This article originally appeared in the 2022 Spring Edition of “The BABQ” available for free download here.
Q If Paul was the unique apostle of Grace, why did Peter declare “But we (Israelites) believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they (Gentiles)”?
ANSWER: The setting of Peter’s statement is a counsel of the Kingdom leaders meeting with Paul regarding the issue of circumcision (Acts 15:2). Before this counsel took place a lot had occurred, including Peter witnessing the conversion of Cornelius the Gentile (Acts 10) and Paul completing his first missionary journey (Acts 14:26).
It was at this counsel at Jerusalem that Peter announced, “through the grace of God we [Israelites] shall be saved even as they [Gentiles]” (Acts 15:11). By the time he made this declaration, Peter had come to a greater understanding of God’s plan for redemption since the time he was first chosen by Jesus while he was fishing on the shore (Mt. 4:18-22).
Sometimes those of us who understand Paul’s unique ministry within the sacred Scriptures are so conditioned to notice the contrasts between Prophecy and Mystery, Law and Grace, that we overlook the similarities between the programs.
God’s grace, redemption in Christ, and God’s desire to save the world are three similarities that are shared between the dispensations, even as how God’s grace was displayed, how the redemption was applied, and how the world was reached is different between dispensations. Let’s look at how these three similarities (grace, redemption, and God’s desire) fit with Peter’s statement.
No Grace, No Salvation
First, without God’s grace, salvation would never have been possible, for no one was ever deserving of God’s eternal acceptance. While mercy is often emphasized in the Old Testament, grace has a providential presence.
Grace was there when God made animal skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Gen. 3:21) and when He promised to send One to redeem the world (Gen. 3:15).
It was present in the days of Noah, who found “grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). Moses pleaded for the grace of the Lord (Exod. 34:9). The psalmist praised the Lord who “will give grace and glory” (Psa. 84:11), and Solomon wrote, “he giveth grace unto the lowly” (Prov. 3:34).
The Lord referred to people who “found grace in the wilderness” (Jer. 31:2). In the future, the Lord promises to “pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace” (Zech. 12:10). Of John the Baptist it is said, “the grace of God was upon him” (Lk. 2:40), and of Jesus’ earthly ministry it written that the Law was given by Moses, but “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).
The Apostles after Jesus’ ascension were said to give witness to the resurrection of Christ because “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). God’s grace is not exclusive to this current Age of Grace; it is an eternal attribute of God.
While God is displaying His grace fully and unfiltered in today’s dispensation, Peter was correct in his assessment that the Kingdom believers were ultimately saved by virtue of God’s grace.
Next, salvation has always been part of God’s plan. I am going to particularly focus on the redemptive aspect of salvation since I believe that is what Peter ultimately had in mind.
It is true that Peter and the Apostles were preaching the kingdom promised and prophesied, but we must also remember that there was a big addition to the Kingdom gospel now that the redemptive work of Jesus Christ was accomplished. Now the apostles understood salvation fuller and could witness that eternal life in the kingdom came through faithfulness to Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:3; I Jn. 1:7).
As Grace believers, we are often quick to quote Acts 2:38 (“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”), but that was the necessary response to Peter’s words a few verses earlier: “God hath made that same Jesus…both Lord and Christ.” In Acts 3, the command was to repent (vs. 19) and turn to God’s Son Jesus (vs. 26).
So, yes, the Apostles were preaching the kingdom, but they were focusing on the provision of Jesus Christ and His identity as Israel’s Messiah in order to enter into that kingdom. There was more information revealed to them now that Christ had ascended than there was when they were initially called to follow Jesus (Mt. 10). Jesus Christ was their salvation; they would enter into the kingdom through Jesus Christ.
While I am no way dismissing the importance of the part of Peter’s message that offered the kingdom, we must also remember that the Apostles were preaching Jesus Christ. He is the ONLY Redeemer who has ever been and will ever be. How and when that redemption is fully applied to the Kingdom believer versus Grace believer has some differences, but it is the same Redeemer and same death, burial, and resurrection. This allowed Peter to agree on the similarities of salvation (redemption) between Paul’s ministry and his own.
The Whole World
Finally, God has always desired to reach the world. When Christ died on the cross it was FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD, not just people of a certain nation (Jn. 3:16; II Cor. 5:15; Heb. 2:9; I Jn. 2:2).
I am emphasizing this because when Peter made that statement in Acts 15:11 he had already personally witnessed this was true with Cornelius. Then, after hearing his account, “they that were of the circumcision” (Acts 11:2) had acknowledged this in Jerusalem saying, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18).
The heart of what Paul was bringing in regards to the Mystery revealed to him correlated with what Peter and the Apostles had already witnessed: that Christ is the Redeemer of everyone and God offers eternal life to Jew and Gentile.
Even though the how’s, when’s, and why’s are different under the Kingdom program (“salvation is of the Jew” Jn. 4:22) and the Grace program (“for there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek…whosoever shall call…” Rom. 10:12-13), both are based on the redemption that is found only in Jesus Christ.
This enabled Peter, who ministered under a different program than Paul, to at least agree that God so loved the world (Jn. 3:16), even while the offer was focused on different audiences.
Same God, Same Christ, Same Redemption
Peter’s statement in no way does away with the fact that he was given the Gospel of the Circumcision while Paul was given the Gospel of the Uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7). It does show that Peter recognized that he and Paul were serving the same God, the same Christ, and the same redemption.
The Twelve Apostles preached Jesus Christ according to the prophesied kingdom both before and after they met with Paul and heard about his “new faith.” The Kingdom apostles did not switch messages to line up with Paul’s new revelation; they recognized that God had chosen Paul to fulfill a ministry that was hard to understand and was previously unknown.
They extended to him the right hand of fellowship, recognizing it was of God that Paul was preaching Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the Mystery. They allowed Paul to take the gospel of Grace to the Gentiles, while the Twelve continued to minister the Kingdom to the circumcision.
Take me to Question Two of this BABQ edition: Was the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar a believer? If so, does this mean he will be in the kingdom promised to Israel?