This week, Todd continues through Acts. Through Paul's example at the end of Acts 14, he reminds us to strengthen one another, encourage each other to continue in the faith through trials, and to hold each other accountable. Continuing on in Acts 15, we see the Council at Jerusalem. There was disagreement about whether circumcision is required for salvation. It was reaffirmed in Acts 15:11 that men are only saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Nobody is ever saved through the Law or legalism. All men have always been saved by grace through faith.
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The First Church Council and the Matter of First Importance
Well, good morning! How are we doing, everybody over there in cowtown, in Plano, and right here? I know even if every single seat isn't taken in here, you need to know something. Our 9:00 services, our 9:15 services are packed to the gills with kids because kids get up and you want to do something with them. That's awesome. Take them to Saturday night service in Dallas, or take them for doughnuts wherever you are and come to that later service. It helps us with the kids, but it helps getting you here at the early one. We're glad we're here.
We're back in Acts. Some of you guys (I've started to hear this) have been like, "Man, are we still in Acts? This is the thirty-sixth message we've done in Acts!" What you need to know is we're in chapter 15. But here's the thing… We're in God's Word. We're not in Acts. Shake this idea that you have to…"What do you want to do, teach Deepak Chopra?" We're going to stay in the Bible here. What I'm showing you is that God has always been working through history.
Acts is one of the rare books in the New Testament that's not didactic. It's not teaching the church something by lecture. It is historical narrative. What you're seeing is the things that God has done are the things that he still wants to do. It's what God did when there were people available to him to love and serve others and change the world. What could be more relevant for us than to go, "Our God is alive, he's not dead!"? That's the whole point of Acts. Jesus isn't gone after the crucifixion; he is alive and this is what he intends to do through people who know him so let us pay attention.
By the way, today is amazing. This is one of the most important passages in the New Testament because it's the very first church council. What's a church council, you say? It's when leaders of the church get together and go, "This is what we believe." The very first apostles' creed. It's one verse long. It's coming out of today.
One of the things that jacks you up, that messes you up… I think there will be as many people in hell because they miss the main point of today's text. For the reason the church clarified something, there are going to be a lot of people who don't really understand the gospel because old-time religion, legalism, performance-based acceptance is still embraced by them and they don't have a clarity of the gospel.
It's one of the reasons college kids go crazy when they go away. I drove my fourth kid to college this weekend. I dropped her off, and I'm going to tell you why I am thrilled she is ready to live faithfully away from my supervision. Because she was not raised out of fear. She was not raised out of legalism. I didn't tell her what to do to be loved. I told her I love her and this is the way of life, and she embraces it.
That's why this morning, because my sweet little girl understands this, I got a picture from her earlier this morning sitting there in a little bean bag chair in her dorm room with her Bible open on her lap, thanking her mom for the way she made that room look like home, and in effect, is saying, "Hey, I'm seeking the God of my youth, not because I have to because you're here to wake me up," but because she has learned something. She learned the truth that the church cared a lot about. Let me encourage you. This stuff matters.
Acts 15 is preceded by Acts 14. It's amazing how that always happens. At the very end of Acts 14, you're seeing that Paul is looping back through the churches he had a relationship with. He showed up. He was faithful. He moved on. He looped back. He strengthened them. He gave them leaders, and he kept moving. Now let me just show you something. We touched on this briefly the last time we were together, but you need to see this is what the church always does when it's together. It's why we gather.
If you look in Acts 14, we're going to pick it up in verse 22. It's describing Paul's work as he came back through all these areas. Again, this is history. Let me show you a quick map. Galatia… It's called Galatia because at that time, it was the land of the Gauls, this marauding people, these pagans, who were an amazing, powerful group of people who swept through that little region there.
It's modern-day Turkey, where you see all those different things. It's the Mediterranean Sea, with apparently just one ship in it. It's that island of Cyprus (which is Paphros and Salamis) that is still there. Where Antioch Seleucia is, that's Aleppo and modern-day Antioch. All these lands are still there, but that top, major land mass in Asia is Galatia. It's the region of the Gauls, and the gospel is going into it.
Paul is looping back through it. It says in verse 22 he did four things. He strengthened the souls of the disciples. He encouraged them to continue in the faith. He told them there are going to be many tribulations until the kingdom of God is firmly established, and he appointed leaders.
This is what I want you to hear this morning. One of the things we emphasize is that it's so right that we get together and we remember the greatness of God. The first thing we do is we strengthen the souls of the disciples, those who are learning more of God. We tell each other about the greatness of our God. We sing songs. We tell you, "If you don't know this, then it doesn't make sense for you to sing it, but we're going to declare to you the greatness of our God!"
For the last 30-plus minutes, we have been singing about the greatness of God, reminding ourselves of his love, about his amazing grace, why we respond to him, why we run after him. I've been quoting this verse, it seems, in a ton of conversations lately. This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments, the law. His commandments are not burdensome; they are life-giving.
We're reminded today, we're not here to punch some ticket, to do what God wants us to do so we don't have a bad week. We are reminding ourselves of the greatness of the love of God, and it strengthens our souls to know that our God is kind and loving and good and has our best interests in mind. It helps us to damp down the lies of the Enemy, who says, "God is not good. His Word is not true. Disobeying him is not that big of a deal." No. All of that is a lie. So the church, when it's gathered, you strengthen them by teaching them truths about God, reminding them of truth.
In smaller communities here… This is why we encourage you to be with others because you need to be, all throughout the week, strengthened and reminded by the Word of God. I get emails every day from somebody in my community. I get emails from the larger community, with Join the Journey. I'm reminded of the Word of God. I'm seeing people's meditation on it. I'm going, "Yep, that's true. Let me be faithful in my little outpost." Strengthen by reminding and teaching the truth of God.
Second: Encouraging. Hebrews 3:13 says, "But encourage each other day after day […] lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." If all you do is try and hang on until we're together again when we gather corporately, it's going to be a tough week. You're going to need encouragement morning, noon, and night from friends saying, "Hey, I know you've got this coming up. Be strong!" "I know you're going to that business meeting. I know this is the way they're going to want you to use your expense account. Hey, I know you're going to want to compromise on that expense account." "Hey, I know right now you are going through this tough season and you're discouraged. Let me lift up your spirits!"
Every time as you gather as a community, you have to do these things. Strengthen each other by reminding each other what's true. Encouraging each other to not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This is the third thing Paul did when he went looping through. He said, "Hey, listen. Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." It's just good to go, "Don't be surprised!" People, let me just tell you something.
Don't be discouraged if this week somebody in our body might get diagnosed with a terminal illness. Don't be surprised that somebody in our body is going to be betrayed by somebody who previously said they would be kind to them. Don't be surprised if somebody is going to get laid off. Don't be surprised. This is not home. This is earth, and there are going to be many tribulations. Don't be surprised when people hate you because you take a stand for righteousness.
The Gauls are still marauding. When you stand up and go, "No, listen. There is a God who is creator, sustainer, and judge, and you're going to be held accountable to him. By the way, he's good, but if you don't want to believe he's good, you're going to meet him and see fully that he's God." Some people aren't going to like that. They don't like the idea of accountability.
It's your job to remind them of that, and also to let folks know that because you remind them of that, you're probably going to get, at times, beaten up along the way. But hang in there! It's worth it. This is just a short journey and we'll be home. Paul said, "Don't be surprised." Is your community reminding each other, "Hey, this is earth. God hasn't forgotten us"?
Jesus said at the very end of his life, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." This summer we buried kids. This summer we dealt with people who were formally with us who are now living contrary to the will of God. This summer we got criticized publicly. I could go on and on, and none of it discourages me. But I do need your encouragement and I need to be strengthened with the Word of God. I need to remember it's just part of earth.
Then he says, "I want you to be under leaders." This is why we have leaders of community groups. That's why we have leaders of the body of Christ here. Paul appointed elders for them. Let me just say this to you. Accountability. Everybody thinks they want it until they get it, but accountability is a good thing. The reason you are held accountable is because you count. You matter to God! I'm going to tell you something. We pray for you. We watch you.
If you're a member here, then every year we go, "How are you doing? How do you think you did in the areas that we all agree from God's Word are very important? How can we help you have a program to go forward and do better still?" Four times a year we meet with every smaller community and just say, "What do you guys need? What's your strategy to go forward? What resources are you lacking?"
How amazing to have that kind of care! God wants you to have that. Strengthen. Encourage. Reminded that this is a battle, and make sure you are accounted for. That's what happened. It says there, basically in 24, 25, and 26 at the end of chapter 14 that as they moved quickly, Paul commends them to the grace of God. Just like he was commended to go take the grace of God to Galatia by his church, that may the Holy Spirit use you to do something great. Paul knew why what he did worked.
Now let me just show you something right here because this is so important for all of us. Sometimes people ask me, "Todd, does it every blow you away, it is ever hard for you to keep yourself centered when you see what God is doing here at Watermark?" And I go, "Absolutely not!" I am under no illusion why God is allowing us to have the impact we're having increasingly all throughout the world. It's not because I'm uniquely gifted. It's not because of any exceptional ability we have. I do believe it's because we are being as faithful as we can and God is just choosing to be kind in us and through us.
I tell people all the time when you go start something, start it with this mindset: "I believe God wants to do something great in the world today." I'm just saying, "Lord, if you're willing, why not with me?" That's what Paul did. He went into an entire continent and said, "God, I believe you care for these people and if you want to do something to please and glorify your name and to serve others, I'm willing. Here I am. Use me."
If you're going into your school this week for the first time, just pray that. Say, "Lord, I believe this sophomore class you really care about, and if you want to use me to rescue somebody, use me." This new job you've got. Your neighborhood. "Lord, I believe you care about all these people. If you want to do something great in this neighborhood, I'm willing." That's what Paul did.
Watch what Paul did when he got to Antioch. It says in verse 27, "When he arrived, he gathered his home community together and they…" which is Paul and Barnabas, "…began to report all the things that God had done." When we share stories here, we're not just bragging about what we did. We're saying, "Look what God did with us!" We are cracked pots, earthen vessels that the light of God is shining forward. We do talk about what God has done through us.
But notice where the emphasis is. There is no illusion here that any of us are better than anybody in any other local gathering, but man, when God does something, you ought to celebrate it! That's what he did. But he says… Watch how many times he hits this in verse 27. "He began to report all that God had done. How he…" meaning God, "…had opened a door of faith." God did something. He showed them why Jesus is called the door; "You have to come through me." God has opened a door that anybody can walk through back into a relationship with him. God did it; Paul just told them, "There's the door!"
Let me just give you a great illustration of this. There's a guy named Erwin Lutzer who is a pastor in Chicago at Moody Bible Church, and has taught some. He teaches a homiletics class. Homiletics is basically the science of communication and preaching. What Lutzer does, because he understands how God works in the lives of people, when he gets his students and he's shown them how to rightly divide the Word of Truth, how to craft the message, how to teach something powerfully, and well, and illustrate it, and he gets it down well, he loads them up in a bus and he drives them to a cemetery.
He says, "Look, I want you to go over there by those headstones. You go over here by this section." He puts his students out all over the cemetery. He says, "I want you to go, and I want you to preach this message that we've groomed, rehearsed, that's as good as it can get. I want you to give an altar call. I want you to, at the end, plead with men to come forth and believe in God. I'll see you guys back here in about 30 to 40 minutes."
So they all go out. He said they all prayed, they preached their message, and they all get back in the bus and he goes, "Hey, where are all the people you converted? How come nobody else is getting back on the bus?" You're kind of like, "This is a bit crazy," and it would seem crazy if you drove by that cemetery at that particular moment.
Here's what he's trying to get through to his students, and it's worth getting through. "Hey, listen. Unless God does a great work, there is no way those people are coming out of the grave." You know that, right? We all absolutely understand that dead men don't just get up and come because you're persuasive. That's a work of God.
Can I let you in into a little insight? This is exactly what the Bible says we are. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Unless God does an animating work, unless he breathes into us some spark of faith, there is no way any of us will ever believe. Some people ask me sometimes, "Todd, why don't you give altar calls? How come you don't have people come up?" Because I know…I think I maybe could…I can learn techniques to manipulate you, emotionally do things with lights and music and stories, and I can have you feel like, "Oh, man. I love that story!"
You're going to come up here and you're going to be convinced that maybe because in the emotion of the moment you came up to a certain place that you really believe. No. I think what happened is in the emotion of the moment you were like, "Man, that feels really good and I think I want to do it," but I don't know if God did that.
There's an old story about Rowland Hill, who used to guarantee people if he came and preached, X thousand would be converted because he knew how to do this in massive crowds. I think Hill understood this later in his career. He was actually somewhere, and some drunk came up to him and goes, "Pastor Hill, I heard you preach, and I am one of your converts!" Hill looked at him and said, "Well you may well be one of my converts, but it doesn't look like you're one of God's."
That doesn't mean believers never do stupid things and get drunk again. But if it's the practice of your life to never cling to the goodness of God and go to war against sin, it ought to really make you wonder if you understand the goodness of God. You are saved not because of anything you do, but because of what has been done there is an act of ongoing work of God in your life.
What Lutzer is teaching his students is that, "It ain't you, bro." When Paul went and preached, he just said, "I don't come to you with persuasive words or superiority of speech so that men would be won by the words of…" That's why I don't try and convince people. I do the best I can to make sure the message is excellent, but at the end of the day it's going to be a work of God, and God has to do it.
Some people go, "But the Scripture says he foreknew. He predestined. Those he predestined, he called. Those he called, he glorified. Some people go, "Man, are you telling me, Todd, I can't come unless I'm called?" Yes. I'm telling you that. You have nothing you can do unless God does an efficacious work of grace in your life. So you go, "How do I know that I have that?" Answer: Come.
When you come, you know you came because of the grace of God. That's why you're not arrogant. If you're the preacher and people come, and you're not arrogant if you come and look at other people who are still deaf to the world. You thank God he has shown you what only God can show you. He has brought you out of the death of sin.
We aren't synergistic people. We are called monergists. Ergo is the word in Greek for work, also the word for energy. When something has synergy, the word syn- means with, or together. Synagogue… -agogue is the word for leadership, so synagogue is we lead together here as we seek the things of God. Synonym means we together use the same name, even though there are different words. Synergy is we work together to make this happen.
We don't have a synergistic faith. I'm just going to tell you straight up. It is monergism, which is one God. One God, one Lord, does a gracious work to bring about you a work of repentance. Not guilt. Not shame. But God converts you, and you come by the grace of God. "Why you?" you might ask. That's a great question. But having received this gift, let you not just disdain it or cling to it. Do everything you can to participate with the gracious God who has worked in your life to share it with others.
If you know you have received a great gift and there's an abundance of it, why wouldn't you share it? If you don't care to share it with others, that tells me you must not know how good it is. Maybe God hasn't done the work you think he's done. Maybe you're still working the way you think you should so God will love you. You've missed the gospel and you need Acts 15.
So what God had done… God opened the door to the Gentiles and it says, "And they spent a long time with the disciples." I love to be with my friends who love God and go, "What's God doing in your life? Tell me a story! Tell me what he's done. Refresh me with a reminder of his Word and how our lives are better since we've clung to him and how it's worth enduring through the tribulations that are among us."
I did that this week. I was with leaders from churches who flew in from all across the country, literally. Out in the D.C. area, some churches from California, all across Texas, some from Oklahoma, the state of Arkansas, Louisiana. There were churches from all over here. Actually, about 20 different churches were represented. Churches that are helping us think through how we can take re|engage to even more churches.
These are all churches that are seeing God work mightily though the need of broken relationships and God's healing, renewing ability. As we individually are reconciled to him, we learn to be reconciled to one another. We met with these church leaders, and as I was talking to them and encouraging them, I just said, "Tell me some stories. This is a little respite. Right now, we're not all out there caring for others, we're together as leaders. Let's talk about what God has done."
One guy said, "I'm just going to read you this story." This is a story from Washington, D.C. Are you ready? There was a little girl who was already back at school. She came home. Well, let me just read it to you. This guy got this email from somebody who had been through re|engage. "Hey. I want to share a sweet story about what happened today. Alexia, our 12-year-old, came home from school asking if we had a card for re|engage because she wanted to bring it back to school with her tomorrow and give it to a friend she just made.
After talking longer, she explained how her friend's parents were fighting a lot, and she just learned that her friend's mom had an affair with another guy who wasn't her daddy and was now pregnant. This little 12-year-old girl was heartbroken at school and didn't know what to do and started talking to Alexia. Alexia came home and said to her mom, 'Can I have a re|engage card?' Alexia just learned at her church…our church…recently that helping friends through hard times is something God wants you to do, especially if you can relate.
'You should share a story from your own life to help others not feel so alone in their struggles and give them hope. So I've been telling my friend at school about you and dad, and how you used to fight, and how you guys were going to get divorced, and how God helped you work through your issues through this thing called re|engage and through the God that you met there. So I've told her all about re|engage.' And her friend asked for a card so she could give it to her parents."
The mom wrote, "The story breaks my heart, but I was so encouraged to see that even our daughter was using our family struggles to help others." This little 12-year-old girl actually stands at the foyer of her church and when people walk into her church, she goes, "I'm so glad you're here! Have you guys ever heard of re|engage? You need to go to re|engage! Hi! Welcome! Have you heard of re|engage…" because she saw the gospel save her family.
It's not re|engage. It's not Watermark. It's the gospel of Jesus Christ. It brought healing to her mom and dad who were headed for divorce. This girl goes to her Galatia, which is her school, her sixth-grade class, she sees a little girl sad. "What's going on?" "Well, my mommy has a baby in her and it's not apparently my daddy's and they're fighting a lot." This girl believed Jesus can fix that.
I love that! That strengthened my heart, and it ought to strengthen yours. We ought to spend some time encouraging and refreshing each other about who God is and what he's done. He spent a long time there with the disciples. While they're there being refreshed, here comes trouble. Some men… And these men always show up.
In Matthew 13, Jesus is telling a story. He's talking about the parables of the kingdom of God, and he says, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…" That's the good seed of the gospel that God loves you. He wants to save you. He wants your life to flourish in every way. He planted good seed. Then it says, "…but while his men were sleeping…" And if the church doesn't stay on the alert, strengthening, encouraging, reminding under godly, spirit-filled leaders, what you're going to find is there will be errors that will come in.
Jesus says, "…his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat…" a different kind of seed that doesn't grow wheat which leads to life and human flourishing, but weeds. These weeds look just like wheat. The story goes on, where Jesus says, "Don't you try and pull up which is and what isn't. Just sow good seed and make sure you don't let poor seed be sowed into your field."
What Jesus us basically telling in this story is, "Hey, you may not even know. Sometimes there are going to be people who look like they love me, but they are really performing for me. They are not free. They have not received the gospel of Jesus Christ. When they serve, they are serving to build a resume. They're not serving because of my righteousness which has happened in them.
We call you to be actively involved with us in the gospel, but we are not performance-based acceptance people. We are acceptance-based performers because of the love of God. I want to live with him and for him because it blesses me. There are going to be some guys who always show up, and they're here. Mark my word.
Sometimes you're going to hear people, they talk about their story and it always involves, "Well, I think I'm going to heaven." "Well, I think what I'm doing is enough." I'm like, "Oh my gosh. Wait a minute. What do you mean think?" Don't think. "He who has the Son has the life," the Scripture says. Do you know you have a relationship with God if you've walked through the door of faith? Have you trusted in the cross of Jesus? Then it's finished, man. You're his! It is done.
Rejoice! Walk, now, and benefit from the relationship you have with the sovereign, loving heavenly Father who gives you, as we've reminded ourselves here on this campus today, everything pertaining to life and godliness. Here come some guys. This is a big deal. This is the biggest of deals. I want you to do this. Slide with me (I'm going to show you who these men are right now) down to verse 24. I'm going to give you the end of the story.
Verse 24, in Acts 15, it says this. This is going to be the leaders of the church who say this. Listen. I know some guys came down from Jerusalem (Jerusalem is a city on a hill) and even though it's south of where these guys are, they went off the mountain, down, up north, up to Antioch. When they got there, they said, "Hey, you Gentiles…" Because that's where the church was. It was in Gentile region. They said, "You Gentiles need to become more Jewish. You need to get circumcised. You need to have surgery."
Talk about a membership requirement. Have surgery there. It's like, "Whooh, really?" That's not a door; that's quite an assignment right there. That's what this guy was saying, "You need to do these things for God to love you." Watch what it says in verse 24. "Since we heard that some of our number…" Some who were numbered among us, "…to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words…"
Every now and then that happens here. Some among us, who we gave no instruction, tell you that separate and apart from your faith in Jesus you need to go seek this thing called the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they distort the Scripture. They don't understand that the moment you trust in Christ, you are identified with Christ and you are baptized into one spirit. They're going to tell you if you really love God, it's going to manifest itself in some distortion of what happened in Acts, chapter 2.
We just say, "Some men among us, who we gave no instruction, are creating turbulence." That's part of the word disturbance. That there's some special secret sauce that will make your life just go like this. No. Then we have to tamper out that disturbance. Here's one. "If you want to really be God's people, you have to take up the law. You have to do these things and look like a Jew." That's what was coming there in 15:1. This is hugely important. I'm going to explain to you why this really matters.
It says, " 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.'" When Paul and Barnabas heard this, they had a great discussion and debate with them. It's called backloading the gospel. That, "Hey, trust in Jesus, and then do these things and maybe you'll be saved."
Let me tell you why this is a big deal. Five hundred years ago, there was a reformation that happened in the church that dealt with the exact same error. The church in Rome… Let me just remind you of this. Roman Catholicism. Catholic means universal. The universal church that met in Rome became very influential because it was at the seat of power at the time. The Roman watermark, the Roman part of the universal church had a lot of influence because it was wealthy and powerful, and so its doctrine began to spread.
It spread over much of the Galatian region and really over a lot of the known earth. For 1500 years, when people thought of what the church believed, they thought of Roman Catholicism. There was a guy who just stood up and said, "Hey, Roman Catholicism has a lot right. But man, it starts to say if in addition to your belief in Jesus, you don't stay rightly related to the church, if you don't do these seven sacraments, you're in trouble."
They bound people. Then they started to pervert it even more with indulgences and inventions of this idea called purgatory, where, "Now we're not going to just pilfer and control you when you're alive, now we're going to say if you love your dead and deceased brethren who didn't do enough holy things while they were alive, they're going to be stuck in this holding area so you need to throw some money in the coffer." "Every time a penny in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory does spring," was the little poem they had out there. It was a heck of a fundraising deal.
"Because you love grandma, then drop a little bit in the box!" "You planning on sinning? Ah, you can sin. Just give me 500 bucks, then you have an indulgence." Nuts! "You want to be saved? Then stay rightly related to the church." There was a monk, a priest, named Martin Luther, 500 years ago this October, who said, "That ain't right. That ain't what the Bible teaches," and he brought reformation back.
Guess what he did? The Reformation went from Jesus plus the church in tradition, to sola scriptura. Sola fide. Faith alone. Sola gratia. Grace alone. Solus Christus. Christ alone. Soli Deo Gloria. Those were the five cries of the Reformation. Scripture is authoritative, not tradition. Faith is the means of salvation, not works. Grace. It's a gift of God. It's Christ, not you, and God is the glorified one. You know him? It ain't because you're brilliant or somebody could preach well. It's because he did a gracious work in you.
This was the first error of the church. You're going to find out that the Reformation… It took just a couple of years before the church needed to be reformed because here come some among them saying there was something else going on. What happened is there was a debate between these guys who came from Jerusalem to the center of where this all happened, and Paul and Barnabas are discussing it.
Verse 3 says, "Therefore, being sent on their way by the church…" to go down and figure out what the truth is. "Do I need to become a Jew? Do I need to add law to my works?" So down they went. As Paul went down there, he went through Phoenicia. He went through Samaria. He kept telling everybody about how God was working amongst the Gentiles and it brought great joy to them as they went. But verse 4, "When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done…"
Do you see a theme here? "But some of the sect of the Pharisees…" Now we're going to see where it came from. "…who had believed…" Those who had been a part of these new people who had followed in Christ. They believed there was something unique about Jesus, but they were not fully instructed in the Way. They said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and…" Now watch this. "…to direct them to observe the Law of Moses." Now we're adding it. Not the circumcision, which is an overall sign that you love God, but there are 613 other things they need to do.
Legalism is never happy. It's always one more thing you have to do, one more thing to feel guilty about. I just want to say this. I'm going to stick this in real quickly. I'm going to do it quickly. People love law. They love religious system. Why? I'm going to give you a couple of quick reasons. I taught through Galatians. In fact, if I really had thought about this, I should stop right where we are and teach you the book of Galatians because it's letter Paul wrote to the people who he had just visited.
If you want to understand the context of what's going on around here, go read Galatians this week. It's only six chapters. You see why Paul is arguing for salvation by grace through faith alone. Galatians is a mini-Romans, which is the great treaties on salvation by grace through faith alone, which is the gospel, which is what the church declares.
When I taught the book of Galatians here a number of years ago, I titled it, The Long Arm of the Law. "Oh, Mama I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law. Hangman is coming down from the gallows and I don't…" Parents, just take your kids back to 70s music. Play them some Styx and preach Galatians. All right? That's what's going on right there. The law keeps grabbing you and dragging you back. Don't you have that mindset? "You need to do this!" No, you don't.
Let me tell you what happens when you come into a relationship with Christ. "I want to grow in grace and be sanctified. I don't need to do anything except rejoice in my God because if I rejoice in my God, I delight in his Word. When I taught through Galatians, chapter 5, I said this. People like old religious systems or law because it makes them feel like they are in control. "If I do this, I'm going to be saved." No. Accept that the standard is perfection.
Secondly, it feeds their pride, the belief that they're not so bad. They can't do something to save themselves. We've just taught a message here recently about how good is good enough? Thirdly, it allows them to feel no obligation to anyone or anything. "Hey, God, I'm doing this! If that ain't enough, then to heck with you! I don't need to worship you; you need to be impressed by me!"
Fourthly, it's acceptable to others because they go, "Hey, that's your system." Right? The Muslim has his way. The Hindu has his way. The Buddhist has his way. The Christian has his way. Let's just let everybody do what they want to do! Fifthly, it's just familiar. People always go back to what they're most familiar with. We create God in our image. That's the way men are. You perform for men, men like you. That must be what God is like. No. No. It's not that way at all.
God saves you because he is kind and because he is loving. Religious leaders love law and legalism because it validates what they've always done and it keeps them in power. "You'd better stay rightly related to the church because if not, you're out!" One of the things we do when we put people through care and correction in church discipline, we don't say, "You're not going to heaven," we're just saying, "You are no longer, because of the choices you're making, rightly representing the cause of Christ."
I don't know if you're his or not. I don't know if you're a tare among the wheat. I don't know if you're a prodigal who's just away for a while and you're going to return home. God calls me to treat you as a tax-gatherer and a Gentile at that moment, which is to say somebody who is living in rebellion against God, or who hasn't heard about God yet. We're going to pray for you and love you, and you can still come in here and hear us preach, but we're just not going to put our hand on you and say, "This is an abiding follower of Jesus."
I tell folks all the time, "My job is not to see through you to see if you're really saved or not. My job is to see you through to faithfulness." Even church discipline here, we just go, "Hey, this is not somebody who is living in a way that's consistent." Not because they made one mistake. We all make mistakes, right? But somebody who is adopting and embracing something that is contrary to the will and the way of God.
We just go, "We love you, but we cannot stand with you because you don't want to stand for Christ. How can we help you?" "I don't want you to help me. Leave me alone!" "Great. We'll leave you alone, and I pray you come to repentance." It might be because you never knew the Lord and that's why you went back like a dog to its vomit, or it might be because just for a season you've been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and hopefully you'll come to your senses and return.
When you come back, did you come back and really get saved, or did you come back because you we really always a part of this and the spirit of God reminded you of that? I don't know. But the longer you go being happy living apart from God, the more it suggests to me that you may not know the goodness of God.
Here comes the first church council. Verse 6. "The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, 'Brethren…'" Now this is Peter. Paul and Barnabas told him about what God had done. Now Peter, who is in Jerusalem, says, "'...you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles…"
"Remember, I was in my little Mediterranean vacation there in Joppa..." This is Acts, chapter 10. "I had a vision that God said 'This is clean. Don't you worry about it. If I make it clean, don't you tell me it's not clean anymore.' Then there was a knock at the door and some guys said, 'Is there a Peter here? God sent us here from Caesarea and said there's a guy here who can tell us how we can be rightly related to him. He knows the door, so we're knocking on your door to find him.'"
Peter goes up to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. He tells them about the door, Jesus Christ, and they come to believe, and Peter says, "And they received the Holy Spirit just like we did at the moment of belief. That was God's choosing," Peter says. It says in verse 8, "And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us [back there in Jerusalem, us Jews] and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith."
Peter goes, "That was my experience. What Paul and Barnabas did in Galatia, that the grace of God changes people, I saw it!" Now, therefore, Peter looks at these Pharisees and says , "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?" He goes, "Have you noticed we haven't done such a great job with the law either, that's why Jesus kept coming." He said, "The law is not bad. The law is there to teach you something."
This is the standard of God. We don't meet it. What are we going to do? You cry out for grace and mercy. Jesus says, "Guess what? I'm grace and mercy. I'm going to lay down my life. All of you like sheep have gone astray. Each of you have turned your own way, but the Lord is going to cause the iniquity of all of you to fall on me." Jesus said, "Trust in me. Let God's wrath be poured out on me. I'm going to go where you can't go to stand before a holy God and pay for the sins of the world. Trust in me."
That's exactly what Peter said. Peter says, "I wouldn't put God to the test." What he's saying here is, "You'd better watch it. When you start telling God that what he did for people ain't enough, that might tick him off." I have a 13-year-old right now in my house. He has some new things flowing through his veins.
Every now and then, he'll come up… He probably just watched something on ESPN about Conor McGregor and the upcoming fight. He just comes up, he'll just tag me. He'll go, boom! Punch me in the chest. And I'll go... And he'll go, "Come on!" Boom! And I go, "Hey, boy, you'd best not test that, all right?" What I'm saying is, "One more of these and I might just respond and just put you back in your little pre-pubescent state."
That's basically what Peter is saying here. "You're messing with God's message, and you're messing with his kids. You'd best check yourself." He says this amazing thing in verse 11. This is the very first apostles' creed. You ought to highlight this in your Bible. "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." I did a Real Truth. Real Quick. a couple of weeks ago. How were people saved in the Old Testament before Jesus? Answer: By grace through faith. Go listen to it.
They were saved because they had faith in the provision God set up that for a time he would overlook their sin, but they had faith that there would be a provision that would come. Peter says, "We are saved because we look back at a provision that God has given." Men have alwaysbeen saved by faith. The righteous have always lived by faith. That's the verse that started the Reformation. Luther was reading Romans, and he goes, "Well I'll be! The righteous live by faith, not fear."
By the way, this is why this is so important. You want to know why so many kids go to college and tube it? Because parents teach legalism and law. Law rules by fear of punishment. Love rules by fastening your heart to a person. Legalism is effective only when the power of accountability is present. If you're a parent and all you want your kid to do is be polite and proper around you so they don't embarrass you, you're not teaching them the love of God.
What you have to let them know is there are consequences to not walking with God. "I love you. I'm not going to teach you what to do, I'm going to teach you the moral why." Here's the thing. Love is operative, not just when somebody is physically present, but love is effective everywhere because your heart is affixed. I don't just stay faithful to my wife when she's next to me. When I go somewhere and speak, I go, "Hey…" What's the old saying, right? "When the cat's away, the mice will play." No, man. I don't care if I'm away from that cat or not. That's my beloved.
This is why so many kids tube when they go to college. Because they're away from that long arm of the law. Daddy can't reach them with a backhand anymore. But if the gospel has reached them and the Father's love has been made known to them, Daddy doesn't wake you up; your love for God does. Law, legalism is death. That doesn't mean that walking in obedience… When people begin to call obedience legalism, they'll be at the height of their heresy.
Obedience is not performance. It's what you do because, "I don't want miss a single bit of God's blessing." We have experiential testimony, and now what you're going to have is this great creed in verse 11. It says everybody was silent. They were listening to Paul and Barnabas (verse 12) and all that God had done.
Then in verse 13, it said after they stopped speaking, James speaks up, the half-brother of Jesus, who had been converted. This is the James who used to think Jesus was crazy. He used to mock Jesus. Then Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and said, "Hey, James." It changed James, and I think it would change me.
Now he's going to give a theological testimony. It's great that we've got experience, but he's going to say, "Let me just tell you boys something. I know what we're seeing looks like the Gentiles are being saved by God. Does God's Word say that's what he wants, and are those Gentiles supposed to become Jews when they do get saved?"
He says, "Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for his name.'With this the words of the Prophets agree…" That was always God's plan. He could have gone all through the book of Isaiah, but he decides to go to Amos, chapter 9, verses 11 and 12, and that's what he does.
He says in verse 16, "After these things…" Meaning after Israel is brought into judgment. That's what the description in Amos 9:1-10 is talking about. Jesus says, "I will return, and I will rebuild the Tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name…" They can come and worship me as well.
This is what the Lord has said and made these things known from long ago. Here's what James is doing. "Hey guys, there's going to be a day when this Jesus who was just crucified, who we saw and was resurrected, is coming back and when he comes back, he's going to reestablish the millennial kingdom. When he comes back, it says all the Gentile nations will worship him. That means Gentiles don't need to become Jews! They just need to know who the King of Kings is. It happens to be one who came from the line of Abraham, the seed that is the blessing of the world.
God's design was always that all the nations would be blessed through him. Mark my word. God is going to do with Israel what he said he's going to do, but what he's going to do is venerate himself through that nation and all the nations are going to go, "That's the King of Kings." We don't need to be Jews. We need to know the King. That's the theological point James is making. That's why we're not filled here with festivals and sacrifices, and you may be circumcised for health reasons and cosmetic reasons, but you don't do it to get saved.
If you read Galatians, chapter 5, Paul said, "Here's the deal, folks. If you get circumcised to be saved, you have to do everything else to be saved, and ain't nobody can do everything else." He goes on to say, "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but…" He says, "We ought to ask them to do this." He says, "Let's write to them and say, 'Let's have them abstain from cultic practices,'" which are normative to pagans.
"Let's tell them, 'Hey, guys, one of the most obvious ways to show that the Spirit of God possesses you is not to be immoral people. This fornication which is rampant amongst the Greeks and the Gentiles, it has to stop. Just don't be about your former life.'" Remember what Paul said you have to turn from, and turn to? He's saying, "Listen. You have to acknowledge that there's a better morality than the one you used to know." Then he says, "Don't eat what is strangled from blood."
What he's basically saying right here is there are certain things… "You can do whatever you want and you're saved, but if you really are saved, you're going to do something that marks your salvation," and what he's going to say is (this is key in verse 21), "For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath." What he's saying is all across the Roman region, there are a bunch of people who have been talking about Moses for a long time, and they have some habits that are very important to them.
He's telling our new Gentile friends, "Let's just ask them if they would care for our Jewish friends the way we do." So they would not eat meat sacrificed to idols. They wouldn't just be animals who eat meat with the blood in it. In other words, an animal that's strangled and it's just raw meat. Don't eat raw meat. That doesn't seem a real high ask. But he's saying, "Your sexual ethic ought to change, too."
This is the most obvious part of a lot of our lives. Paul addresses it straight on. The moral law of God comes forward. There's some ceremonial law, but there is a moral exhortation here. "Guys, we have to shore up your lives because we don't want to offend folks. We have to let them see that you really know God." So verse 22: "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men…"
Notice this. This is something important here. These people have been really hurt up here, and they didn't just send them a letter saying, "Ah, sorry those guys came up and troubled you," they sent humans to them. They said, "Hey, we love you." Remember what I read to you earlier, verse 24? "We know that some of our number who we did not give authority and gave no instruction came up here and troubled you, so we're sending some of our number to you and we're just saying, 'Hey, we love you.'"
Watch what it says. It says, "Brethren…" The way he called them, he said, "You're just like us. You're our brothers in Christ and we love you. Barnabas and Paul are beloved among us. They're right. The gospel they have preached to you is the true gospel. They risk their lives for the cause of Christ." So they went back up; that's what the rest of the chapter is about. But look what happens. The guys up there get the letter. They see the love of the apostles, the leaders of the church, and they hear that the gospel is the gospel. They don't need to do anything except trust Jesus and walk with him.
Be mindful of their Jewish friends. Paul would later write about this. "I have become all things for all men, so that the gospel might be preached. To the Jew, I'll become a Jew. To the Gentile, a Gentile. To those under the law, I'll live as under the law. To those not apart from the law, as those not apart from the law." It's not about them. That's really what the apostles said. "You go tell them it's not about what they do to get saved, but what they do might help others know the gospel."
What you do matters because you're God's servants who love others the way God loved you. Lay your life down. Preach the gospel. Trust in the grace of God. It says in verse 31, "When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement." Isn't that great? We are not a church with a hymnal, but we sing hymns here and we sing a lot of praise choruses. There is not a single praise chorus that we sing that goes like this: "O, God, we thank you that this week if we get our act together, and wake up early, and study, and we give enough, and we serve the poor, and we do enough for long enough, we might be good enough for you to save us. O, God, thank you."
We don't sing those songs here. There is nothing about performance that we would celebrate. It's kind of like, "Man, I hope we did good enough this week!" But man, are there some songs we sing that celebrate the grace of God, that he would save someone like us? It's what makes you sing. When you hear the gospel, true, hopefully it'll bring you out of your graveyard of sin.
You'll go, "God loves me that much? You mean this is not a rule book, that I have to behave and do well enough long enough that maybe I'll get a passing grade? That's what I've always thought. I've been running from that God for a long time because I don't want to do some of the things he wants me to do."
Then all of a sudden, you go, "You mean God loves me? He has my best interests in mind? You mean there's a reason he asks me to do certain things and not do other things and it's because it's going to work out better for me if I do it? He wants me to sow life into my life? He's not mad? He just wants to help? Tell me more about that God." Not only does he want to help, he's made provision for all I've done when I've just basically told him to get lost. What kind of love is that?
It's promotion Sunday, so I have to shut 'er down. There are ways we could continue, and I'll grab it for you later. Let's pray.
Father, we want to sing. I thank you that there is grace. I thank you that you have saved us, and having been saved, that you have commended us to the grace of God that we could go and make it known to others. Father, would you help us to not think it's about us, but to lay our lives down and to ask ourselves, "What can we do to serve other people without compromising truth?"
Help us this week to declare truth to others. Help us to be strengthened now by being reminded and encourage each other not to be deceived by sin and not be surprised at the trials among us and to hold to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, and to be accountable to one another.
Lord, we thank you for Christ alone, for grace, for faith, for your Scripture. I pray we go out of here and we sing about it. That we are not people who perform, we are people who have been provided for. To the glory of Christ and the good of the watching world, may our lives be a radiant display of your love at work in us. In Jesus' name, amen.