Tag Archives: The Law

Acts 15 – Obedience or Legalism?

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast.”

~Ephesians 2:8-9

In Acts 15, there are four groups that are identified:

  1. The first century leadership (Acts 15:4. Apostles and elders in Jerusalem)
  2. The legalists (Acts 15:1. This group is NOT defined as believers, and they taught that salvation is by the observance of the law)
  3. The believing Pharisees (Acts 15:5. This group IS specifically defined as believers, they are saved. Thus, they must know that salvation is by faith. BUT, they still keep the Law (as Paul does))
  4. Gentile converts (Acts 15:20 (and obviously, other places). This group consists of the new converts; however, they are still practicing that which is ungodly (idolatry, temple prostitution, the drinking of blood, etc).

So, WHAT IS THE DEBATE ABOUT?

We have 2 groups each having their own position:

  1. The first group believes that the Law is NECESSARY for salvation (Acts 15:1)
  2. The second group believes that salvation is through faith, but that the Law should be obeyed out of a love for God.  (Acts 15:5)

These are TWO groups from TWO geographical locations with TWO different doctrines. They both want their position to be projected upon the Gentile converts; the debate decides who is right. The answer to this debate will show clearly who is wrong and who is correct.

So far…

There are several parties at the Jerusalem Council:

  1. The Leadership
  2. The Legalists
  3. Believers
  4. Greek converts

It is ESSENTIAL to realize that the Legalists were NOT believers (Acts 15:1). It is ESSENTIAL to realize the Believers WERE TRUE BELIEVERS (Acts 15:5), AND they kept the Law.

Unfortunately, too often, people glance at this passage and think that it is about whether the Law is to be kept. This is clearly not the meaning of the passage. From the positions of the parties above, it is obvious that the meaning of this passage/debate is about whether the Gentile converts need to keep the Law for salvation.

In other words, people try to create a new debate with new context.

Nowhere in this passage does it present the position that the Law of God (which is clearly synonymous with the Law of Moses (see Luke 2:22-24)) is abolished!

Evidently, the Greek converts weren’t keeping the Law very well OR AT ALL, because otherwise, there would have been no need for the debate.

So what happens in the rest of the passage?

  1. Acts 15:8-9
  2. Peter stands up and gives testimony that the Gentiles were able to be saved ONLY by FAITH!

POINT 1 AGAINST THE LEGALISTS!!!!

  • Acts 15:10
  • Peter stands up and says that people were never able to be saved through works. It’s impossible – a yoke. Thus, salvation must be by some other means.

Quick note:

We know that the “yoke” referred to in this verse is NOT the Law, because GOD HIMSELF SAID that the Law was easy and light (Deuteronomy 30:11-16 and John 5:3). We know that Peter cannot be contradicting God.

POINT 2 AGAINST THE LEGALISTS!!!!

So far…

Peter blows up Position number 1’s view (the Legalistic view). He just shreds it. However, he says nothing against Position number 2. Peter clearly supports the view that the Believers in the faith should still keep the Law of Moses in obedience, but not for salvation, but BECAUSE of their salvation.

NO NEW DEBATE HAS BEEN INTRODUCED! ALL HAS SO FAR BEEN CONSISTENT WITH THE DEBATE IN ACTS 15:1, AND ACTS 15:5.

What happens next?

  1. Paul and Barnabas share stories of miracles among the Gentiles.
  2. James suggests a solution:

“It is my judgment…that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the Law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

~Acts 15:19-21

Now, the Law is not a yoke. We have already established that. The Law ONLY becomes a yoke when one thinks they can keep it for salvation. So why does James think that we should go easy on the Gentiles?

James is saying that it would be difficult to force the Gentiles to keep, and understand, the Law right away. No one can understand all of God’s ways right away. Thus, he says that they should stop doing those acts which are linked with pagan idolatry, and over time, they will learn about the other Laws because God’s Law is “preached in every city and is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

James proposes that, to make it easier on the Gentile converts, they should encourage the new believers to stop engaging in pagan cultic worship practices.  He states that over time, the Gentiles will eventually come to understand other ways that God wants to be loved.

Unfortunately, many Christians think that James was saying that those four things (to abstain from food polluted by idols, to abstain from sexual immorality, to abstain from the meat of strangled animals, and to abstain from blood) are all that Gentile Christians are required to keep. However, this is certainly not what James was saying:

  1. Because of context
  2. Because it would make no sense
  3. I would have to abstain from those four things, but I can go murder and steal?! No!
  4. Are we to assume that James directly quoted Laws out of the Law, to go and state that we do not need to keep the Law?! No!

It’s obvious that the last sentence “For Moses is read…” was part of their plan for the gentiles! It’s the,
“Do this now, then come and learn,” idea.

Conclusion:

Acts 15 is a debate. There are two parties in the debate:

  1. The Legalists (Acts 15:1)
  2. The Believers (Acts 15:5)

The first party believes that you need to keep the Law for salvation. The second party, specifically noted as believers, believes that one should keep the Law after salvation. These are the ONLY two points addressed in this passage.

In the end, the leadership sides with party number 2: The Believers. They say that all are saved through faith, but that one should keep the Law in obedience.

Here are the steps discussed as the proper road of salvation:

Step 1: Faith in God (Acts 15:7)

BUT…

After you have faith…

Step 2: Leave Cultic False God Worship (Acts 15:20)

Step 3: Learn the Law (Acts 15:21)

Step 4: Obey God’s Law (Acts 15:5)

Despite the clear stating of these points, many Christians refuse to realize their presence, and instead, choose to believe that Acts 15 abolished the Law.

However, to reach such a conclusion, they have to do the following:

  1. Ignore the purpose and the positions in the debate (Acts 15:1 and Acts 15:5)
  2. Create a new debate by interjecting a made-up new position.
  3. Ignore the fact that valid believers existed that taught and believed that, after salvation in faith, one should keep the Law.
  4. Ignore the fact that NOBODY corrected the Believers in the Acts debate, but instead, supported them!
  5. Ignore that the commands that James presented to give to the Gentiles came directly out of the Law.
  6. Ignore that Acts 15:21 is part of the decision for the Gentiles to follow.
  7. Ignore that Jesus said that, until heaven and earth pass away, the Law will NOT be abolished (Mathew 5:17).
  8. Ignore that Jesus said that those who teach that the Law has been abolished will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 5:17-20).
  9. Ignore that Jesus said that those who teach – and practice – the Law will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven (Mathew 5:17-20).
  10. Ignore that Scripture calls the Law:
  11. Perfect (Psalm 19:7)
  12. Just (Nehemiah 9:13)
  13. Good (Proverbs 4:2)
  14. Life (Proverbs 6:23)
  15. Truth (Psalm 119:142)
  16. Light (Isaiah 8:20)
  17. The Way (Malachi 2:8)
  18. Freedom (Psalm 119:45)
  19. Holy (Romans 7:12)

Thus, it would be a VERY bad thing to abolish God’s Law. Taking Laws from a PERFECT Law, would only render it un-perfect, and incomplete.

Finally, check this out! 

Immediately after the Jerusalem Council, Paul, Silas and Timothy take the decision of the Jerusalem Council to the churches in Galatia.

 “Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.”

~Acts 16:1-4

Okay, let’s just think this though:

  1. IF the Jerusalem Council DID in fact meet to discuss whether the Law should be kept
  2. And IF the Jerusalem Council DID in fact decide that the Law should not be kept
  3. Then why in the world did Paul CIRCUMCISE Timothy…to go and deliver the message that you don’t need to be circumcised?

Doesn’t make sense right?

Let me know what you think.  Please keep your comments relative to the subject matter presented.