(Show the group a gift wrapped package and identify the contents.)
1. This is a gift of love offered completely free to someone in our group. Who would like to have this gift and would accept it absolutely free? (As for a show of hands.)
Before you can receive this gift, however, you must lift this bag of potatoes or (apples, etc or some other ludicrous act) over your head and walk around the room. (If the person complies, reward them with the gift.)
2. How did it make you feel when I offered a free gift to anyone who would receive it?
3. How did it make you feel when I added another ludicrous step to receiving this gift?
While God carefully planned, executed, and communicated the plan of salvation, humanity has a tendency to try to add on requirements to God’s free gift through Jesus Christ alone!
Introduction! Read Acts 15:1-5
1. What is at issue here in the church at Antioch?
2. What action did the church body take?
3. On their way to Jerusalem what did Paul and Barnabas do as they passed through the towns and cities? (They shared what God had done through them among the Gentiles. Note that before Jesus’ death and resurrection when a Jewish person went from Galilee to Jerusalem they would cross over the Jordan River and go down the east side of the river and cross back over near Jericho to avoid going through Samaria.)
4. What was the response of the believers in these places where Paul and Barnabas shared these testimonies? (Note that at this point they did not mention the issue above in Antioch!)
Note when they arrived in Jerusalem and gave their report, there were believers from the party of the Pharisees who wanted to put additional requirements on the Gentile converts—you have to be like us!
No Distinction! Read Acts 15:6-11
1. What words in this passage describe the process of salvation? (“Hear the gospel message and believe”; God “gave the Holy Spirit”; “cleansing their hearts by faith.”; “we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”)
2. What was Peter’s experience in Acts chapter 10 about taking the gospel message to the Gentile Cornelius?
3. How would you summarize Peter’s argument? (God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile. He saves both groups of people the same way. Peter emphasized this point of view by reminding the Jerusalem Council that the gentile believers received the Holy Spirit just as the Jewish believers did.)
Peter also reminded them that He had previously shared with the Gentiles and they had also received the Spirit.
4. What significance did the gospel being inclusive of different people groups have for the Jews? (God created all people and He sent His Son to purchase salvation for anyone who repents and believes. Their attitude should have been such that they were excited that they were selected as the “messengers” to take the gospel to a lost and dying world!)
5. What significance did the gospel being inclusive of different people groups have for the gentiles? (As the old hymn proclaims, “I am so happy in Christ today, as I go singing along the way. I am so happy to know and say Jesus included me too.”)
6. What unbiblical stipulations are placed on people today before being accepted into a local church? (These may not deal so much with salvation as they do to be accepted into the church membership. Re-baptized; exercise of closed communion—only church member may participate; etc)
7. How do those stipulations compare to what was being faced by the early church?
8. What beliefs are non-negotiable? (We can deal with the communion issue and even the baptism issue but when someone wants to add on a requirement to salvation we must stand our ground!)
Read Acts 15:12-23 The whole church took action on this issue!
Clearly Peter had already come full circle in his understanding of how different people groups are saved: the same way he was. Now it was time to help the believers in Antioch come to full understanding, too.
Clear Expectations! Read Acts 15:24-29
1. To whom did the church in Jerusalem send this letter?
2. Why did they send representatives from the church to accompany Paul and Barnabas?
3. From where do most misunderstandings about salvation come? (Certainly not the Bible. They come either from people’s ignorance or misinterpretations based upon incomplete reading of Scripture, traditions, or cultural expectations, which muddy understanding.)
4. Where do we turn for clarification of biblical issues we may disagree about? (The Bible, prayer and leadership of the Holy Spirit. Noting that there are some negotiable issues that we will just agree to disagree on.)
5. What expectations do believers face as recipients of salvation? (The gospel makes a clear difference in people’s lives. Knowing Christ begins a lifelong process of following Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. The transformation that takes place demonstrates to unbelievers that Christians are called to be lights in a dark world! But our lives are different because of what God has done not to earn what God has done in saving us.)
6. What is the significance of the actions prohibited? (As believers, our testimonies are effective when we avoid idolatry and immorality. This is why the letter from the Jerusalem Council listed four things to avoid and mentioned that the Gentile believers would do well if they did indeed avoid those things. Read 1 Cor. 8:13)
Note these requirements were to help them maintain fellowship with the Jews and adapt God’s standards for Christian living!
7. What standards should a church use when communicating appropriate ways of living out the Christian life today? (Scripture.)
8. What does the passage say guided the Jerusalem Council? (The Holy Spirit!)
These are not the kinds of commands that the Judaizers were trying to burden the Gentiles with but encouragement to live up to a Christian life worthy of their calling!
Secure Encouragement! Read Acts 15:30-35
1. How did the Christians in Antioch respond when they heard the letter?
2. How can believers encourage new Christians in their faith? (The Jerusalem Council took the opportunity not only to write a letter to address certain concerns, but they also sent a delegation to confirm their decision verbally.)
The example they left for us is to follow up personally when we address the questions or concerns of new believers.
3. What is our church’s relationship like with other churches in our area?
4. What are some ways we can bridge racial, economic, or locational gaps to work together to reach more people in the community? (Our outreach through our Mission’s Committee is making a difference in our community. I’m not aware of all that is happening but FBC is involved in numerous mission projects right here in Ardmore.)
As we work in harmony with other churches in our area, we display God’s love more effectively to those around us than we can individually.
Summarize and Challenge!
· Stand firm on non-negotiable issues with love and respect.
· Present the gospel clearly to all people.
· Help new believers understand how to live the Christian life.
· Pray for those who try to add to the requirements for salvation. A salvation by works is no salvation at all!
Pray that FBC, Ardmore would be obedient to taking the gospel around the world, starting here at home!