GETTING THE MESSAGE/Jesus, savior of sinners
Paul and Barnabas, having returned to Antioch from their first missionary trip, recounted to the church all that God had done in bringing many Gentiles to Christ through the preaching of the gospel. Sometime after this, men came down from Judea and began teaching that the Gentiles converts must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved (Acts 15:1, 5).
Paul and Barnabas voice their strong opposition to this doctrine, and the issue ends up in Jerusalem for the apostles and elders to settle the matter. The issue is of the greatest importance because it pertains to how a sinful soul can be made right with God, or be accepted by God as righteous.
A sinner’s need for salvation was agreed upon; the debate centered on what the gospel said about the way in which one might be saved. The ones who disagreed with Paul insisted that observance of the law was to be included in the terms of salvation. In direct contrast, Paul insisted that there is no hope of deliverance by merit or obedience, but only by the grace of God in Christ.
We see in verses 8-11 that the apostle Peter agreed with Paul and declared, “We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” In verse 12, Paul and Barnabas related to the assembly the powerful working of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles. He did this to emphasize that the Spirit worked in connection with faith, not because of any righteousness of men.
James, the brother of Jesus, then stood up and quoted the prophet Amos to show that the Lord had promised to call Gentiles by his name, and did so through the promised Christ, a descendant of David (verses 16-17). James agreed that God’s word emphasizes salvation is entirely by grace.
So the Jerusalem Council concluded the issue for all generations of Christians. A sinner can only be saved through faith in Christ alone. Even the faith in Christ itself is not meritorious; it looks away from any good in itself to the work Christ has done on the sinner’s behalf. Faith unites us to Christ and his benefits. This is good news because Christ is sufficient for our great need.
Jesus is the savior of sinners. The Father laid a cross upon him. He took the curse, the shame of our sin, and the wrath of God it deserved. He made an exchange with us, taking all the legal obligations of the law upon himself and thus cleansing us from all sin by his atoning death. He gave his life out of love for the purpose of gaining our love and devotion to the name of God.
Christ alone could pay the price of our sin. No man will be justified before God by his own righteousness or the works of the law. The hymn “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” states it well: “Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost; Christ’s the rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast. Lamb of God for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”
The gospel teaches us the sinfulness and evil of sin. That is the first difference between a Christian and non-Christian. The non-Christian is not aware of his own inherent sinfulness. He doesn’t see much wrong with him. He may think he is a fool at times for things he has done that have cost him pain, but he doesn’t agree with God’s condemnation of the world and of sin.
It is the Christian who sees the world under the just condemnation and wrath of God. He knows why there is misery in the world and why men bite and devour one another. It is due to sin. The world is under the power of the evil one, and Christ alone is the remedy to it.
I am a Christian; therefore I believe Christ died to make atonement for my sin. I know that this is the only way I could be delivered out of the condemnation of the world. Sin is so terrible only the death of Christ can deliver me. And he fully paid for all my sin. That is the gospel, the good news from God to sinners.
God gives salvation in Christ for his glory. He pours out his grace to sinners. Those in Christ are given eternal life and fellowship with the living God. They are called the children of God, and their names are written in the book of life. Therefore, exalt God’s grace and make your boast in Christ.