What does Acts 15:9 mean?Despite Jesus' frustrating encounters with the Pharisees during His ministry, they held many accurate beliefs and practices. The following are points on which other sects, such as the Sadducees, were in error. Pharisees emphasized holiness and righteousness (Matthew 5:20). They interacted with the public on an individual basis. They believed in the resurrection of the dead. And they taught the importance of right living before God.
The great divide between Pharisees and truth was loyalty to the oral, uninspired law, and an attempt to earn God's blessing through legalism and good behavior. The oral law added restrictions—a legalistic hedge—around the written Mosaic law (Mark 7:5–8). Jesus insisted that doing more than what God had commanded was too great a burden to carry. Not only were Pharisaic laws impossible to follow, neither did they bring the follower any closer to God (Matthew 23:1–4).
Despite some antagonistic encounters (Mark 2:15—3:6), not every Pharisee or religious leader was entirely opposed to Jesus' teaching (John 3:1; 7:50–52; 19:38). In fact, many Pharisees and traditional priests come to a saving relationship with Jesus after the ascension (Acts 1:6–11; 6:7). Unfortunately, they bring along their legalism. This leads them to insist Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law before they can be Christ-followers. Paul knows their motivation has nothing to do with salvation. God saves by grace through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8–9). The Pharisees are more concerned about losing their favored place among the non-Christian Jews, especially their fellow Pharisees (Matthew 23:5–7; Galatians 6:12–13). To save the Gentile believers from legalistic nonsense, Paul and Barnabas have brought the issue before the church leadership in Jerusalem for a formal ruling (Acts 15:1–8).
Peter agrees with Paul and Barnabas and gives testimony that affirms their view. Years before, he had enjoyed the honor of watching the Holy Spirit fall on a group of Gentiles. Those people had known of the Jewish God but had not followed the Mosaic law, nor been circumcised. There was no distinction—they had the same experience as Peter and the original Jesus-followers on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4; 10:44–46). Jesus cleansed their hearts, forgiving their sins (Acts 10:43). Everyone who is saved—Jew or Gentile—is saved through grace (Acts 15:11).