God’s Word for You
Acts 15:7-11 God alone knows the heart
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, September 10, 2020
7 And after there was a long debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel from my lips and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us.
So it began. What we read here is the beginning of the Jerusalem Council, the first great conference of the Christian church. We don’t know how long the “long debate” took, but it’s possible that it went on for more than a day. Our synod and district conventions usually last three days, and there are some questions that are discussed more or less the entire meeting, in private or in public. After everyone at the Jerusalem conference had said what they had to say, the group waited for some kind of judgment. Peter speaks first in this “closing remarks” section, which is what Luke reports; the part of the meeting that was significant and which brought a conclusion to the debate.
Peter did not presume to decide the matter. He was not the chairman of the meeting, nor was he the leader of the church by any means. He simply took his turn to add some wisdom based on the word and works of God.
The “early days” went back several years, to the time when Peter and John were sent to preach to the Samaritans (Acts 8:14), but especially what Peter was called to preach in the house of Cornelius to the Gentiles (Acts 10:28).
Peter brings out an important point: God knows the heart. In fact, God is the only one who knows the heart. This is a truth that gets brought up again and again in the Bible and yet isn’t a doctrine we necessarily emphasize in our preaching and teaching. God is the one who knows “every inclination of man’s heart” (Genesis 6:5). He is the one “who searches minds and hearts” (Psalm 7:9, 139:23) and who “examines my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2, 139:2). “The LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). He knows whether our thoughts and motives and pure (Proverbs 15:26) or futile (Psalm 94:11; 1 Corinthians 3:20). Finally, the Last Judgment will include God’s evaluation of each person’s thoughts as well as their words and actions (Revelation 2:23). No man knows any other man’s thoughts, just as no one knows God’s thoughts except God himself (1 Corinthians 2:11). But God knows us. Not even the devil knows our thoughts, since only God knows them. What you keep to yourself, the devil cannot know for certain. Only God knows, and God forgives those thoughts even without them being expressed if they are sinful. Therefore, Peter’s point is this: God truly knows what is in the heart, and God himself bore witness to the faith of the Gentiles (Acts 10:44) with an event at Caesarea that was similar to the one that took place in Jerusalem at Pentecost. There were Jewish Christians besides Peter who witnessed this and could bear witness to it: “All of the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, because they were hearing them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:45-46).
9 He made no distinction between us and them. He cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by placing a yoke on the neck of these disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
The “yoke” Peter means is of course the burden of the Law of Moses, which is impossible to keep with perfection. Yet God demands perfection; this is part of the law itself. He says, “Be holy, for I, the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And even though John says, “(God’s) commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), those laws can’t be kept perfectly by sinful man, and what we deserve for our failure is eternal punishment; death forever in hell (Romans 6:23). So we cannot be saved through our own obedience, since any trace of disobedience would wipe away all the attempted obedience because of God’s wrath over our sin. God made his law to be kept pure and complete: “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 18:5). But only one man kept the law perfectly, and so we put our trust in the one man, Jesus Christ. Through him, God’s grace and compassion have come. When we put our faith in Jesus, then “God’s grace and gift that comes by this grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflows to the many” (Romans 5:15). “So we too put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Will we put our faith in Jesus alone, who alone did everything to comply with God’s law and whose blood covers all the guilt of all our sins, or will we throw Jesus away to rely on something else, or worse, to rely on ourselves? Anything but Christ is folly. Anything but Christ means everlasting punishment. For some, the leap of Christ to cling to Christ alone is the biggest leap they can make. But if we give up on trying to figure out our own path to heaven (which is not possible) and let Jesus be our guide, our ride, our driver, our navigator, and our rescuer, we have everything we need. Trust in Jesus, completely in Jesus, and you have the complete rescue of God’s grace and salvation. Trust in Jesus, and you have everlasting life.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (John 3:36).
Pastor Timothy Smith