Pastor Edward Brouwer 11-19-17 “Sola Fide….Faith=Justification + Works” Acts 15
Faith= Salvation + works
Last week we looked at the story of the miraculous release of Peter from jail as recorded by Luke in Acts 12. At the end of that story Luke informs us that Paul and Barnabas have left Antioch where they have been teaching and preaching for about a year, travelled to Jerusalem on important business, then returned to Antioch where the church get together and commissioned them to begin their first missionary enterprise. Acts 13-14 records their travels from the island of Cyprus to the south central part of Turkey and eventually back to Antioch over a roughly two year period. The gospel is advancing and Paul and Barnabas’ strategy is to go to the synagogue in each town and preach there. This makes sense because they see themselves as Jews who are telling other Jews the goodness of the coming of the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth. In some places many come to faith and in other places they begin to experience push back. We see in Acts 13:46 that Paul says to the Jewish Synagogue leaders “It was necessary that we share the good news with you first but now that you have rejected it we are turning to the Gentiles with the gospel”. And so we pick up the story in Acts 15 where some Jewish leaders come to the thriving church at Antioch and begin to insist that the gentiles follow everything in the Scriptures as a component of faith.
Read Acts 15
The issue is nothing less than what is at the core of the gospel. We can sympathize with these Jewish Christians because the Messiah was Jewish and everything in their world view would have pointed to the necessity that in order to be a Christian you needed to be a good Jew first. Even Paul would agree that in Romans 3:1 where he posits “what advantage is there in being a Jew or what benefit is circumcision? Much in every way! For to begin with the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God”. What were these oracles and how should we value them? When Paul writes in 2 timothy 3:16 “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, correction and training in righteousness”, he is referring to the Jewish Scriptures from the Law to the Prophets to the Wisdom literature. That includes books like Genesis, Psalms and Isaiah. All these were important to understanding faith. So don’t buy into the idea of some people that they are New Testament Christians only that don’t read the OT. Marcion, one of the early church fathers around 144 AD in Rome began to teach that the God of Israel as represented in the Hebrew Bible had nothing to do with the Jesus of the Gospels and so rejected the OT. That’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The key to understanding and making sense of the Hebrew Scripture is through the lens of Jesus. This is precisely what Jesus did (on the road to Emmaus he showed “from the beginning to end of the Scripture how the Christ must suffer and die and rise again”. And also how Stephen and Paul showed from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.
So the Judaizers, the people who visited Antioch (causing such a stir), and said the gentiles had to follow the Law were not altogether wrong in their emphasis on the Hebrew Scriptures.
As Christians we see the Law functioning in 3 different ways: Moral, Civil and Ceremonial Law.
Ceremonial Law in the OT had to do with worship. The sacrificial system was a key component. The Passover lamb sacrifice and the Scapegoat on which the sins of the people were transferred, to mention a few. These were a shadow of Christ. And when Christ fulfilled these they went away.
The Civil Law had to do with the administration of government that was needed for the functioning of the Nation of Israel. Laws concerning inheritance and punishment for stealing or manslaughter for example. These all went away when Israel ceased to exist as a nation.
The Moral Law is a little more challenging. How does Jesus fulfill the Moral Law? Do we still have to follow the moral commandments like ‘you shall have no other god’s before me or thou shalt not kill”. Yes we do but Jesus fulfilled those commandments perfectly (by his sinless obedience) and so now as Christians the Law of God is written on our hearts (by the Spirit). The Law of love that Jesus taught “love God and your neighbor as yourself’ is not something OUT THERE, but by the Holy Spirit now is something IN HERE.
So….the entire Bible still was the authority for every believer BUT by insisting on obedience to the Law without realizing that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and set us free from it: by this the Judaizers were doing damage to the gospel.
They were saying “faith in Jesus Christ is good BUT you must also be circumcised and follow the Law in order to be made right with God”. And Paul and Barnabas were having none of it.
Paul would write to the Colossians:
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition and not according to Christ. 9 For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 (in the same way now) having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Paul would write to the Ephesians some years later with a summary of gospel theology Ephesians 2:10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of your own, for it is a free gift of God lest anyone should boast”. God’s grace, lavished upon us by His Holy Spirit, producing faith in Jesus Christ is the only thing that saves us. The theological term for this is justification. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed upon us, so that our sins are covered and we are made children of God. And that is his act, not ours—not because of anything we have done lest anyone boast that they saved themselves.
Think about this. When you were born into your family, or when you welcomed a child into your family, did the child have any choice or agency in their conception and birth? No. And in the same way God doesn’t consult us. He loves us and chooses us to be in His family through the work of Jesus Christ. Period. Now once we are born into our human families, we learn who we are, develop our identity and can cooperate with our family to receive love and life. If we disown our family or reject our family that is our loss. In the same way, God invites us into his family and fills us with his defining mark of the Spirit and so enables us to be more and more like Jesus. Paul says that the sign and seal of circumcision has been replaced by the new mark of the Holy Spirit on the believers life which makes us part of God’s family.
For the Jews coming to Antioch their formula for salvation was Faith + Works = salvation. So getting saved has some to do with God and some to do with my work. But the gospel that Paul was fighting for was Faith= salvation + works. In Galatians 5 he would say “so circumcision or uncircumcision is of no value; what matters is faith (Christ) expressing itself through love”. We are saved by faith alone, but not by a salvation that is alone: that is devoid of the fruit of faith: love. The obedience to Christ that we have following the spirit and heeding God’s word comes as a response of gratitude to the faith. Faith in Christ leads to our salvation and the fruit of a life lived for God is the evidence that we have true faith. The work is not what WE do to earn salvation.
What are you adding to the gospel as a requirement for salvation? Is it faith plus moralism? This laboring under the notion that you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps in order for God to love you? No God loves you part from anything you are or do. And I leave with you the encouragement of Paul in Col. 2:6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.