I read Acts 15 in my time alone with God this morning. It made me think again of how easily we can try to add our own rules to the things we think make a person right with God. Even today, there are people in ministry whom I admire, but with whom I differ. Some of these folks say that if you don’t do ministry or evangelism their way – then a person cannot be saved. Any time a person starts saying “their way” is the only “right way”, I get a little cautious. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit is limited to doing things “their way”. This smacks of legalism which was also a problem in the early church (Phil 3, Gal, Acts 15 etc). As Warren Wiersbe writes: “When any religious leader says, ‘Unless you belong to our group you cannot be saved!’ or ‘Unless you participate in our ceremonies and keep our rules, you cannot be saved!’ he is adding to the Gospel and denying the finished work of Jesus Christ.”
Here are a few of the verses that really caught my attention as I read Acts 15 this morning:
1 While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers[a]: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.
6 So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.
9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers[b] with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
22 Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders[f]—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. 23 This is the letter they took with them: “This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!
24 “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! 25 So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question. 28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”
Vs 11 is a reminder that we’re all saved the same way – by the undeserved grace of Jesus Christ. The last part of this passage reminds me of the simplicity that was shared with the Gentile believers in order for them to impact more people for Christ. They weren’t given a long list of rules and regulations. They were simply told (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit vs. 28) to abstain from idolatry and sexual immorality.