Having stated their case against the thrust of Paul and Barnabas’ teaching (15.1) debate follows. I love how the NET translates this:
“…Paul and Barnabas had a major argument and debate with them…”
(Acts 15.2a, NET, emphasis added)
Time and time again they have been challenged on their doctrine and interpretation of Scripture and here again they are being challenged (15.1). It seems this time things came to a head with the major argument and debate, and as a result a party is sent to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders to clarify whether the ‘official’ line was: faith saves or faith plus works saves.
The reception in Jerusalem is positive (v.4) yet there are still those who won’t let go of the past to embrace the future:
“…some from the religious party of the Pharisees who had believed stood up and said,
“It is necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and to order them to observe the law of Moses.”
(Acts 15.5, NET)
It seems that nothing was going to convince them that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone.
Signs, wonders, Scriptures, direct confession from the Lord Himself (John 14.6), or historical examples from their own nation (Genesis 15.6).
It seems that nothing could convince the religious party of the Pharisees that justification, that salvation, that eternal life came by grace alone through faith alone.
If we have been raised in a culture where proving ourselves is important, where demonstrating our competency is rewarded, then this kind of thinking will be as alien to us as it was to the Pharisees all those years ago. The fact that God declares you forgiven, accepted, righteous, and fit for life eternal comes through nothing that you say, do, organise, earn, or work for. It comes through accepting that on our own we will never earn it, that on our own we will continually fall short of the standards set for us as His creation, and that our only hope of rescue is to cry out to Him to be saved (Romans 10.13, Joel 2.32, Acts 2.21).