Phil Cox

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Save yourselves from this corrupt generation

6th September 2007

Many of us will be familiar with this passage from Acts Chapter 2:

Acts 2v37-40
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, 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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

It's a standard evangelical proof text. The people on that first Christian Pentecost had heard Peter's sermon, and they wanted to respond. So they asked Peter and the other Christians "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter told them.

When we come to understand that Jesus is the Lord and Saviour of the world, we must repent. That is, we must change not only what we think, but the way we think. We must think of God as total sovereign, and master of our lives, our selves and all we possess. We must no longer ask "what do I want?" but "what does God want?" We must no longer ask "What do I believe?" so much as "What does God teach?"

Peter also says clearly that our response to the truth about Jesus Christ must include being baptised. I don't want to discuss the merits of believer's baptism over infant baptism in this column, but Peter does seem to be saying that baptism comes after repentance, not before.

Peter then made this amazing promise: "you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit". Again, this is not the time for me to talk about the baptism in the Holy Spirit, other than to say that we really miss out if we can't receive this teaching - God wants every believer to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

This week, I want to concentrate on the last bit of the passage:

"Save yourselves from this corrupt generation"


Firstly, although the Bible teaches very clearly that we do not save ourselves - we're saved by Jesus Christ dying on the cross in our place - Peter says here, "Save yourselves". How could he say that?

I've found myself explaining something several times in recent weeks, and I need to do so again here:

The Bible is absolutely true; it is infallible and inerrant. But it's not a maths text book.

In a piece of maths, there is (or should be) a rule to the effect that "every symbol means only one thing, and every thing is represented by only one symbol" (please don't fall asleep here) but the Bible is NOT like that. The language in the Bible is literature, not maths. Different parts of the Bible are history, poetry, prophesy, correspondence, and so on, but they're not algebra (many of you may be giving thanks to God at this point). In the Bible, a symbol does not always mean the same thing. In the Bible, something may well be described in many different ways.

In the Bible, the fact that God saves us is perhaps the deepest truth of all, but it is also true that we must save ourselves. Both the statements "we cannot save ourselves" and "we must save ourselves" are true - if we understand them.

We couldn't save ourselves if God hadn't provided a way through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We couldn't save ourselves if God didn't open our eyes to see the truth. We couldn't save ourselves if God didn't give us faith. That is, we couldn't save ourselves by ourselves. We need God to save us. But we do need to save ourselves by putting our faith in Jesus and by repenting (as we've already seen).

The best analogy I can think of at the moment is this: If we're on a sinking ship, someone may save us by sailing another ship close by, and sending a lifeboat over to us. The oarsman in the lifeboat may well call to us "save yourselves from the sinking ship". If we will only get into a lifeboat, the oarsman will take as back to his ship, which will transport us to safety. The crew of the other ship will have saved us. But we do have to get into the lifeboat.

On the other hand, if the ship had not come, or if the lifeboat had not approached, we could do nothing to save ourselves.

Secondly, the Greek word translated "corrupt" here literally means "winding", or "twisted", or "crooked". Peter was saving that the generation he lived in was morally crooked. And it was. But so is ours. Only this week, the UK government passed legislation that made it legal to create hybrid part-human, part-animal embryos. How sick is that? And every generation since Adam and Eve has been morally twisted. In every generation, the old lament the moral degeneracy of the young, forgetting that their parents said the same about them.

And the Bible clearly tells us that we can be saved out of this corruption. We can be forgiven for our own moral twistedness. And God promises to write His law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31v33) so we will know what is right and want what is right. When we first come to Christ, we don't know the difference between right and wrong but, over time, the Holy Spirit teaches us and changes us. If you've been a Christian for a long time, look back for a moment. You'll see that your understanding of right and wrong, your hated of sin and your love of righteousness have changed over time, by God's grace.

And, to those who haven't found Jesus Christ for themselves yet, we can say - you haven't got to live like this. You haven't got to carry on with guilt and confusion. Jesus is here for you. Jesus died for you. He's done the hard part of saving you. Save yourself by putting your faith in Jesus and changing the way you think.