In Acts 2:1-4 we have a record of the descent of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. From verses 5 to 13, we have the effects of this baptism of the Holy Spirit. The people, Jews from every nation under heaven, were confounded, amazed, perplexed, and marveled, saying, Are not all these that speak Galileans? What meaneth this? Peter gives an explanation, (vv. 14-21) showing that it is the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by Joel. Peter then preached to them a sermon (vv. 22-36) of which the basic principles were the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord. His conclusion was that He is both Lord and Christ, seated at the right hand of God. The people accepted these things preached by Peter as being true. They were pricked in their heart, and asked the question, “What shall we do?” Peter told them to repent and be baptized. And with many other words he testified, and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
The theory of many today is that man cannot do anything to save himself; that the sinner, being dead in sin, is “wholly passive ” in the salvation of his soul. Their idea is that the sinner, being dead, is helpless; and not being able to do anything himself toward his salvation, that if he is saved, it is wholly an act of God, a work that required almighty power, even the same power that was wrought in Christ when he was raised from the dead.
The truth is that man—a sinner—has eyes, ears, and a heart with which he can see, hear, and understand to the salvation of his soul. The Savior spoke of some people who were not converted and the reason for it was:
Their heart is waxed gross, their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted and I should heal them (Matt. 13:15).
Paul speaks of some who were alive, who had been dead in trespasses and sins. And he tells us how they were made alive. It was by grace through faith. (Eph. 2:1-9) Salvation is obtained today just like it was then: by the grace of God through man’s faith. When Jesus said that no man could come to him, except the Father draw him, he told us how the “drawing” would be done. “All shall be taught of God; and every one that hath heard, and hath learned, cometh unto me” (John 6:44-45). Man, then, can do something. He can be taught of God. He can hear the gospel; he can learn what his duty is; and he can come unto God by obeying him. The Gentiles were to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God; but, how was this to be done. Must God do it? Paul was to preach the Gospel to them, open their eyes, that “they” might turn from darkness to light. (Acts 26:18) From this we can see that “man,” a sinner, can “turn” so that he might receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith.
Seeing, now, that the sinner is not wholly passive, but that he must act, that there is something for him to do, the question is, What must he do? What is the sinner required to do to save himself? The Jailor ask Paul and Silas the question, “What must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.” And they spake the word of the Lord unto him that he might believe (Rom. 10:17). The result was that, believing, he repented, which is manifested in his washing their stripes, and was baptized immediately. (Acts 16:29-33) When the Lord appeared unto Saul, Saul said, “What shall I do, Lord?” The Lord told him to go into Damascus and there it would be told him all things which are appointed for thee to do; what he must do. Arriving in Damascus, Ananias, being sent by the Lord, told him to arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins. The people on Pentecost asked, “What shall we do?” Peter said unto them, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins.” In his effort to encourage them to do this he said, Save yourselves from this crooked generation. (Acts 2:37-41) Note what we have here. These people, as the others of the New Testament, had an idea that man must do something to be saved; and believing this they asked, What shall we do? Were they wrong in believing this? Did Peter say, “Brethren, I’m sorry but there is nothing you can do toward your salvation, seeing you are dead in your sins?” Peter, knowing they could and were to do something said, “Repent and be baptized.” And he then told them to “save themselves.” What could they do to save themselves? They asked what to do, Peter told them what to do; and they could save themselves by doing what Peter told them to do—by repenting and being baptized.
Salvation from sin requires one to turn away from his sins. That the Gentiles might receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith, they were to turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). This was what the people were to do when Paul told them that the Lord commanded all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). But before one will turn from sin, he must cease to love it. Christians must abhor that which is evil (Rom. 12:9). They cannot love the world, neither the things that are in the world; for, if they do, the love of the Father is not in them (1 John 2:15). It is because of the deceitfulness of sin that Christians must watch and exhort one another lest they be hardened and there be in them an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God. This what we believe about sin when we believe the Gospel, and believing this, will cause us to cease loving the things which are sinful. Then, when we really believe the gospel, we will cease to love sin; and when we cease to love sin, we will turn away from it.
Believing the gospel will not only cause us to cease loving sin, but it will cause us to love the Lord. When we read the four Gospel accounts and see what it is the Lord has done for us, we learn to love the Lord. We love Him because He first loved us. When we learn to love the Lord, we will obey Him. Jesus said, “if a man love me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). By keeping His word, Jesus becomes “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9).
God requires the sinner to do what he can toward his own salvation, God does for him what he cannot do for himself. The things that man cannot do are many. Man, through his wisdom, did not come to know God. But God revealed Himself unto man in His Son, and in the Gospel. Man could not make atonement for his sins. In this he was weak, without strength, but Christ died for the ungodly. That we might be free from sin, He gave himself a ransom for all. Man could not discover a pathway to heaven. It was not in man that walked to direct his steps. Man, like sheep, had gone astray. But God revealed the way unto us in the gospel.
Though there are some things man cannot do in the saving of his soul, we are to remember that there are some things which man can do. The things man cannot do, God will do for him, but the things he can do, God holds him responsible to do them. To save ourselves, we must believe on the Lord Jesus, repent of our sins, and be baptized for the remission of our sins. Then, being true, faithful, and loyal to the Lord in obeying his commands, we shall at the end receive eternal life.