Acts - Mission:Possible

Sorting out some mess

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Some people were trying to add to grace for salvation. The Jerusalem council sorts this issue out and how to fellowship with others from different cultural backgrounds

Speaker: Andy Moyle
Series: Acts - Mission:Possible
Date: 17th Mar, 2019
Download: Sorting out some mess
Plays: 7
Scriptures: Acts 15

Something inside of us that makes us take what is the best news and add something to it to make less than good news.
Try to add to the gospel.

18 years old - heading to a Rugby league match at Salford where I was at university and this man with a Repent ye billboard came up to me and my friend and said "You need to get saved and get a haircut" - I was saved and in need of a haircut and my friend who was not a Christian thought he was nuts! The guy bless him was taking the best news and adding to it. Faith plus a haircut = Christianity.
Much of what goes on is moral deism - don't do this, do that. And not the gospel or adding to the Gospel.

Work through the passage commenting as we go

Acts 15:1-5- It all kicks off

So in Acts 15 we get this very issue popping up - some of the Jewish background believers are voicing that Gentiles need to get circumcised to be saved.
The Gospel is breaking out from just people with a strict Jewish background to people like us - gentiles.
Their understanding is that they are the covenant people of faith - They are Abraham's offspring - Abraham was called out by God to become the people of God and Gentiles who wanted in under the old covenant had to do certain things - circumcision, start obeying the ritual laws - cleaning in special ways, only eating certain foods as well as the moral law.
The identity markers of the Old Covenant people of God were externals - Sabbath keeping, Food laws and circumcision.

The argument is beginning to be made in these new churches that are predominantly made up of Gentiles, that they are not saved, they need to become Jews. Paul is not having it! No "small dissension and debate." That had to go back to the mother church in Jerusalem to get ironed out.

Two Questions
#1 Is there are anything that must be added to faith in grace for salvation?
#2 If they don't have to become Jews ritualistically, how can we fellowship together?

Do they need to stop having a fry up for breakfast? How well cooked does steak need to be!

v6-12 Gather for debate

We are going to see appeal to
* What is the fruit?
* What is the Holy Spirit doing?
* And what do the Scriptures say?

First up is Peter. He's one of the original 12 who in chapter 10 needed a pretty specific vision of unclean and clean food being acceptable to eat to even go into Cornelius house to lead him to Christ, back in ch 10
The Holy spirit was given to people like Cornelius just the same as to the Jews - Belief in Jesus crucified and risen again for our sins is enough. v9 our hearts are cleansed by faith
Then Peter points out the folly of adding a yoke to faith in God's grace.

Why are we asking them to do what we can't do and our Fathers couldn't do?
The law was given to show that we can't do it. We can't be holy and righteous.
Don't lie - we all lie. We lie to ourselves, we believe things that just aren't true. Some of you lie so much you have no idea what the truth is
We get nailed on coveting all the time - the entire advertising industry is based on the idea of getting us to want what we don't have and probably don't need.
Don't commit adultery - I haven't but I need to be careful of who I look at and for how long!
Murder - not don't that, but don't you just want revenge sometimes!
Jesus summed up the law as Love God and Love your neighbour. Twice in the last month I have heard mature Christians say "I'm not racist but..." and come out with something racist. I hate that, but actually we are all racist.
We suck at being good. If you are good at being good you can be annoying self righteous so and so.
The law was impossible because it was meant to lead us to the one who could fulfil it on our behalf - Jesus.
Peter has realised that the Gentiles needed to be saved by grace just as much as the Jews do v11.
Boom - the assembly falls silent. All guilty as charged. Grace plus law - ridiculous.

v12 Paul and Barnabus add their weight

Look at the fruit! Signs and wonders have been done among the Gentiles. God is at work here. They testify to the miracles, the conversions, the church planted. Acts 11 the grace of God was visible in the Gentile churches.
In Antioch it was a beautiful multi-cultural church - the only leader missing was a white dude.

v13-21 James joins the fray

He's the apostolic leader in Jerusalem who is going to add to the debate, sum up and propose what the Lord is saying.
v13 is a key moment - he's recognised the people of God is not just the Jews - the physical descendants of Abraham. Some of them are now part of the people of his name - using gen 12 language there. In Gen 12 God calls Abraham out to become a people, by which all the families of the earth will be blessed.
James is going to Scripture to show that the people of God was always intended to be multi-national. The new people of God are not marked out by ethnicity but by Jesus and being filled with the Spirit

He quotes the book of Amos to show that Gentiles are part of the rebuilt ruins of David's kingdom. The kingdom of God is made up of Jews and Gentiles who have put their faith not in observing the law but in the grace of God

You suck at being good, and if you rely on being good at being good you are an annoying self righteous used menstrual cloth to quote Isaiah!
You need to rely just on what Jesus has done. he died for you and rose again. He exchanges your mess for His righteousness so that you are declared righteous. So that when God looks at you he doesn't look at whether you had bacon for breakfast. He sees Christ in you covering you.

So Question 1 is solved - #1 Is there are anything that must be added to faith in grace for salvation? NO!
We now have a new people of God not marked by ethnicity, but by faith in Jesus.

Second question is well if we people from a Jewish and Gentile background in the church how do we fellowship together? Fellowship is around the table - how do we eat, have dinner and conversation together. How do we spend hours laughing and telling stories and listening and loving one another around a table?
How do we do that if one persons freedom to enjoy everything includes things that another finds defiling?

How do different nationalities come together and enjoy being with one another when our cultural backgrounds grate?

A modern day example could be good wine. Nothing biblical against good wine - Jesus turned water into wine and it was the best that was served at the wedding. But you could be of the view that drinking wine is unwise. What if a brother or sister doesn't enjoy the same freedom you may have. What if for them one glass, would become two, then a couple of bottles and waking up on the night train to Edinburgh with a new tattoo?

For Jews blood meant defilement and sexual immorality was defiling for both Jews and Gentile.
There's something goofy going on in these next verse 19-21. We accept that we don't need to do rituals to be saved, but please do these rituals - nearly all of them except circumcision - ouch and phew!
Peter has just told them the Cornelius story and would have included the all foods are clean vision! Why are they now asking Gentiles in the churches to not eat certain things.
Paul's going to argue in the predominantly Gentile church in Corinth that it's okay to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols, because the idols are relevant. But only if you have have faith for it and doing so won't cause someone else to stumble.

So James is not laying down the law on them - we've established that the council have recognised that law observance doesn't make us saved! What he is laying down is ways that people from diverse backgrounds can fellowship together.

It's a somewhat eclectic list most likely taken from Leviticus 17-18 which has them and the phrase "foreigners/strangers amongst you"
* No food polluted by idols
* Sexual immorality
* Strangled food
* Blood
3 of them are clearly ritualistic and sexual immorality is moral - but the prevailing Gentile culture was of pagan feasts with lots of sexual immorality.
So James' is saying avoid those elements of culture that are sinful and considered unclean to Jews so that you can fellowship well together.

Lay down what you are free to do for the sake of others.

I happen to think that bacon is so good we cover other foods with it to improve them - but I'm not going to serve pork to my Indian brothers and sisters because it will cause offence.
I like good wine, but we stopped having at alcohol at some of our socials because some of the younger ones were drinking too much and it didn't look great to our non Christian friends. People brought alcohol and enjoyed in moderation but were endeavouring to lay down our freedom for the good of others.

We have to be careful not to add to grace what people need to do.
What we wear? Sunday best? That's incredibly middle class and implies you have to get cleaned up before you are welcome.
Shoes on or off in someone's home. I remember to wear new socks in homes where culturally you don't wear shoes inside.

Out of love for the lost and fellow believers don't do what is culturally offensive that would cause them to reject the gospel or stumble.
Out of love for fellow believers we don't do what is morally permissible if it would cause them to sin.
Out of grateful obedience to Christ, don't do what is culturally acceptable but against God's word - eg sexual immorality

v22-35 it seemed good

That proposal worked for everyone.
#1 Don't add to grace to be saved
#2 be culturally aware so we can fellowship together

In other letters and settings you'll see the outworking change - in Gentile only churches Paul argues for enjoy the freedom to eat whatever as long as others don't stumble.
So Paul and Barnabus return to the Antioch base church with a couple of senior leaders from Jerusalem Judas and Silas who happen to be prophetic v32
They took the letter read it and everyone was encouraged! Yeah we can all be part of the people of God. We are all welcome.
Judas and Silas bring encouraging and strengthening prophetic words and then head back to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabus carry on the ministry

Doubt and fear had come in, because some false teachers, not sent by Jerusalem where insisting on grace plus to be saved. The people were reminded of the Gospel. The mother church could see the grace of God is for anyone, so enjoy it. Be mindful of others as you do!

We need constant reminding of the Gospel of grace. It is so easy to take the best news and make it bad news. Get saved and get a haircut. I ask you!

How do we apply this...

If you are exploring Christianity you may have been thinking that you need to clean up your life before you can come to Christ. Let me say it for the third time - you suck at being good and if you are good at being good you are an annoying self righteous pompous whatsit!
We all need Jesus - he died for you in place of you, so that all your mess, all you rself righteous pomposity was laid on him and in exchange you get what he has has done for free - grace. God's righteousness, forgiveness.
Take it this morning - it's a gift.
Out of love for the lost and fellow believers don't do what is culturally offensive that would cause them to reject the gospel or stumble.
Out of love for fellow believers we don't do what is morally permissible if it would cause them to sin.
Out of grateful obedience to Christ, don't do what is culturally acceptable but against God's word - eg sexual immorality


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