Sermon Summary - The Gospel Offends the Proud - Acts 22:17-22
As Paul gives his testimony before the crowd, they are willing to listen up until Paul declares that the Lord Jesus sent him to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21). At that point, they determine that he must die. Why did they want him dead? It's because of sin and pride, specifically ethnic, cultural and religious elitism. God used Israel's sinful pride to demonstrate how much we all need mercy. The Jews are angry that Paul declared that their being Jewish didn't make them righteous. This leads to one of the core aspects of the gospel: how is a person saved? It is by faith in Christ alone, apart from trusting in any works of the law.
In Rom. 3:27-28, we see why being saved by God's mercy in Jesus Christ only happens by faith, apart from any works. Verse 27 brings up a question: why does Paul juxtapose faith with boasting and pride? In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul unfolds the sinful pride of all men, both non-religious (Ch. 1) and religious (Ch. 2). Both Jew and Gentile are justly condemned, so how could anyone be made right with God? The answer is the gospel - that God accomplished our justification without our help. He did it through Jesus' propitiatory death, appeasing God's wrath. And this salvation is to be received by faith (Rom. 3:25). Then Paul raises the issue of boasting. Why? Because pride is at the very essence and core of what sin is. Thus God acted in history to save us not only from the penalty of sin, but even from its essence, namely pride. He did it in such a way as to not involve us in the accomplishment of it. God must save us in such a way that it wouldn't promote the same sin that He's delivering us from.
Paul makes it clear that what excludes boasting from salvation is that it comes to us not by any works of obedience to the law, but rather by faith. You have to understand this teaching of justification by faith apart from works and the problem it presents to Jews in order to understand why there is such hatred towards Paul by the crowd. But if doing the works of the law of Moses is the way to be justified, then Gentiles would be excluded from the way of salvation (Rom. 3:29-30). A work of the law in this context is anything you do other than faith with the motivation of trying to obtain a right standing with God by your doing. This is why the Roman Catholic sacramental system is so deadly - it is codified faith plus works. Rom. 4:4-5 explains why works of the law do not exclude boasting (Cf. Gal. 5:2-4). In this case the worker gets the glory. But faith does not call attention to itself, but rather the One whom we trust. Does that mean that the gospel came to destroy the law (i.e. the moral commands of the law)? No (Rom. 3:31), but rather the law of God is what we pursue by faith as those who are already declared righteous because of Christ. If you respond to the commandments as if God needed your obedience, that is an arrogant and sinful approach to God. And this is what the Jews in Acts were all about.
Biblical saving faith removes any valid grounds for boasting. And that's what's so offensive to us as sinners, and to these Jews. That's why they want Paul dead. There is a default deception embedded in most people. They assume that by trying to live a good life, that will be their ticket to heaven. But the law was never meant to be turned into a ladder to reach God by works. We can only possess righteousness by trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Himself. And thus there is no boasting, except in the cross of Christ.