Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Power of Salvation

Random thoughts on Acts 2:38-41, the basis for today's sermon.
Listen to the sermon here.

When the people asked, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) it was in was in response to Peter's presentation of the Gospel, which had cut them "to the heart." (Also Acts 2:37) Peter had used the Old Testament to show them that Jesus was the Messiah, and also showed them what they had done to Him. They were floored, flabbergasted, stunned, hurt by their own actions. This is what drives their question, "Brothers, what shall we do?" In other words, they had seen Jesus as they had never seen Him before, as Lord, and Messiah! They looked at Him and saw His majesty and beauty. They also saw themselves for who they really were, sinful, arrogant men in need of redemption. As Peter concludes his message, he does not offer an invitation to "accept Christ," he does not plead and beg or dangle the "heaven carrot" in front of them. These people were pierced by the Holy Spirit as a result of what they had heard, and their hearts were opened to the gospel.

One of the things I often hear with this text is the changing of the question, from "What must we do?" to "What must I do to be saved (or rescued)?" (4:05) From the original language, this question can also be interpreted, "What is the next step?" or "What shall we bear forth?" or even "What should this cause? It depends on how you interpret the question as to how you interpret the response. I take note that Peter's response does not begin with the phrase, "Here's what to do..." or "Just follow these steps..." but rather he starts right off with "Repent..." which indicates to me that perhaps rather than presenting a method of what to do, he is showing them what the appropriate response is to being "cut to the heart" by the gospel message through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we can do nothing to earn salvation, how can we do something to receive it? Does it make sense to say, "Here is a gift for you at no cost to you, but if you accept the gift, you will have to make these payments." Or to look at it another way, if we are dead in our sins and trespasses, how can we make ourselves alive? (Eph 2:1, Col 2:13) Perhaps repentance and baptism are not "God supplying a method" as much as they are the response of a  heart opened by God to begin to comprehend the truth of the gospel message. (This is called sanctification, and it is what follows our justification.)Repentance is change, and if God opens your heart to the truth of the gospel, change should be and will be the result. And baptism, or immersion into Christ, is perhaps both literal and figurative. Literal in the sense of taking the plunge under the water, as Christ Himself did, but figurative in that now our lives are immersed in Him rather than self. Isn't this true conversion? We do well to quote the verse from 1 Peter 3:21, telling us that it is not the water of baptism that saves us. But do we really understand the implications of what a "pledge of a good conscience toward God is?" The word "pledge" can also be translated as "intense craving." So it is not our baptismal act in itself that saves us, but the intense craving we have to please God through our moral behavior that does. Therefore I ask, is repentance and baptism a cause of our salvation, thereby making it something we must do in order to receive that which is free, or is it a response, satisfying our craving to show our love for God, but in no way able to repay our debt? You tell me, which is "good news?"

To whom was Peter speaking in Acts 2:38? Verse 39 tells us that this promise is for "you (the hearing audience) and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." Is this then, telling us that part of the nothing we can do is nothing? That unless the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, and our conscience is turned to God (we are "cut to the heart"), then our repentance and baptism are perhaps premature at best and not a guarantee of salvation at worst. (See Matt 7:21-23) Is not many a response to the call to "repent and be baptized" done more out of a fear of hell than a piercing of the heart toward God? This does well to fill pews and satisfy our need, but in the end may be the cruelest of all possible actions, making people feel that they are safe when they are not. Why do we skip verses such as these in our preaching? Is it because we do not like what they imply, that the nothing we do really is nothing! (See also Acts 16:14)

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