Fight the Good Fight (Acts 15:1-21)
It is good this morning to be back in the book of Acts. I have been stewing over chapter 15 for several weeks now. I hope the message this morning is a blessing to your life and helps you grow in your walk with God.
The average person in our country today has been trained to fight. You post anything on social media, and you have people that will agree with you and others that will disagree with you. And some people are really passionate about telling you why you are wrong.
Here is the stupid thing many of the conflicts we engage in are really “bad fights.” They are typically fighting that we should have avoided from the start.
Proverbs 20:3, “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.”
However, Paul speaks of the "good fight." Some issues are so important that we must uphold them at any cost. The leaders in the early church understood that the way of salvation must be through faith in Christ alone, and not by any work of the flesh.
Acts 14 ended with Paul and Barnabas recounting God’s glorious work among the Gentile nations. The good news of the gospel had spread throughout the Mediterranean world. This celebration, however, came to an abrupt halt when false teachers infiltrated the church and sought to squelch the flames of joy kindled by Paul’s testimony.
1. The DISAGREEMENT over the Gospel.
Acts 15:1, “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”
These teachers were referred to as Judaizers. They were Jews who had converted to Christianity but taught obedience to the Mosaic laws as necessary for salvation. They were in essence polluting the gospel.
They were mixing Christianity with the rituals and laws of Moses from the Old Testament, but it was polluting the glorious message of the gospel.
Paul and Barnabas recognized the danger of the Judaizers’ message and the bible says they had “no small dissension and debate with them”
Acts 15:2, “When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.”
The church at Antioch decided that this matter needed discussing with the church leaders in Jerusalem, so they appointed Paul, Barnabas, and others to seek the counsel of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Acts 15:3-5, “And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
These Judaizers were partly correct in verse in verse 5 where the Bible says they believed. But they also added the necessity of male circumcision and a strict observance of the law. They were teaching that faith in Christ alone was not sufficient to please God.
Any attempt to add anything to the sufficiency of Christ sacrifice on the cross and His sovereign grace amounts to false teaching and a polluting of the gospel.
2. The DEFENSE of the Gospel
Acts 15:6-12, “And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.”
Paul and Barnabas testified that God had saved the lost though they were uncircumcised and undeserving. How many of us can testify to the same? Though we were sinners, Christ died for us!
Peter makes an amazing statement in 15:11, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way they are. The false teachers argued that the Gentiles must find salvation through Jewish tradition and practice. Peter turns their argument on its head and declares the Jewish people must be saved just as the Gentiles are -- by faith alone.
Upon hearing their testimony, James stands and addresses the assembly.
Acts 15:13, “And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me”
Having considered the words of Peter and Paul, James puts an end to this doctrinal matter, but he does so in a surprising way. He grounds the salvation of the Gentiles not in Paul’s testimony or Peter’s vision but in the Old Testament.
Acts 15:15-17, “And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”
Our experiences have to be backed up by the Word of God! The personal accounts of Paul and Barnabas are quickly followed by references to specific scriptures quoted by James.
There seemed to be some concern though over the fact that if you are saved by faith in the work of Christ alone and not by works than some may abuse the grace of God. So, James seems to address that in verse 21.
Acts 15:21, “But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”
Paul and Barnabas were unwilling to yield on this issue. So strongly did they believe that salvation is through faith that they were willing to travel to Jerusalem and vigorously uphold this doctrine. The gospel is a message we cannot add or take away from. Instead, we must faithfully proclaim it so that others may embrace it. Early believers in the Roman world suffered harsh persecution for the proclamation of this doctrine. Martin Luther endured the wrath of the Church and the Prince to uphold it. Our early Anabaptist brothers paid a great price for their conviction that personal faith is essential for salvation. We are the heirs of this priceless doctrine. May we fight the good fight of faith for this doctrine!