ACTS 15:8-11: “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” NLT
OBSERVATION: What is the evidence of salvation? Is there a difference between the evidence and the expression? When Jesus said – “You will know them by their fruits…”, was He talking about the evidence or the expression? Is there a difference or is this just another case of splitting hairs?
This question was front and center in what has become known in church history as the Jerusalem Council. The church was born on the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. All of the first believers were Jewish. Having come to faith in Jesus Christ, being baptized in water, and filled with the Holy Spirit, they continued their newfound faith in much the same pattern of expression as they practiced before that day.
As the Gospel began going forth beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem, Gentile believers began embracing Jesus Christ as Lord through faith. Peter was the first to experience this wonderful outpouring as he shared the Gospel with the members of the house of Cornelius, the Roman captain. As they heard Peter’s message they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, giving praise to God (just like the 120 did on the Day of Pentecost).
It was not long until a debate began between the Jewish believers in Jerusalem and the new Gentile believers that were coming to faith through the ongoing ministry of Paul and Barnabas. The Jewish believers said that all the new Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses. Paul and Barnabas objected to this strongly. The question that needed to be established was –
What is the evidence of salvation?
Paul made it very clear in his defense. The evidence of salvation was not found in anything these new Gentile believers had done or would do. The evidence of salvation was found in what they had received through faith in Jesus Christ.
- “God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us.”
The evidence of salvation was the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter understood this as he witnessed the household of Cornelius being filled with the Holy Spirit as they embraced the Good News of Jesus Christ. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, they received the Word of God, but the Holy Spirit only fell upon select individuals. In the New Covenant, through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured into the hearts of each and everyone who believed.
The indwelling and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in our life is the evidence of salvation!
Is that all there is? What about all of the Old Testament practices? What about circumcision? What about the Law? What about all of the principles the Jewish believers had grown up with? Aren’t these important anymore?
- “So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”
Paul saw all of these as an unnecessary yoke that the Jewish believers were trying to put on the Gentiles. In fact, Paul pointed out that it was a useless yoke to carry since no one, including their ancestors, was able to bear it. Salvation had come to the Gentiles as it had come to the Jews – by the undeserved grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! It was by grace, through faith, and not of works, so that no one could boast!
If that is true, if the evidence of salvation is the Holy Spirit, then why did the Apostles send the following instructions to the Gentile believers?
- “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.” Acts of the Apostles 15:19-21 NLT
Was this just the “law light,” or was this something else completely? The Jerusalem Council’s decision was not just an adaptation of the Law that would fit the Gentiles. Rather, it was a call to worship, purity, and love. These three are the expression of our salvation.
When we come to Christ in faith we lay down all of our sins and all of our idols – including ourselves. We are restored once again into fellowship with God. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and we have the privilege of abiding in Jesus Christ. The exhortation to abstain from eating food offered to idols was a call to worship the Lord Jesus Christ with singleness of heart. It was a call to live an outward expression of worship that was evident to all. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and the only one worthy of our worship!
The second was a call to purity. To abstain from sexual immorality was to live a life of distinction from the present world. It was an outward expression that the true Temple of God was the heart of man. This temple was to be kept holy, separate from sin and offered as a living sacrifice to the Lord in worship. Sexual immorality was a defacing of this temple. Therefore, the call to live distinctly from the culture of the day was not a means of salvation but the very reality of it. Paul echoes this truth in his letter to the Corinthians.
- “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never!” 1 Corinthians 6:15 NLT
The final expression is a call to love. Just as the Jewish believers were exhorted to embrace their Gentile brethren with love, so the Gentile believers were exhorted to show the same love in return. Although they were not under any obligation to follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament, they were asked to refrain from eating things that had been strangled, or from eating blood. This was not an evidence of spiritual maturity or superiority. This was a call to love!
- “And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:12-13 NLT
So, let’s sum it up. The only evidence of salvation is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given when one repents and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. There is no outward evidence of salvation. To make an outward act an evidence of faith is to return to the Law as a means of righteousness.
However, a changed life produces changed behavior. This is evidenced in our worship, our activities, and our love. To live in Christ is to live by the Spirit. To live by the Spirit is to walk in love. And, to walk in love is to worship in spirit and truth, both in our life of faith and our expression of the same. It is to live a life of worship, purity, and love. This is the true expression of one who is saved by the undeserved grace of Jesus Christ!
Lord, this morning, may I place my trust only in the completed work of Jesus Christ. Fill me anew this morning with Your Holy Spirit. As I trust in You alone, help me to live out this life of faith showing the evidence of worship, purity, and love – through Your undeserved grace!
In Jesus Name!