"THE OLD HERESY"
"And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved"-Acts 15:1
In Acts 15, we find the apostles disputing over one of the oldest heresies among believers: salvation by works. The false apostles had disturbed the flock and taught them, "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved"-Acts 15:1.
This is a dangerous doctrine. It split the Baptist denomination in the early 1800's. David Benedict's, "Fifty Years Among the Baptists", reveals the changes brought into the camps of the Baptists in his day. Prior to this split, there was one Baptist faith in this country. They embraced the great doctrines of God's grace. To divide God's people is Satan's desire. I find many today who know of distant relatives that were numbered among those old believers. I dedicate today's article to their faith, hoping their posterity will search it out and return to the faith their forefathers once embraced.
It was this heresy that stirred the heart of the apostle to write the great letter to the Galatian churches in defense of God's grace. Barnabus and Paul did not say, "Well, it is the same God that we worship and it really does not matter". They "had no small dissension and disputation with them"-v2. In other words, it was a great dissension and disputation. Grace is worth disputing. Heaven in exchange for our works robs Christ of His glory.
The bottom line to this heresy is simply this: man places himself where Christ should be concerning salvation. Man has placed himself at the top of the bottomless pit throwing the line down to fallen man rather than Christ descending the depths and rescuing fallen man. We must ask, "How did that first man get up there anyway?"
Though the names have changed, over the centuries various works and schemes have been substituted for the circumcision of the false apostles. Except ye be _________ after the manner of US, ye cannot be saved". Place what you will in the blank, you will still come up with works because "ye" is at the bottom of it all. And what one man can do, another can't. Thus, another method must be invented. We must answer with Peter, "But we believe that through the grace of he Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they"-v11.
Verse five is a sad testimony. It tells us that "Certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed" taught this heresy. Yes, believers rejected the doctrines of God's grace and substituted a system of works. They took the tradition used to identify them as God's chosen (circumcision) and set it up as their saviour. A tradition that was to be done away with at that. Such will be the end of all traditions and ordinances when Christ the Saviour returns!
Why does the creature run to his works rather than trusting fully and wholly in the finished works of Christ? I will give you three reasons: (1) People like to think they are in control of their own destiny. But are we? Do we know that we even have another day here? And if we can not order another day on earth, can we order our days in glory? (2) We are taught all of our lives that we must earn what we get. Our house, our car, our wages, we live by the sweat of our brow. We are programmed for works! But Christ earned what we lost. He paid what we could not pay with His own blood. That is grace. (3) When the Holy Ghost reveals our sin we want to do something. And we should. Let us present our bodies a living sacrifice; let us identify ourselves with Christ by public Baptism; let us endeavor to live accordingly. But let us not usurp Christ's glory. Righteous endeavors done out of a heart of love are well pleasing to the Father, but let us not offer them up in payment for sin for then they become "filthy rags".
Grace is unmerited and undeserving favor. Ezekiel paints a beautiful picture of grace. He shows us where we were, how God found us, and what God did for us. "And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live"-Ezekiel 16:6. Polluted in Adam's sin, helpless to lift ourselves out of our fallen condition was our case. But the eye of a loving Father passed by and pitied His own. He took us up, washed us in the blood of His own Son and gave us an inheritance among the Saints. That is grace.
Grace is the beggars crown; the sinners comfort; and the devil's curse. It is not a respecter of race, religion, riches, rags, king's decrees or the influence of great nations. It belongs to God. He dispensed it freely. Is your faith and hope of glory in Christ or your works?
Come and worship with us at Harmony Primitive Baptist Church, in Donaldson, where God is sovereign, and salvation is by His abundant and amazing grace. Visit our web page at www.primitivebaptist.org/donaldson/ Singing begins at 10:30 each Sunday morning followed by preaching at 11:00.
By His mercy and grace,
Neil Phelan, Jr., Pastor