December 4, 2022 – Acts 15:1-35
Lesson Date: December 4, 2022
Focal Scripture Passage: Acts 15:1-35
AIM: To lead students to settle the question of whether good works are needed for salvation, and to examine themselves to determine if they have ever truly trusted Jesus for salvation.
Before class: Read the notes on Acts 15:1-35 found in the Sunday School Teacher Book. Write the last half of Matthew 19:16 (“What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”) on the marker board or chalkboard.
INTRODUCTION (Create Learning Readiness): Read the question written on the board. Tell the students that once a very religious man came to Jesus and asked Him that very question. The man thought if he checked off all the right boxes on his religious checklist, God would certainly be happy with him and take him to heaven when he died.
Read the question again. Tell the class that people still wrestle with that same question today.
Ask: “What are some things people think they have to do to go to heaven?” (do more good works than bad works, not hurt people, try to be a good person, be baptized or confirmed in their church, be faithful to their religion, be good to their family, etc.). Tell the students that there are many different opinions about what a person must do to have everlasting life and go to heaven.
Read the question on the board again. Ask: “If someone asked you that question, how would you answer?” Allow time for some responses.
Tell the class the early church had to deal with that same question. In today’s lesson from Acts 15, we will discover their answer, and how they arrived at their answer. The title of today’s lesson is, Are Works Needed for Salvation?
HEART OF THE LESSON (Bible Study):
- Be sure everyone has a Sunday School Member Quarterly for the new quarter.
- Tell them we are continuing our study of the book of Acts.
- Ask: “What was last week’s lesson about?” (Speak Boldly for Jesus).
- Remind the students that chapters 13 and 14 of Acts describe Paul’s First Missionary Journey with his companion, Barnabas.
- At the end of chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas were back at their “home base” of Antioch (locate on the Map).
- Is Circumcision Required for Salvation?
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:1.
- Tell the class that some Jewish believers from Judea went to the church at Antioch.
- Ask: “What did these men teach the church?” (unless a person is circumcised according to the Old Testament Law, he cannot be saved).
- Explain the following:
- These men taught that a human work – circumcision – was required for salvation.
- Many of the new believers in the Antioch church were Gentiles who had never been circumcised as Jewish proselytes.
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:2-4.
- Ask: “According to verse 2, how did Paul and Barnabas respond to these men?” (they disagreed with them vigorously).
- Ask: “What did the church decide to do?” (send Paul, Barnabas, and some others to take the question to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem).
- Ask: “According to verse 3, what did they tell the other churches as they travelled to Jerusalem?” (that Gentiles were coming to Christ).
- Ask: “How did the other believers react to this news?” (with great joy).
- Tell the class the delegation arrived in Jerusalem, where they told the church and its leaders what God was doing through them.
- Read Acts 15:5-6.
- Explain that in the Jerusalem church there were a number of believers who, like Paul, had been raised and trained as Pharisees.
- Ask: “According to verse 5, what did they say?” (that Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Jewish Law to be saved).
- Tell the students this important meeting is known as the Jerusalem Council; it is also recorded in Galatians 2:1-10.
- Summarize: As Gentiles were being saved and added to the church, dissension arose over whether they had to be circumcised. The question was taken to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
- Peter, Paul, and Barnabas Testify.
- Tell the class that Peter arose to address the apostles and elders.
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:7-9.
- Ask: “According to verse 7, what did God choose to do through Peter?” (take the Gospel to the Gentiles, described in Acts 10).
- Ask: “According to verse 8, what did God do to prove that the Gentiles were truly saved?” (gave them the Holy Spirit, just as He did the Jews).
- Ask: “According to verse 9, did God make any difference between Jews and Gentiles who accepted Christ by faith?” (no).
- Read Acts 15:10-12.
- Ask: “What did Peter ask in verse 10?” (Why do you want to burden the Gentiles with trying to keep the Jewish Law, a burden none of the Jews can keep?).
- Ask: “According to verse 11, what did Peter say is required for Jews or Gentiles to be saved?” (the grace [free gift] of God).
- Tell the students in verse 12, Paul and Barnabas testified that God saved many Gentiles during their missionary travels.
- Summarize: Peter, Paul, and Barnabas told the apostles and elders that God was saving Gentiles by grace, just as He was saving Jews.
- James’ Answer.
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:13-14.
- Explain that this James was the half-brother of Jesus, and the writer of the New Testament book of James.
- Ask: “What did James say in verse 14?” (Simon Peter revealed that God was calling Gentiles to faith in Jesus Christ).
- Read Acts 15:15-18.
- Explain the following:
- James said the Old Testament prophets agreed with Peter’s experience (NOTE: experience must always be verified with scripture; never the other way around).
- James quoted from the Old Testament book of Amos (9:11-12) to explain that God had always intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews in His plan for redeeming sinners.
- This was God’s plan from the beginning of the world (v. 18).
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:19-21.
- Ask: “What did James declare about the issue of circumcision in verse 19?” (they should not trouble the Gentile believers by requiring them to be circumcised).
- Stress the importance of this decision: the apostles and elders of the early church declared that works are NOT required for salvation.
- Explain that to avoid offending the Jews who lived in virtually every city of the world (v. 21), James laid out a code of moral behavior Gentile believers should adhere to after they were saved.
- Ask: “According to verse 20, what were the four requirements of that moral code of conduct?” (see answers below).
- Abstain from idols.
- Abstain from fornication.
- Do not eat things that have been strangled.
- Do not consume blood.
- Tell the class these were common practices among the Gentiles, but they were offensive to the Jews.
- Stress the fact that these requirements describe moral behavior after salvation, not requirements that must be met before salvation.
- Summarize: James led the apostles and elders to declare that circumcision was NOT required for salvation. Salvation is a gift of grace, not the result of works.
- The Letter from the Apostles and Elders.
- Read Acts 15:22-23.
- Ask: “What did the apostles, elders, and the rest of the Jerusalem church do?” (sent some of their leaders to deliver a letter explaining their ruling to the church at Antioch).
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:24.
- Ask: “What did the letter say about the men who taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved?” (the Jerusalem church did not send them or approve their message).
- Read Acts 15:25-27.
- Tell the class the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church said they were sending chosen men to relay their message.
- Ask: “What did they say about Barnabas and Paul?” (they were beloved and they had risked their lives for the Lord Jesus Christ).
- Ask a volunteer to read Acts 15:28-29.
- Ask: “According to verse 28, who told the apostles and elders how to rule on the question?” (the Holy Spirit).
- Tell the students the letter included the four requirements Gentiles were to follow after they were saved (v. 29).
- Read Acts 15:30-35.
- Ask: “According to verse 31, how did the believers in Antioch react to the letter from the apostles and elders?” (they rejoiced and were comforted).
- Tell the class that Judas returned to Jerusalem, but Silas, Paul, and Barnabas stayed in Antioch to teach and preach the Word of God.
- Summarize: The apostles and elders in Jerusalem sent a letter to the church in Antioch, clarifying that circumcision was NOT required for salvation. The believers in Antioch rejoiced when they received the message.
PERSONAL APPLICATION: Read the question written on the board once again. Remind the students that the early church was faced with the question of whether Gentiles had to be circumcised before they could be saved. Ask: “What did they decide?” (circumcision is NOT required for salvation).
Remind the students that the title of today’s lesson is, Are Works Needed for Salvation? Ask the following questions:
“Do you have to be baptized to be saved?”
“Do you have to be a good person to come to Jesus?’
“Do you have to do more good works than bad works to receive eternal life?”
“Do you have to be faithful to church to be saved?”
“Do you have to be good to your family before Jesus will save you?”
Read Ephesians 2:8-9. Stress the fact that salvation is NOT earned by doing any works; it is a gift of grace alone, received through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Good works will NOT take anyone to heaven.
Ask everyone to bow their head and close their eyes. Ask: “Have you ever trusted Jesus for salvation, or are you trying to ‘work’ your way to heaven?” Invite those who have never turned from their sins and placed their faith in Jesus Christ to do so now. Voice a closing prayer.
CONCLUSION: Ask everyone to memorize Ephesians 2:8-9. Tell them to ask several people this week what a person must do to go to heaven, and then use that opportunity to explain what the Bible says about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
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