A “serious argument” broke out in the church at Antioch (Acts 15:2). The Greek word translated here as “argument” is staseos. It comes from a word that means “to stand” (as in “to take a stand”) and can carry the meaning of a dispute or even a riot. In Acts 19:40 the CSB translates the word as “rioting.” Luke also used this same word in reference to the insurrection instigated by Barabbas (Luke 23:19,25).
In the church at Antioch, the argument was over the question, How are people saved? Certain men from Judea were teaching, “unless you are circumcised … you cannot be saved” (v. 1). Paul and Barnabas took a stand for the truth of the gospel. An argument ensued. The debate then moved to Jerusalem, where the apostles and elders gathered to debate this matter further (v. 6).
We can argue about a lot of stuff in church, and frankly, much of what we argue about we shouldn’t be arguing about. Some things, however, are worth arguing for, and Acts 15 reminds us of what those things are.
The truth that we are saved by grace not works
By claiming that Gentiles must be circumcised or they “cannot be saved” (v. 1), the Judaizers were saying that (1) works are required for salvation; (2) there is something we can to earn merit before God. Think about how crucial this issue would be to the advance of the gospel in the first century.
Even today, people think works are necessary for salvation—that there is something we can do to earn merit before God. I’m willing to argue for the truth that salvation is received by grace through faith alone—not by works nor by a combination of grace plus works.
The truth that Jesus is enough
I’ve heard it said that, in gospel math, Jesus plus nothing equals everything. To add anything to Jesus both diminishes His work on the cross and negates grace. Salvation is gained not by Jesus plus something else. The work of Jesus Christ alone is totally sufficient for our salvation.
I’m willing to argue for the truth that Jesus alone is sufficient to save. Grace alone. Jesus alone.
The truth that God shows no partiality
The key verse in the debate of Acts 15 is verse 11, where Peter stated, “we believe that we (Jews) are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they (Gentiles) are.” Isn’t it interesting that he didn’t say, “they are saved in the same way we are,” but rather, “we are saved in the same way they are”?
God neither discriminates nor shows partiality to any particular nationality, ethnicity, race, class, or social status (Acts 15:9; see also 10:34). I’m willing to argue for that truth.
The truth that Scripture trumps tradition
James’s response to the debate was to turn to Scripture, citing Amos 9:11-12 and Isaiah 45:21 (Acts 15:13-21). The Judaizers found it difficult to set aside their long-held traditions and cultural expectations. James said, “Let’s look at what God’s Word says about this.”
I’m with James. I’m willing to argue that the truth of God’s Word always trumps the traditions of men.
May we always be willing to stand boldly for the truth of gospel.
Mike Livingstone is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.