Life of Peter, by N.E. Rhodes Jr. — No. 24
MAN’S RESPONSE TO THE POWER OF GOD
In Acts 3:16 Peter states briefly and pointedly the means of salvation. “His name” calls to mind all the power and glory of God. It is by the name and power of Jesus that we are saved. No man can save himself. Salvation must depend on the power of God. But we cannot ignore the next phrase in Peter’s statement. “Through faith in his name” goes on to point out that there is a part for man to play in the ultimate victory. Salvation in any sense depends upon God’s power plus the response of the individual that gives God’s power a chance to work.
Two Elements in Every Cause
There is a double cause in every worthwhile accomplishment. Education comes by the power of truth through the study of truth. Righteousness comes by the power of the commandment through obedience to the commandment. Power outside ourselves unites with a disposition within ourselves and so changes in our natures come. No progress is made by the self without an outside influence but no outside influence can change the self without a response from the self. The most dreadful disease germs cannot bring disease to a stone. There is nothing in the stone to respond. The most amazing miracle drugs cannot bring health to a corpse. There is nothing in the corpse that can respond. It is so in man’s spiritual condition. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” Temptation must find lust in us in order to take root. It is just as true that the saving grace of God must find an active and responsive faith in us in order to accomplish our salvation.
God Provides the Motivating Element in Salvation
Now this is the very heart and center of most religious controversy. How important is baptism? All important says one creed, and they call the baby saved that it sprinkles with water. Completely unessential says another creed and insists the man is saved before his faith ever acts in response to God’s command to be baptized. How important is the Lord’s supper? It is a sacrament says one creed, and they administer it to an unconscious dying man, believing thereby to bring him safely into heaven. It is nothing says another creed, and they believe that water and crackers would be just as effective if only the man’s heart is right. How important is the church? It is everything says one creed, and they believe that a man’s salvation is assured if only he has the blessing of the officials of a certain church. It is nothing says another creed for only the moral behavior of the man matters. Both creeds are wrong. These things are to the individual life what water is to a mill wheel. If the wheel be locked it is nothing. If the wheel be ready, it is everything. Baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the church are to the individual man what the wind is to a sailing boat. It is the power to go if the sail be up and ready. It is nothing if the sail is down. The west wind blows on a sailing vessel moored by a great rock. Two weeks later the boat has gone many miles by the power of that west wind. But the same wind blew on the rock and the rock went nowhere. To the rock the wind meant nothing but the lashing of an angry sea.
It may be so when two men are baptized. The grace of God shines on both. Yet years later one of the men may be a great Christian and the other may be a castaway. Is baptism effective then? Yes, it is but unsurrendered wills may rise from its waters and go forth to dirty lives. Is the Lord’s supper essential? It is. But unspiritual men may eat and drink damnation thinking they receive grace. Is the church essential? It is. But men sometimes place their hope of heaven there while their lives discredit and bring a reproach upon the church. Is the name of Jesus mighty? It is mighty indeed. But sometimes men say it and on their lips it becomes a profanity rather than a prayer.
Man Provides the Response Element
This principle is taught all over the New Testament. We see it in the parable of the soils. It is the seed’s fertility plus the soil’s richness that produces the fruit. Jesus is strong and able to save but the power of God to save awaits your “yes” or “no.” Christ stands at the door pleading but he will not force the lock. We can admit or refuse him. It is a terrible power we have here. Does it make us proud or humble? Does it not send fear to our hearts lest we should prove unfit for such responsibility? Jesus Christ can work in and through us only so far and so fast as we will let him. There is all the wonderful revelation he has for us. There is the poise and strength he wants to put into us. There is the power he wants to send through us. But he awaits our permission and response. There is a vast, deep wealth of blessing, knowledge, and character awaiting our willingness and faith.
So much besides your own fate depends upon this response you make to Jesus. Your family, your friends, your neighbors, and all those within your circle of activity will be blessed by your response to God. Their lives will be made richer and finer by the transformation that God will work in you. It remains forever true that, “No man liveth to himself and no man dieth to himself.” “There is no other name given under heaven whereby a man may be saved.” But this name is nothing to us unless we respond in faith to its power. God offers you then the terrible and glorious responsibility of throwing wide open the door to your heart and saying “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”
Once again we have digressed a little from the story of Simon Peter. But it can hardly be much of a digression to discuss at some length the heart of his message. Peter was ever the man of action. Others might be more learned or more mystical but to Peter the great thing was to act. Sometimes he acted hastily but never could he be accused of sitting idly by when something needed to be done. He well understood the need of human response to the grace of God. His response to God in Acts 3 results in his being arrested, but this did not deter him when his next opportunity came. The rest of Peter’s life will be shadowed by opposition and persecution. He might have avoided it had he been willing to hide away and give his years to meditation and quiet teaching and study. But this Peter could not do. Peter had to act. The world today still feels the blessing of the activity of this dynamic man.