Mission and Religious Rules | The Book of Acts | 15:1-35 | Pastor Duane Smets
This an exegetical and expository sermon on Acts 15:1-35. It deals with the conflict between Law and Gospel in the early church and in the hearts of every person since. This sermon was originally preached on August 12th, 2012 at The Resolved Church in San Diego,CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
August 12th, 2012
Mission and Religious Rules | Acts 15:1-35
I. The Gospel That Will Damn People (v.1-5)
II. The Gospel That Will Save People (v.6-21)
III. The Gospel That Will Love People (v.22-29)
IV. The Gospel That Will Change People (v.30-35)
Good morning Resolved Church. It’s good to see you all. I’m glad to be up here today and if you are new here, “welcome”…we’re stoked you’re here. My name is Duane, I’m one of three pastors here who all serve together under our head pastor Jesus.
The word “pastor” is one and the same with the word “shepherd” which actually helps to understand who and what a Pastor is and does. There are a lot of things Pastors do but almost all of it can be boiled down to four simple things…to: 1. Feed the flock. 2. Disciple and discipline the flock. 3. Protect the flock. 4. Pray for the flock.
Each of these things happen in various ways, whether through one on one times with people, through small group settings, through serving together in various ministries…or on Sunday mornings through the sermon. Part of my job assigned by our church elders to do all four of those things in and through the sermon.
1. To feed the flock…When I preach, my goal is to preach a sermon that will actually feed. I’m not interesting in giving us a fluffy feel good message. I aim to giving us solid food from God’s Word.
2. To disciple and discipline the flock…Part of what I am after each time I preach is to preach in such a way that we will be pressed to grow and mature in our faith and to correct errors and things in our lives that may be out of sync with what God calls us to.
3. To protect the flock…It may not be apparent to all of you but false teaching, false gospels can very easily slip into the church in all kinds of unexpected ways. If anything ever comes up in the life of our church or if something is said up front from someone that is not in accordance with the gospel, I and the other appointed Pastors here at The Resolved Church have the right and responsibility before God to publicly correct it from up front…and that can especially take place in sermons.
4. To pray for the flock…If it were possible I would love each week to be able to sit down with every single person here and talk with you and then pray with you. But I can’t do that. However, Jesus can! My favorite portion of our worship service, even more than the sermon is the time when we come to the table for the Lord’s Supper. Before we partake I get the privilege to pray for everyone of you, presenting and committing you to Jesus.
I say all of that today in starting out my sermon because sometimes when I have a week off it helps me see some things that normally I don’t recognize. So I thought it would be good to you today to hear the way that we look at sermons here at The Resolved and how there are several different things going on during this time that we are trying to accomplish.
Also, it just so happens that the text we are in today, the majority of Acts 15, is a number of church leaders having to directly deal with a false gospel that had crept into the church. It was one which directly challenged and stood against the mission of God His Gospel by saying there was something more you had to do in order to be accepted by God besides having faith in Jesus. So I titled my message today, “Mission and Religious Rules.”
So first, let me go ahead and read the text with all of you, declare it as God’s Word, thank him for it and pray over it.
• Read Acts 15:1-35
• Pastoral Declaration: This is the Word of the Lord.
• Congregational Response: Thanks Be To God.
• Pastoral Prayer
Alright. So my first point this morning is, “The Gospel That Will Damn People.” Before you get upset at me for using the word “damn” in church and especially in my outline, just give me a few minutes to explain why…because honest, I just took it straight from the Bible.
I. The Gospel That Will Damn People (v.1-5)
Here’s the situation. A few years back, in Acts 11, Paul and Barnabas went to the city of Antioch and shared with them the gospel, a great number of people came to faith in Jesus. It was there in Antioch where they came up with the word, “Christians” and started calling themselves that. Acts 14 the chapter we left off from in our last sermon in Acts ended with Paul and Barnabas going back to Antioch after traveling around preaching the Gospel in a bunch of other places and 14:28 says they stayed there “no little time.” Most scholars seem to think they were there around a year or so.
While they are there a major debate breaks out. Verse 1 of chapter 15 says men came down teaching…”Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” and verse 2 says it created “no small dissension and debate.” To get a sense of how big a deal this is there’s two things we need to talk about, circumcision and what’s said and what happens in the book of Galatians.
First, circumcision. Just to be clear…and this is a little PG-13, maybe R…but circumcision is the cutting off of the foreskin or extra skin on the end of male genitalia. The majority of people in our culture here today, if they give birth to a baby boy have him circumcised to make cleaning easier for the young boy growing up. My wife is pregnant with our third girl so I’ve never been an a position to have to make that decision but maybe someday.
Now back in the first century circumcision was not just a hygiene issue it was both a religious and manhood issue…
For Jews it was a huge religious issue. In Genesis 17:10-14 God comes to Abraham, the father of the Jewish faith, and God gives him the covenant promise that He will save Abraham and create a people for Himself through Abraham and God says in Genesis 17:11, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between you and me.” And he tells Abraham to circumcise himself and any sons of his family from there after when they are 8 days old.
It hard to imagine but one-hundred year old Abraham obeys and busts out some ancient knife, probably made of rock and circumcises himself. From then on, all Jewish boys were circumcised and any men from other nations and religions who wanted to convert and become Jews…they were immediately circumcised. In the Old Testament, circumcision was the sign of belonging to God and in the New Testament it becomes water baptism.
Two centuries before the time of Jesus, circumcision was a hot issue. Syria tried to forbid circumcision because they saw it as brutal, cruel and emasculating. But in reaction, the Maccabean Jews went to war over it. In the book of Jubilees, an uninspired historical book written during this times says this about it, “Anyone who is born whose own flesh is not circumcised…is not from the sons of the covenant which the Lord made…and there is therefore no sign upon him that he might belong to the Lord.”
The Maccabbees won that battle and afterward would not permit anyone into the country unless they were circumcised. Not sure how that worked at border crossings. I guess instead of showing a passport men would just have to open up their robes and show themselves. It’d be like super turbo TSA screenings I guess.
Now, for Gentiles, any non-Jews they just saw circumcision as ridiculous and repugnant. Antiochus Epiphanes, another ancient ruler outlawed circumcision with the penalty of death and even went so far as to have mothers killed who allowed their babies to be circumcised. Philo, the ancient historian writes that Jews were often ridiculed because of circumcision and became the targets of all kinds of scorn and ridicule whenever in public bathrooms or gyms.
So you get that circumcision was a big deal right? But it wasn’t just circumcision. Look at verse 5. “Some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them AND to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
The “law” includes all 613 commands given in the books of the law written by Moses. Basically you have Pharisees who became believers in Jesus as the Messiah. Their thinking is that first you need to convert to Judaism and become a Jew and THEN you can believe in Jesus as your Savior. They are saying you have to both keep the Jewish law and believe in Jesus as Savior. They are wanting to add or impose religious rules as requirements for being a Christian.
Thus it’s not just circumcision the issue, but a question about what really saves a person, who Jesus is, what he came to do…the debate really is over the essence of the Gospel itself. Whether the law and Jesus save you or just Jesus?
Now, we see in verse 2 it says that this was a huge debate and Paul was wrapped up in it. Knowing what Paul wrote in the book of Galatians will help us have an understanding of why he in particular would have been up in arms over this. What you might not know is that Antioch is in the region of Galatia to whom Paul originally wrote the letter/book of Galatians to in the Bible.
Without getting into all the arguments over it I’m just going to assume that Paul wrote the book of Galatians prior to this Acts 15. The reasons are…
1. Galatians 2:9 says Paul’s meeting was only with Peter, James and John and Acts 15:22 says it was the whole Jerusalem church.
2. There’s no mention of what happened here in Acts 15 in the book of Galatians, which would surely have mentioned it when talking about circumcision.
3. Here in Acts 15 Paul and Peter are on the same page and in Galatians there are on opposite sides of the fence.
4. Acts 15 is third time Acts records Paul going to Jerusalem and the situation of Galatians 2:1 says it occurred during Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem.
Anyway…let me tell you the story of Galatians, why I’m bringing it up and why it matters. In Galatians Paul tells the story of the second time he went up to Jerusalem and he takes Titus with him. Titus was a Gentile dude who had become a Christian but Paul did not make him get circumcised. Apparently, some guys who he calls false brothers can’t believe so they try and sneak a peak at Titus in the bathroom or something and Paul’s goes buck wild over it saying they are trying to bring him into slavery and that they are violating the truth of the gospel.
Paul and Peter get in this huge argument over it that gets so bad that Paul literally gets up in Peter’s face and reams him out, not only for the circumcision thing but Peter had apparently gone back to the old Jewish ways of not even eating with Gentiles, even though they had become Christians. He gets in his face and says he is not keeping in step with the truth of the gospel!
Let me just read it for you…I’m not making this stuff up! Follow along with me.
Galatians 2:3-4 says, “Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised…Yet because of false brothers secretly brough in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
Now move on down to verse 11-14, “But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you though Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”
And then come some of the most beautiful and wonderful words of the entire New Testament when Paul shares the true Gospel. Verse 16 of Galatians 2, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
This is the key and core issue of the entire book of Galatians…the same subject of Acts 15. Whether a person can or must be saved or justified by works of the law and Jesus or through faith in Jesus alone. Paul’s argument here in Galatians and surely what he was hotly debating in Antioch back in Acts 15 is that no one can be saved by works of the law…no matter how hard you try. No matter how much you do…you will never be able to do it perfectly or do enough of it!
Let me make try and make it a little clearer because I think we hear the word “law” and we think animal sacrifices or something. But the word “law” includes any religious or spiritual rule or principle. Most the things in God’s law are good things. So I’ll give you some good Christians laws to illustrate: reading your Bible, going to church, giving money to church, or praying. I mean, those are good Godly things we ought to do right?
Paul’s argument is doesn’t matter how much you read the Bible…it doesn’t matter how much you go to church…it doesn’t matter how much money you give to the church…and it doesn’t matter how much you pray…no matter how much you do it will not nor cannot save you! By works of law NO ONE will be justified! The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus and Jesus alone did it all perfectly, rightly, righteously for us and that he freely gives us His work and pays the price for all of our failures, past present and future in every area!
This is the Gospel. And this where I got the word “damn” for this sermon point. After his introduction, Paul opens the book of Galatians in the first chapter in verses 6-8 by saying, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you (remember those words, “trouble you”) and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or angel from from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” And that word “accursed” is as correctly understood as J.B. Philips translation of the Bible has it, “let him be damned.”
To be accursed or to be damned is a sentence to hell. So get it real clear in your head. According to Paul in Galatians and what the whole meeting of Acts 15 is about…is over a gospel which will damn people by telling them there are certain things one must do in order to be saved and accepted by God. If that were true, then the Gospel would cease to be good news…it would become a work of the law, which would curse us and damn us.
This is so important! I beg and plead of you church…do not ever believe me or anyone else, even if it is an angel if they preach another Gospel saying there is something more for you to do in addition to what Jesus has done in order to gain God’s favor. If you ever hear that, know it is a damnable lie from the pit of hell and is completely contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Some of you today may be feeling superior to other Christian because of how good or righteous you feel like you are. If so beware. If you are beginning to trust in your own works, in your own righteousness, in your own efforts of law keeping…beware, that gospel will ultimately damn you.
Martin Luther said this verse is meant to strike fear into those who would seek to pervert the Gospel. There is a gospel, a false gospel which may sound religious and spiritual but it will damn you. And we need to be on guard against it.
Well, if there’s a gospel which damns us then what’s the one that saves us? Let’s go back to Acts 15 at look at “The Gospel That Will Save People.”
II. The Gospel That Will Save People (v.6-21)
Now remember this is no small matter, no small dissension. The very heart and nature of the Gospel is at stake. At this point in the book of Acts this false gospel has snuck in and is threatening to divide the church into two. It’s a huge deal. Acts 15 is a real turning point and climax in the book. One Bible commentator said it is the “centerpiece” and “watershed” of the book.
All the Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus had been building up to this point and depending on how the church leaders responded…if they shut that all down by tolerating this false gospel saying Gentiles had to obey all the law and become Jews…then the message of Jesus would surely have not spread any further and none of us here today would ever even know who Jesus is.
Thankfully God didn’t let that happen. They have this big meeting. The Apostles are there in equal authority with the elders, so you can’t really use Acts 15 as a prooftext for denominationalism…not to mention the problem of having Apostles for today. Regardless, the church authorities have gathered and the whole church at Jerusalem has gathered to for this. Some think it was perhaps a multi-day ordeal.
Either way, they are all together and three of the biggest mouthpieces for the Gospel speak. Three heavyweights. First Peter, then Paul and then James. So let’s look at the unique things each said.
Peter is first. He stands up in verse 7 to present his case and he begins with an argument from the Sovereignty of God. Look at verse 7, he says, “God made a choice….(that) the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.” In verse 8 he refers to the time when he preached the Gospel on Pentecost on the first day of the church. He says looking back, that God gave them the Holy Spirit, “just as he did to us (us Jews).”
Then in verse 10 he responds to the false Gospel being presented, the very one he himslelf had been led astray by until Paul corrected him. And finally he concludes his testimony by giving this succinct summary of The Gospel in verse 11, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they (the Gentiles) will.”
So Peter makes it clear. There’s no question when it comes to his opinion. Peter was the one who preached on the first day of Pentecost. Until recently he’s been the primary spokesperson for the church, until Paul came along. But it’s clear. In verse 11, he puts Jews and Gentiles on the same plane and says all are saved the same way and say it’s through belief in Jesus alone, NOT circumcision or any other work of the law!
Now what it really interesting to me is what he says in verse 10 about this. Look at it with me. “Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”
Two reasons why this is so striking.
One reason is the imagery. A yoke is a wooden bar that would be strapped across the back of the neck of oxen in order to plow a field or pull a cart. I think we’ve got a picture of one here for you (on the screen). So the image is of a yoke that is tied to a load that is so heavy, there’s just no way you can pull it. You can’t bear it so it breaks your neck and you fall down. Vivid imagery.
The second reason is because the yoke here is a reference to the law and it comes from Jesus himself. Some have tried to say that Paul or the rest of the New Testament letters teach a different gospel than the one Jesus himself taught. Sometimes these people call themselves “red letter Christians.” But it simply not so.
In Matthew 6:20 Jesus clearly says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and the Pharisees were very good at keeping the law…they didn’t just read the law or the Bible every day they memorized nearly the whole thing word for word and then wrote a whole bunch of laws on top of it called the Talmud and the Mishnah in order to make sure they didn’t even come close to breaking God’s law. So Jesus point is even with all that, it is not enough!
Even with all that it was still impossible to gain one’s own righteousness to make themselves good enough before God. So Jesus says five chapters later in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
You see, Peter remembered Jesus words. No one can bear the yoke of the law. As Paul said, no one can be justified through works of the law. No matter how hard you try. That’s why we need Jesus. The perfect son of God to bear it for us. Jesus does it for us so that we might be saved.
Let me explain why this Gospel…the Gospel of Jesus bearing the yoke for us is so good and so much better. You can try to obey and fulfill the law with all of you might…but you will fail.
So if I got up here and I rip you for failing at the law and I go on and on about how much you suck and how much it offends God…which is true, we break God’s law and fail at it. If I do that and my answer for you to your failure at the law is: SO TRY HARDER!!! That is death to your soul.
For most of you me saying that would crush you because deep down you know you can’t do it. Then there are others of you, who whether out of conviction for your sin or just because I say it really passionately or meanly are convinced and you’re like, “Okay, I’ll do it! I’m gonna try harder! This week I’m gonna read my Bible like never before.”
And you might. And you might even do it next week or for a month…but a day will come when you don’t. And if your hope, your happiness, your salvation is found in how much you read or didn’t read…then that will crush you because you have bought into a lie, a false Gospel that says God loves you only if you read your Bible enough.
You see, giving you the law of Moses as the hope for your soul is like giving you a rope to go hang yourself with. The law cannot save you. Billy Graham used to say that sleeping in a garage will not make you a car anymore than obeying the law will make you a Christian.
Well, after Peter says this…then Paul speaks. What’s funny is Paul doesn’t say very much when you kind of expect him to, especially after what he previously said in Galatians. My guess is that he was so pleased with Peter’s answer. So stoked on God’s work in Peter’s heart that he was just smiling ear to ear.
It kind of sounds like he basically says, “Yup, what he said!” All verse 12 says he simply recounts all the stories of how all these different groups of Gentiles in different towns came to faith in Christ and how churches were planted.
Lastly, after Peter and Paul have spoken James speaks. James was Jesus brother, his half-brother. He was one of the Apostles and he had become the lead pastor of the Jerusalem mega-church. Peter began with a theology God’s sovereign choosing, cited a case example. Paul seconded it backing it up with his own testimony. And what James provides is argument from Scripture.
James quotes a passage from Amos 9:11-12 which clearly states God’s plan to save Gentiles and have them called by his name. What is so great about this is the practical demonstration that no matter who it is or what the case is, Scripture always has the final and ultimate authority. When it comes down to it the opinions of men do not matter it is what the Word of God says.
After he cites this passage he offers a final word on the matter and a practical solution which gets ratified in the next section and sent out in the form of a letter.
We’ll move on in just a second. But I want to pause for a second…because I’m guess that for some of you today. Life just feels like a massive heavy yoke on your neck. If you feel like you are trying to pull this load that is just too heavy and your back is about to break.
Know the Gospel of our Lord Jesus today. He takes your yoke upon himself so that you might have his and be freed. Today, in your heart just come to him and find rest for your soul. None of us are strong enough to bear it, no one ever has except Jesus. That’s why he is so good and why we call His Gospel good news.
Well, let’s move on and look at how this is a “Gospel That Will Love People.”
III. The Gospel That Will Love People (v.22-29)
After Peter, Paul and James speak, amazingly all the church leaders, the apostles and the elders and the whole church come to agreement on this. Verse 25 says they were in “one accord” on it. God’s Spirit was definitely over that meeting.
I like how verse 28 puts it, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit.” So they saw the Holy Spirit as directing their discussion and debate. Debate and conflict are not always bad, sometime there is divinely inspired and necessary discussions that are difficult which must take place for the sake of the Gospel.
Anyway, they decide to draft a letter to go out to the churches and be passed around and they send four men, to go with the letter to affirm its contents and provide any other necessary clarifications.
It’s a short letter. After its introduction they reference the problem and reason for their meeting and the reason for the letter. It’s in verse 24. “We heard some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds.” Remember Paul’s words in Galatians 1:7, “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the Gospel of Christ.”
After the letter states the problem it offers three answers:
1. It says they did not send or instruct the men who were teaching this false gospel (v.24).
2. It says they ARE sending men now with the letter who will tell them “the same things by word of mouth (v.27).”
3. It says they do not want “to lay on (them) no greater burden” then four simple requests.
And what’s amazing in these four simple requests is there is no circumcision and no law of Moses. None! They don’t have to be circumcised and they do not have to obey the law of Moses! All their requests basically boiling down to not worshipping foreign gods, which they would have no problem with if Jesus had become their God. Meat sacrificed to idols, drinking blood, eating uncooked animals and sex with temple prostitutes were all various forms of idol worship to different Greco-Roman gods.
Essentially, James says the Gentiles don’t have to get circumcised and they are all free to eat together as long as they are not doing cult worship eating. It’s amazing!!!
What we have here is a very loving call for the mission of the Gospel not to create unnecessary barriers and instead to allow people of different cultures the freedom to live for Christ and retain their different cultural intricacies, with things like food, dress and drink.
It’s what we call contextualization…that the Gospel is universal in its scope and ability to be lived out and applied in all kinds of different cultures and contexts. And contextualization is crucial to Gospel Mission.
I don’t really like C. Peter Wagner very much, just because his theology overall is really weak. But he’s a pretty decent missiologist at times and he’s really good on this point. So I’m gonna quote him anyway. Here’s what he says…
“In obedience to Jesus, cross-cultural missionaries go out from one ethnos, or nation, or people group, to another in order to plant churches. The new people groups has its own culture distinct from the culture of the sending church…In the new cultural context what aspects of church life will be different? Which theological principles are nonnegotiable and must be maintained…and which (things are negotiable that) need to be reformulated, reworded or refocused? …What about music? Language?” And I would add Food? Drink? Dress? Art? Etc… Wagner says, “Many missionaries have uncritically superimposed their own, highly culture-bound form of Christianity on converts in other cultures.”
When that happens the Gospel gets lost and gets communicated as law instead of grace. When that happens the Gospel comes across as another rule and requirement rather than a message of love.
I’ll give you an example. If I decided to go an hour south of the US border to go preach the Gospel and start a new church there…which by the way is something I think we should eventually do …If I went down there but I refused to speak Spanish and only speak to people if they spoke to me in English, if I refused to eat any Mexican food and would only eat a burger and fries, if I would only listen to American music and have American style worship songs in English at our church services… and said they had to change their language, taste in food and music and then they could believe in Jesus then that would not be loving and it would not be the Gospel.
You see when you come to a person and say, “I will love you…but first you need to change this, this and this about you” that doesn’t come across as loving. But that is not the message of the Gospel. The Gospel says Romans 5:8, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. The old hymn, “Just As I Am” expresses it like this, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and thou bidst me come to Thee, -O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”
The Gospel opens it’s arms to all regardless of we they are, where we come from or what cultural likes and dislikes they prefer. As long as it is not sin and a denial faith in Jesus and the worship of God, there is freedom!
The Gospel comes to us from One who came from heaven to earth, wearing the clothes of humanity, overcoming the distance, the sin and the barriers that separate us from God in order that we might come to know His love and grace. It’s a Gospel that truly loves people. And it still works today. That’s what truly turns hearts to Christ.
So with that, let’s go to our last point, “The Gospel That Will Change People.”
IV. The Gospel That Will Change People (v.30-35)
After Jerusalem sends out this letter along with these four guys, verse 30 says the congregation reads it then look what their reaction is. Verse 31, “…they rejoiced because of its encouragement.” Then in verse 32 the text says that from that basis, this gracious message of a loving Gospel Judas and Silas encourage them and strengthen them.
It’s important to recognize. Because you see here is the big fear. I’ve emphasized a ton today the free grace of the Gospel…that there are no religious requirements or laws that you must do in order to gain Christ. I said you cannot do anything more or anything less…even good Godly spiritual things…and I said that is the heart and essence of the Gospel.
But here’s the big fear. The big fear is if you say the law or works don’t matter that people will just go buck wild and start sinning all over the place. It’s a fear that people will just become lawless or what’s known as antinomians.
Some think if you tell people what Peter did, that we are solely, 100% saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus then they will think, “Oh, so it doesn’t matter what I do? Since I’m a sinner I can sin and just keep on sinning and God will forgive me? Doesn’t it matter if people read their Bibles or not? Doesn’t it matter whether or not people are a part of a church? Doesn’t it matter if people are having a Godly life and not an immoral one? Don’t those things matter?!!!”
Yes, they do. But bringing down the weight of the law upon people can no more sanctify and change hearts and lives than it can save people. It’s not just that only the Gospel can save people but it’s only the Gospel which can sanctify people too.
You see some people get the Gospel that there’s nothing you can do to save yourself, no works, no law. Yet somehow though, it’s easy to begin to think that once you become a Christian that then things are different and then it’s time to pick the law back up, start working and try to change yourself. Some tend to think the Gospel saves you but it’s the law that sanctifies you.
How it worked here in Acts 15:31 was when they heard the gracious report, they were overjoyed and gladly wanted to live for Jesus and were changed and strengthened in their faith. And that’s how it’s meant to work for us.
We are to realize how bad we have failed God and broken His law but when we see and hear what Christ did for us it moves us to joyful service and obedience toward Him…so that we are no longer attempting to follow and obey a law but are simply loving God from our hearts and it overflows to our actions.
In Galatians after Paul rips Peter he addresses this same issue. Here’s how he put it in Galatians 2:20-21, “I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Life, the Christian life is meant to be lived freely out of love for Jesus not toward the law.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church there have been several important confessions or what many today simply call statements of faith. We have one on our church website called our “Doctrinal Statement.” In 1557 a confession called “The Formula of Concord” was drawn up by several pastors of 12 main statements they believed to be crucially important.
Article V contains a line about the Law and the Gospel which they considered essential for Christianity, which if neglected would result in the Gospel being lost. Here is what it says, “We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence…we must guard it with especial care in order that these two doctrines may not be mingled with one another, or a law be made out of the Gospel, whereby the merit of Christ is obscured and troubled consciences are robbed of their comfort.”
There is serious danger in confounding the law and the Gospel. If the law is not declared…then we do not know what sin is and how bad we have failed before God and how much we need salvation…if there is no law then grace seems cheap and sin and its consequences do not get confronted. But if all that is preached is law and we do not hear that Jesus did all of it for us and freely gives us His work…then we lose the wonder, beauty and truth of the Gospel and all we do is give people a false hope that they could ever fulfill…and are forever stuck in a cycle of trying to obey but failing.
Both law and Gospel are needed and they must be clearly distinguished. And if you haven’t figured it out yet it’s my whole method of preaching.
It’s why in almost every sermon you hear me preach I will not shy away from sin and confront sin and challenge us and talk about God’s hatred for sin, His wrath, judgment and hell. That’s the law.
Yet, you will always hear me say…”But here’s the good news, the Gospel! Where we failed Jesus succeed and he died the death we deserve in our place and gives us all of His righteousness…so that you might be welcomed in and saved.”
And I say all this not because I’m supposed to and it would cost me my job if I didn’t…But because I know the law doesn’t change my own heart. Only the love of Christ. It’s only because as 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” The law does not make me love…the love of Christ does.
I’ve got no confidence in the law to save or sanctify you or me. The law will not make me love God and want to obey him. It’s got to be the Gospel and the Gospel alone…that Jesus gave his life for me. And the more that I get ahold of that…the more that I really begin to experience change deep down.
Some of you today need real change. There’s things in your life where you are living in sin…knowingly, willingly and repeatedly violating the law of God…and you need to change. For some of you there may be things you’ve wanted to change in you for a long time and you haven’t been able to fix yourself no matter how hard you try.
Here’s where you find the motivation for change: “Christ loved you and gave himself for you and that sin.” So receive His great grace and in your thankful and joyful reception go and sin no more.
We need to conclude. And we’ll conclude like we do every week here at The Resolved Church by coming to the Lord’s Table to receive his body and blood in the bread and wine.
Each time we do this it is one of the most clear illustrations and demonstrations of the Law and the Gospel that there is.
• As the bread is broken, so was His body broken for us because we broke the Law of God.
• As the wine is poured, so was His blood poured out in payment for our sinful law-breaking.
• And as surely as He risen and lives today He stands here by His Spirit and gives himself to all who have put faith in Him.
Today, there is nothing you must do to receive this grace of Christ. We believe that we will be saved solely through the grace of the Lord Jesus who gave himself for us.
So come in faith, believing no other Gospel.
• Put no trust in your own righteous efforts but wholly trust in the righteous life and death of Christ alone.
• Come to the table and lay down whatever heavy yoke you may be carrying and eat and drink the rest giving yoke of Christ.
• Just as you are, spots, blemishes and all…just as you are, come and know the unconditional love of the Lord.
• Where you need change, come in repentance and have Jesus change you deep down.