Acts 15:1, 5 says, "And going down from Judea, some taught the brothers, saying, If you are not circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. 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.” As the preacher says in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Still today, there are those brethren who insist that one keep the law of Moses to be saved. Oh, they may not say you absolutely must keep all of it; but they “encourage” those really spiritual Christians, who, if they really want to please God, to keep at least parts of it (because, of course, nobody could ever keep all of it - which is exactly why Jesus had to save us!) Let’s dig into the Word of God.
Essentially, we have here in Acts 15 the first officially handled doctrinal dispute. This subject had actually come up before in Acts 11, based on what happened in Acts 10, when Peter preached to the Gentile Cornelius, and his whole household got born again, filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized - all while uncircumcised and not keeping the law of Moses. While in Acts 11, they acknowledged that Gentiles could be saved based on Peter’s report; they didn’t address whether or not Gentiles had to become Jews or keep the law to be saved. Remember, Acts 10 happened about 10 years after Pentecost; and Acts 15 was about 10 years after that!
It took ten years for Jewish Christians to realize Gentiles could be saved, and another ten years to realize they didn’t have to keep the law of Moses to be saved! These were the formational years of the church. After all, Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, who came to the Jews. Why wouldn’t they think that one would have to become a Jew, to receive the Messiah? Romans, Galatians - not even Hebrews - was written yet. They thought Christianity was just simply an extension of Judaism. They didn’t comprehend that the Old Covenant was fulfilled and finished (Mt 5:17-18, Jn 19:30); and that it’s ordinances were about to pass away (Heb 8:13, Mt 24:1-2) a few years later in 70 A.D. So, this caused the dispute in Acts 15.
The events in Acts 15 are also described in Galatians 2:1-10. Here’s what happened: Paul is preaching the pure Gospel of grace down in Antioch. People are being radically saved, filled with the Holy Spirit, healed, delivered, etc. Paul is telling these Gentiles that they do not have to be circumcised, keep the Jewish Sabbath and feasts, the dietary laws, etc. to be saved. They are saved simply through faith in Jesus. They are full of joy and loving God - life is good. After a while, some legalistic brothers from Jerusalem catch wind of what’s going on in Antioch. So, they take it upon themselves to go up there and inform those Gentiles that they must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses to be saved.
This is what the book of Galatians is all about. It is a stern rebuke and warning to Judaizers (those who teach salvation is a combo of law and grace), and to those who would listen to and follow those teachings. Paul said twice that those who teach another Gospel should be accursed. Also, let us not forget that Paul knew the law inside and out. As far as Paul was concerned, this law teaching was no insignificant side issue; it was a heaven or hell, life or death issue. If Paul took it that seriously, why don’t we?
What we must remember, is what Paul asked the Galatians to remember: that we receive the Spirit, the miracles, the healing, the deliverance, the goodness and blessings of God - by faith (Gal 3:2, 5). In other words, when God confirmed His Word through the salvations, the giving of the Holy Spirit, the working of miracles; what was being preached? Was law being preached, or grace and faith? The law doesn’t give life - it kills (2Cor 3:6). The Spirit gives life. Peter didn’t preach the law to Cornelius; he preached faith in Christ. What happened? God confirmed His Word (Acts 10:44, Mk 16:20, Act 14:3, Heb 2:4). God confirms the Gospel of Grace. God confirms faith righteousness. If we want to see the supernatural in our lives, we must receive it by faith, not try to earn it through works. We must believe and receive the free gift. By the works of the law, no man shall be justified (Gal 2:16). Through faith in God’s grace, we receive His best. Until next time, rejoice in the Lord!