The Jerusalem Council

“I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if ... More


The idea of salvation through faith in Christ alone, apart from works, is not an easy one to grasp. It’s tempting to add regulations onto faith. This is what the Jerusalem Council sought to address. The inciting incident was the arrival of some well-meaning but legalistic Jewish teachers in Antioch. These men started to teach the Gentile converts that “Unless they were circumcised, according to the law of Moses, they could not be saved” (v. 1). In other words, to be a Christian you must first become a Jew. After Paul and Barnabas got into a heated debate with them, they, along with some others, were chosen to travel to Jerusalem to seek the wisdom of the elders (like James, the half-brother of Jesus) and the apostles (like Peter) (v. 2). On the way to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas stopped briefly in Phoenicia and Samaria (Gentile friendly churches) to report all that God had done through them on their journey to Cyprus and Asia Minor (v. 3). Their story brought great joy to their listeners. In Jerusalem they received a warm welcome (v. 4). Once again, they reported all that God had done on their trip. But after hearing Paul and Barnabas’ report, some former Pharisees who had joined the church in Jerusalem stood up and proclaimed, “These Gentiles converts should be circumcised and instructed in the law of Moses” (v. 5). 

These were not bad men. They were good people who desired to do the right thing. They didn’t want to exclude the Gentiles, but simply expected them to play by rules and keep the Jewish laws. After much discussion Peter stood up and spoke (v. 7). He reviewed what had happened when the Holy Spirit opened the door to the Gentiles at the house of Cornelius. Peter went right to the heart of the question. Can a man earn the favor of God? Or must he admit his own helplessness and be ready in humble faith to accept what the grace of God gives? In effect, the Jewish party said, “Religion means earning God’s favor by keeping the Law.” Peter said, “Christianity consists in casting ourselves on the grace of God.” Here is the big difference between a religion of works and a religion of grace.


The kind of thinking in these verses is not limited to first-century Christians. I need to be careful about imposing my standards and values on others before I accept them as Christians.

Acts 15:1-11 (English Standard Version)

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