Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Unity of the Gospel

Fourth Quarter 2011
Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Unity of the Gospel”
For the week of October 9 - 15, 2011

Fourteen years after his initial visit with Peter and James (Galatians 1:18, 19), Paul returns to Jerusalem to attend a church council.  This would have been seventeen years after his conversion, (about A.D. 51).  The date and the agenda clearly indicate that this is the Jerusalem Council over which James presided (Acts 15).  Paul’s reason for appearing before the Council was to communicate "unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:2).
In the past there had been "certain men which came down from Judaea, which taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.  When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question" (Acts 15:1, 2). 

Because of those insisting that circumcision was necessary for salvation, Paul had taken Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, to this Council.  The Jews tried to compel Titus to be circumcised.  The issue was great for had these legalists prevailed, the rite would have been imposed upon all Gentiles, and this would have been a rejection of the gospel itself.  Paul vehemently opposed all such madness, labeling it as salvation by works.  Circumcision was at this time an insignificant thing, but when insisted upon as something necessary to salvation, it would become a thing of bondage.  If he gave way in one little aspect, it would have opened the door for a whole flood of legalistic practices to enter the church.  Therefore, Paul declared that circumcision was not to be made an issue.  The controversy was between the true gospel and a counterfeit gospel; between liberty in Christ or bondage to Satan.  God wants a surrendered heart, while man prefers some symbolic ritual to which he can point as a reason why he should be saved.

All of the "works of the flesh" are sin and "they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19, 21).  One Christian scholar and theologian has declared: "Sin is a bondage, and to teach men to put their trust in a false hope, which will cause them to rest satisfied in their sins, thinking that they are free from them, is simply to fasten them in bondage" (E. J. Waggoner, The Gospel in Galatians, p. 10).  Many Christian churches falsely proclaim: "You don't have to concern yourself with allowing Christ to come into your life.  You need not let Him make you obedient to His word."  The people are led to trust in a false hope that God will save people "in" their sins, rather than "from" their sins (Matthew 1:21; Romans 6:1, 2).  They continue in their sins, believing that there is no real victory to be had.

There are two extremes to which people gravitate, and the Devil doesn't care which of the two a person chooses;  trying to be saved through some type of work, or the false hope that one can be saved while living in deliberate disobedience to God's word.
Those presenting a perverted gospel were not true Christians, but were "false brethren."  Jesus had warned His church of "wolves" in "sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15).  These wolves exist in the church today.  Notice, however, that Paul never did say that because there are false brethren in the church, get out of it, or because there are hypocrites in the church, don't go.  Rather, he says that there are false brethren in the church and we must be aware of it - and stand up to them - and present the truth, so that error will not prevail within the church.
Paul said that he did not give these false brethren so much as an hour "that the truth of the gospel might continue with you."  Do you desire the truth of the gospel to continue?  If so, then imitate the Bereans, who studied diligently to find out whether the teachings they heard were grounded firmly in the Bible.  Then affirm truth, but speak out against the errors of a perverted gospel.
When Paul saw Peter doing something he should not have been doing, Paul went to him face-to-face.  There is a very important lesson to be learned here.  If you ever see a brother or sister at fault, always confront them to the face, or personally.  What a tremendous amount of grief, heartache, and conflict would be avoided, if we would only follow this Bible principle.  Even the pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, when he heard that Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego would not obey his command to worship an image, did not simply believe the report, but confronted them to the face and asked, "Is it true" (Daniel 3:14).  Should not the disciples of Jesus do as much?
Peter’s "dissimulation" and hypocrisy weakened the church.  This weakness on the part of beloved and respected leaders, left a painful impression on Gentile believers and cast a stumbling block before them.  Left to ourselves, we are all apt to waver from fidelity to God out of an undue regard for pleasing people.   We must keep Christ ever before us and never forget the influence of our bad examples upon others.  Because of Peter's hypocritical actions, Barnabas and others followed suit.  The church of Christ was threatened and the heart of Christ pained.
When we see someone who is not walking "uprightly according to the truth of the gospel,"  we must first make sure our problem is not our own likes, dislikes, ideas and preferences.  If you think a brother or sister is wrong, and you can not plainly substantiate your concern from the word of God, leave them alone.  But if you see them walking contrary to what you know to be the word of God, you dare not remain silent or your own soul will be in peril.  It will become evident to heaven and earth that you can "not be the servant of Christ."
Peter preached one thing and practiced another and the church suffered.  Some merely stumbled at the inconsistency, while others followed on into deeper error and hypocrisy.  This action on the part of Peter and the others was not only a denial of the gospel, but it was a virtual denial of Christ.  Peter was present at the Jerusalem Council when it was declared that circumcision was not necessary to salvation and therefore not to be made an issue (Acts 15:1-24).  He had encountered this situation before when God had clearly revealed to him that he was not to consider any one class of people as "common or unclean" (Acts 10:28).  He had even declared that he understood "that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34, 35).  Clear testimony had been borne by the Holy Spirit, the other apostles, and the corporate church body that there was to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, and that righteousness is by faith alone in Christ Jesus.  In light of all this, Peter and others withdrew themselves from the uncircumcised Gentile believers.  This discrimination was in effect saying, "Except ye be circumcised... ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).
The teaching that faith in Christ is essential, but insufficient, lies at the heart of this great heresy.  Belief that certain meritorious works must be performed in order to receive salvation strikes at the very heart of the gospel, and therefore, Paul addressed the problem head on.
Remember, that although Jesus prayed for unity among His followers “we cannot surrender the truth in order to accomplish this union; for the very means by which it is to be gained is sanctification through the truth. Human wisdom would change all this, thinking this basis of union too narrow.  Men would effect a union through conformity to popular opinions, through a compromise with the world. But truth is God's basis for the unity of his people” (Ellen White, Gospel Workers page 391).  In writing of the early Christians, God’s messenger wrote: “If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war” (Ellen White,  The Great Controversy, page 45).
--Todd Guthrie