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The pattern in Acts has been a regular movement forward by the church to proclaim the gospel to the nations with wide acceptance, and as soon as such, great opposition. Nonetheless, the adequate testimony being set forth to us is that the gospel will triumph in this world before the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who will come again bodily from heaven for his bride prepared for him.

What Was the Matter?

It was a fundamental matter. The issue at hand in Acts 15:1–21 has been introduced in the background of 14:28 where Paul and Barnabas “remained no little time with the disciples.” It was here that they likely received news about the Galatians abandoning the gospel. And as many scholars believe, Acts 15 is parallel with Galatians 2:11–16. It is especially noteworthy that the men in 15:1 of Acts are likely those who came from James (Galatians 2:12). This doesn’t mean James (the brother of Jesus and leader of church in Jerusalem agreed), but only that they came from James and would have certainly pretended James would be on their side. This gets right to the matter (15:6). What was the matter? It is stated first in v.1, and then later in v.5 by another opposing group. The matter is that some are saying the works of the law are required to justify sinners, to save sinners. The matter is stated clearly by the first opponents to the gospel “you cannot be saved” v.1. So, This is of the most grave importance. This is about salvation, and Paul and Barnabas are saying that the Gentiles are saved (v.3), but the others are saying they cannot be saved without becoming Jews in regards to the customs or ceremonies of Moses (v.1, 5).

The matter that is fundamental to Christianity is that people are saved only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

What was the Meeting?

It was a foundational meeting. Now, let us ponder the fact that if this matter goes the way of the Judaizers, the church today would side with all believers having to become Jews to be saved. But if they side with Barnabas and Paul, then the Jews have to become Christians. This is a huge battle. It is an important battle. It is a battle that one. Truth triumphed here, but how? There had to be a meeting.

The First Debate

This meeting set the pace for every church assembly going forward to have preaching at the center. It was this gathering of the whole church with the debate in the background. Do you know there is always a debate in the background of the assembly of God’s people. It is a debate over truth and error, and over love and hate. Only preaching can balance the masses of God’s people to be the effective force in this world to bring and conquer with the gospel.

The Three-fold Defense

It is a three-fold defense by persons (Peter, Paul & Barnabas as one, an James as final judge of the matter). The reason that James is set as final judge likely deals with those who claimed to be from him causing the trouble (Gal 2:12; Acts 15:1). Those who sided with the Pharisees certainly could not be those who side with the Lord.

But it is also a three-fold defense in principle. Peter is the longest of the three. He stands and argues out of his experience with Cornelius in the past that God had chosen a people v.7, gave them the Holy Spirit v.8, and cleansed their hearts by faith v.9 not by works of the law. So, Peter concludes that that Jew and Gentile are saved the same way, through the grace of the Lord Jesus v.11. Next comes Paul and Barnabas as one. Their part is not elaborated as much likely because we’ve already been reading much about their experience. What is highlighted is the “signs and wonders done through them among the Gentiles” (v.12). Lastly comes the third cord in this unbreakable string of arguments, James the leader of the church in Jerusalem and the Lord’s brother. He recaps Peter’s speech, an adds a quote from Amos indicating that the Davidic throne is occupied by Jesus now and as a result he is doing what God has planned from the beginning in building his house in all the earth, and that this is how the nations are going to be saved in the earth vv.16–17.

In these two headings: a fundamental matter, and a foundational meeting, the truth has triumphed, now for love….

What was the Mind?

It was a free mind. In vv.19–21 James utters his judgment on the matter that what those pretending to represent him was false, and troubling unnecessary to the Gentiles who were saved, who “turned to God” v.19. Four applications of the moral law were required of the Gentiles all relating to how they are to live, not how they are to be saved. Because they were saved, they were to especially be instructed to fight against idolatry “abstain from things polluted by idols”, immorality “sexual immorality”, and murderous thoughts “blood.” The practical implications of this would include choosing to forgo meat in the marketplace if there is knowledge of it being related to idolatrous practices if necessary (Rom 14). But the ongoing application was to morally binding on these believers to live in love and humility (e.g. Phil 2).

Freedom is fundamentally being free from bondage to something. Mankind is in bondage to sin, so to be free from sin, makes us slaves to righteousness. So, as Bob Dylan is famous to have said, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” He said,

“…you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Yes indeed, you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well it may be the Devil

Or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Freedom is found from Satan and sin and bondage in a mind that serves the Lord, the mind of Christ, that serves instead of destroys. Freedom also has a cost, it cost Jesus his life. For others to be free it costs the church to contend for the gospel (Jude 3) and pursue the mind of Christ (Phil 2). It’s going to take the church meeting to hear preaching (the Truth defended) regularly, so as to be boldly applied by the congregation.

This means that we need to contend for the fundamental matter of the gospel. Today fundamentalists contend for things like the KJV, but we aren’t called to contend for that, but the gospel. That is the fundamental matter. And what is the matter of the gospel that must be contended for? The doctrine of justification by faith alone.

You have to also contend for this personally. It can get muddied even in Puritan and Reformation times. For example, it was said that man was only truly saved when his affections were changed to love the Lord. However, it is important to know that that never happens until someone actually gets saved. The fruit is complementary but not the root of salvation. The fundamental root of salvation is not in how much you love God, but how much God loves you. Derek Thomas said it this way: “It is not great faith that saves, it is faith in Christ that saves.” Remember dearly beloved that Peter had faith to walk on water; but when did he begin to sink? When he took his eyes off of Jesus. When was Peter most ashamed of his life? When he was challenged about his love for the Lord. But it was not Peter’s love for Jesus that saved him, but Jesus’s love for Peter that saved him! So it is for you, and me, and any throughout history. We must contend for that gospel. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone. It is not your affections for Jesus that saves, it is Jesus who saves. It is his love for you, not your love for him. The fruit is binding on us once we are taken out of bondage to sin, but we can’t get out from under bondage until we are saved by a pure gospel. Contend church, an the church will triumph in truth and love! SDG!

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