‘…We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved…’ Acts 15:11 (NIVUK)
The Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15 is widely recognised as a watershed moment standing at the centre of the book of Acts theologically. Finally the issue of Gentile inclusion into the purposes of God is addressed and resolved.
The reason for calling this council was to decide whether Jesus had done everything necessary for salvation, or whether we are we saved partly by Jesus and partly by our own good works and religious performance. Is salvation a mixture of faith and works, grace and law, Jesus and Moses, or are individuals saved solely by God’s grace in and through Jesus when he or she simply believes? The truth of the gospel and the future of the church were at stake.
The council’s deliberations provide us with some solid reasons why they concluded that salvation by grace alone was correct:
Experience – Peter outlines his experience of Gentile conversions, showing that God decided that the Gentiles should simply hear the gospel message and believe (Acts 15:7). Most scholars believe this to be a reference to Cornelius and his household, and that it shows that God didn’t require him to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. Rather, he was saved through faith in Jesus.
The gift of the Holy Spirit – the authenticity of Cornelius’s conversion was demonstrated by God giving him the Holy Spirit (v.8). This was a testimony of the fact a Gentile had been saved by belief in Jesus and therefore his grace was sufficient for salvation.
Cleansing from sin – the hearts of the Gentile believers were purified by faith (Acts 15:9). This was all that was required of them, purification was not by circumcision and law-keeping.
Law-keeping as a way of salvation doesn’t work – why would God place the Gentiles under a burden that neither contemporary Jews nor their ancestors could bear? (Acts 15:10). It was a powerful argument that silenced those of the party of the Pharisees.
The miracles and wonders God had performed through Barnabas and Paul among the Gentiles – Barnabas and Paul had been preaching the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus, and God confirmed their message of grace alone with miracles (Acts 15:12).
The Old Testament prophesied that Gentiles would be saved by grace – James used the prophecy from Amos 9:11-12 to show that Gentiles would be included in God’s new community (Acts 15:15-18). In other words, a person could be saved as a Gentile and wouldn’t have to become a Jew by being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses.
Scripture itself confirmed the facts of the apostles’ experiences. The decision that salvation is in Christ alone, would have huge ramifications for the gospel and the church going forward: the gospel would now go freely to ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), and the church would not remain a Jewish sect but become a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural movement. It truly was a watershed moment.
Have a good week reaching out to all people.