"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « The word "all" is defined by its context - always! | Main | Are We Basing Justification on Sanctification? »

    "Save Yourselves" (Acts 2:40)

    I am sorry to bother you again with another email. But, I was reading through Acts in my daily scripture readings and came across Acts 2:40 which quotes Jesus saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation (ESV)." I am not one who needs to be convinced of monergistic regeneration...I wholly submit to that scriptural understanding of conversion. However I think if any Calvinistic preacher ever used Jesus' command here they would immediately be accused of being a monergistic preacher, I guess this is my speculation. Yet, this is quoted from the mover of monergistic regeneration. Unless there is a debate on weather or not this should translated as indicative (be saved) as opposed to imperative (save yourselves)...but I am no greek scholar...So please lend me some help and answer these three questions: 1. Is this accurate to the greek text? 2. How can this be said while holding to monergistic presuppositions? 3. How might this influence our preaching today?

    Thanks for your very important question. Lets first look at this whole passage in context where Peter is preaching in Acts 2:38: Peter replied, ""Brothers, what shall we do?" 38And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." 41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls...(vs 47) And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    So if read in context we immediately understand that Peter qualifies his statement with "...everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." How many people is everyone? It is a universal positive, excluding no one in the context of the sentence. This means that all persons, without exception. who are called by God will believe and be saved. This is again confirmed by the last sentence of the chapter which states that it is the Lord who "added to their number day by day those who were being saved. "

    Many who oppose the monergistic view of regeneration seem to think that we could not possibly then teach unbelievers to repent, believe, and “save yourselves”, as mentioned above. But on the contrary we are required as believers to preach the word as is delivered in the Scriptures in its entirety. There is no contradiction here. All who believe that salvation is by grace alone must preach to the unregenerate a Gospel of repentance and faith toward Christ. But we must know that as we preach the word it is the Holy Spirit that utilizes it to quicken the elect to life, not the sinners own ability. Peter says, save yourselves, repent and believe, but he also reveals a little of what goes on on the divine side of things, that this promise is only for those God calls to Himself. Peter actually tells this to his audience. Jesus also does the same in John 6 when He says, no one can believe on Him unless God grants it. (John 6:65) and all to whom God grants the Son will believe (John 6:37).

    ... Peter says,

    “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...That word is the good news preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23,25)

    James says,

    “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth“ (James 1:18).

    Both of these passages teach that regeneration comes as the result of the Spirit's sovereign working in hearts during the hearing or reading of the word of God. But until the Spirit gives us ears to hear, the seed of the word will remain dormant. To those he ordains to eternal life (Acts 13:48) He utilizes it to summons us to a new life in the Spirit so that we are enabled to respond to the word in faith when He opens our eyes. It is an instantaneous, monergistic, divine work which accomplished entirely by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God (Rom 10:13-15; John 5:24).

    Many people who are "dead in sin" (Eph 2:5) can seek and read the Scriptures and hear it preached, and they may understand the concepts but their unregenerate nature always suppresses the truth they hear unless they receive the inward call of the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Holy Spirit they fail to see the truth, beauty and excellency in it.

    They may be seeking for something, but not the true God (Rom 1:18, Rom 3:18). In our preaching we do call unbelievers to faith and repentance. They will not respond, however, to something they cannot understand nor desire to understand (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 3:11). We always choose what we desire most (according to our nature) and without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit we would always choose to suppress the truth of God. We do have that ability to exercise personal volition but our moral compass has been smashed and so the unregenerate fail to see beauty in Christ. As a result of the fall we love darkness, hate the light and willingly suppress the truth in unrighteousness. This IS what we want prior to regeneration; it is in our nature. So God does not just look ahead to see who has faith and choose accordingly, because there is no one who fits this description. So He mercifully brings to life His own: those whom He has chosen in eternity according to His good pleasure (John 17:9, Eph 1:4,5). The reason for salvation is within God Himself and since there is no better reason possible than God's sovereign good pleasure, we should be delighted to accept this.

    Consider that the New Testament is filled with examples of imperatives. We see endless examples of Jesus and the apostles commanding us to repent and believe. But what we "ought" to do does not mean we have the moral ability, apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit. We are likewise commanded to obey the Decalogue ... and told to love God with all our hearts, minds soul and strength. Do we? Roman 3:19, 20 expressly states that the purpose of the law is not to show our ability but our inability, and we are never so close to grace as when God brings us to an end of all hope in ourselves. imperatives are NEVER given in the thought that we can do them apart from grace. That is why we can herald the gospel with boldness, that God calls each person to turn and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We hold out the promises of the gospel by recounting what Jesus has done for sinners and telling our listeners that if they believe the gospel then we can assure then based on the promises of Scripture that their sins are forgiven. But it is always the Spirit who opens our hearts to the gospel. No one ever did this on their own. A person who is unregenerate is defined by the fact that they are unspiritual, that is, not united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. They cannot or understand see spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14) because they lack the Spirit and they are by nature hostile to God. We can explain to people that they must believe the gospel. The command to do so does not carry with it any idea of ability. Rather we preach the law so that people would see their duty and that they have indeed fallen short of it.

    Consider these quotes by Luther in his Bondage of the Will:

    "...'if thou art willing' is a verb in the subjunctive mood, which asserts nothing...a conditional statement asserts nothing indicatively." "if thou art willing", "if thou hear", "if thou do" declare, not man's ability, but his duty. pg 157

    "the commandments are not given inappropriately or pointlessly; but in order that through them the proud, blind man may learn the plague of his impotence, should he try to do as he is commanded." pg. 160

    as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb [why do you] infer an indicative meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done, or can be done? pg 159

    "The passages of Scripture you cite are imperative; and they prove and establish nothing about the ability of man, but only lay down what is and what not to be done." pg 161

    "Does it follow from: 'turn ye' that therefore you can turn? Does it follow from "'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart' (Deut 6.5) that therefore you can love with all your heart? What do arguments of this kind prove, but the 'free-will' does not need the grace of God, but can do all things by its own power...But it does not follow from this that man is converted by his own power, nor do the words say so; they simply say: "if thou wilt turn, telling man what he should do. When he knows it, and sees that he cannot do it, he will ask whence he may find ability to do it..." 164

    "By the law is the knowledge of sin' [Rom 3:20], so the word of grace comes only to those who are distressed by a sense of sin and tempted to despair." pg. 168

    As to why some are touched by the law and others not, so that some receive and others scorn the offer of grace...[this is the] hidden will of God, Who, according to His own counsel, ordains such persons as He wills to receive and partake of the mercy preached and offered." pg. 169

    The "imperative or hypothetical passages, or wishes, by which is signified, not what we can do, or do do...but what we ought to do, and what is required of us, so that our impotence may be made known to us and the knowledge of sin may be given to us." 174

    Let all the 'free-will' in the world do all it can with all its strength; it will never give rise to a single instance of ability to avoid being hardened if God does not give the Spirit, or of meriting mercy if it is left to its own strength." p. 202

    I say that man, before he is renewed into the new creation of the Spirit's kingdom, does and endeavors nothing to prepare himself for that new creation and kingdom, and when he is re-created has does and endeavors nothing towards his perseverance in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone works both blessings in us, regenerating us, and preserving us when regenerate, without ourselves..." 268

    Also take a moment to consider the Scripture which says, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart form the Holy Spirit." This excludes the very possibility that the outward call of the gospel is enough to bring people to faith.

    1 Thess 1:4, 5 likewise says,: ", brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

    What does this Scripture mean? It means that we can say, "save yourselves ... repent, believe." till we are blue in the face and no one will come to faith unless the Holy Spirit germinate the seed of the gospel which was cast into his heart. Their moral inability to believe the gospel on their own does not mean that preachers should not share the command with unbelievers. On the contrary, this is precisely what the Holy Spirit uses to quicken them to life. No one will naturally receive the gospel unless God first plows up the fallow ground of our hard hearts.

    Hope this helps
    John H.

    Posted by John on August 23, 2006 03:53 PM



    Thanks for the excellent reasoning from the narrower context and the context of all of scripture. I would just add one more point from the grammar. The word in question is a passive imperative, and hence the literal translation is "be saved". This passive underscores the fact that it is not a command we are capable of performing ourselves, but an action is required to be performed upon us from an outside source. The command is given, "be saved," to which the question must then arise, "how can we be saved?", which is of course answered in the immediate context, "repent," etc. This leads directly into your basic point that, what is commanded is not necessarily possible, it is merely obligatory. And in fact this command to repent is not possible to the natural man, as the scriptures you quoted indicated.

    I just thought I would add that to the mix, since one of the questions had to do with the grammar of the underlying Greek.


    This is an excellent text to use if you run across hyper-Calvinists who deny duty faith.

    I agree with "save yourselves ... repent, believe." apart from power the Holy Spirit is effective as a tissue paper levee. The problem comes from the confusion of object and subject. Much of your analysis with an understanding of imperatives (Kanting distinction) can easily collapse the the two. Using Speech act theory, Peter makes a declaration to his listeners, and the only authority that his declaratives have is his experience with Jesus and Holy Spirit. The subject and object in his declaratives transform his being. Or said in a different way, no one can come to faith apart from God's grace and once God's grace enters the person, they are compelled to proclaim. Another powerful example in the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus encounters her and then she goes to her back to the village to proclaim her experiences. Her being transformed within her encounter Jesus. Whether all of those who heard Peter's words came to faith matters less than because Peter came to faith he had to proclaim.

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