October 28th, Day #302
Scripture Reading: Acts 15 - 16 …
What is being described throughout the book of Acts is the birth of the Church, this body made up of Jews and Gentiles, brought together through the cross of Christ in order to proclaim to the world God's message of grace and His offer of forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus!
But how would God bring Jews and Gentiles together? That was the question at the first gathering of the leaders of the Church at Jerusalem … what is often called the "Jerusalem Council." The issue that was being raised was whether or not the Gentiles should be circumcised (15:1). Some of the new believers were Jews and while they believed in Jesus they still believed that "the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses" (15:6). They were missing the very heart of the Gospel, and it is important that you and I understand what was happening here.
Nobody was saying that the Gentiles, or the Jews who had become believers, should not be required to obey the moral law revealed in the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). What was the issue? Circumcision was a sign of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants wherein God promised to be their God and they would be His people. It was a sign, sealed in God's Name, that those who believed, as Abraham did, would be "credited with righteousness" (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3). Circumcision, like the Law, pointed to the origin of mankind's sin and the need for the shedding of blood, the need for a sacrifice, the need for a Savior.
Now that the Savior had come, Jesus said that those who believed (and their children) should be baptized into the Name of the Father, Son and Spirit … into HIS Name! You will notice here, however, that while the Jerusalem Council determined that the Gentiles did NOT need to be circumcised, it does not mention baptism with water either. It DOES mention the work of the Holy Spirit, which Paul would later call the "baptism of the Holy Spirit.” John the Baptist had said that One would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). It is only by being born again by the Spirit that we enter into God's kingdom (John 3:3,5).
This was the issue that was before the Jerusalem Council and it is the issue that is at stake in the church today. Are we saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, or are we saved by something WE do … whatever that may be? Peter testified before the Council that God was at work in the Gentiles just as He was in them. "God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith" (15:8-9). Then he made it even clearer when he added: "We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are!” (15:11).
Surely, Paul must have been thinking about this when, inspired by the Spirit, He wrote to the Ephesians, "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace offers forgiveness to all who believe through faith in the blood of Christ shed on the cross once for all. You can't add anything to grace … you don't need to add anything to grace. As soon as you add anything, whether circumcision or even baptism, you destroy grace.
By its definition, you can't earn grace or it stops being grace! "The wages of sin is death; BUT the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). After Paul and Barnabas reported on God's activity among the Gentiles through the preaching of the Gospel, James reminded the council of how Peter had reported to them that God was "taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself" (15:14). He explained that this was the fulfillment of God's promise through the prophet Amos that "the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name ...” (15:16). This was God's plan from the beginning. The Law was given to point people to Christ, not to be a way to earn salvation. After all, no one could keep it!!
The beauty of the Gospel is that it saves us by grace and then moves us to obey the very law that previously condemned us, now not because we have to, but because we WANT to. Life in the Spirit is a life of obedience. We no longer need the sign that points to sin and the need for the shedding of blood. Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice once for all and by the baptism of the Spirit we are united to Him, once and for all.
How do you know if you have been "baptized by the Spirit?" Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ? Do you desire to turn from sin to obedience out of thanksgiving to God for His marvelous gift of grace in Christ? Then you have been born again by His Spirit, "for we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body" (I Corinthians 12:13). With the apostles and the brothers who met in Jerusalem so many years ago, we must agree that "we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (15:19). How many people today do not come to God because they believe they have to "fix themselves" first!
GRACE is GRACE!!! When Paul and Barnabas carried the letter back to Antioch, the brothers there were encouraged and they continued to preach the word of the Lord and others believed and were saved. This is God's way, the only way to be saved. God called the apostles to new places and wherever they went they found those who had heard the message and believed. They taught them and encouraged them and more people believed and were baptized, along with their households (16:14-15; 31-34). No gimmicks, no steps or requirements but one: "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (16:31).
For nearly 2,000 years God has sent His people into all the world to proclaim this one message. If you have been saved at all, you have been saved by GRACE!!
"Heavenly Father, I praise You for Your grace and thank You for Your love to me in Jesus! I confess that I am a sinner, unable to save myself and in need of a Savior. By Your grace alone I have placed my faith in the blood of Jesus to redeem me, to purify my heart, to SAVE me! Now Your love compels me to share the good news with others, that they, too, may believe and be saved by Your amazing, marvelous grace. To You, Father, be glory and honor and praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"