There is no greater subject for man to consider than that of his salvation. Yet, there is no subject concerning which there is more confusion and conflicting ideas. The primary reason for all this confusion is that many do not really study the teaching of the scriptures, but, rather, go by tradition, creed, and/or feelings. The essential difference involves how one views God and manís role in the matter of salvation. The religious world is primarily observed in two irreconcilable camps, salvation is wholly of God or grace and man saves himself by his own meritorious works. Indeed, these theologies are totally incompatible. Paul emphatically wrote regarding such matters:
"6: And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Rom. 11).
Man errs in that he often does not understand the operative nature of Godís grace. Godís grace, moreover, provides and precipitates belief; grace reigns in the environment of righteousness, and one can remove oneself from this setting; one can also "fall from grace" (Acts 18: 27, Rom. 5: 21; Gal. 1: 6, Gal. 5: 4). Godís grace, while powerful and totally capable of accomplishing what it is designed to do, works in concert with the will of man. For instance, grace is operative in that it "teaches man" (Tit. 2: 11). However, man must be subject to the teaching of grace in order for grace to advantageously affect him (Tit. 2: 11-14). Man must also receive Godís grace, but grace can be received in vain (cp. 2 Cor. 6: 1). The advocates of salvation "wholly of grace" do not understand and apply these relevant scriptures. May I suggest that any doctrine that excludes man in the matter of his salvation is fallacious and any theology that eliminates God and has man earning his own salvation is spurious to the utmost! Moreover, the truth lies between these manifest extremes.
In order to achieve any appreciable degree of thoroughness regarding the concept of "Save yourselves," it is needful that I inject and briefly examine the idea of monergism (Greek, idea of one and only one) and synergism (Greek, meaning joint or combined). In the full, yet, practical sense, monergists are considered as believing that "salvation" is altogether of God, man having no part at all to play, not even the providing of an agreeable will that is the result of their own submission to God and His teaching. Synergists believe man in some manner, at least, and in some way or ways, contributes in his salvation by providing an agreeable will, at a minimum. The wording and teaching of especially monergists tend to be ambiguous (many synergists also are characterized by conflicting language, rationale, and explanation). For instance, some popular monergists even say that they believe man must possess an agreeable will; thus, not sounding so exclusive of manís role. What some do not know is that most of these monergists go even deeper in their "Salvation by God alone" theology by asserting that the sinner who brings an accepting will only does so because God thus placed in him this will anterior to the original creation of the world. Of course, this same God, according to these monergists, withheld the placement of such a will in others. In both instances, this placement or lack thereof was totally independent and arbitrary of man. Hence, the human doctrine of fatalistic predestination (see addendum 1). These, including a large percentage of religious teachers today, have no real concept of Peterís language, "Save yourselves." Consider the following quotation, which is indicative of the basic thinking of true monergists:
"ÖEach of God's creatures which includes humans, have a nature. According to scripture, and monergists and synergists read the same scripture, mankind is sinful and does not seek after God. I do not believe this is in dispute. What is in dispute is that God offers the same grace, calls all men unto Him but man has chosen to reject salvation. In order to reject salvation, one must understand what they are rejecting. To reject salvation, one must know that the alternative is eternal separation from God. People that say no to the Good News simply don't believe it's really true. They are not saying ĎI realize that once I die, I am going to hell because I exercised my free-will and made an informed decision to reject the only means in which I could be saved from eternal damnation. I choose eternal damnation over eternal life in the presence of God.í That's just not what is taking place. These are folks that have no idea what they are doing because, according to scripture, they are unable to understand. They are doing what is natural to them according to their nature.
The foregoing quoted monergist confuses the matter when he inserts and plays on, "rejects." The full possible scenario of man and his failure to accept the gospel can involve outright rejection (cp. Acts 7: 51-60). However, it also involves the possibility of indifference and a failure to want to know Godís will (cp. Acts 17: 32-34). All of these conditions result in one being lost and such a lost state is oneís fault, not the fault of God who would have all men to repent and be saved (2 Pet. 3: 9, consistent monergists would counter by saying that God must independently of man even supply repentance).
Having provided the immediately above for foundation material, let us now return to our precise topic of "save yourselves." Consider Peterís statement in his first recorded sermon, the first sermon of the age of the gospel:
"40: And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2).
The scriptures, you will recall, constitute "the word of his grace," Acts 20: 32, teach us that we are responsible for doing certain things, things that are requisite to our salvation. Jesus said to, "Ölay up for yourselves treasures in heaven," "Öjudge ye yourselves what is right," and, "Ötake heed to yourselves" (Matt. 6: 20; Luke 12: 57, Luke 21: 24). While man does not and cannot merit salvation, any teaching that man is totally passive and inactive is patently false (see addendum 2).
Some have objected to "save yourselves" in Acts 2: 40 (King James) based on comments by the Greek grammarian Robertson:
"Save yourselves (swqhte). First aorist passive of swzw. Literally, Be ye saved. Crooked (skolia). Old word, opposite of orqo, straight. Pravus the opposite of rectus, a perversity for turning off from the truth. Cf. Luke 9:41 ; Philippians 2:15" (Robertson's Word Pictures, Vol. 3, pg. 37).
In the strict grammatical sense, "save yourselves" is in the passive voice, but does such mean, as some contend, that Acts 2: 40 means that man is passive and God alone works? Some translations convey the passive voice by rendering the original, "Be saved" (see the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament). If I were translating the verse and desired to emphasize the passive voice feature of the Greek aothete, I would render it, "Allow yourselves to be savedÖ." The real question now becomes how does one "allow oneself" to be saved?
The context of Acts 2: 40 provides the answer as to how one allows oneself to be saved (Peterís sermon is found in Acts 2: 14-40). When these people learned from Peterís relevant sermon that they were lost, they cried out, "Ömen and brethren, what shall we do?" (Vs. 37). Peter told them:
"38: 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."
We are told in our study verse, "Öwith many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation." The historian then states:
"41: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42: And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2).
They, thus, allowed themselves to be saved by receiving the gospel, the word of Godís grace, which involved faith, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2: 36, 38, cp. I Cor. 15: 1, 2, see addendum 3). So, we see that the rendering "save yourselves" and "allow yourselves to be saved" in the practical application involve the same basic components, actions, and particulars. Some, in a desperate effort to remove manís responsibility as seen in Acts 2: 40 retort by saying that Peter is simply showing how to be detached from evil influences, "untoward generation," and is not dealing with salvation. One commentator correctly comments on Acts 2: 40 as follows:
"Save yourselves. This expression here denotes - Preserve yourselves from the influence, opinions, and fate of this generation. It implies that they were to use diligence and effort to deliver themselves. God deals with men as free agents. He calls upon them to put forth their own power and effort to be saved. Unless men put forth their own strength and exertion, they will never be saved. When they are saved, they will ascribe to God the praise for having inclined them to seek him, and for the grace whereby they are saved" Barnes Notes on the New Testament, Vol. 3, pg. 55).
All that God requires and is involved in receiving Godís grace does not constitute works whereby man can glory or earn merit (cp. Tit. 3: 5, see addendum 4). Paul presents the perfect blend when he penned pertaining to salvation:
"8: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2).
Salvation is "by grace" (gar charite), "through faith" (dia pisteos). "Grace" is Godís part; "faith" is manís part in that man must allow the word to develop faith in him and then he must act upon this faith (Rom. 10: 17, saving faith is always presented as active, Gal. 5: 6).
It behooves man, then, to humbly do all that grace teaches him and thus, "Öreceive not the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. 6: 1). I might add and close by saying that manís role in his salvation is comparatively minuscule in view of Godís marvelous grace and all glory belongs to God (2 Cor. 9: 14, Luke 17: 10). (To read more about salvation, click on, "What Must I Do To Be Saved?")
Addendum 1: It is a fact that the Bible teaches predestination, but not the predestination too commonly found today in denominational theology (cp. Rom. 8: 29). To "predestinate" is to "foreordain" and "foreknow" and this God can do without denying the free moral agency of man. Such biblical predestination involves Godís knowledge aforehand of what man will do when man is confronted with the gospel (Acts 13: 44-52). Some anterior degree of faith is required, however, in order for the gospel or seed of the kingdom to be productive, this is seen in the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13: 3-9; 18-23). This is what the parable calls "Ögood ground" (vs. 8). Even this pre-requisite condition, though, can be produced by manís simple understanding of God as Creator, sin, and manís duty, etc.
I might add that there are degrees of both monergism and synergism. Some believe Augustine who is considered the father of fatalistic predestination, a doctrine that John Calvin later popularized, was a partial, if you will, monergist. Some understand, for instance, Augustine to have made distinctions in that "justification" is wholly of God, but "sanctification" involves manís will and even cooperation. Hence, these monergists may speak of salvation involving man, but what do they mean when they use the word "salvation," this is the important question. However, for the most part, such distinctions are humanly imposed and only further confuse the matter of manís salvation.
Addendum 3: When we create a composite of what people were told to do in order to be saved in New Testament times, such applies to today, we observe belief, repentance, confession of Jesusí deity, and water baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2: 37, 38, 8: 37; Rom. 10: 9, 10).
Addendum 4: After negatively affirming that salvation is not by works that place the glory on man, Paul then positively states the role of baptism as seen in the wording "Öby the washing of regeneration." Hence, water baptism is not such a work as mentioned in Ephesians 2: 8, 9.