Purity and Freedom

by | Aug 20, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor David Ball

Scripture: Acts 21:17-26

As Paul entered Jerusalem he found a growing church of Jewish believers. He also found a community that was passionate about Jewish customs and purity. Paul used the freedom he had in Christ to submit himself to the Elders of the Jerusalem Church and their conscience concerning purification. When we find freedom in the purifying blood of Christ through faith in His finished work for us, we are free to use our freedom to love and serve one another on issues that are really non-essential to the Gospel of Grace.


Well today we continue in our in our Series in the book of Acts as Paul has uh no longer just making his way to Jerusalem he’s landed in Jerusalem uh and is faced with a bit of a quandary uh a bit of an issue he faces as he arises that he’s gonna have to deal with but it’s one that I think uh teach us a lot about two things it teaches us about purity and it teaches us about freedom and what we’re supposed to do with both how we’re supposed to to deal with the with these issues uh and so if you’ll remember Paul has uh been was given prophetic warnings about coming to Jerusalem in the first place uh he was warned about coming that when he got there that uh that he would uh face suffering I meant suffering when he got there uh and in fact he was his disciples that were with them and the folks that he would encounter followers of Christ would hear those prophetic words and would try to urge him not to go but Paul knew that suffering for the gospel of grace was what Christ had called him to and so on we go uh into into Jerusalem and how exactly is Paul going to be received at least initially when he gets there well in verse 17 if you want to follow along in your in your bulletins or if you have your Bibles with you you can turn to acts 21 verse 17. this is what we’re told when we had come to Jerusalem again remember Luke is still with Paul at this time and so this is all firsthand account of what Paul witnessed as he was with the group that was traveling with Paul into Jerusalem when we had come to Jerusalem the brothers received us gladly on the following day Paul went in with us to James and all the elders were present and so it’s important to note here right is he enters in and meets with the brothers he’s received warmly it’s a wonderful wonderful Gathering they were welcomed they were accepted this wasn’t something that they received and that they were that they were pushing him off uh they were joyful about it they were filled with delight it brought Joy to the brothers in Jerusalem to be to see Paul once again and then the next day Paul we’re told went with us to see James now for those who’ve been in the series and been with us all throughout you know that this is the fourth time that that Paul and James have interacted with one another and seen each other um and this is uh this is an extremely important moment because what we have here are two versions of the Christian church you’ve got James who’s the leader of the the Jewish Believers in Jerusalem and in Israel and you’ve got Paul who’s the leader of the Gentile Believers uh in the rest of the world and so really you’ve got two of the heads of these major and both are having successes we’ll see in just a moment and so we’re going to see that these two forces coming together is a bit tricky because they have some differing opinions about what it means to be uh to be a follower of Christ and of God’s chosen people and so this is going to have to be dealt with and so we move on in diverse night in our in diverse 19 after greeting them Paul related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry so he was telling them all that God had done notice it’s not what Paul has done and that God just helped him uh Paul is very clear to say this is what God has done among the Gentiles the way that folks are coming and they’re hearing the gospel of grace they’re receiving Christ and all these places that I’ve that I’ve journeyed the church is growing and it’s a beautiful thing and then in verse 20 when they heard it meaning meaning James and all the elders who were gathered there heard what God was doing among the Gentiles they glorified God this was of great joy this was wonderful to them they weren’t jealous they weren’t upset about this or brought up any issue that might have uh that they felt like Paul may have done wrong or fallen short in their eyes of what he was teaching and what he was proclaiming uh they all glorified God that the church was growing that Christ was being proclaimed lives were being saved they all recognized it and they glorified God for it it’s a beautiful beautiful moment but then we’re told that something else is going on here as well in verse 21. not only uh did he tell them that uh uh or at the end of verse the second half of verse 20. not only were they glad and glorified God they said to Paul you see Brothers how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed and they are all zealous for the law so not only is God prospering the ministry to the Gentiles meaning just the non-jews they’re they’re hearing the gospel and they’re coming to Christ but not only as have we seen incredible growth in the church there what what uh what James is relating to Paul here is that we’ve been seeing the same thing here among the Jews thousands are coming to know Jesus as their lord and savior but there’s one little caveat to that in there and what James tells them and they are zealous they’re zealous for the law of God

now that’s not a bad thing necessarily what that means is they’re passionate they’re passionate for doing the right thing to living by God’s law and what God has declared that they’ve been stirred to that and they’re passionate about it it’s important to them but then we’re told this and they this group of Jews who have come to Christ but are zealous for the law they’ve heard rumors the word has gotten back to them and the word that those rumors that they have been told about Paul is that he teaches all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according

and not to not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs so this rumor has gotten back now this is not new we haven’t really heard about it as much in Acts but if you read Paul’s letters about where he was you hear the stories about a group of what we call judaizers those Jewish Believers in Christ who still felt like to be truly saved you had to do the law they would come behind Paul everywhere he went and they would go to the community and say hey Paul was only giving you a half truth you know you you’re not really just saved by grace uh through faith in Christ alone you’ve got to also now do the law you gotta you gotta submit yourself to all the Customs all the customs of our people in order to really be accepted by God that was what was happening and these same people are stirring up these same Rumors in Jerusalem and so Paul’s walking into this he’s walking into this this issue that’s going on here

so the the charge against Paul exactly from these judaizers is to uh that he was teaching that they not circumcised their children the Jewish Believers there and to not walk according to the Jewish customs what we have going on here is a culture War within the church we don’t ever experience that right there’s a culture War that’s happening within the church the gospels coming into to start conflict with traditions and with customs but notice that the issue isn’t with the Gentiles that’s not what what’s an issue here what’s an issue here was that with the Jews who are living among the Gentiles that Paul has been ministering to that that they seem to be willing to concede on the Gentile issue and what’s required of them but for them if they were born Jewish and they’re Jewish then they got to do more they got to do it so what’s going to happen well in verse 22 what then is to be done what then is to be done

they will certainly hear that you’ve come the change James is saying they’ll hear about it they know that you’re going to be here what are we going to do because they’re they don’t like you here you got a bad rep here like what are we gonna do about this and so James then says therefore do what we tell you we have four men who are under a vow and so this vow that they’re under is uh remember Paul took the same vow or a similar vow back in Acts 18 himself uh this Nazarite Nazarene vow that was part of the Mosaic law we’ll talk about that a bit more in a moment but here’s what uh here’s what there to do he wants them to take these men purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads thus all will know that there is nothing and what they have been told about you but the Jew yourself also live in observance to the law so this is all about just proving to these uh Jewish Believers that that Paul’s still one of them uh and that there’s no issues here Paul’s still a good Jew um and that he himself still is an observance of all the customs and so they can kind of quell the uh the issues that might be here but what’s really at issue what’s an issue is the idea of purification and what it is that makes a person pure before God and we’re going to come back to that question uh in just a few minutes so what does Paul do when he when he’s given this uh this instruction from the elders and from James himself about what uh they want him to do while he’s there uh and uh in in Jerusalem well we’ll get there in just a second but you know again back to the Gentiles in verse 25 he says but as for the Gentiles who have believed we have sent a letter with our judgment remember going way back to the Jerusalem Council they’ve already decided on this they’ve already decided that the salvation comes by by grace through faith in Christ alone that there’s no other requirement for salvation that’s it nothing else is required of them and so but then they did ask them in that letter they sent that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to Idols from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality remember this wasn’t an obligation uh this was something they were asking them to concede to in order not to offend their Jewish brothers and sisters of Christ this was this was about getting along in unity together for the gospel so then Paul took the men and the next day he purified himself along with them and went into the temple giving notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for each of them so Paul did he did what the council instructed him to do he purified himself he prayed for the men that were taking them into the vow he paid for them right he paid for them so they could do this Val well why would Paul have subjected himself to a law that he knew he no longer uh that he had been freed from that he was no longer obligated to was he being a huge hypocrite here after all he’s been saying before and proclaiming this gospel of grace to all the Gentiles and the way he’s been living and now he’s subjecting himself is he a hypocrite is this a a political just a political move right people do things politically they don’t believe right politicians do it all the time right you know if it’s going to gain them favor

did he actually believe that that doing the law and doing this in this way was going to actually make him pure before God

that would seem to be way inconsistent with the message he proclaims both in Acts and then all throughout the the letters that he’s written and we’re going to get into some of those in just a moment did he do it to win favor yes he absolutely did it to to win favor because he did it because of the gospel of grace that he had come to know in Jesus Christ and that was all that mattered to him it was all that mattered to him you acts 15 you remember that Jerusalem Council as I said just a moment ago had already ruled and decided that salvation was by grace through faith and therefore no one that they did not need to especially the Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised in order to be saved they didn’t have to subject themselves to the customs of the law that they were living under the New Covenant of Christ freedom

so the question at hand should the should Jewish Christians continue to observe the Jewish cultural customs of their Heritage that’s what we’re struggling with here trying to to figure out for them now that Nazarite vow that they were taking was a a person would refrain from drinking wine or cutting their hair for a period of time and the hair was was cut at the beginning of the vow it was taken to the temple and it was burned there is a sacrifice and it’s you know it may seem a little bit crazy or out there to us but it’s not really all that different than than what we would consider in uh doing a fast right we do a fast in a way that of offering our heart and our Wills to God and a particular strong way right we do that today there was something similar to that to that and it was part of the Mosaic law and James plan was number one that Paul would accompany them purify himself pay for the temple fees and show that he’s still Paul a practicing Jew but then the second part of of James’s plan on how they can possibly uh handle this situation is that the Gentiles with Paul uh be careful to stick to the plan of the Jerusalem Council and those four practices that were asked not to do not out of uh obligation that they had to but out of Brotherly Love for uh their Jewish brothers and sisters

now in First Corinthians 9 20. or really verses 19 through 23 Paul gives us really a good picture into why would he have done this why would he have subjected himself to this purification right onto this vow and placated to uh this notion that this was still these Customs were still necessary uh in order to uh to be a true follower of Christ this is what Paul wrote in Corinthians First Corinthians 9 beginning in the 19th verse for though I am free from all I have made myself a servant to all that I might win more of them to the Jews I became as a Jew in order to win the Jews to those under the law I became as one under the law though not being myself under the law that I might win those under the law

so he’s saying here why did I do it I acted as one under the law to win those who are still under the law and then on the other side to his Gentile brothers and sisters to those outside the law I became as one outside the law not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ that I might win those outside the law to the weak I became weak that I might win the week I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some I do it all for the sake of the Gospel that I may share with them in its blessings so why did Paul do it he did it for the sake of the gospel because what’s more important to Paul that any of these customs and any of this other cultural stuff is the proclamation of Jesus Christ that were saved by grace through faith in him alone and all the other stuff will work itself out Paul realizes he just wants to proclaim the gospel that’s what he’s about

and so here Paul accepts the Jewish custom he accepts it as a way to keep peace especially between the Jews and the Gentiles he continues that so the gospel can continue uh to be proclaimed remember he did this before he did this way back with Timothy remember Timothy was a was a half Jew but he knew he was going to be going into the synagogue and Timothy was with him in order not to offend them he had Timothy circumcised

so that there’d be no impediment to others hearing the good news and the freedom that we have in Christ that’s what matters the most that’s what’s of the utmost Paul was so secure in Christ and his savior

he was liberated from cultural practices he was free in Christ so liberated that he was not offended by them or disdainful of them he didn’t feel like he needed to argue about it or make a point or take a stand it didn’t matter Christ was all that mattered to him crucified it’s all that mattered that’s what being secure in Christ looks like Liberation means being able to participate for the greater good for the relationships that are at hand that others might come and hear the gospel of grace now FF Bruce who’s that was a great commentary on the especially on the works of Paul he said this a truly emanciated Spirit such as Paul’s is not in bondage to its own emancipation

of that he he was so free that he’s not bound by his freedom meaning he doesn’t have to prove it to anyone he doesn’t have to sit there and argue with everyone not over this there’s things worth arguing about but not not here

you know you’ve heard I think the probably the the saying um and it’s uh I don’t remember the Latin phrase for it but uh but it really dates back to the you know early 17th century you know in the essentials Unity in the non-essentials liberty or freedom and in all things charity meaning in all things love it really encapsulates what Paul was all about here for the sake uh of of the gospel for Paul it was all about Mission everywhere he went that’s all he cared about others coming to know Jesus Christ is their lord and savior that they become saved by grace through faith but there’s really two major issues I think here for us to to work through this morning and the first one is this idea of purity this idea of Purity because Purity is important Purity is incredibly important you know I remember um there was a book written by Elizabeth Elliot if you remember the the wife of Jim Elliott who was a a missionary for Christ who was killed and Elizabeth Elliott wrote lots of books and one of the books that Elizabeth Elliott wrote was passion and Purity anybody here read passion impurity good you’re you’re free but anyway uh passion and Purity you know it wasn’t anything bad but uh but it was talking about you know the importance of remain keeping ourselves pure for the Lord so that our passion Wouldn’t Die that’s a way over simplification of it um what kind of came out of that was another and it mainly was targeted I think at young people and uh mainly at young women especially of sexual Purity uh and maintaining that and how important that was to to maintain their passion for Christ Alone it would kind of it all revolved around their ability to keep themselves focused on Purity uh well what kind of emerged from that kind of that became a major a major part of like the Christian the Christian culture at that time and then when I was in college I remember a book came out uh many of you may have heard of this by uh Joshua Harris I kiss Dating Goodbye uh anybody read that okay we got one all right good good for you uh [Laughter] but the this idea it it was an incredibly popular book and it was this idea that you know in the Christian culture that we needed to stop dating because it just uh would would give us uh it was you know it was temptation to be impure uh and that we shouldn’t date uh one-on-one anyway I think it it Joshua Harris Moore like you know took on like a system of you know go in groups together and but when no one I think I don’t remember knowing this at the time um but Joshua Harris was 18 years old he was uh he was an 18 year old student still uh his parents were preaching this passion and Purity to him and it really took hold of them and so he was coming up with a system I wish to keep people pure right keep keep them pure that they behave right and therefore honor the Lord and make God happy and I’ll be honest with you in college there were so many in the Christian Community there who abided by both of these and you know what the result was one people just went ahead and did it Anyway by the way but it was this fear it was fear that was that was that was rooting it in the hearts of those who were trying to live by this a fear of messing up a fear of of not being pure and disappointing God uh there it was it was just totally fear-based and people still failed and then it became this out of that fear a whole system in the Christian Community at least where I was I think it was similar in other places of judgment now like it became a judgment of those who were pure and those who aren’t pure right like I’m I’m living by Elizabeth Elliot and Joshua Harris’s book you know are you did you fail to be pure and then it became a judgment of who has and who has it and who are the outcasts and who are the truly honored ones it was absolutely toxic

so we need to understand this right because Purity does matter Purity is important it matters to God you know the righteous requirement of the law of God is that we be holy as God is Holy and part of being holy is purity

the pure is God is pure that’s the righteous requirement of the law you know if you read it throughout scripture how much in the Old Testament how much Purity is important and is the is the Tabernacle in Exodus is being built and you know you probably skip it over because it’s just like one building material after another and another and another uh but notice the description of it they all have to be pure without blemish of any kind the sacrifices that are made have to be pure because God is pure we can’t offer him something less Purity matters in Psalm 24 verse 3 to 4.

we’re told this about about purity the psalmist writes who shall Ascend to the hill of the Lord meaning who’s worthy of it who has a right to come to God and who shall stand in his holy place who can come before a holy and righteous God and then it proclaims this he who has Clean Hands and a pure heart that’s the righteous requirement of the law to be pure to be holy and righteous or else we have no right to come before God

that’s why the Jewish people had all these Customs built on top of all the Mosaic law of how to stay pure how to maintain it what you need to do the rituals you need to do to worry about it to try to be to to save yourself from uncleanness but then we get to Psalm 51. and what David proclaims by the way in the aftermath of himself failing to be pure and the aftermath of his own moral failure his sexual impurity his murderous desire which he accomplished

this is what David came remember he he’s the one after the God’s Own Heart he’s the he’s God’s anointed here but this is what he came to understand about purity in Psalm 51 verse 7 through 12 Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean wash me and I shall be whiter than snow let me hear joy and gladness let the bones that you have broken Rejoice hide your face for my sins and blot out my iniquities create in me a clean heart oh God and renew a right Spirit Within Me cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit for from me restore me to the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing Spirit but did you hear what’s changed here about the understanding of of what it means and how we can be pure it’s not through right behavior and doing all the right things

it’s through God and His grace alone create in me a clean heart oh God I need you to do it because I can’t because I’m unclean I’m a man of unrighteousness they even recognized that he couldn’t achieve it he couldn’t live up to the righteous requirement of the Lord and he had no choice from there but to cry out to God Almighty to save him and to do what he could not do himself

and that same sentiment comes out again and Micah or in the in Malachi as we’re moving our way closer to this uh to this Advent of Christ God’s anointed savior coming into the world uh Malachi declares this in Malachi 3 verse one for one through four behold I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple and the messenger of the Covenant and whom you Delight behold he is coming says the Lord of hosts but who can endure the day of his coming again because he’s pure and righteous and holy and we are not who can endure the day of his coming and who can stand when he appears for he is like a Refiner’s Fire and like a fuller soap he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver and they will bring offerings and righteousness to the Lord he’s going to purify his people through his anointed one through the Messiah the savior of the world finally Paul through in his uh in his writing to Titus Chapter 2. verses 14 or verses 11 to 14. this is what Paul writes about purity but the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in the present age waiting for our blessed hope the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself to us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works

grace of God is what trains the human heart to renounce all ungodliness the grace of God yet We Don’t Preach here how to be pure how to be righteous what’s the list of things you can do this week to be a better person and to make God happy we preach Christ and him crucified alone because he’s our only hope

that he might make us pure my faith in his sacrifice once and for all for us the only thing that purifies our hearts and faith and the grace of God through the finished work of his son Jesus Christ see doing the right things will never make you pure it will never make you pure Hearts though lead us to doing the right things

and pure hearts come by the grace of God as we are given to your hearts through the blood of Christ that was shed for us which means that we’re free in Christ we’re free as Sons and Daughters of God but the question is that comes up then is how do we use that freedom Paul was free to do the Customs or to not do the Customs it made no difference to him he knew that he was pure by the blood of Christ alone but he did not Lord it over them he didn’t make it a point of contention he used his freedom to love his brothers and sisters and to maintain Unity for the sake of the gospel of grace it’s important that’s a hard lesson for us to learn you know we’re much better at division we’re much better at making an issue about everything

but to make the priority number one the gospel of grace and the proclamation of Jesus Christ it puts everything else in second place and into perspective all that mattered was the Proclamation of that gospel so how where did this lead Jesus I think you’d agree Jesus was free right

not Freer than than we know yet us personally how did he use his freedom Jesus used his freedom to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for us to make us pure and holy and righteous before God and he did it because he loves us may we find our Purity in him alone and know the freedom to love others for the sake of the Gospel oh man

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