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False Teachers and False Teaching

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Acts 15:1–5 HCSB
1 Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!” 2 But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, the church arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy. 3 When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, explaining in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they created great joy among all the brothers. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!”
Acts 15:1-5

Sub: False Teachers and False Teaching

Intro: Let me begin by telling you Who was doing the Teaching and What they Taught?

Who?

Christian Pharisees

Some men came down from Judea to Antioch (15:1). A faction within the Jerusalem church consisting of believers who have been Pharisees (see 15:5) are disturbed about the way Gentiles are being admitted into the church.

What?

They taught that salvation was dependent upon obedience to Mosaic ceremonials. They said, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." This was no small matter. They were adding "circumcision," a Jewish ceremonial to the Calvary work of Christ; and, at the same time they were subtracting from the glory and power of the Cross. Paul would gladly have yielded in matters that were not vital to the faith, but he would not for a moment permit the Cross of Christ to be made of no effect. He knew that if salvation came by circumcision, that the offence of the Cross had ceased. He knew that if salvation came by law-works it could not come by grace.

My pastor George Brooks in his book(George T. Brooks, George Brooks Preaching Commentary – Expositions from the Book of Acts: Volume 2, (Austin, TX: WORDsearch, 2014), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: "A Dispute about an Eternal Issue".) tells a story:

The story is told of a cabinetmaker who had a friend who tried to show him how the death of Christ completed the work of redemption. An inspiration struck the friend of the cabinetmaker. The man wanted to refinish the top of beautifully polished table. The cabinetmaker stopped him and told him that the table was already finished. He told his friend that to remove the finish off of the finished table would ruin it. Then the man said to the cabinetmaker, "That is just what I have been trying to show you about Christ's work of redemption. It was finished when he gave his life for you, and if you try to add to that finished work you can only spoil it. All we have to do is accept Jesus Christ as Savior and be set free from sin's penalty and power. God never intended for Moses and the law to give salvation. The law could let us know we are sinners, but there is no present or future salvation in the law. However, there were Jews who saw things different. Paul's message to the Romans was that "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; [10] for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation" (, NASB).

I. The Dedication Of the False Teachers

"Came down from Judea."

the distance of their coming. The distance from Judea (specifically from Jerusalem which was in Judea) would be over 300 miles and all on foot and often in hostile and perilous conditions. The word "down" simply refers to the geographical fact that Jerusalem was up in elevation compared to Antioch of Syria and most places in Palestine, so if one left Jerusalem to go to some other place it was usually said that one went "down." John G. Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor – Acts, (Clinton, Iowa: LBC Publications, 2009), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 165.

Their dedication was evidenced in both their traveling (they had to travel some 300 miles to Antioch) and their teaching ("taught" is in the imperfect tense and shows their continuous effort to promote their false doctrine). Here we see the distance Satan will go to try to hinder the progress of God and the church. The distance of their coming. The distance from Judea (specifically from Jerusalem which was in Judea) would be over 300 miles and all on foot and often in hostile and perilous conditions. The word "down" simply refers to the geographical fact that Jerusalem was up in elevation compared to Antioch of Syria and most places in Palestine, so if one left Jerusalem to go to some other place it was usually said that one went "down." Not only did these false teachers go down but they brought the church down.

The men from Judea came to Antioch and became agitators. They brought problems into the church where there were joy and peace. It does not appear that these agitators spoke for the church in Jerusalem. They appear to be self-appointed teachers. As you consider what was taking place, the word "dissension" (stasis) suggests that the teachers from Judea stood against Paul and Barnabas. They had a sharp dispute. They literally started an uprising or upheaval. They brought discord, disunion, disturbance, and strife into the church over how a person should be saved. They brought Paul and Barnabas into a vigorous debate. The word "debate" (suzetesis) means questioning, discussing, or disputing. It has reference to investigating or examining together. While the teachers from Judea were raising the issue with Paul and Barnabas about the process they used in leading Gentiles to salvation, Paul and Barnabas were raising the issue of the supposed connection between circumcision and salvation. Paul and Barnabas were not passive in this situation. They were apparently very strong in their stance concerning salvation.

The men from Judea came to Antioch and became agitators. They brought problems into the church where there were joy and peace. It does not appear that these agitators spoke for the church in Jerusalem. They appear to be self-appointed teachers.

II. The Doctrine of the False Teachers

...teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!”

Acts 15:1 HCSB
1 Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!”
acts 15

Their doctrine denies the grace of salvation. This teaching about circumcision by the legalists says you cannot be saved by grace alone but you must also do some works. However salvation is either of grace or of works. It cannot be both at the same time. Their doctrine devalues the work of Christ. If circumcision is necessary for salvation, then the work of Christ on the cross was not sufficient to save souls. "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; [9] not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. [10] For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (, NASB).

The rainbow was the sign for the covenant with Noah (Noahic).
Circumcision was the sign for the covenant with Abraham (Abrahamic).
The Sabbath was the sign for the covenant with Moses (Mosiac).
The virgin birth was the sign for the covenant with David (Davidic).
The Blood is the sign of the new covenant for Christians.

III. The Debate about the False Teaching

The delegation

As the delegation made its way toward Jerusalem, the speakers were welcomed in every church and their testimony thrilled the listeners. Unlike the critical Pharisees, the Gentiles rejoiced that God included them in His plans, and "there was great joy" among the assemblies. To them it was refreshing to hear men who had traveled great distances in the cause of Christ. Paul and Barnabas had much to tell of their missionary activities. As a result, when the Gentiles heard of the miracles performed among others of their race, their happiness was boundless. The arrival in Jerusalem must have been a notable event, for the entire church welcomed the apostles. Barnabas had always been popular, and Paul, the notorious convert, never lacked an audience. The Christians could hardly wait to hear them.

IV. The Destruction of the False Teaching

v5 But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!”

But some of the believers from the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!”

Some converted Pharisees in the church did not rejoice in the report of Paul and Barnabas but "rose up" and spoke out about the necessity of circumcision for salvation. This would throw a wet blanket on any rejoicing going on in the meeting amongst believers. But there are always those in every church who can douse out the flame of joy and enthusiasm in God's work. The message the Pharisees were giving was that those Gentiles who were saved could not have been saved because they were not circumcised, nor did they keep the Law of Moses. This was a denial of the power of the gospel. The Pharisees did not understand that grace did not need the help of the law in saving fallen humanity. The grace of God does not need any help from the Law of Moses to bring justification to a sinner. The Pharisees really did not understand the weakness of the Law and the strength of the gospel.

The Law shows us our sin, but the gospel shows us the remedy for it.

The Law shows us our condemnation, but the gospel shows us our redemption.

The Law is the word of despair, but the gospel is the word of comfort.

The Law says, Pay your debt, but the gospel says, Christ paid it in full.

The Law says, You are a sinner and you are doomed, but the gospel says, Your sins are forgiven, be of good comfort, you are saved.

The Law says, Make amends for your sin, but the gospel says, Christ has made it for you.

The Law says, Your Father in heaven is angry with you, but the Gospel says, Christ has pacified him with his blood.

The Law asks, Where is your righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction? The gospel says, Christ is my righteousness, goodness, and satisfaction.

The Law says, You are bound and indebted to me, but the gospel says, Christ has delivered you from them all.

R. E. Neighbour, Wells of Living Water – Volume 10: thru , (Cleveland, OH: Union Gospel Press, 1940), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 275.
Clinton E. Arnold, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the New Testament – John, Acts, (USA: Zondervan, 2002), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 354.
John G. Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor – Acts, (Clinton, Iowa: LBC Publications, 2009), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 165.
Ivor Powell, Ivor Powell Commentaries – Amazing Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 250.
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