Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The Theological Truths Surrounding the Law. With the Law comes two important theological truths that are unchanging to this day. First, the giving of the Law comes after Israel’s release from bondage. The declaration that Israel is YHWH’s firstborn son (Exod 4:22) has no bearing on their obedience or disobedience because a rule for obedience had not yet been given. Israel was fully accepted as a son before the call to a righteous life ever took place. So, why is this significant now?
The teaching known as Lordship Salvation places demands of obedience and submission upon a person to either gain acceptance by God or to prove that God has truly accepted them due to the results of their observed behavior. Bing writes, “Lordship Salvation faith goes beyond trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior. Lordship faith includes obeying Him as Lord as a condition of eternal salvation. They have included obedience in their definition and understanding of faith. Therefore, Lordship faith requires works as a necessary condition of faith.” This understanding is never promoted in the New Testament, nor is this a point in the type seen in the Exodus and Sinai events. The biblical order is that the fully accepted son (Israel) is already in a relationship with his Father (YHWH) based on the sufficient work provided by the Father. It is not until the event at Sinai that instructions in holy living are given, some three months after their being set free (Exod 19:1). Lordship Salvation distorts the historical picture that God uses in His Word to clearly communicate to us the free nature of the salvation that He provides. To say that works, submission, or obedience is necessary for salvation/deliverance is to rewrite the Scriptures, putting Sinai before the Exodus.
The Purposes of the Law. The Messianic Jewish scholar Arnold Fruchtenbaum has captured the multifaceted purposes of the Law given to the Jews at Mount Horeb. While all of his reasons are not given, the following summary will suffice with some modification added for the sake of providing Scripture references. These purposes are:
(1) in relation to God,
(a) to reveal His holiness (Lev 19:1–2, 37; 11:44; 1 Pet 1:15–16);
(b) to reveal His righteous standards (Rom 7:12);
(2) in relation to Israel,
(a) to keep Israel a distinct people (Lev 11:44–45; Deut 7:6; 14:1–2);
(b) to provide a rule of life for the Old Testament saint (Lev 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7–8, 26);
(c) to provide for individual and corporate worship (Lev 23);
(d) that by doing them, they would live long in the land (Ezek 20:11);
(3) in relation to Gentiles, to serve as a middle wall of partition and thus keep them strangers to the unconditional Jewish covenants so as not to partake of Jewish spiritual blessings as Gentiles, but only as proselytes to Mosaic Judaism (Eph 2:11–16);
(4) in relation to sin,
(a) to reveal and show what sin is (Rom 3:19-20; 7:7, 13);
(b) to demonstrate the exceeding sinfulness of the flesh (Rom 7:8-11, 13);
(c) to show that living by the Law only breeds living that is fleshly (Rom 7:14-25),
(d) to show that the flesh will never “get better” because it will always serve the Law of Sin (Rom 7:24-25), it will always lead to death (Rom 8:6-8), and it will always be profitless (John 6:63).
A Common Misunderstanding of the Law. The debate over whether or not the church should be keeping the Law has raged on since the founding of the church even though this question was clearly and thoroughly answered in Acts 15:1-35.
In the New Testament, positionally, we are already true law-keepers in Christ because He has kept the Law perfectly on our behalf (Rom 10:4).
Practically speaking, we are keeping the Law when we operate in love with one another (Rom 13:8).
Acts 15:1-35. This passage, known as “The Jerusalem Council,” takes place in AD 50. The scene opens with Paul and Barnabas returning to their home church in Antioch fresh off of their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-4; 14:26-28). “Some men” who came from Judea (Acts 15:1), were teaching believers that they needed to be circumcised “according to the custom of Moses” in order to be saved. Because they were allowed to teach, we can assume that these men were Christians who had possibly come from the Jerusalem Church, especially since they are referred to later as “some of our number” in Acts 15:24.
Immediately, this created great dissension. Having just returned from preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, such a message was not what was being promoted by Paul and Barnabas, so a sharp dispute ensued. Circumcision was a custom that was instituted for the Jews long before the giving of the Law (Gen 17:1-14). This custom was to be a sign of the unconditional covenant made with Abraham (Gen 17:11). By these Judeans introducing this teaching as a requirement to be saved, they were “front-loading” the Gospel. This term means that they were requiring obedience or submission as a necessity for salvation to be an actuality, rather than being by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:16; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Eph 2:8-9). In light of this dispute, Paul and Barnabas were sent to the church in Jerusalem (where Peter, John, and James were) to consult them on this matter (Acts 15:2). While on their way, they conducted a “Praise Tour,” encouraging many of the churches that they had planted and sharing about the “conversion of the Gentiles”
(Acts 15:3). Testimonies of God’s work among people always brings forth great joy in the church.
Upon arriving at Jerusalem and sharing their testimony of God’s grace among the Gentiles, some born-again believers (who were also Pharisees), advocated the position that one must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:5). As if the problem in 15:1 wasn’t bad enough, now the condition of Law-keeping was being promoted as well! With these differing viewpoints, assurance of salvation was hanging in the balance. Paul and Barnabas had preached the Gospel of God’s grace, and in sharing the results from their first missionary journey, they were met with criticisms from within the church that what they were preaching was not the complete truth! Had they preached in vain? Was their mission a total failure? Were they lost themselves? All confidence of justification before God was robbed with this dissenting claim.
As the leadership of the Jerusalem church conferred (Acts 15:6-7a), Peter stands to make some observations before the elders and apostles. Peter’s message hits two points home.
First, Peter was the first person chosen by the Lord for the task of reaching the Gentiles (Acts 15:7b). This should not surprise us, considering that the Lord Jesus Himself even declared that Peter would be the rock on which the church would be built (Matt 16:18) and that he would receive the keys to the kingdom (“you” in Matthew 16:19 is singular, not plural). In Acts 2, the Jews heard the preaching of Peter and 3,000 were added that day at the birth of the Church Age (Acts 2:14-41). He was also used by God to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the house of Cornelius, the first Gentile converts after the birth of the Church (Acts 10:1-48). It is clear that Peter was instrumental, being used by God to unlock the doors for the gospel to the Jew and Gentile alike. It was not until Acts 9:15 that we find that Paul was being commissioned
with reaching the Gentiles, with him spending at least 17 years off of the scene before beginning his ministry (See Gal 1:15-2:2).
It should also be noted in Acts 15:7b that Peter is clear on the requirements for the Gospel: one hears the word of the Gospel and believes. That’s it, and that’s all.
The second point that Peter makes involves the common results of preaching the Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles (Acts 15:8-9). Peter notes in 15:8 that the Gentiles were given the Holy Spirit just as the Jews were when they believed. This is something that only God can do, which He does at the moment that one believes in Jesus (John 3:5-8; Eph 1:13). He also states that their hearts were cleansed in the same way that the hearts of the believing Jews were cleansed: “by faith” (Acts 15:9).
Peter then draws a striking conclusion, posed in the form of a question: If the salvation of the Gentiles has come about through faith in Jesus Christ and has resulted in the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and if this is identical to the way that the Jews had come to faith earlier, why is there a temptation to place a requirement upon people that God Himself was not requiring? A direction such as this puts “God to the test,” which is a very serious offense! This is better understood as “trying God’s patience, seeing how far you can go and what you can get away with before pushing God too far and provoking Him to intervene.” Gooding elegantly sums up the implications of what was being considered:
“If God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith and declared Himself so satisfied with that purification that He could give them His Holy Spirit, it was an appalling impertinence and insult to God for anyone—no matter how good their motives might be—to imply that the purification God Himself had effected by faith was not good enough, and could not bring a person salvation and acceptance with God by itself, but must be supplemented by circumcision and keeping of the law. How far could anyone go with insulting God like that and with overturning His own declared decision before bringing down on one’s head His severest condemnation? Preaching ritual and law-keeping for salvation might
sound as if it were morally strict, holy, and commendable. It was, and still is, in fact an insult to God.” The point of contention is clear.
Peter shows that the Jewish fathers were never able to bear such a burden for their salvation (which is not what the Law was ever meant for), so why would someone want to introduce such a distortion to the free grace of God in offering salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord? The historical track record of the Old Testament shows human inability in keeping the Law. Adding works made no sense and served to corrupt the very nature of the grace that offered the free gift of eternal life! Peter’s conclusion is 15:11 is beautiful: “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” If grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone was the way that the Jewish believers were saved, why would the salvation of the Gentiles be more complicated? All are sinners, and all need salvation.
We are told that the people remained silent as Paul and Barnabas related the “signs and wonders” of God among them as they ministered the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 15:12).
James, being the head of the Church in Jerusalem, then stood and summarized the findings of the elders and apostles. James’ application of Amos 9:11-12 is consistent with the whole point of God’s goodness to the Jews and the purpose for which He chose them to fulfill.
Speaking to the 2nd generation of Israel out of the Exodus in regards to the Law, Moses tells them, “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Deut 4:6-8).
The quotation of the Amos passage by James notes that the rebuilding of the “Tabernacle of David” (Acts 15:16a) is something that will cause the Gentiles to “seek the Lord” (Acts 15:17a). With a “missional
dispensationalism” understanding of what God was doing, and will do through Israel, the purpose of leading people to salvation is crystal clear.
In 15:19, James notes that they should not “trouble” the Gentiles who are “turning to God.” The word “turning” is also used in Acts 14:15. It is the Greek word epistrephō, meaning “to turn to, to cause to return, to turn oneself.” What this word is not is the word for “repent” or “repentance.” In fact, the mention of repentance does not even come up in this entire exchange. This should cause a reevaluation of our Gospel presentations and should encourage us to focus on telling others about faith in Christ, nothing else. If this is a jarring concept to you, it would be good to get a concordance out and do a word study of the use of “repent” and “repentance” throughout the Old and New Testaments, paying careful attention to the surrounding context of each mention. You will be brought to the same conclusion that repentance is not necessary for one to be justified.
Now, a question arises from 15:20. “If one does not have to be circumcised or keep the Law of Moses to be saved, why does James suggest four points of conduct and restriction as part of his judgment in this matter?” Each of the matters listed were not being conveyed as requirements for acceptance by God. In other words, this is not a list apart from the Law of what is required of man in order to be saved. What we do find is that these four points: Abstaining from things (probably food) contaminated by idols, fornication, abstaining from animals that had been strangled (also as far as eating them for food), and from blood, meaning that they were not to eat food with the blood still in it, were all points that would cause great dissension with the Jews in every sector. Such things would create unnecessary obstacles between the Gentile believers and the Jewish believers.
In the church, unity in love is the goal (John 17:20-21; Eph 4:3, 13; Col 3:14). With the exception of fornication, which is clearly sin, the things listed above would weigh heavy on the consciences of the Jewish believers. As those who are free in Christ, the Gentile believers should seek to do nothing that would stumble their brothers and sisters in the
Lord (Rom 14:13). Abstaining from such practices is an encouragement from the Jerusalem Church to the surrounding churches to walk in a worthy manner because of their salvation, and not in order to earn it.
James’ judgment is confirmed by the apostles, the elders, and the whole church (Acts 15:22). A letter is then drafted for the churches, of which Paul and Barnabas and men that were chosen by the Jerusalem Church were commissioned to take back, visiting the Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia congregations (Acts 15:22-23). Judas (Barsabbas, 15:22c) and Silas are sent to personally speak on the matter with the churches. It is noted in the letter that this is something that has been decided and promoted in agreement with the Holy Spirit (15:28). The notation in 15:29 is important, that by abstaining from such things as what was listed, they would “do well.” At no time does the letter confuse faith alone with works for salvation.
Those who received this letter found it encouraging (Acts 15:31) and Judas and Silas used these opportunities for the further encouragement of the churches. It seems that Judas (Barsabbas) went back to Jerusalem, while Silas stayed with the churches, and Paul and Barnabas went back to their home church in Antioch (Acts 15:34-35). With a reinforced decision that had been a means of encouraging the churches of God in the region, Paul and Barnabas were again preaching and teaching, knowing that their message had the full confidence of the church in Jerusalem, as well as the Holy Spirit of God.
Justification before God is by His grace alone, through personal faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Faith is a response to what has been presented, and is a conviction that what has been presented is true. It is impossible to be justified by the works of the Law (Gal 2:16).
Christians have been set free from the Law. It is the perfection of God written out for us to read, and in reading it, we find a great inadequacy in our deeds, thoughts, speech, and decisions. Praise be to God through the Lord Jesus Christ who saves us from this body of death (Rom 7:42-25) and who gives us the indwelling Holy Spirit that allows for us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ (Eph 1:3; 4:1-3).
 Charles Bing, “Why Lordship Faith Misses The Mark For Salvation,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Volume 12, no. 22 (1999): 25.
 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Rev. Ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1994), p. 593.
 This should not be understood as the Catholic tradition teaches that Peter was the first Pope and all successive popes are descended from him. This is nothing more than a teaching based on tradition, a fabrication having no merit or warrant from the Scriptures.
 David Gooding, True to the Faith: Charting the Course through the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Folio Press, 1995), p. 214.
 The reasoning for this is best understood from Genesis 9:3-5, also noting the importance of “blood” and its significance throughout the Old Testament (See also Lev 17:11, 14; Deut 12:23).