Introduction to The Jerusalem Council: Acts 15:1-5
“1) Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2) And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3) Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4) When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5) But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”” Acts‬ ‭15‬:‭1‬-‭5‬ ‭
The stage was now set for the first big challenge of what constitutes the Gospel. Is salvation based on faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection or does it also require keeping the Law? Does grace save us or do we add self works to purchase our salvation?
At first glance, this might appear to be a trivial issue, but it changes the whole playing field of what constitutes salvation. If all sinned and fell short of saving themself by keeping the Law before Jesus died for our sins, how could adding the Law to the atonement of Christ improve the hope of salvation? Did Jesus fulfill the Law and paid its penalty on our behalf.
This stiff debate set the stage for what is called “The Jerusalem Council.” Chapter 15 of the book of Acts confirmed the doctrine of “Justification by faith.” Paul wrote the books of Romans and Galatians to defend this doctrine. The book of Philippians explains how much Paul personally suffered to defend the gospel.
This discussion addresses the question of what brings salvation. Are you saved by your religious good works or are you saved by faith in Jesus Christ? Romans 8:1-4 puts the hammer on the head of this nail. Paul argues that the Holy Spirit radically changes those who are born-again so they can automatically keep the moral standards of the Law.
Salvation through the Law is based on the flesh. It always falls short. Salvation through faith in Christ seals the believer with the Holy Spirit. He imparts the grace to change people from the inside out. It is based on the spirit.
Please take time to wrestle with Acts chapter 15 and the books of Romans and Galatians. When Justification by Faith is understood and embraced it has the power to set you free “in Christ.” Grace is not a ticket to sin, rather it is the key to victorious living. Paul wasn’t about to concede and inch on this issue.
This doctrine opens the door to understand the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the born-again believer. He was not given nor present under the Old Testament system of the Law. Self righteousness holds the Holy Spirit at arms length. If righteousness is attainable through the Law, Christ died needlessly.
As a young believer, I skipped over Acts 15. It seemed irrelevant. As a growing believer, I started wrestling with Acts 15. It became foundational to understanding the full meaning of the gospel. As a mature believer, I celebrate Acts 15. It has opened the door to the mystery of the being “in Christ” and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 15 defines the doctrine Paul ultimately gave his life to defend. Buckle your seat belt as we try to unpack this chapter. It might change your life.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: