The Gospel is Better Than Legalism

Series - Something New: A Study Through The Book of Acts
Scriptures - Acts 15
Presenter - Pastor Matt Surber
Date - October 31, 2021

Pastor Matt Surber, of Mission City Church in San Antonio, looks at Acts 15 as he unpacks the difference between legalism and the freedom we have in the Gospel.


Sermon Notes

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yokethat neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

Acts 15:1-2

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them…

Legalism:  The emphasizing of rules and regulations for achieving both salvation (baptism, circumcision, be part of a certain church) and spiritual growth (short hair, pray so much, read bible so much, listen to certain music, go to church X times per week)

Legalism – adding anything except Jesus to gain God’s salvation or favor

Acts 15:4-5

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

Romans 5:1

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (to declare or make true)

James 2:24

  • You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (to prove or give evidence it is true)

Results of Legalism

  • Legalism Separates

Jews felt superior – God had opened door to the Gentiles – to come and be like the Jews!

  • Legalism Enslaves

Legalism is when the practice of Spiritual Growth becomes more significant than the person of Jesus.

Acts 15:10a

Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples… 

  • Legalism Frustrates   

Acts 15:10b

Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?

  • Legalism is a losing game!
  • We all fall short
  • We experience guilt, shame, and despair

Where legalism fails, the Gospel succeeds!

Acts 15:11

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

The Gospel:  God has come to save us by Jesus Christ through faith

John 1:17

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

In legalism, we initiate and expect God to respond. In the Gospel, God initiates and we respond

Acts 15:12

And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Legalism: Brings Separation (categories – judgment)

Gospel: Brings Together  Gospel unifies and reconciles – all sinners saved by grace!

  • Adopted sons and daughters – other believers are our brothers and sisters!

Acts 15:9

and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.

Legalism:  Enslaves

Gospel:  Frees

Matt 11:29

Jesus says my yoke is easy!  I’m not living to earn God’s favor – my good works, or desire to know and love God more come out of what Christ did for me, out of God’s love for me!

Legalism:  Brings Frustration        

Gospel:  Brings Celebration

  • Saved by grace through faith – adopted son’s and daughters of the King!
  • Salvation brings us assured hope, peace, love and joy, and fellowship with God.

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