In the post two previous to this one, I stated that I just didn’t see the controversy as justification by works. Let me elaborate.
I don’t see it in Stephen’s speech. Nowhere does he raise the issue of righteousness through keeping the law.The issues Stephen focused on dealt were Jewish pride of calling and privilege.
Looking ahead I don’t see works righteousness embedded in our Lord’s charge to Paul. Jesus called him to be the apostle to the nations. That suggests moving away from refusing the nations in order to include them, not anything to do with works righteousness.
I don’t see it in Jewish reaction to Paul. Looking further ahead at the speech of Paul to the mob at the Temple just after his arrest, Paul rehearsed each step of his calling and ministry. The Jews raised no objection at any place, not even his following Jesus, until Paul told how Jesus called him to go to the Gentiles. Then the furor got out of hand. But not until then.
The issue was inclusion of the nations. Refuting that was the driving force in Paul’s life of persecution. Embracing that was the central focus of his life afterwards. That was the controversy defined.
Yes, I know that the Jews needed to be reminded that obedience to the law did not justify them. Paul writes of that frequently. They were prone to slide away from grace alone from their God. But that doesn’t move works righteousness to the top issue.
When I was pastor of a congregation in Richmond, we used Evangelism Explosion. The most pointed statements of the Gospel were to expose the notion of being good enough to get to heaven.
It just seems to be the human default–thinking we are good enough to deserve God’s grace. The notion that others can be left out of the kingdom and that’s ok with God–that is a prior and far more important flaw. That demanded the full attention of Christ’s ambassador.