The text for this lesson is Acts 15:1–16:5.
- Just as many in Paul’s day thought, we think we must do something to be saved. Yet the answer is always Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus, whose resurrection from the dead sealed our salvation and absolved the world.
- Law: I sin when I believe that Jesus is not enough for my salvation, when I think that I must do something, however small, to contribute to my salvation.
- Gospel: Jesus has done it all perfectly for me. My salvation is complete.
In the earliest days of the Church, most believers were Jews. Central to their religious life were the stipulations of the old covenant, such as circumcision. Though Jesus fulfilled these laws, many Jewish Christians continued to practice them. When Gentiles began to convert, some believers, including the Christian Pharisees (Acts 15:5), insisted the Gentiles must keep the Old Testament laws to be saved. This was the chief question of this first council: must the Gentiles keep these laws to be saved? The conclusion was, no, they must not. However, so as not to offend their fellow Jewish believers, the leaders advised the Gentiles to “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29).
Discussion Point and Questions
- How does Ephesians 2:4–10 keep us from adding anything to grace, faith, and Christ?
- According to John 5:24, what is saving faith? What argument does Romans 4:1–8 use to prove that faith is not a human work, but rather a divine gift of grace?
- How does St. Paul show, in 1 Corinthians 15:1–7, that we are saved by Christ alone?
- More important than the physical act of circumcision is a spiritual issue: being circumcised also obligates a person “to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). What is so problematic about making obedience to the Law a requirement for salvation? See James 2:10; Galatians 3:10; Acts 15:10–11.
- The Book of Galatians deals with a situation like that of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:1–33. A group of legalistic Jewish Christians known as “Judaizers” introduced the idea of salvation by circumcision and the Law into the church at Galatia. What does St. Paul say to those who are tempted to follow the Judaizers? See Galatians 3:10–14; 5:1–6.
- What arguments against requiring circumcision of Gentile converts are put forth by Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James at the council? See Acts 15:7–19.
- According to Romans 4:8–14, what was the true significance of circumcision in the Old Testament? How does Paul demonstrate that Abraham was the father of all the faithful?
- Compare Acts 15:28–29 with 1 Corinthians 11:20–22. What would have been the main setting in which the Gentiles’ consumption of “things polluted by idols, . . . what has been strangled,” and from “blood” (Acts 15:20) gave offense to Jewish Christians? In light of 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, 18–20, why would “sexual immorality” (Acts 15:20) in particular be highlighted by the apostles? How were the prohibitions from the council received in Antioch?
- According to Colossians 2:6–15, what sort of circumcision have we all—male and female alike—received? What brought it about? What is our new situation because of it?
- Was the split between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:37–40 doctrinal or professional? Is what they did immoral? What can we learn from it? According to Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10–11; and 2 John 9–11, when is division absolutely necessary?
- Discuss some of the traditions that you hold dear. What would it be like if you suddenly were forced to give them up? How does your experience with traditions provide insight into Paul’s circumcision of Timothy in Acts 16:1–5? According to Mark 7:5–9, what are we tempted to do with traditions? What do 1 Corinthians 7:18–19; and Galatians 5:6; 6:15 say are infinitely more important than traditions?
For Next Week
Read Acts 16:11–15. The conversion of Lydia and her household is an encouraging story about how the Holy Spirit grants growth to His Church, where and when it pleases Him. We will emphasize the key point, “Just as God worked His miracle beside the river, clothing Lydia with Christ in Baptism, so God works His miracles in pulpits and fonts around the world today, destroying the work of Satan, ripping believers from the jaws of death, washing away sins in water tinged with Jesus’ blood, and clothing believers with His righteousness.”