Acts 15:11 “No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
We tend to remember Paul’s famous statement to this effect in Ephesians 2:8-9, but forget that Peter said this quite some time before Paul wrote to the Ephesians. The principle of salvation by grace through faith is absolutely central to the Gospel, which is why the devil attacks it constantly in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The particular attack here was overt. Circumcision is hardly subtle! However, he also hits us with baptism, tithing, Bible reading, and church attendance. All of those things are important for spiritual health, but they aren’t essential for salvation, and the devil does all he can to confuse that. And, there are many similar things we could add to the list. Part of the problem is that on at least some level we want to take credit for our salvation. That flat out never works. That’s why Paul told the Ephesians, “not by works, so that no one can boast.” When we try to take credit for our own salvation or that of anyone else, we are putting ourselves in the place of God, and that is what the devil tempted Eve with in the Garden of Eden. The flip side of this issue is that if the devil can’t convince us that salvation depends on our doing something, he then tries to convince us that all the things we do are completely unimportant. That’s a lie too! All the things I mentioned above should flow out of gratitude that we have been saved, not as an effort to be saved. (Ephesians 2:10) When we get the cart before the horse, people who get baptized in order to be saved just get wet. If there is no repentance, there is no salvation. There too, human weakness can make it all tricky. Our repentance is often shallow and it needs to deepen, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we weren’t saved in the first place. Sometimes people have an experience with the Holy Spirit that is so dramatic that they think they weren’t saved before, and they connect gifts of the Holy Spirit with salvation itself. That too is a sad mistake. It is true that the Holy Spirit is given to all who believe in Christ, (Galatians 3:2) but we are filled to varying degrees, and not all receive the same gifts. We are to seek to be filled more and more, as I spoke about just yesterday, and we are to desire gifts to equip us to serve God, (1 Corinthians 14:1) growing and maturing in faith and obedience, but all of those things follow after salvation, and are not some sort of litmus test as to whether someone is saved.
This is very close to home for me. I loved Jesus as a small child and committed myself to Him in baptism at age seven, but wandered off in spiritual pride until the Lord brought me back sharply at age 24. That experience was so dramatic that I requested, and received, a second water baptism, but in retrospect, I believe I was already saved. I have been something of an “anti-legalist” much of my life, but I realize the importance of such things as tithing and daily devotions for being able to discern and follow God’s best. As a pastor, I have sadly baptized some people who were perhaps saying the right things but hadn’t really repented, so they just got wet. However, even there I must release them to God, because I never saved them in the first place, nor could I have. One young man in particular comes to mind, who really seemed on fire, but after his father succumbed to cancer his mother’s pressure pulled him away from the church completely. I cannot say that he is not saved, though I haven’t seen him for 30 years. (He’s not exactly a young man now!) And there are others. I am to be faithful to proclaim the Gospel in all purity, asking God to use the words He speaks through me to bring people to repentance and faith for their salvation, and for His glory alone.
Father, this isn’t just a huge issue, it’s the fundamental issue. Help me be an instrument of Your salvation indeed, and not a hindrance in any way, so that as many as possible may be born again into eternal life, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!