A major argument was brewing in the early church and the key leaders knew it needed to be nipped in the bud. It is not overly dramatic to say the future of the Church depended on navigating this critical moment. At issue was the Gospel of Grace vs. following the Law of Moses.
This was – and is – the crucial spiritual question. It is what defines biblical Christianity and sets it apart from every other religion. It speaks directly to the title of this article: how do I know if I’ve been good enough to get into heaven?
We’ll get back to the answer, but let’s first set it up with this major Christian family fight from the first century.
The Christian Church emerged first as a sect of Judaism in Jerusalem. It soon branched out to include the Gentiles as well. This is where things started to get complicated. While many of the Jewish believers continued to follow the Law of Moses, even though they believed they were saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Gentiles, on the other hand, had never followed the Law of Moses. The Apostle Paul was teaching that they were saved by grace through faith and were not required to follow the law.
This did not sit well with a group of early Jewish believers who became known as “the Judaizers.” This segment of the early church believed that every Christian needed to follow the Jewish Law. The clash between the Judaizers and those on the side of salvation by grace alone – including the Apostles Peter and Paul – was inevitable.
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2, ESV)
The leaders of the early church gathered to consider the controversy in what became known as “The Jerusalem Council”. In response to the claims of the Judaizers, Peter stood to defend the message of salvation by grace.
Why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:10-11, ESV)
Paul and Barnabas then stood and shared all the amazing miracles that God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Restoring David’s Fallen Tent
At this time, James, the chief elder of the Jerusalem church stood and made a reply – a statement that almost seems like he is changing the subject – but this Old Testament passage from the prophet Amos couldn’t be more on target.
Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent [or tabernacle] of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name.'” (Acts 15:15-17, ESV)
So what is this “fallen tent or tabernacle of David?” The prophet is referring to the tabernacle David built in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant, which the king had removed from the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle of Moses. By doing this, David was technically breaking mosaic law, as the Ark was to remain behind the veil in the Holy of Holies. Being the king, David simply ignored this part of the law because he wanted to always have the presence of God nearby.
This is where the connection between David’s actions and the doctrine of salvation by grace becomes clear. Under the Old Testament Law of Moses, the Ark was kept behind a veil in the tabernacle (and later the temple) and could only be seen by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. King David broke the law by bringing the Ark out into the open and placing it in his own tent of worship – and yet God was pleased with this action.
As a result, the tabernacle of David became a forerunner (aka a ‘type’ or ‘shadow’) of the Gospel of grace through faith. Under the Law of Moses, only the High Priest could be in the presence of God. Under the Gospel of grace – because of the blood of Jesus shed once and for all time at Calvary – every believer can come into God’s presence.
King David directed the leader of worship to have musicians playing in the tabernacle day and night. During these times spontaneous songs would be sung – many of these becoming the psalms we see in the Bible. Jerusalemites prayed and worshiped in the presence of God without fear. It was a time of great joy as God’s people communed with God both day and night.
After the death of King David, his son, Solomon, built the first Jewish temple. During the temple dedication, the Ark of the Covenant was placed behind the veil in the Holy of Holies where it remained until the time of Jesus. Once again, the people were separated from the presence of God.
David’s tent had fallen. But then the prophet Amos came along and prophesied that the tabernacle of David would be rebuilt.
Tearing the Veil
An amazing and often-misunderstood event occurred at the moment of Jesus’ death.
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom… (Matthew 27:50-51, NASB)
The shed blood of Jesus opened the door to an intimate relationship between God and man once again. Significantly, the veil of the temple that had kept mankind out of the presence of God was torn “from top to bottom” – from God’s perspective to man’s perspective – allowing believers to enter into His presence once again.
By dying on the cross for all mankind, Jesus paid the penalty of sin with his blood. From that moment on, anyone who received this gift of eternal life by grace through faith was seen as righteous in God’s eyes. The death of Jesus on the cross reconciled sinful man to a holy God.
Just as it was in David’s tabernacle, people of faith could now come into God’s presence to have a relationship with their Heavenly Father.
The Judaizers didn’t fully understand what Jesus had done by shedding His blood on the cross. They were trying to take the early disciples back under the law. Thank God for the witness and boldness of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James who recognized that under the New Covenant, we are saved by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Free Gift of Salvation
There are basically two approaches to religion in the world. The first is a religion that is based on your own good works – and nearly every religion in the world is based on this premise. The second is a religion that acknowledges that no one can be good enough to gain salvation, and so God must somehow provide it – Christianity is the only religion based on this premise.
The first time you did something that you knew was wrong, you were disqualified from heaven. The Apostle Paul explains the fallen and hopeless state of mankind when he declares:
As it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one…’ (Romans 3:10, ESV)
In contrast to all other religions, the Bible teaches that due to mankind’s sin nature, not only do we commit sin, but it is our character to do so. This inherited sin nature separates each of us from God and results in being under God’s judgment, rather than in relationship with God.
Jesus is our only hope for salvation, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, NASB) When someone asks the question, “Why can’t I get to God through other religions,” the answer is this:
- Mankind is sinful.
- No one with sin can achieve salvation.
- There must be a bridge between sinful man and a holy, or perfect God.
- Mankind is helpless to gain salvation through any kind of good work.
- Mankind needs a Savior.
- God loved the people of this world so much, that he sent Jesus to live as a man so that He could die on the cross to pay the debt for man’s sin.
- The only thing you have to ‘do’ to receive this gift of salvation is to believe that Jesus is God and that He died for you.
It is this personal, loving God, who desires to be in your life – to care for, guide, protect, and empower – that makes the Bible different from any other religious book. Jesus is not only the God of all the world, but He desires to be a personal God in your life as well. Would you like to know how to invite Jesus into your life?
Pray this prayer:
Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending your Son to die in my place. I ask you to forgive me for my sins. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that you raised Him from the dead. Come into my life and make me new. Help me to live for you. Thank you for your love, in Jesus name, amen.
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