The All-Sufficient Savior
April 2nd, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
THE ALL-SUFFICIENT SAVIOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-2-78 10:50 a.m.
Once again we welcome the thousands and thousands of you who are sharing this hour in the First Baptist Church of Dallas with our people and this pastor, bringing the message entitled Our All-Sufficient Savior. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 15, which is a recounting of the first Jerusalem Conference. And I read the first few verses, the first 6 verses of the chapter. I would need to read all of the chapter, but this will introduce it to us:
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. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain of the other brethren—
one of whom was Titus—
should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles, the heathen: and they caused great joy unto all of the brethren.
And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
Then the rest of the chapter concerns this first Jerusalem Conference [Acts 15:7-32].
What is written here in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts is also written privately by the apostle Paul in the second chapter of the Book of Galatians. In the fifteenth chapter, you have the historical record [Acts 15:1-32]. In the second chapter, you have the inner, behind-the-scenes working appeal of the apostle Paul [Galatians 2:1-10]. First we shall consider the background of the conference in order that its discussion may be pertinent and lucid and understood by us today.
On the first missionary journey, Barnabas and Saul were sent out from the Gentile church in Antioch [Acts 13:1-3]. And they made their journey to Cyprus, across to Pamphylia, and then to the regions of Galatia, there establishing the Galatian churches [Acts 13:4-14:28]. It was a marvelous thing that God had done in giving them the hearts of these pagan Greeks. They came immediately, directly out of their paganism and their heathenism and their idolatry into the faith of Jesus Christ, from one into the other, no intermediate step in between. Just by faith—by receiving Jesus as Lord, these pagan, idolatrous Greeks came out of their heathenism and into the light of the glorious gospel of the Son of God. When these two men, Barnabas and Paul, came back, the Scriptures say:
When they were come, and had gathered the church together,
they rehearsed all that God had done with them,
and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
That was in Antioch. Then, when they were challenged by what they had done on their journey, they did the same thing in Jerusalem. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them [Acts 15:4]. Wonderful! Marvelous! Glorious! These heathen, pagan, idol-worshiping Greeks had turned from their licentious idolatry to receive Christ as Savior, marvelous! [Acts 15:3]. But in Antioch, it says:
And there they abode a long time with the disciples in Antioch, and in that time—
there came certain men down from Judea who said,
Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
[Acts 14:28, 15:1]
That is what they said in Antioch when these two missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, came back from that first journey. Then later in the conference, they did the same thing when Paul and Barnabas described the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit of Grace upon those Gentiles.
There rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees
who believed, saying: It was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses, otherwise they can never be saved.
When I look at these legalists, these Pharisees who believed, I am in a quandary as to whether we are better off with them or without them. I don’t know whether it is better to have them in the church or outside of the church. I cannot make up my mind, as I look at them, whether it is advantageous that they believe more than they don’t believe. But they are very much there—the legalists, the Pharisees—and their doctrine is very simple and plainly stated. In clear and understandable language, they avow it, namely, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” [Acts 15:1]. That’s plain, isn’t it? And simple, and clear, and understandable? That is as succinctly as you can ever express a great doctrine.
What they are saying is, “A man cannot be saved by trusting Jesus alone. In order to be saved, you must trust Jesus, and you must do something else.” In this instance, they avow you must be circumcised and you must obey all of the laws, ceremonial, ritual, rites of the Mosaic legislation. And if you do not observe those rites and rituals and ceremonies of the Mosaic legislation, then you can’t be saved—not by just trusting Jesus. So these legalists say to all of these new converts, “Now you be circumcised and you keep all of the laws of Moses, and then we will be happy to welcome you into the church!”
Lest we look upon these men with scornful disdain, it might be profitable for us to recall the ancient and sacred rite of circumcision. When this happened, that rite had already been invoked among the children of God for at least two thousand years. How could one express his filial love and loyalty to the revelation of God more than to circumcise his children in obedience to the command of God? For it was the Lord God Almighty who commanded it.
In the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God gave the ceremonial rite to Abraham [Genesis 17:11-14]. And it was to be in perpetuity through all of the generations that followed this father of the faithful. The rite of circumcision was instituted by no human authority. It was instituted by the authority of God; therefore no human authority could abolish it. The rite of circumcision held, I suppose, first place among all of the rituals of the Mosaic law.
To perform the rite did not violate the holy shabbat—the Sabbath day. It was performed on the Sabbath day in keeping with the holiness of that sacred day. No one could eat the Passover who first had not been circumcised [Exodus 12:48]. It was a necessary ingredient for a man to come into the presence of God and the family of the Lord.
In the first chapter of the Book of Luke, it was upon the circumcision of the little child that they wanted to name [him] “Zechariah” for his father [Luke 1:59]. The father had seen an angel and was dumb. Gabriel had spoken to him. And because of his unbelief that he and his aged wife would have a child, the angel said, “You will be dumb, and unable to speak, until this comes to pass” [Luke 1:18-20]. And it is when they were circumcising the little child, and everybody wanted to call him Zechariah after his father, that he shook his head, and they brought him a piece of paper, and he wrote down, “His name is John” [Luke 1:63]. And it was then that God loosed his tongue, and he praised the Lord in language [Luke 1:64].
In the next chapter of the Book of Luke, you have the story of the circumcision of Jesus [Luke 2:21]. And it was upon the eighth day in the circumcision of our Lord that they gave Him His name, “Savior”—Joshua—Jesus [Luke 2:21]. They had a great case, and the thrust and march of those legalists was fierce indeed.
Over here in the second chapter of the Book of Galatians, after this conference in Jerusalem, the apostle Paul writes:
When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
For before that there came certain from Judea, why, he was with us, with the Gentiles;
But when they came…he dissembled, played hypocrite,
and insomuch so that he carried Barnabas with him in his dissimulation.
Peter here exhibits that flaw in his character: timidity. He quailed before a little maid who accused him of being one of the disciples of the Lord Jesus when the Lord was on trial before the Sanhedrin. And he swore and cursed saying, “I never saw Him. I do not know Him” [Matthew 26:69-74]. Simon Peter is doing the same thing here over this question of circumcision. As these Pharisees came from Judea, after this conference was over—years after it was over, he dissembled; he played the hypocrite and pulled away from the Gentiles who had not been circumcised [Galatians 2:11-12].
The lines are distinctly drawn. I read it out of the Book, “Certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren saying: Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” [Acts 15:1]. Now you listen to the apostle Paul as he writes, and as he says in Galatians 5:2, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are,” and this is the King James Version, “ye are fallen from grace,” ekpiptō [Galatians 5:4]. You have forfeited grace, you have given it up; now, you are going to be saved in some other way, but not by grace, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith that worketh by love” [Galatians 5:6].
That is plain enough. The Judaizers, the legalists: “Except a man be circumcised . . . he cannot be saved” [Acts 15:1]. And the apostle Paul, “Behold, I, Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing” [Galatians 5:2]. So they came together for to consider the matter [Acts 15:6]. And that is the first Jerusalem conference. And more lies in the offing and the balance than you realize, namely: how can a man be saved? How do you face God someday, and live?
Now we are going to consider the speakers at this Jerusalem conference, God’s greatest apostles. First, Paul: how do you answer these Pharisees and these legalists? They are learned men of the schools. They know Talmudic tradition from the days of infancy, and they are gifted in all matters of forensic discussion. They are brilliant.
Did you ever look at the Talmud? That is the most impressive and awesome group of books I have ever seen in my life. Every syllable of it was written down a hundred years after Christ. All of that vast amount of academia was in their minds by memory. How do you answer these men, Pharisees, legalists, Talmudic scholars, who all of their lives have given themselves to the learning of the law? They are answered by a prince of the blood. In the third chapter of the Book of Philippians he calls himself a “Pharisee of the Pharisees” [Philippians 3:5]. They are answered by the star pupil of the great rabbon Gamaliel himself. His name is Saul of Tarsus, the apostle Paul.
I am beginning now to understand what God meant when He said to Ananias, “You go put your hands upon him. May he be filled with the Holy Spirit; for,” said the Lord God, “he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name” [Acts 9:10-15]. I am beginning to understand now what God meant when He said, “This man, Saul of Tarsus, is a chosen vessel unto Me” [Acts 9:15]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? God always has His man. God always has His champion.
God always knows where His men are. He who found water in the rock [Exodus 17:6], He who found honey in the desert [Matthew 3:1-4], knows how to find His man in a great confrontation. Don’t you be afraid. I remember the story, as you do, when the people of the Lord were oppressed in the land of Egypt. God had His man on the back side of the desert—Moses. But God chose him and sent him to deliver His people [Exodus 3:1-10]. That is God. In the days of Saul, king of Israel, Goliath, the uncircumcised blaspheming Philistine, stood on the other side of the vale of Elah and cursed God’s people, and challenged them to combat! [1 Samuel 17:10]. Isn’t it remarkable? God has His boy, a stripling, fresh from the sheepcote, a little fellow, unshaven the Bible says [1 Samuel 16:12, 17:33], his name was David [1 Samuel 17:32-53]. God has His man! In the days when Jezebel, taking advantage of that weak, pusillanimous, spineless king Ahab, brought apostasy into Israel with all of the priests of Baal, God had His man! Elijah stood, the sole champion of the Almighty [1 Kings 18:19-40]. We don’t need to be afraid. God always has his man.
And when these legalists and these Pharisees stood up, God placed before them Paul, learned in all Talmudic scholarship and understanding. He did something that is very smart. He says here in the second chapter of the Book of Galatians, “I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, by revelation” [Galatians 2:1-2]. That is, God sent him. God said, “Go!” And the angels of heaven said, “We will go with you!” Then he says he did something that I think is brilliant: and he took Titus with him [Galatians 2:1]. And he says: “I communicated unto them the gospel which I preach unto the Gentiles . . . and lest by any means I had run in vain, I did it first privately to the apostles in Jerusalem. And neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised” [Galatians 2:2-3]. To me that is a stroke of genius. When the apostle Paul sent by God to go up to Jerusalem, in that conference concerning how a man can be saved, he took with him Titus [Galatians 2:1].
Titus appears many times in the scriptural record. He must have been a tremendous servant of the Lord and preacher of the gospel, Titus. Timothy was timid and sickly. Titus was bold and fearless, as you who have followed the story of the Corinthian church know. Titus was the kind of fellow that, no matter what the problem was, in no time at all he had it in his hands and he had it solved. He was bold and courageous in the faith.
Anyway, when Paul went up to the conference in Jerusalem, he took Titus with him [Galatians 2:1]. He was Exhibit A. And when Paul said that a man could be saved just by trusting Jesus [Galatians 2:16]—come out of his idolatry, and out of his heathenism, and out of his paganism, and out of his rejection and unbelief, out of his sin and wrong, just come directly out of it—and by accepting Christ by faith be born a child of God. When Paul preached that gospel, he pointed to Titus. “There he stands, Exhibit A of what God can do with a man just by trust, just by faith, just by giving his heart and life to Jesus Christ. Look at him! Look at him.” You know, that is the power of the Christian message. It is not in words, and it is not in syllables, and it is not in sound, and it is not in furor; it is in the consecrated, regenerated lives of those who have been saved by the grace of the Son of God.
A man was challenged by an infidel to a debate. And the preacher said, “Fine, I will love to debate. Only it will be like this: you having set the time and having set the place, let’s do it like this. I will bring one hundred men who have been marvelously regenerated and saved out of lives of sin and depravity, saved by the grace of the gospel of the Son of God. I will bring one hundred men who have been wondrously saved by Jesus the Lord, and you bring one hundred men who have been saved by the gospel of infidelity, and then we will have our debate.” You never have a debate like that. Where in this world—scour the whole earth, where would you find one hundred men who’ve been saved by infidelity? In fact, to start off the service, where would you find in all of the literature of the music world one song extolling infidelity? Where would you find it? Gather God’s people together—did you know many, many years ago when I was a boy, I read that there were four hundred thousand hymns dedicated to Jesus? Since that time, I suppose they have written four hundred thousand more.
That is what Paul did. He went up to the conference, and he brought with him Titus, a Greek [Galatians 2:1]. I think he is the brother of Dr. Luke. You think so? Yes. Yes. I think Titus and Luke were brothers. And there he stands, a monument and a trophy to the grace of God. Then the apostle delivers his message of salvation: salvation in Christ alone, just by trusting the Lord. I can hear him as he says, as he speaks at the conference:
We know that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even as we have believed in Jesus…
and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
The law was our paidagōgos—the child leader to bring us to Christ—that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a paidagōgos. We are children of God by faith in Christ . . .
And in Him, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female: but we are all one in Jesus.
And if we be in Christ Jesus, then we are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise
I can just see Paul as he avows that. All of those rites and rituals and ceremonies of the Old Testament were types, prefiguring the great spiritual reality that we find in Christ Jesus. Even circumcision—the rite and ceremony of circumcision—was a type. It has a typical, spiritual significance. And when the realization comes to pass that it typified, that it signified, that it symbolized, then the rite is automatically abolished. All rites and ceremonies that are typical are abolished when the spiritual reality that they typified comes to pass. You don’t need it any longer. It is impertinent and beside the point. It is no longer apropos. It is abolished; that is, not by a violent abolition, but by the reality of the thing that it typified.
For example, the noonday will abolish the dawn. Summertime will abolish the spring. Manhood will abolish infancy. A great oak will abolish the acorn. Maturity will abolish conception. The Lord’s return will abolish the Lord’s Supper. Why would you observe the Lord’s Supper as the memorial to the Lord Jesus when the Lord Jesus Himself is standing there before you? That’s why the Lord says, “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do dramatize, you show forth the Lord’s death till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26]. And then when He come, then He is here with us, we won’t have any need longer of bread to remind us of His body, or of the crimson crushed fruit of the vine to remind us of His blood. There He stands.
When the type is fulfilled, it is abolished. There’s no need for it. So it is with all of the rites and ceremonies of legalism, of the Mosaic legislation. The whole thing was our paidagōgos—our “child leader,” the tutor to bring us to the Lord Jesus [Galatians 3:23-26]. And now that we are in the presence of the Lord, we don’t need the type any longer. We have the Lord. That’s the apostle Paul.
Then Simon Peter speaks at this Jerusalem conference. And he has a little word here that describes the legalism of Pharisaism and Judaism—the last and final definition of it: “Why tempt ye God, to place on them a yoke, that neither we nor they could bear?” [Acts 15:10-11]. All of these rites and rituals and thousand ceremonies are yokes, he says, “they are burdensome to bear.” They deny the fullness of the freedom that God intended for His children; a yoke.
The next to speak is James [Acts 15:13-21], the Lord’s brother, who is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem—and the next time I preach, Sunday week, the sermon will be concerning this pastor James, the Lord’s eldest brother, pastor of the church in Jerusalem—he quotes the prophet Amos, the last chapter; chapter 9, verses 10-12 [Acts 9:10-12]. And there he speaks of the Gentiles who come to the Lord, these heathen that are prophesied, who will come to Jehovah God [Amos 9:12; Acts 15:13-18]. But the prophecy never mentions that they come by circumcision or by the rites and ceremonies of legalistic legislation. They come by faith to the blessed God, to the blessed Jesus. And then he delivers his sentence that closes the conference, “So we shall not interfere, interdict, we shall not disturb what God has done” [Acts 15:19]. “These who have found refuge and strength and regeneration and salvation in the Lord Jesus, we shall but rejoice in heaven’s favor upon them.” And that is the way it is to this day, except that the legalist and the sect of the Pharisees is forever with us. They never acquiesce, and they never turn, and they never die out. Isn’t that a remarkable thing?
When you read this Jerusalem conference, your first reaction might be, “This is something that happened almost two thousand years ago. It has no pertinency for us today!” My brother and my sister, this is one of the most pertinent things that we face in our generation, and in our day, and in our time, and all through the centuries, “What must I do to be saved?” And the legalist stands up and he says, “This you must do to be saved. You must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you must do good works, or you can’t be saved.” This is what the legalist says, “You must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you must belong to mother church, because mother church is the one that takes you to heaven. And outside of mother church, you will be lost, and you will be damned, and you will go to hell.” This is modern legalism, “You must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you must keep the Sabbath day. If you don’t keep the Sabbath day, you will be damned, and you will be lost. It is the mark of the beast, not observing the Sabbath day.” This is modern legalism, “You must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you must be baptized.”
“I have been baptized.”
“You must be baptized by us. And you’ll be damned, and you’ll be lost, and you’ll go to hell if you’re not baptized by us!” It goes world without end—modern day legalism, modern day Pharisaism—trying to add something to the gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And my brother, it is as true today as it was in the days of the apostle Paul. We defeat and deny the power and efficacy of the cross anytime we seek to add something to it by man’s hand. If the cross of Christ has to have added to it the cutting of a knife, or a spoon full of water, or a drop of blood, or the observance of a rite or a ritual, then the death of Christ is in vain. The gospel of Paul is this: a man is saved by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 2:8]—receiving Him into your heart, into your soul, into your life. You are saved by Christ, the all-sufficient Lord, without anything else [Ephesians 2:9]. Nothing else! Nothing else!
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no langour know,
These for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
In my hand, no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling
[“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me,” Augustus M. Toplady]
Saved by trusting Jesus and Jesus alone [Acts 16:31]; I am not saved by something Jesus did and then something I did. And I am not saved by something Jesus did and something somebody else did for me. I am saved by trusting Jesus alone. He washes my sins away [Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5]. He sends the Holy Spirit of regeneration into my heart [Titus 3:5]. He writes my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. He has promised to keep me forever [John 10:27-30, 14:1-3] and to present me some day in the presence of the Great Glory [Jude 1:24]—saved by Jesus alone.
And thereafter, what I do is just out of love and praise to the blessed Lord who saved me. [I] go to church—not because I would be damned if I didn’t! I go to church because I love Jesus—praising His name, trying to do good works, not in order to be saved. God says my good works are as filthy rags in His sight [Isaiah 64:6]; trying to do good, to magnify the wonderful name of the Savior. Obey Him in baptism [Matthew 28:19-20]; partake of the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]; loving the brethren [John 13:34], the whole life thereafter flows in one paean of praise, in one glory of worship, in gratitude to the blessed Jesus.
But in nowise by it am I trying to bribe God, or buy my way into heaven, or add to the atoning efficacy of His atoning blood; saved by Jesus and Jesus alone. And my brothers and sisters, let me tell you God’s truth. When we get to heaven, when we get to heaven, on the page here in the Revelation is written the song we are going to sing. What is that song?
Praise God I am here! All glory to the Lamb and to the works that I did?
Praise God I have been saved and I am here. All glory to the Lamb and water baptism?
Praise God I am here in heaven! All glory to the Lamb and my faithful keeping of a Sabbath day?
Here I am in heaven, saved; all glory to the Lamb and to mother church that kept me and delivered me here?
Read it. What does it say? It says:
All glory to the Lamb…
Who loved us and washed us in His blood,
And made us kings and priests unto God,
And we shall reign forever and ever!
That is the first chapter. And in the fifth chapter they sing it again:
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain
To receive riches, and power, and dominion, and glory
For He hath redeemed us out of every tribe, and family, and nation, and race under the sun;
And hath made us kings and priests unto God;
All praise! Worthy is the lamb!
That is what you are going to sing. I try to get this minister of music to sing that once in a while, and once in a while I succeed, most of the times I don’t. Why don’t you sing that “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain”? That is what we are going to sing in heaven, why don’t we learn it here? “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain,” in no syllable and in no sentence; I know what the anthem is going to be next Sunday.
That’s the gospel and that’s the Jerusalem conference [Acts 15]. No praise to us up there in heaven, all of the praise is going to be to Jesus [Revelation 5:12]. He died for me [1 Corinthians 15:3], that’s right! He poured out His blood for my sins [Revelation 1:5], that’s right! And He promised to keep me if I would trust Him, and that’s right! Man, I have been a Christian now fifty-eight years, and He has never failed me, and He won’t! That’s the message of hope and assurance and salvation. It’s Jesus!
What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
[“Nothing But the Blood”; Robert Lowry]
What must I do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!” [Acts 16:30-31]. That is the gospel. Then the rest of our lives flows in praise and love to the Blessed Redeemer, and that’s our message to you. Wooed by the Holy Spirit of God, invited by the blessed Spirit of Jesus, “Pastor, I am coming today, here I am. I am on the way. I have made this decision for Christ, and where men can see and angels can look upon it, I am publicly and unashamedly giving my whole life in faith to the Lord Jesus, coming into the fellowship of the church.”
As God would open the door and press the appeal, make that decision now and come now. I will be standing right here on this side of our communion table. In the balcony round and there’s time and to spare, come; on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, come; as God shall make the appeal, answer with your life. Do it now. Come now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The background of the conference
A. Paul and Barnabas
declare what God has done(Acts 14:27, 15:4)
B. The challenge of the
sect of the Pharisees, legalists(Acts 14:28,
1. Difficult to
say whether greater opponents as believers or unbelievers
2. Their doctrine
short and clear
has behind it centuries of sacred history(Genesis
17:9-14, Luke 1:20, 63, 2:21)
and thrust of this Judaizing sect(Galatians
lines distinctly, vigorously drawn(Acts 15:1-2,
Galatians 2:21, 3:1-3, 11, 5:1-7, Romans 2:28-29)
II. The speakers at the conference
the Pharisees with their rabbinical and Talmudic learning(Philippians 3:5-6)
a. God always has His
God sent Him, angels went with him, took Titus(Galatians
the mighty gospel(Galatians 2:16, 3:24-29)
a. When the type is fulfilled,
it is abolished
B. Peter calls the
legalism a yoke(Acts 15:10)
C. James quotes Amos –
Gentiles coming in faith(Amos 9:10-12)
1. The final
III. This is the most pertinent thing we
A. What must I do to be
Shall the cross of Christ have anything added by man?(Galatians 2:20)
song we will sing in heaven(Revelation 1:5-6,