By Irvin Himmel
Peter’s sermon on Petecost is reported in Acts 2, Verse 40 says, “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Obviously, there is some sense in which people can save themselves. Let us reflect briefly on the question, What can one do to save himself?
1. He cannot devise a plan of his own. The Bible is very clear in stating that an individual is not at liberty to work out his own little scheme of redemption. Long before the advent of the Messiah, Jeremiah the prophet said, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
Although man is free to make his own choices, he cannot direct his course so as to save his soul without yielding to the will of God for the following reasons: (1) Man as the creature is dependent upon God the Creature is dependent upon God the Creator. (2) The sinner is powerless to atone for his own sins. (3) Without revelation from God man would never come to know God, and there are many facts about himself that man could never know. (4) Men who have followed their own wisdom invariably have plunged deeper and deeper into sin. (5) Unlike birds that travel great distances by instinct; man is not programmed by nature with intuition by which he may safely guide his soul.
2. He cannot merit salvation by good deeds. Some folks seem to have the idea that if they are morally upright God will save them by virtue of their goodness. Others seem to think that righteous acts will somehow compensate for their wrongs and God will reward them. To all such people obedience to the gospel is viewed as needless.
The New Testament says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit. 3:5). Paul reminded Timothy that God “hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, nor according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus~before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:9, 10). Salvation is God’s free gift, not something that man earns or deserves.
3. Some say he can do nothing. There are religious people who teach that there is no way whatever in which man can save himself. They want us to believe that God predestinated certain individuals to life and certain others to death, and that this choice was made arbitrarily before to the foundation of the world, therefore man is powerless to do anything in any sense to save himself. According to this theory, one must wait for a special divine call that comes through a direct operation of the Holy Spirit to know that he is one of God’s elect. If he never receives such a call, that person is doomed to eternal perdition.
The Bible affirms that there are certain things that man can do and must do to be saved. God does for man what man cannot do for himself, then God requires man to believe and obey Jesus Christ. To say that man can do absolutely nothing would make God directly reponsible for every soul that is lost!
4. To save himself one can:
(a) Apply God’s word. This is what Peter was talking about in Acts 2:40. He had just preached to his hearers about Jesus’ being both Lord and Christ. “What shall we do?” was their question now that they realized their lost condition. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Note that they were told to repent. This was something required. They were told to be baptized. This, too, was set before them as a gospel requirement. Then came the exhortation, “Save yourselves from this untoward (perverse) generation.” By repenting of their sins and being baptized for the remission of their sins they would be saved from the eternal fate that awaited the masses of perverse men and women in that generation. Verse 41 says, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized . . .” Every sinner can and must believe and apply the gospel to himself.
(b) Give attention to stedfastness. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Compare this with the statement of Phil. 1:27 in which he told them to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Paul was writing to people who had already obeyed the gospel, but their eternal security depended on their continuing to stand fast in the faith. We work out our own salvation by holding to the faith through which God preserves us (1 Pet. 1:5).
(c) Take heed. Timothy was instructed, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine: continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). The child of God must take heed to his life to be saved in heave (I Cor. 10:12; Heb.2:1; 3:12).
In summation, an individual cannot save himself in some ways of looking at it, yet in another sense he can and must save himself. God acts upon us through the gospel, and we must act in response to be saved.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 9, p. 153
March 1, 1979