It’s All About God — Acts edition

September 1, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Posted in It's All About God, Theology | 1 Comment

            The reformed position on grace and election doesn’t come from Paul alone, as some might say it is a distorted understanding of Paul’s epistles; rather it comes from an understanding of the scriptures as a whole.  Luke, who actually wrote more pages of the New Testament than Paul, brings this teaching to us in many ways through the book of Acts.  Here are some examples:

            When the apostles decided to replace Judas, they prayed that God would show to them the one he had already chosen for that ministry (1:24).  Peter viewed himself and the other apostles that way also, as he said to Cornelius, “God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen – not by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (10:40-41)  That shouldn’t surprise us, because throughout these early chapters, the apostles understood, finally, that Jesus’ death was God’s plan predetermined from the beginning.  They say things like, “this man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge;” “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold though the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer;” and “they did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” (2:23; 3:18; 4:28)

            In the beginning of his famous Pentecost sermon, Peter quotes from Amos, including the words “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (2:21)  But he ends his sermon with “Repent and be baptized  .  .  .  and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  .  .  .  This promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (2:38-39)  Did you notice the surprise turn around?  The promise to call on the Lord is for all whom he will call.  It seems to be God’s initiative.  The upshot of this whole matter was “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  Again, it’s his initiative.

            When Peter spoke to the people who had witnessed the healing of the cripple in the temple, possibly just a few days later, he included these words, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing.” (3:16)  Yes, he was healed by his faith in Jesus, but that faith came through Jesus.  Even the faith to believe was a gift of God’s grace!  By the way, that is the correct grammatical understanding of Ephesians 2:8-9 – “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” – “it” in the passage refers to faith, not salvation.  We don’t generate our own faith, it comes from God.  That’s why the believers in Jerusalem heard the story of Cornelius and praised God saying, “So then God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” (11:17)  And the believers in Antioch rejoiced that God “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”  (14:27)  In each case God is the initiator.

            On Paul’s first missionary journey, Luke would say of those in Pisidian Antioch, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (13:48 – a phrase for which I can’t imagine any Arminian response)  And on the second journey, when Paul came to this hemisphere, the first western convert was Lydia, a business woman in Philippi.  Luke tells us “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (16:14)  While Paul was in Corinth, the Lord said to him, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking,  .  .  .  because I have many people in this city,” (18:10) so he stayed there a year and a half.

            Finally, who could ever say that Paul decided on his own to believe in Jesus?  He was hell-bent on destroying the followers of Jesus, yet he was God’s chosen instrument to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, even before his conversion (9:15; 22:10; 22:14; 26:16-18; see also Galatians 1:13-17).  Luke shows us, beyond any doubt, that salvation is all about God; it is his grace and his initiative that saved Paul; it is his grace and his initiative that saves us.

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  1. And I even left out this clear passage from the Jerusalem Council. I have often referred to this passage as a key to understanding Luke’s teaching about salvation by grace, but notice who initiates it all: “After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: ‘Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.'” Acts 15:7-11
    God made a choice that the Gentiles might hear and believe? That’s what the text says. James would add, “God showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.” (v14)

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