Believe that you are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus
Believe that you are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. This big idea raises a big question: how should those who believe that they are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus live? We are going to explore two answers today: (1) Contend for grace and (2) concede your freedoms for the sake of the mission.
My son Soren is six years old and over the last several months he’s developed a love for presidential facts and history. I kid you not, the other day he asked me my opinion on the merits of the old federalist party, and I had nothing intelligent to say. As Soren has been teaching me about George Washington and early American history, I’ve been amazed by level of fierce and passionate debate surrounded the writing of America’s founding documents and the formation of the union. The founders debated tirelessly through sweltering summers and freezing winters because words and ideas shape our lives. Our passage in Acts 15 chronicles the fierce debate about words and doctrine that raged in the early days of the Christian movement and should shape the church and our lives even today. The debate centered on perhaps the most important question in history: how is someone saved from God’s judgment and brought into a right relationship with God now and forever. On the one side of the debate were those who argued that it’s necessary to believe in Jesus and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. Jesus + circumcision = saved. On the other side were those who believed that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus apart from works of the law. Jesus + nothing = saved. In Acts 13:7a, 11 we read the big idea that settled the debate for the Jesus + nothing side: And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers…But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” Peter’s conclusion brings us to the big idea of our passage Believe that you are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. Believe that you are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. This big idea raises a big question: how should those who believe that they are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus live? We are going to explore two answers today: (1) Contend for grace and (2) concede your freedoms for the sake of the mission. Contend for grace and concede your freedom for the sake of the mission. Let’s begin with the first: Since you believe that you’re saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus…
CONTEND FOR GRACE
The council in Jerusalem was sparked by an intense debate in Antioch. Acts 15:1-3: But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about the question. Paul and Barnabas love their church in Antioch and so they have no small dissension with these men because Jesus + anything = a false-gospel. Paul and Barnabas contend for grace, but the brothers from Jerusalem aren’t convinced, so they all head to Jerusalem so that the rest of the apostles and elders can help settle the dispute. After intense and lengthy debate among the apostles and elders, two main speakers settle the matter. Peter speaks first, not surprise there, and provides the conclusion we read earlier: “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Verse 11). After Peter speak, James the half-brother of Jesus opens his mouth and everyone else shuts theirs. Acts 15:13-18: “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon [Peter] has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “’After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’” James goes right to the heart of the matter by saying that the entire Old Testament agrees with Peter that the Gentiles and the Jews will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus apart from the law. Then James proves his point by quoting from Amos 9:11-12. John Stott explains the point of Amos 9:11-12 beautifully: God promises first to restore David’s fallen tent and rebuild its ruins (which Christian eyes see as a prophecy of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, the seed of David, and the establishment of his people) so that, secondly, a Gentile remnant will seek the Lord. In other words, through the Davidic Christ Gentiles will be included in his new community. On the basis of the very Old Testament his opponents were using, James contends that the Gentiles ought not be troubled by law because Jews and Gentiles are saved by the grace alone through faith alone apart from works of the law. Jesus + nothing = salvation and the debate is settled!
Now, why the big debate? Why spend so much time fighting over doctrine and words? It’s common to hear today that contending for doctrine divides people and distracts us from doing good. That can be true if we are constantly contending for secondary matters for the sake of simply being right. That’s dangerous. But equally, if not more dangerous is forgetting that the gospel of grace is worth fight for. Acts 15:24 tells us why the gospel of grace is worth contending for: “Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions…” The reason that they contended for the gospel of grace is because whenever anything is added to the grace of the Lord Jesus for salvation, it unsettles the very soul of Jesus’ precious people.
Citylight Church, let’s be a people that contend for grace in our generation. I want to encourage you to contend for grace in your own heart and your own church. First, your own heart. What are you adding to the grace of the Lord Jesus for a right relationship with God? What is unsettling your mind from a simple trust in Jesus for salvation? In our passage, it was Jesus + Moses = truly right with God. Maybe for you it’s Jesus + baptism, daily Bible reading, feeling more emotionally distraught over your sin, taking up a particular cause or having some special Christian experience = truly right with God. Maybe it’s Jesus + a better job, a better marriage, a better body (fill in the blank) = truly and joyously right with God. Whatever you’re adding to the grace of the Lord Jesus for salvation, contend with it by believing again that you’re saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. But don’t just contend in your own heart, contend for grace in your own church. When you notice a fellow church member or attender learning, believing or living by any of the Jesus + something equations above, love them enough to go to them and contend for grace in their heart by lovingly reminding them to believe that they are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. That’s what love does. Jesus + some law = burden, but love removes burdens. Contend for grace.
CONCEDE YOUR FREEDOMS FOR THE SAKE OF THE MISSION
After such fierce contending for grace, you might expect Paul, Peter and James to write a letter to the Gentile Christians who were being troubled by “Jesus + something” teaching and say, “you’re saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, you’re free from the law of Moses, so eat whatever you want wherever you want without giving it another thought.” Surprisingly, that’s not what the apostles write in their letter. Acts 15:28-29: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden that these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Each of these four regulations are ceremonial expressions of the law of Moses. The law of Moses forbids eating food sacrificed to idols, eating meat with blood that hasn’t been properly drained, eating an animal that has been strangled in a pagan ritual, and taking part in pagan sexual customs. In this letter, the apostles and elders are not writing down timeless principles that are required of all Christians at all times, rather they are stating specific principles from the law of Moses that they’re requiring that these specific Gentile Christians keep. Why is the council asking the Gentile Christians to concede the freedoms that they have in Christ by requiring them to keep these specific parts of the law of Moses? Acts 15:21 provides the answer: “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogue.” James is implying that there are Jewish Christians in every city who would be harder to united with and Jewish non-Christians who would be harder to reach with the gospel if the Gentile Christians exercised their freedom to eat what they want, when they want, wherever they want. In other words, the council is requiring them to concede their freedoms for the sake of the mission. Friends, that’s biblical freedom. The apostles are saying, “Yes, you’re saved by grace and free from living under the law of Moses and free to eat what you want. In fact, you’re so free in Christ that we command you to concede your freedom for the sake of the mission.” As Paul says in Galatians 5:13: For you were called to freedom, brother. Only do no use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Citylight, every pastors blog tells me that COVID-19 and the thorny process of resuming in person small groups and Sunday gatherings is a threat to our church’s unity. I get it. After all, Citylight is a fairly large and diverse church full of wonderful Christians who will feel that our reopening process is too slow and cautious and wonderful Christians who may feel it’s not slow or cautious enough. I get why the blogs way resuming in person gatherings is a threat to unity. But I’ll level with you Citylight, I refuse to see it that way. Instead and in light of our passage, I see the thorny reopening process as an opportunity for us to concede our freedoms for the sake of being united with one another and so that the mission of the gospel can extend to a lost and watching world that we love so much. In a time of self-idolatry, we have an opportunity to lay down our freedom for the sake of loving one another so that the world will know that we belong to Jesus. I’ll give you a concrete but hypothetical example because we don’t yet know exactly what it will be like when we resume in-person Sunday gatherings. For example, you might find it personally difficult—even maddening—to have to wear a mask during church and stay six feet away from everyone at all times. You might think these precautions are a needless overreaction. But here’s the thing: even if it turns out you’re right, can you lovingly lay down your freedom to have an uncovered face to worship in unity with those who believe the precautions are necessary and to avoid offending our non-Christian neighbors that we long to reach with the gospel? Similarly, can we lay down our freedom to avoid gathering in person until there is a vaccine in order to say to the watching world that there is something mystically unique about the church’s physical assembly together? And can we do it all without grumbling, disputing, or gossiping and with the joy that befits those who are truly free in Christ? Listen to how the Gentiles reacted to the news that they are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus and required to concede their freedoms for the sake of the mission. Acts 15:31: And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. Again, these are hypothetical examples, but I bring it up because I want you to see what an amazing opportunity the Lord has given us to concede our freedoms for the sake of the mission.
In the 1950’s, a young man named Jim Elliot and some friends followed God’s call to be missionaries. They wanted to reach the Auca Indians of Ecuador who were a fierce warrior tribe never before engaged with the gospel. After years of labor, translation, preparation, and setbacks, the missionaries finally flew their tiny prop plane into the jungle and made first contact with the Auca. Tragically, on their second visit the Auca speared each missionary to death. Years before Jim Elliot famously and prophetically wrote these immortal words in his journal: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. Jim and conceded every freedom he ever had; he conceded his freedom in Christ to live in his home country, speak is mother tongue, love his wife and raise his daughter in a safe environment, he even conceded his freedom to live for the sake of the mission. Where in the world did Jim get the idea that he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose? Right from the gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus, of course.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from kselfish ambition or lconceit, but in mhumility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you nlook not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,1 6 pwho, though he was in qthe form of God, did not count equality with God ra thing to be grasped,2 7 but semptied himself, by taking the form of a tservant,3 ubeing born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by vbecoming obedient to the point of death, weven death on a cross. 9 xTherefore yGod has zhighly exalted him and bestowed on him athe name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus bevery knee should bow, cin heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and devery tongue confess that Jesus Christ is eLord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Lord Jesus Christ conceded his freedom for the sake of living, dying, and rising to save us by grace forever. Believe that you’re saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus today and you’ll be saved. Contend for grace and, like Jesus, concede your freedom for the sake of the mission.