Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
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?”
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. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:36-40, NKJV)
When the mighty rushing wind of the Holy Spirit filled the place where the one hundred twenty disciples were gathered on the Day of Pentecost, they knew exactly what to do.1 Their proclamation of the Gospel that day in Jerusalem was the beginning of the fulfillment of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Their Lord and Savior had commanded them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” He promised that if they did teach them these things, patiently explaining and instilling them into the disciples they made, He would be with them until the end of the age.
Peter preached both the essential gospel and the many other words to the multitudes at Pentecost. Both are indispensable for salvation. First he told the people who Messiah was, what He had done for them, and why they needed His forgiveness. His message was believed, which is why the people cried out, “What shall we do?” Then he told them in the many other words how they would validate and authenticate their belief. If they did not obey these words from their hearts, then one day they would discover that they had believed in vain.2
Peter’s words that day were detailed, profound, compelling, and clear. He spoke at length, perhaps for hours, spelling out what it took for them to “be saved from this wicked and perverted generation.” Peter was so careful and complete in everything he spoke that day because he did not want them to be disappointed. And he did not want them to be surprised by the demands of the gospel as they faced them in their life together after baptism. So when they cried out, “What shall we do?”3 he told them the whole truth.
Whoever received faith that caused them to obey Peter’s words would be given eternal life at baptism. Their obedience would confirm that their belief was real. Those with authentic belief, true faith, could come in through the gate of the Shepherd. They would enter the life of abundant grace of the community in Jerusalem.4 The gospel authenticates true belief and invalidates vain belief by means of the many other words.
To disobey these words or to walk away, as so many did, was to be guilty of the willful disbelief addressed in John 3:36. Upon them John said, “the wrath of God abides.” When Jesus returns He will deal out retribution “to those who do not obey the gospel.”5 Paul equates disobedience to the gospel with disbelief in Romans 10:16. This earns one a place among the “cowardly and unbelieving” of Revelation 21:8 — the chief and worst of sins listed there.
To those who heard and believed his message that day, Peter’s plea contained the message of salvation in full. Yet of the many who were drawn to this amazing outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who miraculously heard the good news in their own tongues from these rough-hewn Galileans,6 only three thousand gladly received his words and were baptized.7 The rest went away sad, like the rich young ruler who knelt before the “Good Teacher” Himself and asked, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”8
Like him, they would not trust Jesus with all the things they found their security in: possessions, family, and status. Like him, they would not go outside the camp of Judaism, where Jesus was,9 even if staying inside meant losing the promise of eternal life. And like him, they would not confess Jesus as Lord if it actually meant doing what He commanded. The apostles must have made it very clear that day that calling Him “Lord, Lord,” but not doing what He said, was to be a very “foolish man” indeed. It would result in one day hearing the terrible words, “I never knew you.”10 This will be so surprising (eternally surprising) to those who up until that moment thought He knew them. There is no greater treasure than knowing Him and being known by Him.
Peter’s words were the many commands and precepts of Jesus Christ that would establish His Kingdom on earth as a community of love. His words bore witness to the truth of the gospel. Of course the many other words included what the stiff-necked now call the “hard sayings” about giving up everything (such as Luke 14:26-33), which should be undeniably plain from the marvelous communal life of sharing and caring that flowered immediately in the city of Jerusalem:
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
The Community in Jerusalem was a visible testimony of the character of the Living God. It was real, tangible, observable. From that day forward, the gospel could not be presented in any other way than according to Matthew 24:14, “as a witness to the nations.” For the Church can be no other way than it was at first, according to the pattern received from heaven, demonstrated in Jerusalem, and imitated elsewhere.11 This takes now what it took then: communities living together in unity, which demystifies the Body of Christ — which is one and undivided.12 Otherwise, all the world is left with is a “mystical body” that can only bear witness to a mystical, far-away God who simply doesn’t care and “lives away up there.”
Even so, community was not an end in itself. Nor was it a lifestyle choice or a mistake of the First Church, as many have dismissed it. And certainly it was not an option for believers, for “ the believers were together, and had all things in common,” and all who did not believe were not together.13
No, their love for one another in the church, the community of believers, was essential to accomplishing the will of the Father.14 Their life of love together was the way they would fulfill the new commandment He gave them, “to love one another as I have loved you.” And it was the way “all will know that you are My disciples.”15 Such love was the source of the unity He prayed for the night before He died, which was the only thing that would communicate to the whole world — according to the Son of God — how much the Father loved them and that He had sent His Son.16 The whole world must know these two things through the witness of the Kingdom.
Just as the apostles had “left everything to follow Him,”17 the offer of eternal life they extended on the Day of Pentecost was to all who would repent in the same way, be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The many other words Peter spoke made plain both what they were to repent from and what it meant to trust. The modern concept of belief is mental (or emotional) assent to the likely truth of something and has nothing to do with “saving faith” or actually trusting Jesus (the very thing the rich young ruler would not do).
The “free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus” was given that day to all who “gladly received his words” and they were saved in baptism because they trusted (which is to say believed) in Him. They were baptized into one Body, drinking from one Spirit, and became sons of one Father.18 Salvation requires that a person place his whole trust in the Son of God. God knows who will and who will not obey His Son’s many words in the Gospels. To those who will, He gives His Holy Spirit:
And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him
From their own personal testimony, from what they had done and seen the Master do, the apostles knew the answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” They knew that all who believed in Him would leave “house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands” for the sake of Jesus and His gospel, and would receive “a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life.”19
The Community in Jerusalem was the beginning of the fulfillment of the hundredfold promise for “all who believed” and “were together” and “had all things in common.”20 Jesus’ promise in Mark 10 was given to sustain community, so that there would not be one person among them “who lacked.” This would fulfill the promise of Deuteronomy 15:4, “there will be no needy among you.” Anything that is not the fulfillment of the words of the prophets is not the true church of God.
When Peter stood before the thousands in Jerusalem, the gospel message he preached was not mere doctrine. It was his testimony of the words and saving power of the Son of God, based on his personal knowledge and his love of his Savior’s words and commands. “Forsaking all and following Him” had been his response to the love and mercy of the Savior.21 He knew, from the depths of his soul that such was the only worthy response to the sacrifice of Jesus for his sins and theirs. Obedience to the many other words of the gospels (which are, after all, the very words of the Savior), determines, reveals, and exposes, both to the hearer and to the world, who believes in Jesus and who has rejected the good news.
Peter taught the crowd of people what it meant to follow Jesus and to serve Him. They had to do the most difficult and threatening thing for people to do: “hate their life in this world” in order to “to keep it to life eternal.” So, they had to leave the world behind and “serve Him where He is.”22 That is where He dwells in His people, who live in community. Living together is the thing that even makes it possible to be one as Jesus and the Father are one.23 How can you truly be one with the person in the pew in front of you, the back of whose head you see once a week?
The apostles had seen many who had believed in Him, but did not trust Him with their life. Therefore He could not entrust Himself to them.24 Their mere belief did not cause Him to believe in them. And this is exactly what is necessary for salvation by grace through faith to be given to a man. It is not by the “will of man, but of God” that a man is saved.25 It is not by the mere words, “Jesus, come into my heart,” that one’s name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. Salvation, as Acts 2:41 says, is given to “as many as received him,”26 which includes, from the day of Pentecost forward, receiving the many other words of Acts 2:40.27
The apostles had seen many walk away from their Lord and Master, even driven away by His hard words.28 And they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus did not entrust Himself to anyone who did not trust in Him:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25)
Jesus knew the hearts of the men at that Passover. He knew that they, like the rich young ruler of Mark 10, “believed” in Him — but not unto eternal life. Remember, to believe unto eternal life and to entrust oneself to Him is one and the same thing. How could the Master entrust Himself to anyone who would not entrust himself to Him? He knows who trusts Him. They obey Him.
Belief is not enough. Belief in the mind does not save. Belief that reaches the heart results in obedience to the One believed in. And that heart of obedience is what the Father continues to respond to in the disciples’ lives, giving them revelation of Himself and His purpose.29 The gates of hell will never prevail against such a community of believers, for they live by what His “Father who is in heaven” reveals to them,30 not by the “flesh and blood” traditions of the established religion of the day.
The rich young ruler wanted eternal life, but he was not willing to do the Master’s will. To do His will is to obey Him. This willingness to do His will was the basis on which God chose Abraham:
For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him. (Genesis 18:19)
And it is still the basis on which He chooses to give the gift of eternal life. The Father grants such ones the needed illumination to believe in order to be saved:
If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. (John 7:17)
Their willingness to do His will continues, as they receive grace from Him, until the end of their lives. They willingly walk in the works prepared for them from before the foundation of the world.31 These works carry out the will of the Father32 and bring about that which He told His disciples to pray for His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.33
This willingness, which the Father knows whether we have or do not have, is far beyond the common English usage of the word. The Greek word for willing in John
7:17 means not only to be willing, but to be resolved or determined, to take delight in, to have pleasure in doing. It is the condition of heart that pushes beyond mere mental willingness to endeavor to do what is set before it to do. It is taking action. It is the very willingness the rich young ruler did not have and why he went away sad. Those who love the will of God to the extent that God knows they will do it are the ones who will receive the Holy Spirit.34
Saving faith means having this willingness to do what Jesus commanded, which proves itself by actually doing it. To have faith in Jesus means one thing above all: TRUST. Those who will not trust Him with their possessions, their families, careers, homes, farms, etc., will not be ENTRUSTED with the Holy Spirit, which is eternal life. Such unwillingness is the root of the willful disbelief or disobedience addressed in John 3:36.35 The rich young ruler wanted eternal life the way all Christians think they have it — without actually trusting, but “just believing.” But what do they believe, and what Jesus do they believe in?
(There is more than one, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:4.)