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The Essentials of Salvation

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Salvation is an Internal Renewal Through Faith by Grace.

While Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch spending time with the disciples there and encouraging them, “Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” These men who have come up are natural born Jews who have observed the law of Moses and they believe that salvation is only in combination with the works of the Old Testament. Two important observations in respect to this teaching. First, the Judeans were making what Jesus had done for them on the cross an external action. They were adding works to the true power of Salvation, it is not on our merit but fully on trusting, faith in, Jesus’ character and His work. Without realizing it they are nullifying Jesus’ sacrifice by imposing circumcision on the people.
Second, they have trusted in Jesus but they have also brought their traditions over with them. These traditions were never meant to save anyone to begin with. They were only outward marks or signs of obedience to their inward trusting in God’s promise. They are external marks that God imposed on them so they would know and so others would know they have been set apart for God. They never understood this to begin with and now they want to bring into Christianity and impose in Christians that which they couldn’t keep and don’t understand the significance of. They are legalists and moralists. They teach that in oder to be saved you have to do x,y, and z. Legalism is dangerous and destructive. Legalism never judges the heart but always judges externals and behaviors. Legalism is all about rules and regulations in order to look spiritual and never about God’s Word, faith or grace. Legalism causes a false perfection by hiding the truth instead of working out salvation with fear and trembling. Legalism places man’s fear on man instead of man fearing God.
Paul had just returned from proclaiming the gospel and came into the church where his intentions were to encourage people in the gospel and now he finds himself having to defend the gospel from brothers in Christ. In verse 2 Luke writes that they, “had great dissension and debate” with them. “This dissension and debate probably had a lot to do with the backgrounds of each of these groups. It seems as though it is Hellenistic Jews mixed with Gentiles against the natural born Jews. This tension was seen in Acts 6 when the Hellenistic Jewish Christians were being ignored by the native born Jews and the apostles had to install servants who would be fair and just. So tensions have always been there and it seems to still be there. The church hearing this argument and knowing it was going nowhere realized that the only true way to solve this problem is to go to the hub of the church, Jerusalem, this is where the apostles are and the elders and they need to make a determination on this matter. This is a doctrinal issue that needed to be settled for all the churches so that this issue would not spread.
So as we look at verses 1 and 2 the issue that arises that needs to be dealt with is what is needed for genuine salvation? The remainder of this chapter will answer the question.
In verse 3 Paul and Barnabas return to Jerusalem with others from the Antioch church to resolve the issue. On their way the visit churches in Phoenicia and Samaria. These churches are not made up of Jews that hold to the same laws and traditions as the Jewish elite. In fact, in the call for the apostles to go out into all the world, the Samaritans were second on the list. They were not viewed as the Jews as having the same rights and privileges as the rest of Israel. They believed the capital was in their territory not Jerusalem. So when the gospel came to them they recieved it with joy. Now as Paul and Barnabas return to Jerusalem they go through those towns and encouraging and strengthening their faith by telling them how the Gentiles were being converted. The accounts of God’s works brought ‘great joy’ to these believers, mainly because they understand what it means to trust in him. It seems easier for those who are not bound to traditions to accept what God is doing and how God is doing it.
Now that they have heard the rejoicing of the Phoenicians and Samaritans over the work of the Lord toward the Gentiles they move into Jerusalem. They were well recieved by the churches, the apostles and the elders. Interesting how it is broken up into three categories. The church being the members of the Jerusalem church collectively. Then Luke gets more specific and tells us the apostles recieved them and also the elders. These are the two church offices at that time. The apostles selected by Jesus and the elders who were selected by the church and the apostles. The church has adopted an orderly means of governance with the apostles and elders being equals.
In verse 5 the dissension still hold as Paul and Barnabas, ‘reported all that God had done with them.’ “A sect of Pharisees who believed,” didn’t rejoice in the same way as the Phoenicians and Samaritans. Instead they still hold to their traditions, just as the Judiasers of verse 1. They said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” Couple of problems with this. First is the word, ‘necessary’ they made it so this was an absolute. As though without it there is no Salvation. Adding works to what Jesus has already done. Second is they are still focused on calling it the Law of Moses. They are still focused on men, and works not on God and God’s desire for His people and what the Law truly entails. It is not to observe the Law of Moses but as Jesus told His disciples all that He, as God, has commanded. This is the same debate Paul was having in Antioch and now the debate comes to the hub of the church.
Up until this point there was no need to discuss this. Even the Gentiles who were being saved in Israel were for the most part proselytes or God fearers. There was probably some leniency or even just ignorance to them following those rules and laws. Now the issue is, the Gentiles who know nothing of Jewish culture at all are being saved, and this is rubbing the ones who hold to the traditions the wrong way. Up to this point there was no need to flesh out this doctrine but now there is.

Internal Renewal

So in verse 6 we find that the leadership meets together to discuss what constitutes true salvation. After some debate about the what is needed to be saved Peter stands and speaks. He doesn’t go on opinion or look to tradition He points directly to what God has said and what God has done. Peter speaks to the counsel and he is the perfect one to address the counsel and this matter because of his special and specific task. Peter first reminds them of what they already know. God had called Peter to go to the gentiles. This happened in Acts 10. Peter’s vision in Acts 10 was probably shared with many of the elders in the church. In this vision Peter saw a sheet lowered from heaven with ritualistically clean and unclean animals. God told Peter three times to kill and eat. Peter being a man of the Law said, “by no means Lord no unclean thing has touched my lips.” God then tells Peter, “What I have made clean no longer consider unclean.” God has the power to call things common and to call things holy, God is the one who determines these things not Peter or anyone else. So, if in this time God has chosen to make holy what they have always though of as common, then who was Peter to argue with this.
This mission was not about food but about the Gentiles. They are a people the Israelites always believed to be common but God has made a way for the common to be made Holy. Peter was called to be the mouthpiece to go to the common and give them the gospel so that they would believe and be made holy. The means by which these people are made Holy is through the gospel but the manifestation of their Holiness is through the Spirit. He is the common denominator or the link between the Israelites and the Gentiles. The law is no longer the common link but the Holy Spirit. Peter is also careful to point to what really matters and what is really at issue, the heart.
The Law exposes the heart but God is the one who transforms the heart. He does this with the gift of the Holy Spirit who provides faith to the believer and seals the believer for God. He also provided the same gifts to the Gentiles that He provided to the Israelites on the day of Pentecost. The gift of tongues speaking in known languages in a reversal of the tower of Babel to bring about unity were there once was disunity. Only God has this power and this is what He did through the Holy Spirit. God cleansed the heart where the law points to what the cleaning should look like. By God cleaning the heart through the power of the Holy Spirit there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile. There is no longer a race distinction only a unity of holiness that is brought on and bestowed through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Holiness is what God calls for in us. It is to be an internal transformation not just adherence to rules and regulations. It is only when you have an internal transformation are you made holy.
Romans 2:28–29 NASB95
28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
The heart has always been the key. God says this Himself when He wants to select a King for Israel.
1 Samuel 16:7 NASB95
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Jesus reiterated this in Luke 16:15
Luke 16:15 NASB95
15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Trough Faith not Works

Cleaning the heart is also done through faith, it is not through works. Faith is a gift that the Christian receives. Jesus teaches this in John’s gospel.
John 6:63–65 NASB95
63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
Paul tells the Roman church this in Romans 1:17-18
Romans 1:17–18 NASB95
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
Salvation has always been by faith not works. Works were always meant to be the outward expression of the internal transformation. Just like with Abraham.
Romans 4:18–25 NASB95
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” 19 Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; 20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. 23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

By Grace not Merit

Peter wants the legalists to think about what they are imposing. They want the Gentiles to adhere to something they couldn’t even adhere to themselves. In verse 10 Peter calls it a ‘yoke,’ that they want to put on the necks of the disciples. It is a heavy burden. A burden they couldn’t bear that they couldn’t keep. This was the design of the Law was so they would see it’s difficulty and so they would trust in God more and so they would seek the Messiah. Instead they made the law and rules their measure of Salvation and for the appearance of Holiness through morality. The more moral you behaved the holier you are. The Law was to show them they are not holy, and morals are not equivalent to holiness, morals are behaviors. Just because someone is moral doesn’t mean they holy it only means their behavior matches a specific criteria. Listen I can teach my dog behaviors, it doesn’t mean he has faith.
Ephesians 2:8–10 NASB95
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Morals are external, holiness is internal. Holiness is what we are to strive for. Holiness is not a burden, and when you strive for Holiness your striving for the greatest character and attribute of God. When you strive for holiness you strive after Jesus and what does Jesus say about yokes and burdens, lay then on HIm and He will carry it. So why strive to be moralistic changing your outward behavior based on rules. That is meaningless to you and it is meaningless to God. Strive instead for holiness, which can only come from God and will transform your heart, then your behavior will transform to be more like the one whose image we bear, Jesus Christ.
In verse 11 Peter wants them to understand the Law didn’t save them, but the Jews and the Gentiles were both Saved in the same fashion, “by the Grace of Jesus Christ.” They recieved from Jesus what they didn’t deserve. All of them did, “Faith in His Grace,” not through external rule keeping.
Titus 3:4–7 NASB95
4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Even the Christian life and being committed servants isn’t about morality. It is about Holiness. People can train themselves to change behaviors but it is only through Jesus Christ that sins are whittled away. Faith is trusting in the promise of God, Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve, holiness is becoming like the God we serve.
The holiness of God is an exceedingly high standard, a perfect standard. But it is nevertheless one that He holds us to. He cannot do less. While it is true that He accepts us solely through the merit of Christ, God’s standard for our character, our attitudes, affections, and actions is, “Be holy, because I am holy.” We must take this seriously if we are to grow in holiness. Jerry Bridges
, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), 30.
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