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Acts Chapter 15

(Grace to Learn God's Law)



          In today's world, the Law of God has been diminished tremendously.  It is very common to hear today that God's law has been abolished and we no longer need to follow it.  However, when one considers a statement like this logically, it does not stand up to scrutiny.  The fact of the matter is that the Apostles dealt with this question early on in the life of the church.  A meeting was held and a decision was made.  The end result of this meeting was the upholding of God's Law.  Ironically, it is this very meeting that many today use to endorse the philosophy that the Law of God has been abolished.  This couldn't be further from the truth.  In fact, this meeting specifically upheld God's Law in light of Grace.  This article will attempt to explain the purpose of this very important decision made in Acts chapter fifteen.

          In Acts chapter fifteen we read of a group of Pharisees who are troubling Gentile believers to be circumcised and practice the Mosaic Law.  These Pharisees are telling the Gentiles, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).  This was troubling the Gentile believers.  Since Paul and Barnabas, "had no small dissension and disputation" with the Gentiles, it was determined that they should visit these Gentiles to determine this matter (Acts 15:2).  As Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem their message of the Gentile conversion was received with great joy in all the cities they visited as they traveled, including Jerusalem (Acts 15:3-4).  When they finally reached Jerusalem they encountered the problem before them.  "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" (Acts 15:5).  The Pharisees, who caused the Messiah great trouble (Matt. 15:3-9), were doing the same to the Gentile believers.  Though these Pharisees were believers, they still held some of their old doctrines that caused division (Matt. 16:6).  This caused the Apostles and Elders of the church to discuss the matter before them (Acts 15:6).


Peter's Speech - Proof of the Holy Spirit:


          The Apostle Peter rose up to speak first on this matter.  "Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.  And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:7-9).  Peter points out the proof of their faith, that of the Holy Spirit.  After all, one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit was to put the "seal" of proof on our salvation (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13).  No one can doubt that the Gentiles are saved, even though they are not circumcised.  Peter concluded with, "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they
" (Acts 15:10-11).  The Pharisees are putting a burden on the Gentiles that is impossible.  In fact, they themselves could not carry that same burden.  This burden was that of following God's law to earn salvation.  This is contrary to grace and contrary to the gospel of the Messiah.

          Keep in mind, this is not saying that practicing God's law is not good.  Remember, salvation comes in three parts; Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.  We cannot be justified by the Law of God for we have already failed (James 2:10).  This is what the Pharisees believed, which lead to their downfall.  Justification can only be received by Grace in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah.  Sanctification is after Justification.  Once we are Justified and forgiven of our sins we now have a whole life ahead of us of becoming the person God wants us to be.  This is where the Law of God comes in.  God's Law does not make us righteous, but it does define righteousness.  Sanctification is where we work together with God to learn His Law and apply it to our life.  We will see this more as we continue in this study.  For more on the process of salvation please read my articles on, Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.


James's Speech - What to do:


          After Peter spoke the crowd marveled at how the Holy Spirit worked through Paul and Barnabas.  The crowd listened as Paul and Barnabas confirmed Peter's statement (Acts 15:12).  Then James stood up to conclude the discussion and make a judgment on the matter.  James confirms the words of Peter as well (Acts 15:14) and then points to the prophets to confirm Peter's words.  "And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things" (Acts 15:16-17).  James shows how God's word declared that the Gentiles would be part of salvation.  In fact, the law confirms this as well.  God has always allowed Gentiles to come into His people and practice His Law (Ex. 12:49, Ex. 22:2, Ex. 23:9).  This is nothing new and probably what James meant in Acts 15:18.  James then makes his judgment on this matter.

          "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:19-20).  At first glance it sounds like James is making light of the Mosaic Law.  We are not to bother the Gentiles with the Mosaic Law, especially concerning circumcision.  However, he does mention some laws that the Gentiles should follow.  Apparently, idolatry, adultery (fornication) and some of the dietary laws (strangled and blood) are among the laws that Gentiles should follow.  This seems odd for James does not appear to give any reason for why the Gentiles should follow these laws but not others.  The question I have is this, why did James say the Gentiles should follow dietary laws, but today the church does not?  It is interesting to note that the modern church uses this very passage to demonstrate that the Law of God is abolished.  This is unfortunate for this passage says no such thing.  In fact, when you read the very next verse you find out why James required some laws, but not others.

          The next verse states, "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day" (Acts 15:21).  James is not saying that the Law of God is abolished or that it should only be followed in part.  James is saying, let's only hold the Gentiles to these laws (idolatry, adultery, and dietary) for now, after all, they have every Sabbath day to hear Moses preached in the Synagogue to learn the rest of God's law.  James is pointing out a good starting point to practice God's Law.  He is emphasizing that God is not providing Grace to break God's Law, but rather Grace to learn God's Law.  It is absurd to expect anyone to stop practicing whatever they used to practice and start practicing God's Law 100% the very next moment.  There is grace to learn God's Law and apply it to our lives.  However, as Hebrews 10:26 states, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."  Once we know of a particular sin in our lives we need to make every effort to stop that sin.  As the Gentiles started going to Synagogue on the Sabbath they are to start applying more and more of God's Laws to their lives.




          The Apostles agreed with James judgment and sent letters to all the churches confirming this doctrine (Acts 15:22-29).  This doctrine is simple.  We do not have Grace to break God's Law, but rather we have Grace to learn God's Law and apply it to our lives.  As we grow in the knowledge of God and His Law, we are required to practice those laws.  This chapter in the book of Acts is a great demonstration of how the Law of God and Grace fit together.  We need to remember that God looks at the heart of man (1 Sam. 16:7).  He knows if our heart's desire is to follow Him.  Those who want to follow after God will seek His Law and follow it to the best of their ability.


By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV