21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21–23, NKJV)
Following His resurrection, Jesus Christ commissioned His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). According to John’s account of this assignment, Jesus sent them into the world even as the Father had sent Him (Jno. 17:18; Heb. 3:1). The Father gave the Son the word of everlasting life to speak (Jno. 12:48-50). His apostles, who were sent into the world with the good news of God’s salvation, were guided by the Holy Spirit “into all truth” (Jno. 16:13). The word which the Holy Spirit revealed to them contained why, how, and when sins are forgiven and retained. The forgiveness and the retention of sins is not arbitrary, but available to all (Acts 10:34-35). A freewill decision to believe and obey must be made upon hearing the good news that Jesus is Christ. Those who repent and are baptized for the remission of sins are forgiven (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19). Those who do not believe and obey the gospel call to be saved remain lost in their sins. The gospel saves the lost, yet, many will not believe it and obey it, therefore, their sins are retained. The decision to believe and obey the gospel to be forgiven continues to be the most important decision a person will ever make (Acts 2:21, 37-38, 40-41). Will your sins be forgiven, or retained?
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18–19, NKJV)
God’s word has been revealed from heaven (Rev. 1:1-2). It reveals our need for salvation because we have all sinned against God, and our sin brings eternal death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; 1:16-17). God’s wrath is also revealed from heaven. The target of God’s just anger and punishment is “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (v. 18). Ungodliness is impiety and irreverence toward God. Unrighteousness describes conduct that is unjust and not upright toward others (1 Jno. 5:17). Ungodly and unrighteous conduct display a character of faithlessness. They hold down (suppress) the advance and blessings of divine truth in our lives. God’s wrath against sinners is justifiable because He had given a knowledge of Himself to mankind (v. 19-20). Yet, people refused to acknowledge God and honor Him with godly and righteous gratitude (Rom. 1:21). When we reject faith in God we hinder truth and put ourselves under divine wrath. We are without excuse, because God has made Himself known to us through His creation (Rom. 1:20). And, God has revealed His will to us by the word of His Son, Jesus Christ (Jno. 1:1-3, 14; Heb. 1:1-2). The gospel of Christ will free you from sin and death. It is your escape from God’s wrath when you obey it in faith (Acts 10:34-35; 2 Thess. 1:8-9).
23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:23–27, NKJV)
With these few words, the Holy Spirit summarizes God’s gospel plan for human redemption through Jesus Christ. He said: (1) The law of Moses prepared people for Christ (“before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…our tutor to bring us to Christ,” 3:23-24); (2) Our means of justification is “by faith” (not by the law of Moses, 3:24); (3) Since “faith has come” (the gospel, 1:23; 3:2), the law of Moses no longer has binding authority over anyone (“we are no longer under a tutor,” 3:25); (4) Justification by faith makes Jews and Gentiles children of God (“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” 3:26); (5) Justification by faith happens at baptism (“for as many of you as were baptized into Christ,” 3:27); and (6) The lost become children of God at baptism, when their relationship with Christ begins (“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” 3:27). Without a doubt, the child of God has “put on Christ.” But, one is “baptized into Christ” in order to “put on Christ.” Therefore, without being baptized into Christ one has not yet become a child of God. One has not yet been justified by faith. Baptism is a necessary part of being justified by faith.
24 Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” 25 But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.” (Acts 26:24–25, NKJV)
Paul was permitted to speak before King Herod Agrippa II (his consort Beatrice, and the Roman governor Festus) for himself in answer to the charges made against him by the Jerusalem Jews (Acts 26:1-3). He spoke of “the hope of the promise made by God” to their fathers (Acts 26:6). He spoke of God raising the dead, of his former persecution of Christians, and of how Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him (Acts 26:8-17). He spoke of Jesus sending him to the Gentiles with His gospel, of his conversion, and of obeying his mission (Acts 26:18-20). Paul said this was why the Jews seized him and falsely accused him – because he testified that Jesus fulfilled Moses and the prophets, bringing forgiveness and light to both Gentiles and Jews (Acts 26:21-23). Festus accused Paul of being insane to believe in things like resurrection, visions, redemption, and a Christ (anointed One). Far from insanity, the gospel Paul preached contains words of truth and reason (“soberness,” ASV). Some still say the gospel is crazy, and Christians are “mad.” Yet, the gospel remains true, upright, and certain. It is still sober, sane, and rational. Name-calling and demonizing its messengers will not lessen the gospel’s truth or its power to save. Honest souls continue to be persuaded and saved (Acts 26:26-29; 18:8; Lk. 8:15).
39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39–42, NKJV)
Many emphasize “witnessing” for Jesus, and “giving their personal testimony” of Christ to convince others to believe. But, today’s passage shows a personal testimony did not cause others to believe. It was “His own word” that led many Samaritans (in addition to the woman at the well, Jno. 4:5-26) to believe Jesus is “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (v. 41, 42). They did not believe “because of what (she) said” (v. 42). It is not her word, my word, or your word that produces faith – God’s word does that (Rom. 10:17). The power to convert and save lost souls in Christ is in the gospel. The gospel saves when it is believed and obeyed (Rom. 1:16-17). Personal testimonies focus attention on self (a “personal” experience). The “testimony of the Lord” (the gospel, 2 Tim. 1:8) focuses attention on Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and His call to believe and obey Him for salvation (Heb. 5:8-9; Mk. 16:15-16; Matt. 11:28-30). Believe because of Christ’s word, and then your faith will be in Him and not in another.
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21–22, NKJV)
The gospel makes disciples. And, disciples need strengthening to “continue in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7). The reason for exhortation to continue in the faith is given in verse 22 – there are many tribulations through which disciples must pass to “enter the kingdom of God.” Would someone please explain why strengthening the souls of the disciples for these tribulations is necessary if their entrance into heaven is already settled? In other words, if the eternal inheritance of Christians cannot be jeopardized, then why exhort them to continue in the faith? Why the need for strength in the face of tribulations, if entrance into the eternal kingdom can never be endangered? The truth is we can become weak. It is possible for Christians to turn back to sin and no longer continue “in the faith” (2 Pet. 2:20-22; Gal. 5:7). Let us hear and heed the Spirit’s exhortation to “be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). You will face pressures as a disciple of Christ. Be brave, be strong. Your entrance into the eternal kingdom is certain as you “continue in the faith.”
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” (Acts 2:40, NKJV)
When the gospel of Christ was preached by His apostles on Pentecost, they invited and implored sinners to be saved from their sins and the impeding judgment upon that present, perverse generation (Acts 2:16-21). Those who believed were told to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37-38). There awaits a great day of judgment when we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and our lives judged by His word (2 Cor. 5:10; Jno. 12:48-50). Knowing this, salvation and eternal life are offered to all through the truth of the gospel (1 Tim. 2:3-4). This being true, why don’t we regularly hear gospel invitations from a growing number of pulpits in the churches of Christ? Why aren’t gospel preachers punctuating their sermons with calls to come to Jesus for salvation, to escape the punishment of hell? The apostolic tradition is to exhort sinners to be saved. “And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Why is it we fail to hear the gospel invitation to “come” and be saved? We hear, “If you have a need, come…” But, without telling sinners what they need, how will they know they need anything, or what to do about it (read Rom. 10:13-17)? Preaching the word demands we preach the gospel call to be saved (Matt. 11:28-30).