Is it by our ability to keep God’s laws? Or our faith in Jesus? Or both? This was debated by the early Christians. At first, the disciples only preached their message to Jews, thinking it was for Jews only. Then something happened.
The Story of Cornelius
Cornelius was a Gentile who had high regard for the God of the Jews. He prayed to God regularly and did good things . Eventually, God told Cornelius to send for a man named Simon Peter and listen to what he said. At the same time, God was teaching Peter not to discriminate between Jews and Gentiles. So, when Peter received the summons, he went to Cornelius and shared the good news with him.
Specifically, Peter told them that all the prophets testify that anyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins. While Peter was still speaking, God gave the Holy Spirit to the people in the room.
Salvation by Works?
Cornelius was not automatically granted salvation because he was a good man who prayed. That simply enamored him to God so that God sent Peter to tell him the news that would save him. Like the Jews, Cornelius could keep the law to the best of him ability, but that would not save him.
Salvation by Faith?
Some time letter, some Jews began to argue that the gentile believers must become Jewish and keep the Law of Moses in addition to belief in Jesus. The apostles, however, pointed to the story of Cornelius.
The following points were made:
1. God has decided that all gentiles should hear the gospel and believe.
2. God showed that he accepted Cornelius by giving him the Holy Spirit even though he wasn’t Jewish.
3. God purified his heart by faith.
4. We are all saved by the grace of Jesus
After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart,showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”- Acts 15: 7 -11
Salvation by Grace through Faith
The apostles’ conclusion was that we were not saved by our ability to keep the law. We are saved by God’s grace. In his kindness, God gracefully gave his son to be the sacrifice for our sins. So, if we believe in him – i.e. accept him like Cornelius did – we have forgiveness for our sins.