I feel that we have answered the question … “How do we know something is genuine?” with specific reference to … “How do you know a conversion is genuine?” We are trying to get into the minds of those from the Party of the Pharisees who taught that Gentiles needed to be circumcised to become Christian. In other words, they were teaching that to become Christian you needed to first become a Jew! In Christian theology we speak about “legalism” … also called “nomism” which follows the idea that … “by doing good works or by obeying the law, a person earns and merits salvation.” Institutionalized legalism is excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code. This was the persuasion of those from the Party of the Pharisees. They were legalists! Please read again:
Ac 15:1 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”
We are pondering about the insistence the men from the Party of the Pharisees placed upon Gentile believers teaching the need to be circumcised … “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”
1) We have already established that salvation is not through circumcision or any other works or rites. Yesterday we saw that what is needed is the circumcision of the heart. Where the following two passages first refer to the people of old … it applies to all who want to be saved through faith in God alone.
Eze 18:30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
Eze 36:24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.'”
In the first passage God calls for repentance and explains what it means …
(i) Turn away from all sin (offences).
(ii) Rid yourselves of all sin (offences). Once this is done God will give the repentant sinner a …
(a) New heart and
(b) A new spirit. In response to God, the sinner turns from the previous life of wickedness to God and God makes the sinner new! There is a transformation of the heart, mind, desire, attitudes and will. The one who repents truthfully will live (spiritually and eternally). In the second passage God calls the sinner to cleanse self from all idols. That is, to repent, turn away from following the world, the flesh and the devil. Once this happens God gives the repentant sinner a new heart and puts a new spirit within him or her. Look at how He does this …
(i) God removes the heart of stone. He removes the dead, decayed heart that is stubborn in its hardness towards God and His Gospel. He removes that heart of stone.
(ii) Then God gives the repentant sinner a heart of flesh. It is a soft heart, open and eager for the things of God. Soft to allow the Gospel to sink into it and work it and transform the whole person.
(iii) How does God do this? He puts His Spirit within! This is “being born again” … being birthed into God’s Kingdom … being made spiritually alive … alive to God and the things of God.
(iv) Then look at what the Spirit does … He moves you to follow God’s Word (decrees) and to be careful to live in compliance with the teaching of the Gospel.
2) Legalism is salvation by works. How wrong they are! We have seen how the Bible in both Covenants teaches otherwise. The first word they use helps us understand their intent. “Unless” means “unable” or “never” as it refers to circumcision and salvation. They were saying that unless you are circumcised you will never or are unable to be saved. This they base upon the custom Moses’ taught. What they lacked to include was Moses teaching in Deuteronomy 30:6 … faith! There was no heart in their take on Christianity. It was the Law which required circumcision otherwise they said … never will you be saved! “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Note that God never said this!
3) Standing up for Gospel truth.
Ac 15:2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them.
Paul and Barnabas hard the heart of a pastor. How could they permit Jews from Jerusalem to come amongst the Gentile converts, sowing seeds of falsehood? Their teaching was a different Gospel! They could not allow their labors, winning souls for Jesus to be ruined by those who did not understand salvation by grace through faith! The concept behind … sharp dispute and debate … is firstly persuasion … but it escalated into a verbal dispute. The nature was rather aggressive and boisterous as the missionaries debated God’s Truth with the false teachers. Some people do not like it when we stand up for Truth. They want us to be loving and accept others who have different persuasions, apart from the Bible. The problem is that mostly these different persuasions are heretical teachings. Take this one of legalism (must be circumcised to be saved) against salvation by grace through faith which is a free gift! How can we leave error not corrected? Firstly for the sake of the Body of Christ and secondly, it’s possible that those teaching error might respond to the Truth and be saved.
Father God, mercifully help all pastors and Church leaders to lovingly point our error by teaching Your Truth, the Bible correctly. Amen.