Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.
It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.
As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?
The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!
The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.
See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.
Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?
The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.
On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)
Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?
As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!
Do you ever question the validity of your faith? Maybe you didn’t pray the right words. Maybe when you believed it didn’t “take”. How can you be sure?
Don Carson answers this question brilliantly. Watch and be blessed!
As i read today’s Bible reading, I instantly thought of Martin Luther’s powerful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, and then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:7–8 CSB)
And though this world, with devils filled,“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,—
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure,—
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers—
No thanks to them—abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also:
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is for ever.
As you consider the Second Coming of Jesus and His judgment on the lost, are you comforted or worried? If you are a Believer, you have nothing to be worried about! Your judgment has already been dealt with decisively in the death of Jesus on a cross almost two thousand years ago! There is no sin you could commit that could undo the provision God has already given you in Jesus! There no sin that is more powerful than the love, the grace, and the mercy of God!
But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by what we said or what we wrote. (2 Thessalonians 2:13–15
One may wonder why we don’t see today what the First Century Church saw in terms of revolutionary transformation of people. Going back to Acts 2, three thousand people responded to the Gospel message and were baptized.
In one day!
Paul warned several churches, most notably the Galatians, to beware believing a Gospel contrary to the one that he preached to them. He said that even if an angel from heaven appeared and preached a different Gospel, he should be accursed for doing it. (Galatians 1:8-9) The Gospel is crucial! The Gospel is critical. And the Gospel’s purity is worth guarding.
When Paul preached, he wasn’t giving a motivational speech, encouraging people to live better lives or to merely give passing approval to some truth claims. In today’s Bible reading, Paul applauds the Thessalonians for going “all-in” with the “all-in” Gospel message!
So why aren’t we seeing the same results as centuries before? Either the Gospel has changed or the Gospel being proclaimed isn’t the true Gospel. Well, we know the Gospel itself hasn’t changed. So the only other option is that — by and large — perhaps the Gospel that’s being proclaimed isn’t the true Gospel.
Assuming you have received the Gospel message at some point in your life, how affected by the Gospel are you? Is your faith a roaring fire, burning brighter as you hear the Gospel and preach the Gospel to yourself? Or is your faith smoldering, just glowing embers?
When a campfire dies down, the embers glow, but they don’t produce any flames. If you need for it to burn more, you have to add fuel to the fire and add oxygen to the glowing coals. Sometimes getting oxygen deep into the glowing coals means you have to get down on the ground, with your face right next to the fire and slowly blow at the very base of the fire.
To rekindle your fire, to increase your own response to the Gospel you may need to get on your face before God and let Him blow over you with the power of the Holy Spirit. Maybe then you’ll respond to the Gospel the way you did once before.