The Shocking Decision of the Acts Chapter 15
Apostolic Council (Pt. 1)
Rock of Offence Special Commentary
This is Part 1 of a two-part Bible study.
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I often think about how a visitor might view our website. Some could quickly point out that we are not balanced in our commentaries and Bible studies. If all things were equal, I might agree. Yet, our objective at Rock of Offence is to discuss issues closest to our Heavenly Father’s heart and be led of the Holy Spirit in our writings. This means we might appear to be unbalanced in our approach.
As the return of the Lord Jesus Christ draws near, we tend to address subjects that upset or even anger some readers. Several years ago, a popular radio show host discussed this problem of being “balanced”. Critics of his program said that it was wrong for him not to give equal time to those who oppose his viewpoint. He responded by pointing out that ninety percent or more of the radio and television media flood the airwaves 24 hours a day with an agenda totally opposite and even hostile to his principles. He said (we’re paraphrasing), “Considering the massive tidal wave of opposition, I don’t have to give those on the other side time on my show to be “balanced” - BECAUSE MY PROGRAM IS THE BALANCE. Although this individual was speaking from a secular viewpoint, the same situation is true in the world of religion.
Many are beginning to realize that the institutional Christian Church is in serious trouble. Various research projects examining “the health of the Church” (such as the popular Barna Report) reveal that approximately eighty percent of “professing Christians” (or people who label themselves as “Christian”) fail to embrace the New Testament truths necessary for salvation. This topic should be of great concern to the whole church. It's about eternal New Testament truths that govern whether we are destined for heaven - or hell. Jesus constantly warned about the danger, when good people choose a spiritually deadly path. He called it “the wide gate that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14). Concerning the modern-day professing Christian; their final destination ultimately depends on having the correct type of “faith in Christ”. We use the phrase “the correct type” because there is both a true and a counterfeit Christian faith taught in the institutional church. To maintain a "unity at any cost" mindset, both are treated as valid. Yet, according to the Bible we can’t just assemble our own set of beliefs from the Bible (or passively accept the ones our church teaches) and assume that God will honor our choices because we have good intentions. The institutional Christian church is full of these dangerous spiritual assumptions. God will not accept us if our beliefs concerning how salvation is obtained fail to agree with His New Covenant program that started after the cross. This is the most important issue any serious truth seeking Bible-believer or church member must confront. Why? There’s a very convincing and seductive religious counterfeit that competes for our allegiance. It travels under countless different names and labels and crosses all denominational lines.
Unfortunately, not all professing Christians (or people who label themselves as “Christian”) are currently on the path to heaven. Contrary to popular and traditional beliefs, this horrible tragedy is not the result of lacking good behavior or a failure to live a sinless life. Many teachings in the church come from the minds of theologians and religious men - and not from Christ (Mark 7:6-7). This is where real cutting-edge spiritual warfare takes place. It’s the “focal point” of the battle. Yet, it’s a subject most church leaders avoid.
Note: A good source of information about popular Christian misconceptions is available from the book, "Shocked by the Bible" by Joe Kovacs.
On the Rock of Offence website our teachings and Bible studies may look unbalanced because we attempt to focus our attention WHERE THE MOST IMPORTANT BATTLES TAKE PLACE - AND NOT ON THE WHOLE WAR. No matter how unpopular, we believe the words of Martin Luther, spoken more than 500 years ago, still apply to the church today. Many of our readers are familiar with his words.
"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."
Using Luther's quote should not be interpreted as our agreement with all of his teachings. The following information is available on this popular preacher who changed church history.
Our Position on Martin Luther
German Theologian of the Protestant
The truth of the Gospel of Christ is the most important subject in the Bible. Unlike other Bible topics and teachings, having a correct understanding of the Gospel carries eternal implications. Jesus taught that, "God's way that leads to life" is a narrow way that few find (Matthew 7:13-14). We try to follow Christ’s example, who often taught by contrasting wrong religious tradition with His Father’s truth. Yet, many get angry and upset when they learn that their cherished beliefs do not agree with Scripture. At this point a decision must be made: Change and get in line with God's revealed will - or take the easy way (Jesus called it "the broad way that leads to destruction") and stay with your traditions and wrong beliefs. We find that this same painful decision is what started many vicious confrontations in the New Testament with those who would rather "fight than switch". The following is an example of one such confrontation Paul and Barnabas faced as they preached CHRIST'S NEW COVENANT to some Jewish people who didn't want to change:
"So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, PERSUADED THEM TO CONTINUE IN THE GRACE OF GOD."
"On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. BUT WHEN THE JEWS SAW THE MULTITUDES, THEY WERE FILLED WITH ENVY; AND CONTRADICTING AND BLASPHEMING, THEY OPPOSED THE THINGS SPOKEN BY PAUL. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; BUT SINCE YOU REJECT IT, AND JUDGE YOURSELVES UNWORTHY OF EVERLASTING LIFE, BEHOLD, WE TURN TO THE GENTILES. For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:42-48 NKJV -- Emphasis Mine)
A similar conflict, between an Old Testament-style "pharisaical theology" and Christ's New Covenant, continues today in the institutional church under countless different names and labels. This bitter conflict, addressed by the early church apostolic leadership in Acts chapter 15, is the subject of this commentary.
Many times, God first shows you what His Kingdom "is not" - so that you can better understand "what it is". A vast majority in the Christian Church avoid the training. Some of us refer to this uncomfortable type of instruction as “Holy Spirit University”. Many years ago as a young believer, I worked in a “youth for Christ” para-church movement that began with a hunger for Biblical truth, but later went astray. Approximately ten years of my life was spent in this organization. I witnessed the spiritual destruction that occurs when church members follow “pulpit personalities” and fail (or refuse) to notice when Bible teaching goes off course. Painful lessons were learned that cannot be obtained from seminary training. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but my experience nearly destroyed my faith and left many emotional scars. This is one reason our website has a "counter-cult" flavor. Our commentary examines the primary cause of this “departure from the truth” and why it’s such a seductive trap for both inexperienced and mature Christian believers. Readers may be surprised to learn that the influence started almost 2000 years ago in the first century church. It’s not something new.
Understanding “The Mystery of Christ”
Is Necessary To Properly Interpret
The apostle Paul called Christ’s New Covenant “The Mystery of Christ” - and God made Paul the exclusive administrator of its truths through what Bible scholars call, “The Pauline Revelation” (Read Ephesians 3:1-12, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 and Galatians 1:11-12). Contrary to traditional beliefs, Paul was the only apostle to receive this revelation about the mystery of the New Covenant, which was also the source of the gospel that he preached. Christ’s mystery was not fully revealed for several years (some theologians think 7-10 years, but nobody actually knows how long) after Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Here’s a small part of what Jesus Christ said to His disciples about this truth:
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I HAVE YET MANY THINGS TO SAY UNTO YOU, BUT YE CANNOT BEAR THEM NOW. HOWBEIT WHEN HE, THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, IS COME, HE WILL GUIDE INTO ALL TRUTH: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: FOR HE SHALL RECEIVE OF MINE, AND SHALL SHEW IT UNTO YOU." (John 16:7-14)
Notice the timeframe in Christ’s words. The truth He wanted his disciples to know wasn’t going to be fully revealed, except for some vague “types and shadows”, until after His death, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why? The crucifixion (death) and resurrection of Christ, the spilling of His blood and the coming of the Holy Spirit had to happen first before the New Covenant could begin. UNTIL THE NEW COVENANT BEGAN; THE OLD COVENANT REMAINED IN AUTHORITY. The New Covenant that Jesus Christ came to initiate was “the many things” that He couldn’t tell His disciples while He was still alive during His earthly ministry on earth. The phrase “many things” also means “a lot of things”. Any way you look at it, Jesus alerts His audience to ANOTHER MAJOR STORY that’s hidden in a mystery THAT HE SAID COULDN’T BE REVEALED BEFORE THE CROSS.
Jesus Christ had a good reason to withhold the revelation about His New Covenant. Years later, the apostle Paul gives us the main reason for our Lord's action.
"However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. BUT WE SPEAK THE WISDOM OF GOD IN A MYSTERY, THE HIDDEN WISDOM WHICH GOD ORDAINED BEFORE THE AGES for our glory, WHICH NONE OF THE RULERS OF THIS AGE KNEW; FOR HAD THEY KNOWN, THEY WOULD NOT HAVE CRUCIFIED THE LORD OF GLORY." (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NKJV)
The "rulers of this age" that Paul speaks of here are "high order" demonic spirits, which were responsible for planning and orchestrating Christ's crucifixion "behind the scene". If Jesus and His disciples (during His earthly ministry) went around preaching the details of the yet future New Covenant, Paul said that these demonic spirits would have never crucified Christ. Why? The New Covenant in Christ's blood (Read Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:6-13, Heb. 9:15, Heb. 10:19-23, Heb. 12:24) was God's secret plan (Paul calls it "hidden wisdom" in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8) to utterly destroy Satan's dominion over the human race. Christ's crucifixion was the centerpiece of God's plan. The New Covenant couldn't become reality without the crucifixion of our Lord. As a result of Christ's "information blackout" Satan and his demonic world didn't learn about their mistake until it was too late.
The vast majority of Christian believers think that Jesus revealed everything about our salvation in the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) that records His earthly ministry. Yet, both Jesus Christ our Lord and the apostle Paul (who recorded nearly half of the New Testament Scriptures) said that this was not the case.
We should keep these things firmly in mind as we begin this study.
The Bible’s Warning About Deception
Several places in the New Testament, the apostle Paul warns the church, “let no one deceive you”. On the surface, this appears like a minor warning that most readers of the Bible tend to ignore. Yet, Paul had a very good reason to give this warning. Many professing Christians fail to realize that our enemy does not present false religious teaching as something “opposite” to what the Scripture says. He almost always uses counterfeits, or something that looks like it comes from God and the Bible. To complete the illusion, he might also throw in some false miracles or other supernatural acts. These well-made spiritual counterfeits are designed to fool even the most highly educated and seminary trained individuals among us. It is for this reason that Paul repeatedly warns “let no one deceive you”. Yet, his warning usually goes unheeded. Religious deception (or being convinced something is from God when it isn’t) is a real and present danger to the Christian believer.
The Deception of the Twins
Anyone who spends time around two children who are “identical twins” can relate to this example. Several years ago my wife and I would occasionally babysit two twin girls. We had a close friendship with their family, so when the kids came over it was never a burden. Since we didn’t have children of our own, we actually looked forward to the adventure. The children occasionally liked to play a game where one would pretend to be the other. For the purpose of this commentary, we’ll just say their names are Jane and Mary. If you came into the room and spoke to Mary, she would say, “No silly -- I’m Jane!” If you spoke to Jane, “She would say, “No silly -- I’m Mary!” This game worked almost every time. But, after recognizing certain subtle differences in their appearance, the fun was over. This scheme worked extremely well on people who hadn’t spent time around the girls and couldn’t readily see the distinctive characteristics that “gave them away”.
Most church-going Christians are mentally programmed to ignore the hostile war raging inside the world-wide institutional Christian Church. The struggle is between two major theological “systems of faith”, which appear to look similar because both claim to be taken from the Bible. Each one refers to itself as “authentic faith in Christ”. Both are generally viewed as fundamental truth by various groups throughout the church. However, in heated discussions or debates, one points (figuratively, but sometimes literally) at the other, quotes Scripture and accuses it of being wrong. The accused then responds by quoting Scripture and claiming that the one making the accusation is wrong. Often, this debate is intense, but remains “respectable”. Yet, sometimes it becomes vicious and spirals out of control. Once again, it’s important to remember that, both sides use Scripture to support its position. To properly defend the truth of the gospel this confusing conflict has continued since the first century church. Concerning this situation Saint Paul made the following statement:
"And this occurred BECAUSE OF FALSE BRETHREN SECRETLY BROUGHT IN (WHO CAME IN BY STEALTH TO SPY OUT OUR LIBERTY WHICH WE HAVE IN CHRIST JESUS, THAT THEY MIGHT BRING US INTO BONDAGE), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, THAT THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL MIGHT CONTINUE WITH YOU." (Galatians 2:4-5 -- Emphasis Mine)
We sometimes refer to this frustrating and confusing spiritual conflict as, “The Deception of the Twins”. It’s similar to the game played by the kids (the identical twins) in our previous example. Yet, with God this isn’t a game. It carries lethal spiritual consequences. The vast majority of the institutional Christian Church now insists that God accepts both of these “theological systems of faith”. They claim that it’s only a difference of opinion that should be ignored and set aside. Yet, THE NEW TESTAMENT WARNS THAT GOD RESPECTS ONE AND REJECTS THE OTHER. IT’S NOT SOME MINOR “DIFFERENCE OF OPINION” WITH GOD.
In the New Testament, Saint Paul warns all believers to “examine themselves” to make sure they aren’t walking in this popular, yet seductive “counterfeit faith in Christ”, which God ultimately rejects. As with money, we should remember that a “counterfeit” of anything is an imitation or “look-alike”. If you unknowingly spend a counterfeit twenty dollar bill, you could go to jail. In the same way, if you unknowingly walk in a “counterfeit faith in Christ”, the spiritual consequences are eternal and unthinkable.
Acts chapter 15 addresses this serious problem and identifies the two “systems of faith” in question. One side, taught by “believing Pharisees”, insists that Christ’s salvation must be (either partially or entirely) earned or validated by obeying Old Testament Law. Unlike the ones who manipulated Pontius Pilate into “crucifying Christ” a few years earlier, these Pharisees are different. To some extent, they corrected their error (or repented) and “placed their faith in Christ”, which is why they are called “believing”. Yet, it’s important to understand that their particular type of “faith in Christ” included the requirement to keep Old Testament Law in order to obtain salvation/eternal life (commonly referred to as being “born again”). On the “other side” we find Saint Paul’s doctrine of “faith in Christ” recorded in his epistles to the Church. We should remember that Paul penned nearly half of the New Testament canon. Paul taught that Christ's sacrificial death had perfectly fulfilled Old Testament Law for us. Jesus paid our ransom price (also called our “redemption in blood”) - and, as a result, FULLY PURCHASED SALVATION, which allowed God to offered it to the believer as a gift. (Read Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 11:29, Romans 10:8-13, Romans 11:6, Romans 4:4-8, Romans 3:24-26, 1 John 1:7, Titus 3:5-7) If eternal life is truly God’s gift, it can never be a reward or payment for keeping the Law and good behavior. According to Paul, Christ’s New Covenant salvation “freely justifies” the believer (the word “justified” means that God treats you as if you had never sinned) and imputes to them “the free gift of righteousness” without any merit requirements (Read Romans 5:17-19).
"...BEING JUSTIFIED FREELY BY HIS GRACE THROUGH THE REDEMPTION THAT IS IN CHRIST JESUS, whom God set forth as a propitiation BY HIS BLOOD, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:24-26 -- Emphasis Mine)
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace (or unmerited favor) but as debt. BUT TO HIM WHO DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, HIS FAITH IS ACCOUNTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man TO WHOM GOD IMPUTES RIGHTEOUSNESS APART FROM WORKS: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; BLESSED IS THE MAN TO WHOM THE LORD SHALL NOT IMPUTE SIN." (Romans 4:4-8 – Emphasis And Comments Are Added)
These things are offered “freely” (or according to Grace) BECAUSE CHRIST PAID THE ENTIRE RANSOM PRICE FOR US. GOD NOW OFFERS THEM AS GIFTS BECAUSE THEY ARE ALREADY PAID FOR.
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (The New Covenant) has made me free from the law of sin and death (The Old Covenant). For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did BY SENDING HIS OWN SON in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, THAT THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENT OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULFILLED IN US who do not walk according to THE FLESH (or trying to qualify/earn salvation through human effort involving works or religious performance) but according to the Spirit (or our faith in the finished work of Christ that no longer requires our works as payment)." (Romans 8:2-4 NKJV – Emphasis and Comments Mine)
The First Jerusalem Apostolic
In Acts chapter 15, a special group of apostles and elders assembled in Jerusalem to examine this conflict. After much discussion, they ruled against the Pharisees doctrine of “faith in Christ plus obeying the Law” and confirmed Paul’s Grace-based “faith in Christ” as the correct doctrine that God now honors. God accepts it because His Son paid the ransom by shedding His blood at the cross. Remember that both of these “faith in Christ” programs use Scripture as their defense. YET, CONTRARY TO POPULAR CHURCH TEACHING AND TRADITION, GOD HONORS ONLY ONE.
Here's the letter the apostolic council sent to the churches:
The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” - to whom we gave no such commandment - it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. WHEN THEY HAD READ IT, THEY REJOICED OVER ITS ENCOURAGEMENT.
How could this council make such a sweeping and radical declaration? They respected the time of Christ’s visitation and understood that His crucifixion had changed everything from the way it previously existed under the old religious order.
The Way God Relates With The
Human Race After The Cross
Some readers may ask the question, “If both of
these doctrines are established on Scripture,
why would God accept one and reject the other?”
The answer to this question angers many modern Christian leaders and their followers who unknowingly embrace the teaching (usually hidden behind different names and labels) of the Pharisees in Acts chapter 15. The Bible is divided into two primary time periods (some call these periods “dispensations” or Divine administrations). Each of these time periods are governed by something called “a covenant of blood”. All covenants operate by various rules and principles. The time before Christ’s crucifixion is under the authority of what the book of Hebrews calls, “the first covenant”. This is the Mosaic covenant of the Law, which God established with Israel at Mount Sinai. Under this covenant, a “conditional salvation” was available only by obeying the rules (keeping the commandments) of the Law. In His encounter with the “rich young ruler” Jesus reveals this old covenant requirement in Matthew 19:16-17.
(Note: This is covered in more detail later in this study.)
The authority of this covenant continued until the cross. However, the sacrifice of Christ and the shedding of His blood ushered in “a new and living way” called the New Covenant. The book of Hebrews refers to the New Covenant as “the second covenant”. UNDER THE SECOND COVENANT (OR NEW COVENANT) ALL THE RULES THAT GOVERN SALVATION CHANGED. The book of Hebrews reveals that the second covenant (or Christ’s New Covenant) is "a better covenant established on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6-13). Salvation ceases to be “conditional” based on obedience to the Law - and now becomes unconditional (unmerited) and takes on its new role as God’s gift to the believer. This change is what makes it “a better covenant”. Similar to the previous old covenant, Christ’s New Covenant also has rules and laws. Saint Paul refers to these new rules as “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. These new rules and laws are not based on Old Testament Law but on God’s unmerited favor called Grace. THE NEW LAWS WARN that salvation is no longer obtainable through religious performance and works of the previous Old Testament religious system. More importantly, it warns that any attempt to earn salvation according to the laws of the old way can result in being cut off from eternal life.
"THERE IS THEREFORE NOW NO CONDEMNATION TO THOSE IN CHRIST JESUS, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. FOR THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS (THE NEW COVENANT) HAS MADE ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH (THE OLD COVENANT)." (Romans 8:1-2 NKJV – Emphasis Mine)
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He (Jesus) is also MEDIATOR OF A BETTER COVENANT, WHICH WAS ESTABLISHED ON BETTER PROMISES. For if that FIRST COVENANT had been faultless, then no place would have been sought FOR A SECOND." (Hebrews 8:6-7 NKJV)
"IN THAT HE (JESUS CHRIST) SAYS, "A NEW COVENANT," HE HAS MADE THE FIRST OBSOLETE. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13 NKJV)
"FOR AS MANY AS ARE OF THE WORKS OF THE LAW ARE UNDER THE CURSE; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” BUT THAT NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY THE LAW IN THE SIGHT OF GOD IS EVIDENT, for “the just shall live by faith.” YET THE LAW IS NOT OF FAITH..." (Galatians 3:10-12 -- Emphasis Mine)
"You have become estranged (separated/cutoff/alienated) from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; YOU HAVE FALLEN FROM GRACE." (Galatians 5:4 -- Emphasis Mine)
"AND IF BY GRACE, THEN IT IS NO LONGER OF WORKS; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work." (Romans 11:6)
The New Covenant is also called "the new and living way of Christ" established on His blood (Read: Matt. 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 8:6-13, Heb. 9:15, Heb. 10:19-23, Heb. 12:24).
A vast number of believers are fooled into thinking that this commentary can't be true because "God never changes". Unfortunately, this is a common misconception propagated by various experessions of Christian fundamentalism, Reformed theology and Calvinism. It results from ignoring or distorting the context of the Bible. If you are in the group that believes this way, refer to the information at the following link.
What Does It Mean When God Says
'He Doesn't Change'
The Pharisees of Acts Chapter 15 ARE DENYING (IGNORING) THE CHANGES THAT JESUS CHRIST INITIATED AT THE CROSS. Instead of accepting these Divine changes, they tried to reinsert Christ’s radically different New Covenant salvation back under Old Testament Law (or what the book of Hebrews calls “the first covenant”) where, once again, it becomes “conditional upon works and obedience to the commandments”. THEIR DOCTRINE REPRESENTED A REJECTION OF THE CHANGES BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE RANSOM PAID BY JESUS CHRIST AT THE CROSS ON BEHALF OF THE BELIEVER. Concerning these Pharisees and those that follow the same kind of theology (both in the first century and today) Peter gave this warning:
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily SHALL BRING IN DAMNABLE HERESIES, EVEN DENYING THE LORD THAT BOUGHT (PAID THE RANSOM TO BUY BACK) THEM, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of." (2 Peter 2:1-2 -- Emphasis Mine)
The practice of these “believing Pharisees” appears to be valid because they use Scripture to defend their teaching. However, their refusal to accept the changes that Jesus Christ initiated through the New Covenant is essentially a denial of the redemptive work of God’s Son. Like so many professing Christians today, they lift Scripture from its Divine context and reinsert it into a context of their own design in order to defend personal beliefs and traditions. You can read more about this dangerous practice by clicking HERE.
The refusal to accept the "new and living way of Christ" (or the better promises of the New Covenant) is the reason the Jerusalem apostolic council rejected their teaching and theology and wrote a letter warning the churches of its existence. For additional information, read our commentary entitled, “The Spiritual Revolution of Christ” by clicking HERE
A Lesson in Biblical Context:
What Jesus Said About Obtaining
The words Jesus spoke to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-26 provides valuable insight into the truth that governs our salvation and the subject of this commentary. A vast majority of churches use Christ’s words in this Scripture as the way salvation or eternal life is obtained today. (Note: Read all comments in this section before jumping to any conclusions.) This common misinterpretation is caused by a failure to “rightly (or correctly) divide God’s Word" (2 Timothy 2:15). The term “rightly dividing” is Saint Paul’s way of saying that THE SPIRITUAL RULES THAT GOVERNED GOD'S SALVATION UNDER OLD TESTAMENT LAW BEFORE THE CROSS, RADICALLY CHANGED AFTER THE CROSS - AND WE MUST RESPECT THIS CHANGE. If what Paul said is true (and it is), you can’t lump everything in the Bible together and ignore (or spiritualize) the differences. Most Christians refuse to acknowledge that the way Jesus said to obtain eternal life before the cross (by keeping the commandments of the Law) - is vastly different than the way the New Covenant provides eternal life after the cross - as the unmerited and undeserved gift of God. Bible teachers who claim the present-day requirement to obtain and keep eternal life comes by “keeping the Law’s commandments” are failing to keep Christ’s words in their proper context. It’s the same kind of theology that the believing Pharisees practiced in Acts chapter 15 and was firmly rejected by the Jerusalem apostolic council. As we learned earlier, it was a method of interpretation that ignored and rejected the fact that the cross of Christ changed all the rules AND ESTABLISHED A NEW AND BETTER COVENANT THAT MADE THE PREVIOUS COVENANT OBSOLETE AS TAUGHT IN HEBREWS 8:6-13.
Jesus was correct in what He said to the rich young ruler when you understand that He was speaking under the authority of the Law - before the cross.
HOWEVER, CHRIST'S SACRIFICE AT THE CROSS
IS ABOUT TO CHANGE EVERYTHING.
This is Part 1 of a two-part Bible study.
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