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The Church is United in the Essentials

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Justification is through faith alone

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1 - The Church debate the nature of salvation

Have you ever heard of the the first Council of Nicea in 325 AD? the first church council of Nicea was called by Constantine, the emperor of Rome who was not a Christian, in order to unify the churches who were dividing over what would be known as the Heresy of Arianism. Constantine called together 1800 bishops of the church for this first council (300) showed up. At this first council they were debating one letter of the alphabet, but this one letter made a huge difference. The two terms they were debating were the terms homoousios (same substance) and homoiousios (similar substance). The reason they were debating these terms in because they were debating of what substance the father, son, and holy spirit are of. The council affirmed they were homoousious (same substance).
Why might it be important to resolve doctrinal disagreements?
Acts 15:1–5 ESV
1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
What does verse 1 sound like to you? “Unless you add __________ to your faith, you cannot be saved?”
It sounds a lot like legalism.
Why would these Jews be concerned with circumcision of the Gentile believers in Antioch?
Genesis 17:10-14,23-27; Exodus 12:43-45, 48 show us why. According to Judaism if a foreigner (Gentile) desired to join the Jewish faith then they must be circumcised. So yes, from our perspective we see that they were trying to add to their faith, but from their perspective, they were trying to make sure the law was followed. ‘The issue in chapter 15 is thus not merely post-conversion behaviour but what constitutes true conversion in the first place.’
Why do you think then that circumcision would be considered legalism for Christian believers?
Circumcision was the sign of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham and the New Covenant in Christ no longer needed the sign of the Abrahamic covenant.
How did Paul and Barnabas respond to these men who came teaching the necessity of the circumcision?
They saw the impact this kind of teaching would have on the local assembly but also likely the church as whole, thus we see “no small dissension and debate.” So Paul and Barnabas confronted the issue and then after being appointed by the church they were sent to Jerusalem to resolve this issue. You might say this is the first recorded Church Council.
Notice something important here in verse 3. What did Paul and the others do as they passed through neighboring villages and towns on their way to Jerusalem. Did they talk about the Judaizers and why they were going to Jerusalem? That much is not recorded, but what is recorded in verse 3? What do you think this says about Paul’s mindset toward the Gospel proclamation and the impact of the Gospel?
So what does legalism mean? What is legalism?
“Legalism,” writes theologian Sinclair Ferguson, “is simply separating the law of God from the person of God.” Legalism distorts the biblical view of God. Ferguson continues, “God becomes a magnified policeman who gives his law only because he wants to deprive us and in particular to destroy our joy. The ‘lie’ that we now believe is that ‘to glorify God’ is not, indeed cannot be, ‘to enjoy him for ever,’ but to lose all joy.” 1 Remember, then, the root of legalism is our own distorted view of God. When we have a wrong view of God, it’s no surprise we will have a wrong view of salvation.
According to this definition by Ferguson, how had the Jews made circumcision into legalism in this context?
They took the requirements of the law and made them the means of deciding who does and does not get into heaven. SIDE NOTE: How were Old Testament believers justified according to the Old Testament?
two Examples should come to mind; Genesis 15:6 shows us that Abraham was justified by faith, and Romans 4:5-8 show us that David was well was justified by faith.
What we see in these first five verses is that because these Jews sought to place the law over the Gentile believers they were now guilty of legalism and we see that Paul and the early church responds not by falling into chaos but by turning to the Church for the right answer on this issue. What do you think that tells us about how we ought to respond when we face issues of doctrine in our lives? Where should we turn if we do not know the answer? Do we duck and hide, do we immediately confront them and just argue until one of us is winded?

2 - The church affirms justification by faith alone

Acts 15:6–18 ESV
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 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. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 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? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 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. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 “ ‘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, 17 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 18 known from of old.’
What does Peter employ in order to argue that justification comes by faith and not by works? Acts 10:44-48
What does James point to in order to argue justification comes by faith alone?
The same situation of the Spirit falling on the Gentiles as well as the prophets.
We would expect Peter to say the Gentiles were saved “just like we were,” speaking of the Jewish Christians present. Instead, he said the opposite: “we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.” Peter emphasized that just as God saved Cornelius and his household— by faith (v. 9), through grace (v. 11)—so also were the Jews. The Jews were never saved by their works, that is, by obeying the Law of Moses. Salvation has always been by God’s grace through faith in His promise (see Gen. 3:15; 12:2-3; 15:6). In the Old Testament, the saints looked forward to the coming of the Messiah (1 Pet. 1:10-12). But now, all who believe look back to Jesus, whom God revealed as His promised King.
Justification by Faith: Justification refers to the moment when a person is objectively declared ______________ before God based on the righteousness of Christ’s atoning death. This act of declaration takes place through _________ in Christ and not as a result of human works or effort.
Justification by Faith: Justification refers to the moment when a person is objectively declared Righteous before God based on the righteousness of Christ’s atoning death. This act of declaration takes place through faith in Christ and not as a result of human works or effort.
Romans 8:33–34 ESV
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
How would you explain salvation by grace through faith in Christ to someone who’s never heard of it?
We are all sinners and if we stood before a judge today we would be guilty of our sin. Yet, God, in an act to redeem man, sent Jesus to live a life we could not live, perfect, and die a sinless man, in order to make a way for us to come to Him. Now, if we believe in what Jesus did on the cross, dying for our sins, and have faith in God that we are redeemed in Christ, then we will be saved. Not because of anything we could do or have done but because of what Christ has done on our behalf and is still doing today as he makes intercession for us before God.

3 - The Church advocates freedom in love

Acts 15:19–21 ESV
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 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. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
It can be really easy at this point as we are talking about how putting legal requirements from the law on believers is not part of faith for us to quickly think that now sinning is justified. Which is a topic Paul argues against in Romans 6. But at the point, while the church council determines circumcision is no longer required or necessary for justification that there is still a level of personal holiness that Christian believers are called to live by?
grace through faith does not free us to sin, instead it actually frees us from the bondage of sin to sin no more. We often have this mindset of sin that sin is ok. We need to understand sin for what it is and what it does. Sin in a slavemaster and it will not share it’s slave with anyone. If we have an easy mindset toward sin then we will easily find our way into its grasp. Christ has freed the chains of bondage so we no longer have to walk in sin but can freely walk in Christ freedom.
What does the church council write to the Gentile believers to do:
Abstain from things polluted by idols
Abstain from sexual immorality
Abstain from what has been strangled
Abstain from blood
Why these four things and not circumcision? Isn’t this its own form of legalism? No, these are not things which justify humanity before God, instead these are acts which come out of a justified life before God.
The church council was calling them to personal holiness as a response to the justification they have recieved in Christ.
How does Holiness relate to our belief in the Gospel?
(we are saved because of Jesus’ holiness, not our own; believers should strive to be more holy as they grow in the faith and the power of the Holy Spirit; our personal holiness has an impact on our witness for the gospel; growth in holiness helps to provide assurance of our faith)
Ultimately, what did James and the church council rely on for their understanding in this situation?
The word of God. They looked back at the Old Testament alongside their experiences in order to understand what God taught about this.
So, where should we turn when we have questions and issues that may conflict with our faith?
Inerrancy of Scripture: Scripture is an _____________ guide to salvation and it is _____________ in all that it affirms.
Inerrancy of Scripture: Scripture is an infallible guide to salvation and it is truthful in all that it affirms.
How are we called to live today as a result of what Christ has done?
From this lesson today we see two things: We see how that we ought to respond quickly to issues of doctrine when they are in conflict with what we know from Scripture. We also see that the place we ought to turn is the scriptures for guidance. We will face people who believe different things than us, who try to say that you must do X or Y in order to be truly saved. Where are we going to turn when we have these questions? The word of God. How do we know these issues are doctrinally incorrect unless we know the word of God.
Just like any thing else in life, the only way we are going to get better at addressing issues like these is if we are regularly involved in evangelism and talking with others. We may not have the answer then and there but don't let the fear of not knowing stop you from sharing the most important message for the world to hear.
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