Tuesday, April 12, 2016, 4:30 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “My Sheep.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 15:1-19 (ESV).
The Old Way and the New Way (vv. 1-5)
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But 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.”
Under the Old Covenant, nearly everything was physical in nature. There was a physical temple (building), where the people went to worship God and to learn about him, and there were physical sacrifices made regularly for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy of Holies was a physical room within the temple in which was housed the Ark of the Covenant, within which was the presence of Almighty God. And, there was a physical sign of the covenant between God and his people, too, which God required, which was circumcision of every male. There were also many physical ceremonial laws which they were required to follow.
Under the New Covenant, nearly everything is spiritual in nature. The temple is the body of Christ, his church, which is not a physical entity, although it is made up of physical people. It is a living organism in which dwells God’s Spirit. The Holy of Holies now dwells within us, God’s people, i.e. within all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of our lives. Jesus Christ became our sacrificial Lamb in dying for the sins of the entire world. He died once for all, so that physical sacrifices of animals for the forgiveness of sins is no longer required. Now we, his followers, are to be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is our reasonable service of worship of him (See: Ro. 12:1-2).
Also, when we trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we receive his Holy Spirit into our lives, whom God has given us as a deposit guaranteeing our eternal inheritance; with whom God has sealed us for the day of redemption. I believe this sealing with the Holy Spirit as God’s stamp of ownership on our lives is the New Covenant equivalent of the Old Covenant circumcision. When we believe in Jesus, we are born of the Spirit. We are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24; cf. Ro. 6:1-23; Ro. 8:1-14). It is the Spirit of God who transforms us from death to life in regeneration. Now we are to be circumcised in heart, of the Spirit, not in body/flesh (Ro. 2:29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:10-12).
A Yoke on the Neck (vv. 6-11)
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
The Judaizers insisted that the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised in the flesh (body) and that they had to obey some or all of the Old Covenant ceremonial laws in order to be saved. They were changing God’s grace into something that not even the Jews could do, which was to affect their own salvation through following a set of religious requirements. If that could have been done, then Jesus would have not had to die for our sins. But no human is able to keep any of the law with absolute perfection, which is why Jesus had to die for the sins of the entire world. Only by faith in him can we be made righteous in God’s sight, because through faith in Jesus, and in what he did for us in dying for our sins, his righteousness is now credited to our account. By his grace, through faith, we are saved.
Some people, nonetheless, in order to counteract what they consider to be works-based salvation, have gone the other extreme, and now they have turned God’s grace into a license for lasciviousness. Although it is true that we can do nothing to earn or to deserve our own salvation, and that we are not saved by following a set of religious requirements, it is not true that freedom in Christ is freedom to live however we want, and then expect that we will go to heaven when we die. Those who teach this have completely missed the point of why Jesus died for us, and the purpose of our salvation from sin. We are not saved merely so we can escape hell and go to heaven when we leave this earth. Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; he died that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave himself up for us (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Co. 5:15).
The Judaizers wanted to add on to salvation a yoke that Jesus died to set them free of. Now we have those who also want to place a yoke on people’s necks, but this yoke is not one of legalism but of libertinism. They teach that God’s grace requires nothing of us at all in the way of holy living – no repentance, no obedience. If anyone teaches repentance as necessary for forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God, they accuse them of teaching works-based salvation. Again, they are missing the point of why Jesus died for our sins. He died to liberate us from slavery (a yoke) to sin, and to free us to now walk in his righteousness and holiness. When we believe in Jesus, we are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ to new lives to be lived in Christ’s holiness.
If we say we have fellowship with God, but we continue living sinful lifestyles, then we are liars, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:6). No one who knows God continues living sinful lifestyles (I Jn. 3:6; 1 Jn. 3:9). If we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them for eternity, but if we lose our lives (die with Christ to sin), we will gain eternal life (Lu. 9:23-25). Jesus died that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but who conduct our lives according to the Spirit. If we live our lives according to our sinful flesh, we will die, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live (Ro. 8:1-14). A saved life is a transformed life of the Spirit of God in new birth into a living hope. It is not adding Jesus on top of our old lives of living in sin, thinking we now have eternal life with God in heaven.
Rebuilding the Ruins (vv. 12-19)
And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God…”
The Jews had been accustomed to being God’s only chosen people, but now God’s grace had been extended to include the Gentiles (non-Jews), and thus this brought about confusion for some of the Jews. Yet, not only were the Gentiles included now in God’s eternal kingdom, but all unbelieving Jews were cut off from the vine. Through Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, he destroyed the barrier that stood between Jew and Gentile, and he made us one “man,” united only by faith in Jesus Christ as our Messiah (See: Eph. 2:14-18).
In reading this passage of scripture from Amos 9:11, quoted here by James, it brought to recall the words of Jesus, as recorded in John 2. Jesus had just finished cleansing the temple. The Jews’ response to Jesus’ actions was to ask him this question, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus then answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They thought he was speaking of the temple building, but he was referring to his body. “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (Jn. 2:22).
Though the passage quoted from Amos 9:11 speaks of God’s judgment on his people for their sins of idolatry and spiritual adultery against him, and thus this is speaking of a time of restoration, revival and healing following the time of judgment, I see the context here in Acts 15 as related to the time following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. For, it was following all this that the gospel went forth to the Gentiles (non-Jews). God did judge our sins on the cross, and he put them to death, and following that time he has given us the hope of restoration with him through the death and resurrection of Christ, and via our subsequent faith in Christ by which we are crucified with Christ in death to sin, and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life.
My Sheep / An Original Work / June 24, 2012
Based off John 10:1-18 NIV
My sheep hear me. They know me.
They listen to my voice and obey.
I call them and lead them.
They know my voice, so they follow me.
They will never follow strangers.
They will run away from them.
The voice of a stranger they know not;
They do not follow him.
So, I tell you the truth that
I am the gate, so you enter in.
Whoever does enter
Will find forgiveness and will be saved.
Nonetheless whoever enters
Not by the gate; other way,
He is the thief and a robber.
Listen not, the sheep to him.
Oh, I am the Good Shepherd,
Who laid his own life down for the sheep.
I know them. They know me.
They will live with me eternally.
The thief only comes to steal and
Kill and to destroy the church.
I have come to give you life that
You may have it to the full…
They know my voice, so they follow me.