Back in 2004, Mel Gibson produced “The Passion of the Christ.” Ironically, he didn’t star in the film. He did, however, have a small, yet significant, cameo in the actual movie.
Don’t recall seeing him? Watch it carefully again. He’s there. You don’t see his face or body, but you do see one of his appendages.
Remember the scene when Jesus was being nailed to the cross? You don’t see the soldier who held the hammer and drove that long nail into the Lord’s flesh, but you do see the soldier’s left hand. That was Gibson’s hand.
Gibson said he reserved that role for himself because he wanted his audience to know that his sins made the crucifixion necessary. He said, “I’m first on line for culpability. I did it.”
In truth, we all did it. We’re all responsible for Calvary. Scripture says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “All have sinned.” That means everybody. Our transgressions, both cumulative and individual, put the Savior on tree of Golgotha.
So, what do we do? If we’ve sinned, and we have (Romans 3:10), and if sin separates us from God, and it does (Isaiah 59:1-2), then what is our recourse? What do we do?
My denominational friends would say, “Nothing. There’s nothing you can do, because if you do anything, you negate the grace of God.” But dear reader, is that accurate? Biblical?
Turn in your New Testament to Acts 2. On the Day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter told his listeners, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36; emphasis mine–mb).
Like Gibson, Peter’s audience had nailed Jesus to the cross. In this case, literally. Now notice how they responded, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
And how did the apostle respond to their sincere inquiry? He said, “Do? My friends, there is nothing you can do. If you do anything, you negate the grace of God.” Right? Read the next verse.
“Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'” (v. 38).
Repentance (Matthew 12:41; Luke 13:3) refers to change. Change requires effort, in essence, doing (Jonah 3:10) something.
Baptism refers to immersion in water (Acts 8:36-39). Again, doing (Acts 22:16) something.
Now pay close attention that little word “for.” “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (Greek, eis) the remission of sins.” “For” means “in order to” obtain. Repent and be baptized in order to obtain the remission or forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:15-16).
Question. What would have happened to these believers on Pentecost had they not repented and been baptized? Obviously they would have been lost! They recognized this, and that’s why two verses later we’re told, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them ” (v. 40).
Now did any of these 3,000 earn or merit God’s grace simply because they obeyed Peter’s command (cf. Acts 10:38)? Could any in that assembly proudly thump his breast and say, “Look what I’ve done to save myself?!” Of course not.
Some object, “Mike, you’re confusing effort because of what Jesus did for us, and effort we exert in an attempt to merit the gift of grace.” Friend, if works — of any kind — have absolutely no role whatsoever in our salvation, then it matters not if they are before or after.
In truth, none of us can earn or merit our salvation. Period. Underline that statement. Highlight it. Catholicism says, “Earn it.” Calvinism says, “You can’t earn it, so do nothing.” Both extremes are unscriptural.
Meritorious works can’t save (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5), but a dead, non-working faith (James 2:17, 19) can’t save either! Only through faith coupled with works (Galatians 5:6) of obedience (Acts 10:34-35; James 2:14-26; Philippians 2:12) can we lay hold of the free gift of God’s grace.
Read through Hebrews 11 and then consider the following questions in the context of our study:
- Did Noah earn his salvation when he built the ark (Hebrews 11:7; cf. Genesis 6:22)?
- What if he had never constructed it in the first place?
- After the flood waters abated, could the aged Patriarch have smote his chest and say, “Look how I’ve saved myself!”?
- Was he saved before or after he expressed his faith?
- Did Abraham earn his salvation when he obeyed God and left his home for a foreign country (Hebrews 11:8; cf. Genesis 12:4)?
- What if he had never moved as God decreed?
- Did Moses earn his salvation when he kept the passover (Hebrews 11:28; Exodus 12:3ff)?
- What if he had not slain a lamb and placed its blood on the doorposts?
- Was splashing blood on the door a meritorious act?
- Did the children of Israel earn their salvation when they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground (Hebrews 11:29; Exodus 14:22)?
- Could one among those thousands have objected, “Hey, we can’t cross over! If we do anything we’ll be negating the grace of God!”?
- Did the children of Israel earn Jericho when they marched around the city (Hebrews 11:30; cf. Joshua 6:1ff)?
- Jericho was a gift (Joshua 6:2; cf. 2:9, 14). If the Israelites hadn’t marched around the city as God had required, would they have received the “gift”?
- Did Rahab merit her salvation by hiding the spies and later tying the scarlet cord in the window (Hebrews 11:31: cf. Joshua 2:ff; 6:17ff)?
All of these Old Testament stories illustrate without question that it’s not a dead, non-working faith that saves, but a living, obedient faith. That’s why the Bible says, “He who believes [a work of obedience, John 6:28, 29] and is baptized [a work of obedience, Titus 3:5] will be saved” (Mark 16:16; cf. 1 Peter 3:21).
We’re all guilty. We’re all culpable. We all had a part in nailing Jesus to the cross. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Jehovah has enacted a gracious plan by which we can receive divine pardon. We must
(1) believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 8:24);
(2) repent and turn away from our sins (Acts 17:30; 26:20);
(3) confess that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 8:35-38; Romans 10:9-10);
(4) and then be immersed (Galatians 3:27; cf. Acts 8:12-13; 36, 38; 9:18; 10:47; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
God has done His part. Will you do yours (1 Thessalonians 1:3)?
“Therefore, my beloved, as you 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” (Philippians 2:12).