Sovereign Grace Blog

Sermon Summary - Division Over the Gospel is Necessary - Acts 14:24-15:11

Division Over the Gospel is Necessary - Acts 14:24-15:11

Unity of church at the cost of truth is deadly. Anyone who seeks some kind of utopia within the church world at the expense of truth and sound doctrine, compromises the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the only way to salvation. But isn’t doctrine divisive? Yes, biblically it’s meant to be. Isn’t love more important than doctrine? No, faith in a contaminated gospel is eternally deadly. Paul and Barnabas knew the truth and fought against a doctrine that was contrary to the gospel. The message is clear, unity that compromises the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is destructive.

Paul and Barnabas returned home from their missionary journey to Antioch while some Jewish Christians made their way to the cities, which were previously visited by Paul, teaching the new believers that they must now keep the law of Moses, and be circumcised in order to be saved. The men from that particular sect made their way back to Antioch and began their teaching. Paul and Barnabas caused a huge division by debating the truth and were sent up to Jerusalem to state the facts. This issue had massive ramifications starting from the early church to today because it’s a central salvation issue. Must Gentiles do works of the law added to their faith in Jesus in order to be saved? The good news of Jesus is that we, undeserving sinners, are saved by grace alone. Grace means undeserved, unearned favor from God. If in any way you deserve it, it is not grace just as Paul said when he wrote to the Romans (Rom. 4:4-5): “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

Peter made it clear as he stood up after the debate that God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles and how he saves their souls. He also said that the Jewish religion and their law keeping did not count for anything in God’s salvation. Peter reminded the Jews that by his mouth the Gentiles heard the gospel. The fact that the Spirit fell upon them at Cornelius’ house as soon as they heard the good news and believed, without getting circumcised, shows that salvation is by faith alone. 

The Roman Catholic Church made it clear that a person is justified, forgiven of their sins, by grace and faith, but not through faith alone, but our own good works must be added to the faith to keep our justification before God. The false doctrine on how to be saved in the Roman Catholic church is at its core the exact same false teaching of the first century Judaizers that Paul had to fight against. The New Testament gospel of salvation declares that a person is justified, forgiven of all their sins, and deemed as perfectly righteous, by grace through faith in Christ alone because by Jesus’ perfect human life, he fulfilled God’s law and by his substitutionary death on the cross he paid the penalty that we guilty sinners deserve. Jesus paid it all. Peter continued and understood that the law of Moses was never given in order to save sinners, instead it was given to bring to light the essence of our sin, it was given to show us our need for grace that we cannot earn (Acts 15:10), just as Paul said in Romans 7:7 “yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.”

Jesus pointed out at the Sermon on the Mount that keeping the law of God, genuinely, is impossible because it's not aimed at external acts, but at the heart. All of us are guilty, which is why Peter asked the Jews, “why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” The reason why Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem over this issue is because the stakes were high. The difference between sound doctrine and false doctrine on the matter of salvation is the difference between eternal life and eternal condemnation. In response to professing Christians who taught that it was necessary to add to faith works of the law Paul wrote “if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9). We as believers are called to love, and to seek the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, except when unity compromises the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.


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