Chapter fifteen of Acts is very crucial in relation to God’s dispensation, God’s economy. As we consider this chapter, we shall not pay attention to minor points, as many others have done. Rather, we shall concentrate on the important points concerning dispensational matters.
Acts 15:1-33 records trouble that arose concerning circumcision. In verses 1 through 21 we have an account of a conference of the apostles and elders held in Jerusalem. Then in verses 22-33 we have a description of the solution. In this message we shall begin to consider 15:1-33.
Acts 15:1 says, “And certain men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” The men who came down from Judea had a strong purpose to exercise Judaic influence on the Gentile believers.
The claim that unless one is circumcised according to the custom of Moses he cannot be saved is an annulling of the faith in God’s New Testament economy, and it is a real heresy. Hence, the “certain men” who taught the Christian brothers this heresy might have been those who were considered by Paul false brothers in Galatians 2:4.
Circumcision was an outward ordinance inherited by the Jews from their forefathers, beginning from Abraham (Gen. 17:9-14). This ordinance made the Jews distinct and separate from the Gentiles. Circumcision became a dead traditional formality, a mere mark on the flesh without any spiritual significance, and it became a great obstacle to the spread of God’s gospel according to His New Testament economy (Gal. 2:3-4; 6:12-13; Phil. 3:2).
Circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and a particular diet are the three strongest ordinances according to the law of Moses that caused the Jews to be distinct and separate from the Gentiles, who are regarded by them as unclean. All these scriptural ordinances of the Old Testament dispensation became an obstacle to the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles according to God’s New Testament dispensation (Col. 2:16). To be circumcised in God’s New Testament economy is to make Christ of no profit to the believers (Gal. 5:2).
Acts 15:1 speaks of the custom of Moses. To keep the custom of Moses, that is, to practice the outward ordinances of the law, is not only to nullify the grace of God and make Christ’s death of no effect (Gal. 2:21), but also to bring the believers, whom Christ has set free, back to the slavery of law (Gal. 5:1; 2:4).
The teaching that one must be circumcised in order to be saved annuls Christ’s redemption, God’s grace, and the entire New Testament economy of God. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas could not tolerate this heresy, and they “had no little dissension and discussion” (Acts 15:2) with those who had come down from Judea and taught it to the Christian brothers. In verse 2 Paul and Barnabas were contending for the faith (Jude 3) against one of the greatest heresies so that the truth of the gospel might remain with the believers (Gal. 2:5).
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