By Grace through Faith Alone

By Grace through Faith Alone

“By Grace through Faith Alone”

(Acts 15:1-35)

Series: The Church on Fire!

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

First Baptist Church Henderson, KY

(1-20-08) (AM)


  • Take your Bibles and open to Acts, chapter 15.


That video clip gives us a glimpse of the blessing we will receive as we participate in our 19th Semester of FAITH Evangelism Training here at First Baptist Church.  We’re entering our 10th year of FAITH ministry and every semester of training has been an encouragement to our soul and a blessing to those who have been won to Christ or re-connected to the church through Monday evening visits.  FAITH is a way we learn to share the Gospel with others at work and school and every Monday night as we go out.


Just out of curiosity, how many in this congregation received at least one FAITH visit before uniting with this church?  Look around.  God has used this ministry and blessed it greatly for nearly a decade and we’re especially excited about Semester 19 beginning February 4th.


In fact, before we look at our text this morning let me ask those of you on the ends of the pews to find those cards and pass them down so that each person on the pew has a card.  Do that now.  Everyone get one in your hand.  I just want to show you right now how you can be involved in FAITH.  At the end of the service I’ll tell you what to do with that card.  But just get one in your hand now and see how you can be involved.


I’m asking everyone to be involved in praying for FAITH.  Prayer is the power that ignites evangelism and visitation.  Prayer equips our people as they go out Monday evenings to share the Gospel and to share information about our church.  You can go ahead and check the box there that says you’ll be praying and sign your name at the bottom.


And then you can see the other ways you can be involved.  Some of you know you’re going to be involved in FAITH and you’re already checking the other boxes.  Some of you FAITH veterans who have been through FAITH before, and some of you several times, thank you for your ongoing support.  Some of you young people going out with the youth and visiting young people on your visits, thank you for signing-up every semester, too.


But let me take a moment and tell you why I think this semester will be the best semester for everyone to be involved in our weekly visitation ministry known as FAITH.  First, the semester is shorter.  It’s just a 12-week commitment whereas the previous semesters were 16 weeks.  Secondly, the FAITH people have improved the outline greatly.  As your pastor I can tell you that I really like the new outline.  If you’ve memorized the old outline, you won’t have any trouble with the new.  Most of it is the same, they’ve just changed a couple of the verses and arranged them so they are more theologically sound.

The third reason this semester will be so much fun is that we’re going to have just one “Learner” class.  In the past, we have had the Learner class for new people in FAITH.  Veterans have been involved in other classes.  But because of the new outline we’re going to have just one big Learner class and I’m really looking forward to everyone being together in the fellowship hall Monday nights to learn this new outline together.  I’ll be leading that class and we have new FAITH notebooks and new video clips to watch and it’s just going to be a great time.  So keep that card and at the end of the service I’ll tell you what to do with it.


Alright, we’re in Acts 15, continuing our series of messages, verse-by-verse, through the book of Acts.  Acts is about the birth of the church 2,000 years ago and a history about how the church spread from Jerusalem to the outer regions of the known world at that time.  Now as the Gospel was taken to areas outside of Jerusalem, many non-Jews came to know Christ.  Those non-Jews are called Gentiles and we’ve read about many Gentiles coming to know Christ.  Last time we were in Acts Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, some 300 miles north of Jerusalem.  Now, a problem arises in the church.  Some Jews, some Pharisees from Judea, the area around Jerusalem, make their way 300 miles to Antioch and they’re all bent out of shape about something.  Let’s read about it in Acts 15.


  • Stand in honor of the reading of the Word of God.


At First Baptist we take the Bible very seriously.  We believe that God speaks to us in and through His word.  If God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture then we’ll spend a good deal of our worship time in the Bible, listening to what He says, verse-by-verse wherever possible.


1And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 

2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. 

3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 

4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 

5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” 


  • Pray.




This chapter is very much related to the FAITH ministry we were talking about earlier.  One of the things I like most about the FAITH ministry is that it gives you a great way to talk to a family member, or a co-worker, or a friend at school about Jesus.  You’re having a regular conversation and then you use what’s called the “Key Question” to direct the conversation to more important spiritual things.  Many of you know the key question.  Say it with me: “In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?”  Now that is a good question.  And I want you to know that that is the question the church is asking and answering here in chapter 15.


As we study this chapter together, there are three actions we’re going to take.  Here’s the first:


I.  Consider the Danger of Legalism (1-5)


Legalism is the belief that you have to keep certain rules and regulations in order for God to be pleased with you.  It’s a religion of “do’s and—what—don’ts.”  Some of you may have been raised in a church where the rules were really clear: you can’t do this.  You can’t do that.  You gotta do this.  You gotta do that.  That’s legalism.

The first five verses of chapter 15 deal with legalism.  There were some certain Jews known as Pharisees who were very legalistic.  They heard about these non-Jews, these Gentiles, who were coming to know Christ and they’re like, “Hey, that’s okay.  We’ve got no problem with these guys receiving Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior—but, in order for them to really be saved they need to add some stuff to what they believe.  And specifically, verse 5 tells us that they said these Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.


Now circumcision—the removal of flesh of the foreskin—was the means by which the Jews were known as God’s people.  Think of it like branding.  Circumcision identified you as belonging to God.  The Jews were circumcised and they endeavored to keep the Law of Moses, not just the 10 Commandments, but all of the law revealed in the Old Testament and hundreds of other laws they added to the Scripture.  So when these Pharisees hear about Gentiles believing the Gospel they’re like, “Well, that’s good and everything, but they need to be circumcised like we are and they need to keep the law like we do in order to really be saved.”


So the Bible says in verse 2 that Paul and Barnabas had “no small dissension and dispute with them.”  If they had “no small” dissension, what kind of dissension did they have?  A big one!  Okay, so Paul and Barnabas and others from the new church in Antioch decide to go down to the mother church in Jerusalem and talk about this issue with the elders there.  So verse 3 says they’re going down there, celebrating along the way and, verse 4, they get to Jerusalem and report everything God did in all these Gentile areas, but then verse 5, we read where the Pharisees say, “That’s great, but these Gentiles must be circumcised and they must keep the law if they’re really going to be saved.”


That’s legalism and legalism is as great a danger today as it was in Paul’s day.  We’re going to see in a moment that the early church will hammer-out a position that asserts correctly that we are saved not on the basis of rule-keeping, but on the basis of God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  But legalistic tendencies are all around us.


Let me just say before we go on that if you feel like you’ve got to walk a very careful line or God is going to hurl a lightning bolt at you and take you out, you probably have some very serious legalistic leanings.  If you’ve been told that being a Christian means you can only listen to a certain kind of music, or you can only wear a certain kind of clothing, or it’s wrong to watch TV or go to the movies, then you’ve probably been infected by the virus of legalism.  Similarly, if you’re grudgingly tithing because you feel you just ‘have to do it,’ or grudgingly evangelizing or doing all of your church activities simply because you believe God expects that of you and you don’t want to tick Him off, then you’re probably very legalistic.


One of the most freeing experiences in our Christian walk is when we realize that God only wants our hearts!  Jesus Christ said the entire law is summed-up in this, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  When we give God our hearts, living the Christian life is a blessing, not a burden.  I tithe not because I “have to,” but because I “want to.”  I evangelize not because I “have to,” but because I “want to.”  We live our lives as a “thank-you note” to God for His grace.  Consider the danger of legalism.  This takes us to the next action.  Secondly:


II.  Consider the Doctrine of Life (6-21)


In verses 6-21 we read about what is often called “The Jerusalem Council,” the first church council in church history.  And the order of business at this meeting is, “How is a person saved?  What is the doctrine of life?  Are we saved by grace through faith or is it by grace through faith—plus works?”  Now, there are four main speakers at this meeting: Peter, Paul & Barnabas, and James.


6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 

7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 

8 “So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them 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. 


How did Peter know that God “made no distinction” between the Jew and the Gentile?  Remember Act 10?  God sends Peter to talk to the Gentile named Cornelius.  There was that great sheet being lowered down with all the animals and everything.  Peter later says in Acts 10:34, “God shows no partiality (makes no distinction)” between Jews and Gentiles.  They’re both saved the same way.


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? 


I love that!  Peter’s like, “Why would we require the Gentiles to bear this heavy burden of keeping the law in order to be saved—when we ourselves can’t even keep it?!”


11 “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” 

12 Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. 

13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 


And you can be sure everybody was listening to James.  In their day, the guy with the most authority spoke last.  James is the brother of Jesus.  He wasn’t a believer in Christ until after Christ’s resurrection.  But James was big on the law.  We’re reading through the book of James Wednesday nights, one of the most Jewish books in the New Testament.  In just five chapters, James refers or alludes to no less than 22 books of the Old Testament, more than half the books of the Old Testament!  So James is big on the law and everybody at the Council there is quiet and they’re like, “Man, what’s James gonna say?!”  Verse 14:


14 “Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of 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 will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; 

17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ 

18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works. 


Some of the translations differ a little there.  James is quoting from the Old Testament book of Amos, just showing how what Peter says about the Gentiles agrees with the Old Testament.  So James agrees with Peter as well as Paul and Barnabas.  So he recommends a course of action that will bring some unity between the Gentiles and these Jews who continue to stress the law.  Verse 19:


19 “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God,

20 “but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. 

21 “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” 


James agrees that the doctrine of life is a doctrine of grace.  Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  The Gentiles do not need to be circumcised in order to be saved nor are they expected to “keep the law” in the same way the Jews had been keeping it.  James recommends, however, as a concession to the strict, law-keeping Pharisees, that these Gentiles keep these important aspects of the law in verse 20: abstaining from things (food) polluted by idols, from sexual immorality—probably a reference to Leviticus 18, which forbids marriage between close relatives—and from eating meat with blood remaining in it.  “From things strangled” refers to the slaughter of an animal in which the blood would remain in it.  Kosher meats are from clean animals prepared in such a way as the blood is drained completely from the animal.  Now, while all foods had been declared “clean” by our Lord, it took awhile for the Jews to begin eat foods previously considered “unclean.”  As time went on, we do find a lessening of stress upon the keeping of the law by Christian Jews, but it doesn’t happen overnight.  So James recommends that the Gentiles do this stuff as a concession to the Jews, a compromise, not a compromise of truth, but a compromise of preference.


More about that in a moment, right now simply note that everyone believed salvation came by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  This marks Christianity as decisively different from all other major religions.  The other major religions are works-based.  Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and countless others are works-based.  They believe man has to “work” his way up to heaven.  In Christianity, God comes down to man.  He comes down to us in the person of Christ Jesus.  It’s not what we have done for God, but what God has done for us!


And there are some Christian churches that teach a works kind of salvation.  They believe we’re not saved on the basis of grace alone through faith alone, but believe that works must be added to our faith.  If you’ve ever been taught that you were saved by faith in Christ “plus” something else, you were taught something not taught in the Bible.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Let’s say that together: “By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.”  That’s the doctrine of life.


We’ve considered the danger of legalism and the doctrine of life.  Number three:


III.  Consider the Duty of Love (22-35)


Verses 22-35 focus on putting others first.  If we’re believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ll be concerned about others, loving others, sharing Christ with others, and doing whatever we can to point people to Christ.  That’s what the Gentiles did by conceding these matters of law to the Jews.


Beginning in verse 22 we read that the Jewish Christians down in Jerusalem write this letter telling the Gentile Christians back up in Antioch about their decision and when the Gentiles get word they’re like, “Hey, that’s great.  No problem”:


22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. 

23 They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 

24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” — to whom we gave no such commandment — 

25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 

26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 

28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:

29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. 

30 So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 

31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. 

32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. 

33 And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles. 

34 However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there. 

35 Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.


So the Gentiles in Antioch, verse 31, “rejoiced over its encouragement.”  They’re like, “Wonderful!  We really are saved!  We don’t have to be circumcised.  We don’t have to keep the law.  And, as far as this here about not eating meat with blood in it, and so forth, that’s okay.  We’ll concede this to our Jewish brethren out of love for them.”


Oh, there is so much application here, isn’t there?  I am willing to set-aside my preferences out of my love for others.  I may prefer a certain kind of music, but I’m willing set aside my preference out of my love for others.  I may prefer a certain kind of church schedule, or Sunday school schedule, but I am willing to set it aside out of my love for others.  I may prefer a certain kind of clothing or prefer not to wear pierced jewelry, but others may prefer to dress a certain way and so forth, and that’s okay.  These are not compromises of truth—such as the truth of the Gospel—these are compromises of preferences; non-essentials to the Christian faith.


Bottom line: we love others so much that we’re willing to set aside our preferences in the interest of pointing others to the Lord Jesus Christ.


  • Pray.


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