Saved by Grace
The early church leaders have a big decision to make concerning whether or not to add any extra requirements to salvation.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
You know, there’s nothing worse than thinking you were good to go on something, and then finding out that you’re not.
For instance, imagine you get a phone call offering you a brand new job.
You’re super pumped because you’ve been looking for a new job and this seems like a great one.
You start thinking about where you could move to…you start picturing yourself in a new car, you start picturing yourself telling all your friends (oh, who are we kidding, you’ve already told your friends…you announced it on facebook immediately!)
“Hey, all of my 500 closest friends, guess what! Got a new job!”
And then, the unthinkable happens.
The company calls you back, and says, “Hey…sorry we’ve kind of changed our minds, and added some new requirements onto the position and looks like you don’t qualify anymore. We’re not going to be able to offer you the job after all.”
Worst. Feeling. Ever.
I want to take a look at a situation in the Bible today where some people try and add on some extra requirements to knowing God…that just shouldn’t be there.
All summer long, we have been studying “The Book of Acts” in the Bible, which is the 5th book of the New Testament and the story of how the early church got started.
Today, is an interesting day in our study because, now, after finishing chapter 14 and starting 15 today, we are officially half-way done in the book of Acts. J
By the way, after this week, we are going to be taking a break from the Book of Acts again, and we will come back to it in the late fall or early Winter.
To bring you up to speed on what’s happened in the Book of Acts, lately our two hero leaders, Paul and Barnabas, have been spreading the Good news of Jesus all around what is now modern-day Turkey, and they’ve just returned to their home church of Antioch (in Syria)
Then, controversy starts to break out. And that’s where we will join them today
(Acts 15:1-2) – NIV
1 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.
Okay, quick time-out. Here’s the basic problem. Some people came to Antioch from Jerusalem and started saying to all the non-Jew believers… “Hey! You can’t really be saved and know Jesus UNLESS you become a Jew first! Unless you get circumcised and obey other Jewish Laws!”
“If you do that, AND believe in JESUS, then you will be saved”
Paul and Barnabas sharply dispute this, and they are off to Jerusalem to meet w/ the leaders of the church to solve the problem and end the controversy once and for all.
(Acts 15:3-18) – NIV
3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” 6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” 12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’
18 that have been known for ages.
Okay. Let’s pause there for a little bit.
So, at the end there, James quotes a prophecy from the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) that says indeed the Gentiles would be a part of the faith.
And Peter, importantly points out that God GAVE the gentiles the Holy Spirit. He didn’t say, “Wait, now go get circumcised. Now go offer some sacrifices first.” It just fell on them as they believed.
So Peter tells them, so don’t test God by trying to add more requirements on to what he already said was enough.
Or, I like how Eugene Peterson writes it in the message, he writes, “Stop trying to ‘out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors.”
It’s like, imagine with me that you are a young kid again…and you’re going to start a new club in your neighborhood.
Let’s say you’re going to start a basketball league at the neighborhood for kids under 12, and you’re going to set-up teams and everything.
If you went around to all the kids and the neighborhood and pitched this idea like a young entrepreneur, “Hey, we’re gonna start this league for kids…it’s going to be Tuesday afternoons in the summer…we’re all gonna pick inspiring team names (like the Timberwolves), and it’s gonna be awesome)
If you lived in a neighborhood w/ a lot of kids, you might generate a lot of interest
But you know what often happens when organizations get started (even w/ little kids)…what started as everyone is invited is no longer true…
And before you know it, word on the street is, only kids 10-12 can join the league because the 8 and 9 year olds kept dribbling off their feet, and a week later, it was a BOYS only club because the girls missed too many lay-ups, and then the next week, it was only for kids who had previous experience, and the next week, it was only for the kids who also played on the school team…
Now, that’s a made up story, but it’s a story that’s happened countless times in countless different places.
See as humans, we LOVE to add requirements.
You know why?
Because…when we can add requirements that we CONVENIENTLY already meet, it makes us feel important that we are already apart of the club, AND CONVENIENTLY meeting the given requirements!
But the apostles put a stop to the extra requirements, and they sort it out. The passage continues with James continuing to speak…
(Acts 15:19-35) – NIV
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” 22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. 23 With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. 30 The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.
Okay, disaster averted. Controversy solved. The leaders send a letter saying, “No, you don’t have to be a Jew first. It’s just by faith.”
But, they do request some things of the Gentile believers…
And, to us, as 21st century American Christians, they don’t make the most sense.
Like imagine you’re in the apostles place. You’re writing to tell the Gentile believers that they don’t have to become Jews first and do all of these requirements…they just need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for them.
And then, at the end of your letter…you want to tack on 4 helpful reminders to them about living out their faith.
You’ve got 4 things. What would you write??
I don’t know… Maybe you would write… 1) Make sure to read your Bible… 2) Keep connected to church 3) Remember sometimes it hard or maybe you would even write that they be extra careful about sexual sin
But, instead, the apostles write: 1) abstain from food to sacrificed to idols, 2) abstain from consuming blood 3) abstain from the meat of strangled animals and 4) avoid sexual immorality (sin).
But here’s the deal: In 1st century Christianity…. Doing COMMUNITY together…being together as Christians…was everything.
And what’s the number one thing people do when they get together??
Yell it out. It hasn’t changed in 2,000 years!
And eating in community is SUPER important to the early Christians…we see that in Acts chapter 2.
But, the Jews have some major rules about what’s KOSHER to eat…and if the Gentiles and the Jews come TOGETHER in these new house churches to worship Jesus, meal times are going to be a disaster…and churches are going to split up.
Because the Gentiles would eat a certain meat, knowing it’s not a big deal, and the Jews would be freaking out because they always grew up thinking it was…and you can see how this could be a major problem.
Another way to look at this, is this: Imagine with me that you get called as a missionary in Sri Lanka
You live there for a couple of years: learning the language, learning the culture, and eventually you start seeing people come to Christ from other faith backgrounds.
So you start a church at your house, and before every service or Bible study, the whole church comes to your house and eats together.
Question number one: What are you going to have to drink?
Now, say you grew up in your average normal church in America where it was totally fine to drink alcohol as long as it never led to drunkenness.
But, in your new environment, that would probably be the last thing you would serve.
In all three of the other major religions in Sri Lanka (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam), any consumption of alcohol is a sin.
And that’s the background your new Christians would have grown up in….for decades
So, what would you serve at dinner?
Probably…to keep things calm…and to keep unity…you’d just serve water.
And that’s an example of the hyper-charged environment of the early church.
You’ve got these TWO different groups of people from vastly different backgrounds…and the early church leaders are wisely just trying to keep everyone focused on the right things.
They do, by the way, add something about abstaining from sexual sin as well.
Which is one of the main sins that the early churched struggled with.
The days of the roman empire were notorious for their sexual immorality.
If you read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the Bible this really becomes clear.
Sexual sin was everywhere.
Much like it is today.
But by the way, we don’t have to keep going that way. Revival can happen. History changed before and it can change again.
But the apostles are sure to add in this admonition of sexual sin because they really wanted to get that across to the new believers.
However, it’s important to note that these things they are writing in the letter are not requirements for salvation.
There were no extra added on requirements.
The only requirement for salvation is faith
These are just things they wanted them to do as Christians (or not do)
And the food ones aren’t even long-lasting principles.
In fact, only 7 years later, when Paul writes 1 Corinthians, in chapter 8, he tells the Corinthians that, sure, they can eat some food that’s sacrificed to an idol.
(1 Corinthians 8:4) – NIV
4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.
However, if you’re going to mess up someone’s faith by doing it, don’t even think about it
(1 Corinthians 8:9-13) – NIV
9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.
So you can see here, these principles they led down for the gentile believers are mostly principles. And that’s that.
But this decision in ACTS today to not add extra requirements to SALVATION is yet another SUPER important decision in church history (And it’s not really a decision…but a discovery of God’s truth)
The first one, as we had covered much of last month was that non-Jewish people could in fact become Christians.
The second one, today’s decision, is that non-Jewish people don’t have to become Jewish first to become Christians.
And honestly…this idea of adding things on to being saved. To being forgiven. To be given heaven. A relationship with Jesus… The idea of adding a list of requirements has been one of the greatest challenges Christianity has faced in the last 2,000 years.
Because Christianity has had to wrestle with this debate over…and over…and over again.
In the 1500’s, when Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation, and churches started to break away from being Catholic…it was all around this issue
This issue that was settled all the way back in ACTS!!
Because… the church started adding all these sorts of requirements if you were going to be “Saved” and go to heaven
You needed to have the Eucharist (communion) so many times, you needed to say the Lord’s prayer so many times, you couldn’t commit certainly deadly sins, and even after all that (and much more), you still are probably going to end up in purgatory (never mentioned in the Bible) and have to pay off some of your sin there, and then people needed to be paying for priests to pray for your while you there and then maybe you could get salvation….
And the reformers like Luther went, “WHOA. STOP IT. READ THE BIBLE! READ ACTS. READ ACTS 15!”
Saved by grace alone. By God’s forgiveness on the cross. And by faith. That’s it. Just faith.
But the adding on of requirements kept happening.. Even by the protestants who once brought things back to “just faith”
In the 1800’s missionaries were notorious for telling new converts in Asia and Africa, that they couldn’t truly be saved by God unless they believed Jesus died for them AND adopted new westernized cultural ways of living
Not true. But they just kept adding things on.
“Oh, you’re not really good in God’s eyes yet”
The fundamentalists of the 20th century were just as bad
Every single Christian who ever danced to a jig, played cards w/ kings and queens on them (ROOK was okay, but not face cards), every Christian who ever had a drink, who ever was seen in a shady place… “THESE PEOPLE” certainly are not saved.
For they have not met the requirements in God’s eyes.
And it continues today.
In the most ironic way possible.
The majority of people in this country do not attend church on a weekly basis anymore. They do not have a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ.
And if you ask random people on the street, “Are you saved? If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?”
The majority of people would say the following, “I THINK heaven.”
Because (And here’s the irony…they’re going to give you a list of requirements they’ve met) well, “I’ve been a good person. I haven’t murdered anyone. I help people out once in a while. I..”
And our own churches in America have done what Christians have fought to eradicate for 2,000 years
We’ve turned “Being saved” into a list of requirements.
Have you done enough good things?
Have you avoided the serious bad things?
Well, they you’re probably okay.
It’s just requirements. How did we get okay with adding a list of requirements again?
But it’s time we come back to what the Bible really says.
The reality is this: 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to earth as God’s son.
To teach us, to love humanity, but mostly to die in our place.
See, because you and I, we’ve rebelled against God. We ignore him all the time. And much worse.
And God, is a just God. He’s God. He has to be JUST. So punishment had to occur.
But God is almost the most loving being…ever.
And in his mercy, he said, you know what, I’m going to send my SON to take the punishment…in their place.
The biggest act of Grace. EVER.
And the BIBLE says (our real source for truth…not churches…not tradition…not culture), the BIBLE says that if we believe that He died for us on the cross,
That everything we’ve ever done can be forgiven. Everything.
There are no more requirements to salvation.
The Bible says, He died for us while we were still sinners. He loves us that much.
The opposite angle on this is just as important.
You can not, and will not earn your way to God.
By trying to be a really good person…by doing enough good deeds…enough religious “requirements”…your salvation….whether or not you will be in heaven or hell…whether or not you are completely forgiven or not.
depends solely on this: Have you admitted to God that you indeed fall short (you can’t get there on your own), that you believe that he died on the cross for you, and that you will in turn, give him your life?
God offered you the gift of grace…the question is: Have you opened it yet or are you still trying to earn it?
I want to tell you this morning. The gift of eternal life. Complete forgiveness. Is sitting right there. It’s right in front of you right now.
There are no hidden requirements later…
And if you haven’t accepted it before, if you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus Christ before by believing he died for you and saying you will follow Him as the leader of your life…I want to give you an opportunity to do that today
Accept his forgiveness…for everything.
Open the gift. It’s a GIFT. You don’t have to EARN a gift…and you never will.
So just open it.
And if you feel like He’s moving in your heart to do that, then let’s do that. This is the best decision you can ever make. Seriously. Trust me. The best decision you can ever make.
And if you want to give your life to Him this morning by asking for forgiveness and believing in what he did on the cross, let’s do that.
Here’s what we’re gonna do:
I’m going to give you a minute to think about it. God is big. So big that I know that if it’s something you need to do…He’ll put it on your heart.
And then after that, I’m going to ask you to stand up and pray with me if you want to give your life to him. To believe on Him.
So let’s just spend a minute in silent prayer, and then I’ll ask you to stand if you want to make a decision for Him today…the best decision you can ever make.
All right, let’s take a minute to each talk to Him.
(Wait a minute)
Ok. Everyone can keep their eyes closed.
If you want to give your life to Him today and believe on Jesus, I want you to stand up where you are.
Stand up if u want to let Him in…to be forgiven…to follow Him.
Ok, amazing. Praise God.
Now, I want you to pray with me.
This isn’t a magic prayer. But just a prayer for you to tell God what’s on your heart.
If you’re standing, would you pray this out loud after me:
I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.
And that I have fallen short
But God, I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place
And God, I thank you, for forgiving my sins.
And now I commit, to following you, with my life.
Thank you God. Amen.
Amen, you can have a seat.
I just want to pray and praise God…… Let’s pray.
If you gave your life to Christ today, at the end of the service, I need you to come up here to your front right, and we’re going to give you just a few materials to help you get started in your relationship with Christ.
Won’t take you long at all, but it’s important that you have direction in where to go next. Thanks.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.