After a difficult but rewarding mission trip, Paul and Barnabas returned to homebase in Syrian Antioch. “After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a considerable time with the disciples” (Acts 14:27–28). Paul and Barnabas had seen God do extraordinary things in the lives of many. Imagine the victory celebration as they returned to their church family in Antioch!
Unfortunately, their jubilation was soon squelched as “some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved’ ” (Acts 15:1). Of course, Paul and Barnabas adamantly disagreed with these Jewish teachers and “engaged them in serious argument and debate” (Acts 15:2). The missionaries had just spent months in Cyprus and Asia Minor where multitudes of uncircumcised Gentiles and come to saving faith in Jesus. Paul and Barnabas knew that God could, and would, save uncircumcised Gentiles.
This was a most fundamental theological truth! How can a man be saved? These Jewish false teachers were demanding that only those who followed the Old Testament Law could be saved. This is not what Paul taught, and it wasn’t what Jesus taught!
When a religious ruler named Nicodemus approached the Master, Jesus declared, “unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). To this astonishing statement, Nicodemus replied, “How can anyone be born when he is old? ... Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” (John 3:4). Jesus didn’t demand circumcision! Salvation isn’t the result of adherence to laws, but a miraculous transformation, a new birth that comes to those who believe in the redeeming power of Jesus. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”
In the wilderness of Sinai, when “the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them... many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6). God’s gracious remedy was a bronze snake, lifted high above the people. When the people looked faithfully to God’s remedy, they were saved from certain death. “Everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Everyone. Not just the Jews. Anyone who believes... everyone who believes.
In the European city of Philippi, a Roman prison guard, an uncircumcised Gentile, asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Paul) said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30–31). It was not grace plus works! It was grace through faith!
Jew or Gentile, black or white, young or old, man or woman, all “are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).