? WRONG!
– Gal. 6:11-15, 11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand! 12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by [b]whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
– The Jews tried to elevate their own customs and beliefs above the cross of Christ, to make themselves more holy, more important, more valuable to God. (like Star-bellied Sneetches)
– Legalism rules their lives. The sacrifice of Jesus was not enough for them, they needed to earn it.
– Titus 1:10-11, For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.
– If your good behavior and self-control was enough to save you, the Jesus died for nothing.
– The Apostles send their most trusted men so that the gentile believers can trust the “source”.
– Read verses 22 and verses 25-27
– Hebrews 13:7-8, Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
– The truth is not self-seeking. Even Peter, who once was on the side of these religious Jews, changed his view because he was moved by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 15:11, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
– “In the same manner…” showing that Jews and Gentiles are saved in the exact same way. Not through observance to laws, customs, and rules, but by grace alone through alone in Christ alone.
– For Peter and ALL believers, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate truth source.
– Verse 28, For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:
– This decision didn’t come from the opinion of the leaders, but from the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
* The Holy Spirit is the source of truth that we can all trust, and His leading will ALWAYS match up with the Word of God.
2. There is a danger in LEGALISM, or trying to add more to the gospel. – Encouragement
– C.J. Mahaney put it like this: “Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God.”
– Thomas Schreiner writes: “Legalism has its origin in self-worship. If people are justified through their obedience to the law, then they merit praise, honor, and glory. Legalism, in other words, means the glory goes to people rather than God.”
– No Christian would ever openly say that the cross wasn’t enough, but living a legalistic life subtly shifts our focus away from the cross, and over to what we can accomplish on our own strength.
– There are at least 2 ways that legalism hurts new believers and the church:
1. We tell them, or imply to them, that if they aren’t doing certain extra things, then “they must not really be saved.”
– There are many great things that we SHOULD be doing: bible study, serving, tithing, fellowship with other believers, etc… but we do these things because we are saved, not to be saved.
– Well-meaning zealous Christians can inadvertently put this “greater burden” on the young believer, who could end up fearful of losing their salvation if they can’t keep up the pace.
2. We set a poor example, acting like we are “more saved” because of the work we do for God. As our gifts and talents shine, we let others raise us up, implying we are more valuable to God.
– Those who struggle or have less gifts end up felling interior and discouraged, and feel less valued by God.
– Example: Spartan Race. I didn’t want to do them because I thought they took themselves too seriously. My 1st race, frustrated with others who “didn’t belong on the course”, just in the way, etc… Then I noticed the back of a t-shirt, “I just lost 100 lbs…” …dang…
– I had become THE jerk, concerned only with myself and my race, that I bet I ruined some other people’s race day. I became the example of what is wrong with the sport!
– No matter what you do, or how you perform, you can’t earn any favor from God.
– Romans 3:19-20, 19 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
– Gaining a right understanding of the gospel can free you from joy-robing legalism.
– The other side of the spectrum is “FREE GRACE”:
– Grace Got You lyrics, by Mercy Me, “Smile like you just got away with something. Why? ‘Cause you just got away with something.”
– I know it’s just a song, who cares?! But it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s grace that a new believer might end up adopting if they don’t hear what grace is from a truth source.
– First things first, GRACE ISN’T FREE! Jesus paid for it on the cross!
– No one “got away with” anything! Jesus paid the debt for all of us.
– The danger of not truly understanding the grace of God, is that you might begin to believe that sin is insignificant, and your behavior doesn’t really matter. Both are untrue.
– When you cheapen grace, you allow the sin to be the standard in the church as well.
“It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.” – Jockco Willink, Extereme Ownership
– Example: of tailgate party during church. Also sexual immorality in the church reflecting the culture around us. No wonder that church nearly disappeared.
– Romans 6:1-2, What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
– Don’t try to add more to the gospel:
– We are seeing two sides of the church in Jerusalem, both trying to blend in their own beliefs with the gospel.
– The jewish believers want to bring in the Law and their religious traditions.
– The gentile believers are being instructed NOT to bring in their past pagan practices.
– Both need to understand their NEW life in Christ alone.
3. The Gentile believers were encouraged to know their salvation was secure. – Encouragement
– Verse 31, “When they had read it (the letter) they rejoiced over its encouragement.”
– Understanding that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone should be an encouragement to all believers. YOUR salvation is secure in Jesus!
– Romans 3:23-26, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation (sacrifice) by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
– It’s important to understand the difference between justification and sanctification:
– Justification: Pastor Matt says it like this, “Just-as-if-I’d never sinned”.
– This is the finished work on the cross. God totally and completely forgave you upon your belief and repentance by the blood of Jesus Christ.
– William Plummer writes, “Justification is an act. It is not a work, or a series of acts. It is not progressive. The weakest believer and the strongest saint are alike equally justified. Justification admits no degrees. A man is either wholly justified or wholly condemned in the sight of God.”
– You will NEVER be more justified then the moment you first believed in the gospel.
– Sanctification: This is the ongoing process of becoming more like Jesus.
– Through the power of the Spirit, the power of His word, and fellowship with other believers our minds are renewed.
– Sanctification is hard work! We fight temptation, flee from sin, strive for discipline in our choices and behavior.
– We study scripture, pray daily, press on to the goal, even when we don’t feel like it.
– This process doesn’t end until you go to heaven. (It will be your life’s work).
– Romans 6:22, But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness (unto sanctification), and the end, everlasting life.
– You WILL be more sanctified as you continue pursuing grace-motivated obedience.
– New Believer, take comfort and find encouragement in that by grace through faith you have been saved, and by grace through faith you will remain in God’s presence.
Acts 15:8-11, (The Apostle Pater said) “So God, who knows the heart, [a]acknowledged them (the Gentiles) by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus [b]Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”
– Let your old life go and commit to a new life in Christ. Not a blend of cultural influence, but a new life established in Christ alone.
– Understand today that YOU ARE SAVED. No one can take that away from you.
– Because you are saved, you should be pursuing holiness. Not on you own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit inside of you.
– This process will take a lifetime, so don’t get discouraged, just keep going. You got this!!
– prayer –
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