But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
The greatest hindrance to the conversion of men is false teaching. If one is saved it is because he has heard the true gospel which is the power of God for salvation to those who believe. You must hear the unadulterated gospel if you are to be saved. Since Satan knows that it is by the power of the Word of God that sinners are saved, then he has tried to water it down, to hide the truth, to package untruth as the truth in order to deceive, if possible even the elect.
We live at a time when there is too much false teaching being propagated. There are too many Bible welding preachers who, although they punctuate their statements with “… in the Name of Jesus” are agents of Satan to deceive the church of Christ. Although they claim to be ambassadors of Christ, they are wolves sent from hell to defile the Bride of Christ. Some of them are sincerely deceived, others are out to deceive and yet others think that they are serving Christ. It is with this in mind that I would wish to slightly deviate from my series on they got converted and deal with the hindrance to conversion – false teaching. I will also show the way to be saved and so I have called this sermon, ‘How can I be saved?’
Before us is a very important event in the history of the church of Christ. The Church had started in Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost and had spread just as per the instruction of the Lord – to Judea, Samaria, Antioch and so it was progressing to the uttermost parts of the World. It had by this time moved from the house of Israel – the Jews to the Gentiles. It was at this time that some men, purporting to be angels of light, came down from the church in Jerusalem to the Gentiles in Antioch. They pretended to be apostolic emissaries. And they had a message which they claimed would lead to the salvation of the Gentile sinners.
Their claim is stated in Acts 15:1, 5 "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." What a great emphasis they laid upon the Law of Moses? They were not making a suggestion that “You ought to be circumcised after the manner of Moses, and it will be good service to the kingdom of the Messiah if you would be. They were not saying that it was in the best interest to accommodate matters between you and the Jewish converts, and we shall take it very kindly if you will. No it was an imperative as to the way of salvation itself, “Except you be circumcised you cannot be saved. You cannot be saved, you can see heaven or its glory if you are not of our mind and way, our manner and our customs. Without this, you will never go to heaven, and therefore of course you must go to hell.” They were saying that it is not an additional benefit to follow Mosaic order – it is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the Law of Moses (v.5)
You notice that it is very common for false teachers, those proud impostors to enforce their own inventions under the pain of damnation; and to tell people that unless they believe just as they would have them believe, and do just as they would have them do, they cannot be saved. Be very careful of those who come to you claiming to be the only ones going to heaven and except you follow their belief then you are damned. You have heard of those who say that unless you have had a second experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit – unless you are saved and delivered, it is impossible for you to taste the glories of heaven. I have been told that no one will be saved except those who worship on Saturday. I have heard many who teach that if you are sick or poor you have not yet become the child of the King. They say that believers are princes and princesses of God the King and so they must live in health and in wealth. They say that if you are not prospering in body and soul, then your spiritual life has not even began. Be advised now that their case is perilous, and fraught.
Thus the Jews from Jerusalem tell the Gentile believers that they cannot be their brethren except they be of their church, and come into their communion, and conform to the ceremonies of their worship, and be circumcised in the way of Moses and offer animal sacrifices and have a priesthood from Levi be their mediators. The Jewish law contained basic moral provisions that apply to us even now and also the many aspects if a more ceremonial nature such as circumcision, the kosher food laws, laws on external purity and various kinds of sacrifices and festivals. Without going far these laws presented an insurmountable difficulty for the Gentile believers so that to live by them would make it virtually impossible to continue in their Gentile communities. However, according to the Old Testament a Gentile had to follow them and be circumcised in order to belong to the people of God (Gen. 17:9-14), and it seemed to many of the Jewish Christians zealous for the law that the church ought to require this for male believers. They told them that although they may be otherwise good men and believers in Christ, yet they cannot be saved; salvation itself cannot save them. None are in Christ but those that are within their circles. We ought to see ourselves well warranted by the word of God before we say, “Except you do so and so, you cannot be saved.”
It is clear that these are self-appointed preachers although they in fact came from Jerusalem because they belonged to the Pharisaic party (v.5). though they had professed faith in Christ they had not submitted to His authority. They were the same Pharisees that the Lord had pronounced woes - ".. woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. (Matt. 23:13). They were condemned, blind children of hell according to the Lord in Matthew 23. They were the same brood of serpents as John the Baptist had called them.
What error were they propagating?
1) They were in error because what they were teaching did not have Scriptural backing.
They were making big claims that did not have in basis from the Word of God. There is nowhere were the Lord talks of the incoming of the Gentiles were they were commanded to obey the Jewish rituals for salvation. Where do we find that the keeping of the Law of Moses can save the Jews leave alone the Gentiles? The purpose of the Law is cleared stated in Romans 3:20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 7:7). “…the law came in to increase transgression”(Rom. 5:20).
The Lord gave the Law so that man may be left utterly helpless to save Himself and had to rely on God Himself for salvation. The point is that, For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:3-4). You see the Lord is the One only able to fulfill all the requirements of the law and this He has done and brought life and salvation to us. You see all those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse (Gal. 3:10) because they do not have the capacity to keep it. And it is evident that no one is justified by God for keeping the law (Gal. 3:11). So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Gal 3:24-26)
Many false teachers teach man-made religion, where a person is told that he can save himself. You listen keenly to what most of the American televangelists will tell you. They teach how people can be saved without a saviour. You are told that you can be what you want to be. You are told that your words have power to create even your own salvation. What they are telling you is that you do not need the Saviour. You are gods they tell you, surely they are twisting the Scriptures to draw you away from salvation.
Be careful because many will not tell you that your problem is sin. Joel Osteen being interviewed by Larry King admitted that he never talks about sin or sinners and has never even thought about it because it is not for him to judge people. The point is that if a correct diagnosis for your sickness is not made then how can you find the right cure?
You are supposed to compare everything said by any preacher – me included with the Word of God. Carry your Bible and search the Scriptures even after hearing a sermon like the church in Berea who were of a noble character. Do not accept my Word for it so simply find out whether it is true from your Bible. Do just allow TV preachers to stuff you with whatever they want. Make sure that it is the Word of God that they are preaching and if not do not listen to them.
2) They were in error because they themselves could not keep the law as God requires.
This is what Stephen told them, “… you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." (Act 7:53). Although they were completely unable to keep it, they required the young believers to keep it! Talk of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Paul told them, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.” (Rom 2:23). Pharisaic hypocrisy is what they wanted to pass on to the Christian church but Christ could not let it for their error was discovered by Barnabas and Paul and the church. They fought it by all means because it was what the Lord had told His apostles to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.
Many preachers do not practice what they tell you. They are those who preach water when the drink wine. Such are hypocrites because they advocate what is not practical in their own lives. Do not listen to them because they are blind guides. Do not let them simply because they have one evidence to show that they are obeying what they are teaching – like these Pharisee who had their circumcision to show as the evidence of their law-keeping!
“… but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Rom 2:8-11)
“…you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.” (Rom 2:21-23)
3) They were in error because they were putting God to test
How were they putting God to test? By speaking in presumption. They were speaking for God when God had not told them and expecting God to do what they wanted! They were arm-twisting God to obey them. What human wickedness to manipulate God? Many false preachers are masters at manipulating God to do their will. But the result is that they have created miniature gods for themselves. The true God cannot be part of their folly. You know how they arm-twist God? They invite people to come for miracles supposedly from God when God has not told them. They invite the blind, the paralyzed and the sick to be healed, something that Christ Jesus Himself did not do! Is it that they will do greater things than Jesus Himself? If it is true then will God do something without saying? God has clearly revealed everything to His Church and those who act outside of Scripture are not messengers from God. It appears that they are warped up and do not know the power of God nor His word.
Peter told these Pharisees point blank that even from long ago their own fathers were unable to do what they were telling the Gentile believers to do. He told them, “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? (Act 15:10). Troubling the least in the kingdom of God is equal to tempting God. Persecuting the church of Christ, Paul had learnt earlier on in his life was the same as persecuting Christ! They were requiring the Gentile believers to do what God had not sanctioned and were making their traditions to be more valuable than the Word of God rendering it of no effect and so they were tempting God by provoking Him to anger as their forefathers had done.
Putting a yoke of ceremonial and Jewish civil laws on the Gentiles was a torture of the highest order. They were taking away from the Word of God by doing this.
4) They were in error because they were troubling these Gentile believers
To require any one to do what the Saviour does not require is to bring unnecessary and unwarranted trouble on a believer. This is what James and Paul are in agreement. James says, “… we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God,” (Act 15:19). Then Paul says, “…but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:7). The conclusion of the council in Jerusalem was that, “Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions,” (v.24) because they did not want to lay on you no greater burden (v.28). No one should lay a burden on another Christian more than what is required in the Bible.
They were putting the yoke of their laws on the Gentiles. They were doing injustice to these new converts by requiring them to continue in the old way of life when God had unveiled a new order. It was not fair to require these believers to remain in the old covenant when the new had already been inaugurated. Then new covenant was to be outworked under the new government with the new laws and requirements. The old one was pointing to the coming of the Saviour. Now that He has come, how can one be expected to live as if he has not come. How could they have continued to offer sacrifices when the perfect and final one had been offered and accepted? It was completely ridiculous! Imagine you are told that the bread and the wine used in the Lord’s Supper are the body and the blood of Christ being offered once more – what blasphemy!
Imagine people are told to keep the old covenant Sabbath as if the Lord of the Sabbath has not come? Imagine you are told to go to a human priest as if Christ is not the Great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, as if you do not have a high priest who is able to sympathize with your human weaknesses. You have the Great High Priest who was tempted in every respect yet without sin. You have such a High priest who has opened the way for you into the holy of holies by His blood and so has given you confidence to approach the throne of mercy so that you may obtain mercy and grace in times of need. Amen!
There is only one way in which all people are saved. They might have lived before or after Christ. They might have lived in the Eden or in Palestine or in Sudan in the first century or in the twentieth century. This is by believing in Christ. One who believes in Jesus Christ so as to repent of his sins and trust in Jesus Christ obtains grace that is sufficient unto salvation. This means there is no human merit that is able or adequate to yield salvation. There is no amount of human effort that can bring one’s guilty of sin to nothing. There is no human exertion can cause a person to have enough righteousness as to turn away God’s wrath. He might be a Jew or an American or an African it all cannot bring salvation.
When the claim to the contrary was brought to the believers in Antioch they sought to find out the truth of the matter from Word of God through the inspired apostles as well as through their experiences in the ministry. Both churches – in Antioch and Jerusalem met and after examining the evidence of both the Word of God and their own experiences they came to the conclusion that, “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." (Act 15:11)
1) The evidence of the Scripture (vv. 15-17)
The Prophets were in agreement according to James that it will come to a time when Gentiles would be admitted into the commonwealth of Israel so as to be within the tents of David. He went on to name one of the prophets who was of that opinion. The Lord had said that there would come a time when He would admit Gentiles, those who were of old not His people to become His own. They would not seek Him by themselves, but He was the one to be the Agent for this change when He would return and raise up or rebuild the tents of David that had fallen. God Himself would initiate the restoration and the rebuilding of the tents of David. He would do this with the purpose of causing the remnant of mankind, not just Israel, but mankind to seek Him. He would gather ALL Gentiles and He would call them by His Name!
Would you notice what the Prophet quotes as having been said by the Lord? No one and nothing would induce God to do this it is by His own volition that He had purposed to do it. Now salvation is of the Lord and there is nothing a man can do to give himself salvation because his sinful condition is dire and can only be rectified by one who is able and willing to do it. Now God is willing according to His own Word, as prophet Amos and Isaiah points out from what James has quoted it is God Himself saying that He is willing.
It is grace that God has condescended to save man. It is grace that He has stooped to lower to elect men and so to give His own Son to come and take on human flesh. It is grace that Christ was willing to come and be born of a woman, to be born under the law, to save those under the law. It is grace that Christ was willing to suffer and die under the hands of sinful men. It is grace that having completely lived righteously He satisfied the legal demands of the law and so paid the penalty of the sins of men. It is grace that He was willing to give His righteousness to men who trust in Him. It is grace, something that we did not deserve at all that the Holy Spirit was willing to come and indwell men as the deposit to guarantee the inheritance to come. It is grace that He has gifted us so that we are able to live holy lives and serve in His body.
2) The evidence of ministry among the Jews
It is clear that those who were saved in the Old Testament among the Jews were completely undeserving – is it Abraham was deserving? Abraham who was called from idolatry? Would you say that Abraham, that liar and coward who kept on lying about his own wife was deserving to be saved? Who was so deserving? Is it David that adulterous and murdering king? Who in the Old Testament fully obeyed the law? The answer is none because the Bible is clear that all those who are saved have nothing to boast about.
Who was the most deserving Jew to be saved in the New Testament? Would you say Peter who denied Christ not once but three times was deserving to be saved? No for he told the Lord depart from me for I am a sinner! Would you say Paul? Paul admits that it is by grace that He was what he was. Otherwise he was a blasphemer, a murderer etc. all those who were saved among the Jews in the ministry of both the Lord and His apostles were not deserving anything at all.
3) The evidence of the ministry among the Gentiles
When Philip had preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch there was no demand that He was supposed to be circumcised. Peter had preached in Cornelius’ house and before the whole household could even say that they had believed, God had already saved them and stamped it by giving them the Holy Spirit immediately. When they were saved no one said that they were required to be circumcised! How comes then those in Antioch? Paul and Barnabas had preached in many places and they saw God working mightily to bring conversions but none had received the Holy Spirit after being circumcised so how can it be no such had become a necessity? They had risked their lives for the purpose of bringing the Word of God to the Gentiles and not their own wisely devised fables. They had noticed that there was something wrong and what was wrong was the preaching of those who belonged to the Pharisaic party.
Clearly if one is saved then it must be faith in Christ alone. Whoever tries to add something to the manner in which sinners are saved is not preaching the truths of the Gospel but a false doctrine. “If we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:6-9).
We are to grow to maturity so that we able to separate between edifying preaching and that which dishonors the Lord especially with our TV Sets. The Bible tells us to grow in the Word of God through the church “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:13-14).
Why should you listen to a TV preacher whose church you would not go? Imagine some of us are watching even Helicopter Ministries because the guy purports to prophesy and see what you do not see. Now why are you interested in seeing what the Lord would not allow you to see? Imagine you waste your time watching a guy who is taking his time to sell what he calls ‘anointing oil’ for varied amounts depending on your ability and not even your need! Is this not witchcraft and cunning described in 2Timothy 3? But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2Tim. 3:1-7)
I do not know whether you know the preachers in Nairobi and compare this Scripture with what you see. Most of them are asking that you send them money by M-Pesa and Airtel money and other mobile phone services so that you can be connected to God! They say that if you send them money then your family, business, studies, will prosper! Surely, that should ring a bell in your mind that they are wolfs in sheepskin because the Bible talks of such who would be lovers of money.
We are to thank the Lord who does not require so much from us but only wants every one of us to be saved freely and graciously. Yes we read that “…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time (1Tim. 2:3-6). We are therefore to pray for others who have not known Christ that they may also be saved.
Once we are saved we ought to live pure lives as these Gentile believers were required by the inspired council of Jerusalem so that by our pure lives we may attract others to Christ when they see our holy lives. As you can see they spoke under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (V.28).We are to be willing to speak to them the gospel as it is the power of God for the salvation of those who believe.
We are to do everything possible to be of encouragement to other believers as we see Barnabas and Paul so keen to do as they go Jerusalem and afterward. It is for this reason that the council was told the gentile believers not to do such things that would hinder table fellowship between the Jews and them, without the Jews being inconsiderate of the Gentiles.
We are always to remember that we are the strength of other believers when we pray for them. We are our brethren’s keeper and we should do everything in power to make the fellowship warm and sweet so that the Name of the Lord may be honored even by the unbelievers.
What a joy to know error and those who bring them to avoid them. See how much joy the conclusions of the council produced! See how much the church in Antioch was strengthened and encouraged! (V.30-35).