What Does It Take to Be Saved?
Paul’s first missionary journey is done, and the new church faces its first big crisis.
In Jerusalem, many new Christians are former Pharisees. They think in order for Gentiles to come into the church, they must also live under Moses’ Law (specifically, get circumcised and eat kosher).
The real issue, of course, is law vs. grace. What must we do to be saved? It stirred a heated debate at this important transition to the church age.
What is the gospel? The essential truth of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, 15-17). What must you do to be saved? Nothing more nor less than believe these essentials.
Unlike today when people deny these facts about Jesus Christ, in that day, more than 500 people saw the risen Christ at one time. Nobody denied it.
But how should we interpret these facts? Did Jesus die for your sins? What happened on the cross? Is the work of Christ enough to save you? Do you need to go through a ritual to be saved?
Back in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas tell the church about the people in Asia who trusted Christ. “They don’t know about Moses’ Law, yet they are now saved.” (Read Acts 15:6-9.) That started the debate called the Jerusalem Council.
First Peter, a respected Jew, summarizes the argument. Jews are saved exactly the same way Gentiles are saved—they trust Jesus Christ. Gentiles are saved by grace through faith—not whether they eat kosher, keep the Sabbath, or are circumcised.
Then, Paul and Barnabas share amazing stories of how Gentiles heard the gospel and believed. When the men sit down, the room is quiet. They all likely realized they stood on the threshold of a new age.
Next, James, Jesus’ half-brother, who later wrote the book of James, stands up and summarizes what they just heard and describes God’s program for the future. He said, “God … visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name” (15:14).
James describes the plan of God in place even today. Is He saving the whole world? No. Is God bringing in His Kingdom? No. Then what is God doing today? He is visiting the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. They become part of the church, the body of believers. We learn in Revelation that standing before the throne of God there will be those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. The Word of God goes out to the world. There will be opposition and there will be apostasy, but it will go beyond boundaries because God is calling out a people for His name.
Together the Jerusalem Council send a letter to Gentiles who had turned to Jesus, calling them brothers. You don’t need to do anything but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.
About this time, Paul nudges Barnabas and says, “Let’s get on the road again and visit our new brothers and preach the Word of God.” They both want to go, but disagree about taking John Mark (who deserted them on the last trip). Eventually Barnabas takes Mark and sails home to Cyprus and off the pages of Scripture. Paul invites Silas to be his partner on the next missionary journey. The church now has two great mission projects where before they had only one. And the brothers in Antioch entrusted them all to the grace of God.
Next, walk with Paul to some familiar places: Philippi, Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth.