“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
Here’s an interesting exercise for you. You might wish to try it with your Bible study group.
Write out the above verse and leave two blanks in it. It will read: “Unless you are _________ according to ____________, you cannot be saved.”
Then, see how many ways the group can fill those blanks based on the way people pile up obstacles to salvation.
UNLESS YOU ARE…
–baptized you cannot be saved
–using the KJV Bible, you cannot be saved.
–old enough and mature enough to understand everything, you cannot be saved
–good enough and moral enough, you cannot be saved
–never divorced, you cannot be saved.
-speak in tongues.
–do not smoke or drink.
–cut your hair, ladies, or never cut your hair, men.
Those are just for starters.
–our preacher or the latest evangelist to come through our town
–one Bible verse in particular
–Calvin. Luther. B. H. Carroll. John Piper. Charles Stanley. Whoever.
–Some guy in a book somewhere. Hey, if it’s published, it must be reliable, right?
YOU CANNOT BE SAVED.
Imagine telling someone they could not be saved unless they jumped through the hoop you were holding up. And yet that happens, and was happening when our Lord spoke.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You shut off the Kingdom of Heaven from men. You do not enter in yourself, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13)
This is serious stuff.
It reminds us of our Lord’s statement: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him that a millstone be hung around his neck and he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
We’ve all heard of young people being turned away by pastors or teachers because “you’re too young to understand.” Yet, our Lord said to “Let the children come to me.”
I’m thinking of Margaret Zeringue. The year was 1965 and I was the new (and very green) pastor of the little bayou church 25 miles west of New Orleans. I recall Margaret was 40 years old. She said, “Pastor, let me tell you how I began coming to this church.”
She’d been a Catholic, married to an abusive gambler and alcoholic. In counseling, the priest recommended she divorce the man for her own safety. Then he said to her, “You understand you’ll not be able to receive communion here since you’re divorced.” When she registered shock, he said, “But anytime you’re in a parish where no one knows you, then go ahead.”
Margaret said, “Pastor Joe, I didn’t know much, but I knew that wasn’t right.” She paused and said, “I knew I wanted Jesus, and if I did, He wanted me.”
I showed her John 6:37 where our Lord said, “He who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.”
You’ll find no lack of people and groups that want to cast you out, but the Lord Jesus is the only one who counts. And He receives all who come to Him in simple faith.
The thing about adding anything to grace
Kent Hughes has a word for us on this. “History and experience have proven that anything made a co-requirement with faith soon shoves faith aside and becomes the means of salvation. If the apostles (in Acts 15) had capitulated, there would soon have been a ‘Christian’ doctrine of ‘salvation by circumcision’ and ‘The First Church of the Circumcision.’ Similarly today, we must withstand false doctrines of baptismal regeneration and salvation through sacraments.” (Commentary on Acts; Kent Hughes; Crossway Books)
We must do everything in our power not to hinder those coming to Christ, but to welcome them and encourage them. Likewise, we must not add to what is revealed in Holy Scripture. Add anything to the gospel of Christ and we have polluted it.
As Paul said addressing this very issue with the Galatians, “Even though we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
There’s one Gospel and one only, and it’s summed up perfectly in the next chapter following the Acts 15 Council at Jerusalem. When the Philippians jailer fell down before Paul and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).