Set Free! – Acts 15:1-35

by Roger McCay
24 May 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 15:1-35
Link to Audio Version

A lie in defiance of the truth, reality does not make.

I find it rather sad a misunderstanding that many have about Christianity. Often, it is considered being about following a bunch of rules, and being ruled over by a tyrant, slave-driving God who is out to get you.

I remember taking an Anthropology class back when I was at Auburn. For some reason, and I don’t remember what led to the discussion, we ended up talking about Christianity. There were some people there very hostile to Christianity, Christians, and to God. One particular girl stands out in my mind due the vehemence in which she attacked. Well, I couldn’t just sit there, so I stood up and engaged her attack. Providentially, there was another Christian in the classroom, and between the two of us we were able to fill her in on some of the truth from the Scriptures to counter her ignorance (although I’m pretty sure she wasn’t listening). Among her many complaints of Christianity, it seemed that the heart of her disagreement was this idea that due to the rules she would have to follow to be a Christian it would somehow impinge on her personal freedoms. I tried to explain to her what freedom in Christ really is all about. But, obedience to Christ (which should seem to any Christian as being true freedom), to her seemed to be a slavery that she rejected outright with great hostility. So, I ended up asking her some questions:

“What’s wrong with loving your neighbor?”
“What’s wrong about caring for the poor and needy?”
“What’s wrong with not stealing?”
…and a few others like that.

When put that way, her argument fizzled in that area, so she tried another angle. It was clear that her anger was toward God, and she was going to continue to attack no matter what.

But, what is it that led to her anger? Well, in retrospect, it seems evident that someone put in her mind the blatantly false the idea that God was all about making her do things in order to receive the prize of salvation. And, perhaps, she saw the yoke that such a requirement would be and realized she could never live up to it.

She was given a false idea as to what it means to be a Christian – rejected the false idea – and so set up a barrier to hear the truth. In fact, she did not reject Christ as he is and comes to us as Savior. No, she rejected the lie thinking it was the truth and was angry with God as a result.

My hope and prayer is that the Spirit used the argument my friend and I used as a means to speak to her heart, showing her that Christianity is about being set free from bondage. She needed the truth and the blessing of God to be able to hear and believe, of course. As such, someone just needed to tell her the truth counter to the lie. God would take it from there to her heart, if he so willed.

The false teaching that Christianity is about bondage to rules is not a new one. We have a case here in Acts, in our passage today, where false teachers were spreading such a lie almost 2000 years ago. Providentially, for us, we also have the authoritative apostolic response to such a lie.

False teachings can lead to discouragement even for believers. Hence, we must deny the lie and champion the truth, encouraged by our freedom in Christ, living the holy lives we are called to live.

In our passage today what was at stake was the question, “What does it mean to be saved?” We are presented with a situation where Jews had brought into the church a false doctrine that works + faith are needed for salvation.

The Judaizers, as they have been called, these Pharisaic Jews had wormed their way out of Jerusalem into the Christian community of Antioch that consisted of numerous Gentiles. They had also had established a foothold with a representative group in the church in Jerusalem. This group was present when Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem concerning the matter, and these Judaizers pushed their agenda openly before the council.

This was no small thing. This was a power play by the Pharisaic Jews in the church, and they brought along influence and were intimidating. We know from Galatians, chapter 2 that Peter himself had been intimidated by this party of Jews from the Pharisees, in the Christian church in Antioch. He was pressured by them to go against the truth he knew. Take a look at Galatians 2:11-16.

11 But when Cephas [that is Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

If these false teachers could intimidate even Peter and Barnabas, then imagine how a fledgling Gentile believer would have felt. Something had to be done. A final authoritative statement needed to be made to clarify the essence of salvation in Jesus Christ.