Author: Ron Graham
Brethren, What Shall We Do?
—The crowd’s question to Peter
After Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, the crowd asked the apostles, 'Brethren, What shall we do?' We compare the account in Acts 2:37-40 with a statement attributed to Max Lucado, 'My only contribution to my salvation is my own sin'.
We may understand the question this way: Was God’s sovereign will the only will involved in the people’s salvation? Or were they exercising their own will and choice, and intentionally co-operating with God? If the latter, then they contributed this decision to their salvation didn't they?
¶“37Now when they heard Peter’s words, they were cut to the heart. They asked Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' ” (Acts 2:37).
¶“38Peter answered them, 'Repent and be immersed every one of you. [Do this] in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39This promise is made to you, to your children, and to all who are far away; yes, as many as the Lord our God will call'” (Acts 2:38-39).
¶“40With many other words he testified, and exhorted them, to tell them, 'Save yourselves from this twisted generation! 41Then those who were pleased to welcome Peter’s message were immersed. There were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:40-41).
I'd like you to compare this scripture with a statement by Max Lucado: “My only contribution to my salvation is my own sin” (Max Lucado in the Christian Chronicle June 2002).
1 “Cut to the Heart”
"Now when they heard Peter’s words, they were cut to the heart. They asked Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37).
Those listening to Peter’s message were "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). Did they listen to the message, think about it, realise its truth, and wish to act upon it? If so, they contributed to their salvation.
What if they hadn't asked the question? What if they hadn't cared? What if they'd all mocked and said, "These men are drunk?" (Acts 2:13). But they did enquire; they did care; they didn't mock; they believed. Didn't that contribute to their salvation?
We have no doubt that it was the word of the Holy Spirit that convicted them. But did the message cut them to the heart because they examined the truth and desired to be saved and didn't mock?
Was this a case of “seek and you shall find” or was it a case of “you will be saved only if the Spirit chooses of his own accord to convict you, not by any quality in you.”
2 “Repent and be Baptized”
"Peter answered them, 'Repent and be immersed every one of you. Do this in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...'" (Acts 2:38).
Peter answered the listeners’ question by telling them what to do. He also told them what the result would be: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Did Peter tell them that they could contribute nothing to their salvation? No, he said that they should repent and be baptized toward their forgiveness. When they did that, they contributed to their salvation, didn't they? If they had refused,they wouldn't have been saved, would they?
This doesn't mean that they earned their salvation. A person ought to repent of sin. They owed it to God, and God owed nothing to them. As for baptism, it was not payment for the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s death was the entire payment, we all know that.
When Jeremiah was stuck in the mud down at the bottom of that cistern (Jeremiah 38:10-13) his rescuers lowered ropes and rags, and told him, "Put these rags under your armpits to protect you from the ropes." So Jeremiah did what they said and they pulled him out.
Jeremiah never could have got out of there by himself, yet he had to co-operate and contribute some action himself, in order to be rescued. Yet nothing he did was a payment for his rescue. That was free.
So is what happened on the day of Pentecost reflected in the statement, “My only contribution to my salvation is my own sin” No, in fact it is contradicted.
Three thousand people listened to the word, believed it was true, asked what to do, and did what they were told. Without that, they would not have been saved. So they contributed to their salvation. They took part in it.
3 “About Three Thousand Souls”
"Then those who were pleased to welcome Peter’s message were immersed. There were added that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41)
Why were there only 3000 souls saved that day? Many were not saved, and remained part of "this twisted generation" (Acts 2:40). How do we explain that only a portion of the populace received forgiveness?
You might correctly say, “The 3000 were saved because they listened, believed, welcomed the gospel and obeyed it; the rest remained lost because they wouldn't and didn't.” That is virtually saying that people contributed to their salvation.
Remember Max Lucado would say, “Their only contribution to their salvation was their own sin”. So we ask, “Why were they saved while others were not?” Why did some miss out?
If everybody had an opportunity to be saved, but only 3000 took that opportunity, then God was fair and just to save only the 3000. But if nobody contributed anything except their sin, and it was all up to God, why didn't he grant forgiveness to everyone?
Why were some not saved?
It sounds all very well for Max Lucado to say, “My only contribution to my salvation is my own sin”. But he thereby creates a problem. All are equal, having contributed nothing but their sin. Yet God has not saved all. He has saved some and not others!
Why not? Didn't God want the blood of his Son to save everybody? Did he limit the atonement to some sinners including Max Lucado, and make atonement unavailable to all the rest?.
Peter said, "The promise is made to you, to your children, and to all who are far away; yes, as many as the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39).
Did some sinners on the Day of Pentecost have the gospel preached to them yet were not called and not able to obtain grace? Were they excluded from the promise? Did God withold grace from them? Were they left helpless? Or were they unsaved because they refused to trust and obey?
Peter spoke to the people "of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem" (Acts 2:14). He never hinted that some of them had no access to forgiveness or joy in the gospel. So I ask again, why did only 3000 receive grace?
A Call to All
The truth is that God’s grace is conditional. If anyone will believe and do what God says, then forgiveness and everlasting life will be given —undeserved, and unearned. The promise is “a call to all”. Whosoever will may come.
That's true whoever you are. If you will co-operate with God, believe his promise, obey his commands, you will be saved by grace. It is by grace that you and all the world has this promise and opportunity to contribute to your salvation.
By Grace We Contribute to Salvation
It should be clearly understood that what we contribute to our salvation is of the same order as salvation itself —it is not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.
We don't decide the conditions for salvation. God tells us what we should do, and God grants us the opportunity to do it. So when we act in synergy with God, when we contribute our faith and obedience to our salvation, we do so by the grace of God.
From that perspective, we could say that salvation is received entirely by God’s grace. Max Lucado, however, is saying quite the opposite. He is saying that God gives us no opportunity to contribute anything positive, and we contribute nothing but sin.
That is wrong. God’s grace permits us to make a positive contribution of faith, repentance, loving obedience. We are saved by grace if we do.