In Part 1, we discussed the fact that some who call themselves Free Grace believe and teach that works salvation, while wrong, is nonetheless a saving message.
I gave several lines of Biblical proof that works salvation is not a saving message. One of the lines of proof is Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council. Here is what I said in my very brief comment on it:
Works salvation was explicitly rejected at the Jerusalem Council as well. Judaizers were claiming that one had to keep the Law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1). The Council said that is a false message, that one is born again by faith in Christ, apart from works (cf. Acts 15:7-11). More on this in part 2.
Now I will expand on evidence from Acts 15.
In his class on Acts, Zane Hodges made the point that Luke carefully contrasts two groups of Jewish legalists in verses 1 and 5 of Acts 15. Verse 1 reads, “And certain men came down from Judea [to Antioch] and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”
Now contrast that with what Luke writes in Acts 15:5, “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’”
Luke tells us that both groups of Jews wanted Gentiles to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses (though that is not explicitly stated with the first group). However, they had different reasons for urging the Gentiles to keep the Law. The first group said that this was necessary to be saved. The second group said it was necessary, but they did not add “to be saved.” That second group believed it was necessary so that the Gentile believers could be sanctified.
Luke calls the first group, the works salvation group, “certain men.” He calls the second group, “some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed.” The second group is made up of believers, that is, born-again men. But those in the first group are unbelieving Jews.
Luke’s point is that works salvation is not a saving message.
Surely, the certain men of Acts 15:1 believed in and proclaimed the deity of Christ and His substitutionary death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead. If they had not believed and proclaimed that, they would have received no hearing in the church of Antioch. But they believed in works salvation and hence were not yet believers.
The Jerusalem Council was not merely answering the question of whether Gentiles had to keep the Law of Moses to be saved. It was also answering the question of whether Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the law to be sanctified. The Jerusalem Council answers both questions in the negative (Acts 15:7-11, 18-29), though it did request that Gentiles refrain from certain actions that would offend Jews.
Luke was careful in his description of both groups of legalists and why each felt it was necessary to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses. While Wiersbe does not mention the distinction between the two groups, he does make this helpful comment:
Several important issues are involved here, not the least of which is the work of Christ on the cross as declared in the message of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Heb. 10:1–18). God pronounces a solemn anathema on anyone who preaches any other Gospel than the Gospel of the grace of God found in Jesus Christ His Son (Gal. 1:1–9). When any religious leader says, “Unless you belong to our group, you cannot be saved!” or, “Unless you participate in our ceremonies and keep our rules, you cannot be saved!” he is adding to the Gospel and denying the finished work of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote his Epistle to the Galatians to make it clear that salvation is wholly by God’s grace, through faith in Christ, plus nothing! (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 461).
Valdes brings out the distinction between the two groups of legalists:
Two major points distinguish this objection from the one mentioned in v 1 that resulted in this trip. First, Luke qualifies these men as believers. Second, unlike the men in v 1, these men did not say that circumcision was necessary for salvation. They erred regarding sanctification, not justification (“Acts” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, Revised edition, p. 272).
Most commentators see a connection between Galatians, Paul’s defense of justification by faith alone, and the Jerusalem Council. While most of them fail to see the two distinctions between the men mentioned in verses 1 and 5, they do see justification by works being rejected in the Council and in Galatians. It is not rejected as a flawed yet saving message, but as a heretical message that Paul anathematizes.
The Jerusalem Council is another proof that works salvation does not work. No one can be born again by believing that faith and works are necessary to escape eternal condemnation.
In the third and final part, we will consider Rom 4:4-5 as yet another proof that works salvation is not a saving message.