Acts 15:6-11 - The Jerusalem Council
Welcome to our Bible Study! We are studying Spiritual Applications from the Book of Acts. Today, my text is Acts 15:6-11. In these verses, Luke writes about the Jerusalem Council.
Paul's first missionary journey ended when Paul and Barnabas returned (Acts 14:26-28) to Antioch. They reported all that God had done and how He had opened a door to the Gentiles. God had demonstrated His acceptance of them. Then, they (verse 28) "spent a long time with the disciples."
1. The Problem Of Circumcision Arose
About ten years had passed since the outpouring of the Spirit among the Gentiles at Caesarea. Now, some men from Judea came to Antioch teaching that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised. These men were unauthorized (verse 24) visitors from the church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas vigorously defended the Gentiles.
Because of the controversy, the Jerusalem Council was held. In Luke 15:1-35 Luke tells the story. The apostles and elders came together to look into the matter. Other members of the church (verses 12 and 22) were present also. After much debate, the apostle Peter spoke. He began by reminding the brethren (verse 7) that God had used him to open the door to the Gentiles. Then, he defended the position that the Gentiles did not need circumcision. He presented the evidence that God had already accepted the uncircumcised Gentiles in Caesarea. God had demonstrated that acceptance by giving them the Spirit.
2. God Gave The Gift Of The Spirit To The Gentiles
Acts 15:8-9 are crucial verses in Peter's defense of the Gentiles. He declared, "And God who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith."
The problem of the acceptance of uncircumcised Gentiles was a major issue in the early church. It would take divine intervention of a dramatic nature for the Jewish believers to accept the uncircumcised Gentiles. Only when God acted, would they know for sure that God had cleansed the Gentiles and brought salvation to them. That dramatic event happened. God gave them the Holy Spirit just as He did to the disciples at Pentecost. The Jewish believers would never forget the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit. For this to be replicated among the Gentiles was indeed strong evidence.
3. God Cleansed The Hearts Of The Gentiles By Faith
According to Peter, God knows the heart. Obviously, God knew the hearts of the Gentiles. As I see it, God saw their faith and cleansed their hearts. Their faith was in Jesus, the Savior of their souls. Having done this, God gave them the same gift as He gave the disciples at Pentecost. This was the gift of prophetic inspiration.
One fascinating aspect of this story is the evidence of the Spirit's presence at Pentecost and Caesarea through speaking in tongues. How did Peter know that God gave His Spirit to the Gentiles at Caesarea? As Peter says in Acts 10:46, they knew "For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God." Given this evidence, Peter baptized them in water.
4. Circumcision Was Not Required
Now, Luke records the rest of Peter's speech. Cornelius and his household had been saved by faith. The Judaizers were trying to put a requirement on the Gentiles for salvation (verse 10) "which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear." Then, Peter refers to the believing Jews when he says, "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." In other words, circumcision was no longer necessary for the Jewish believers either. Both they and the Gentiles were saved in the same way. Here is a clear indication that the body of Christ is one and that there is no division between the believing Jews and Gentiles.
Salvation is by faith through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. No works are required for anyone to be saved. An issue in the early church was circumcision. The Jewish believers wanted the Gentiles to be circumcised, just as they were. However, calling upon the evidence of what God did at Caesarea; Peter made it clear that circumcision was not necessary. Not only was it not necessary for the Gentiles; it was not necessary for the Jews.
There is a very strong message for all believers here. The temptation is to place various kinds of cultural requirements on salvation. To be sure, when we have surrendered our lives to Christ, it results in a changed living and a total commitment to Him. There is a high cost to this free gift. Even so, the gift is free. Let us rejoice in Him.
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