The First Faith Practice
June 16, 1996
日本キリスト教団 大阪のぞみ教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka Nozomi Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA. Translated July 14, 2009
1. "Be saved from these wicked times!," (2:40). With these words, Peter exhorted the many Jews who were assembled. "These wicked times" -- As compared to other time periods, that time period that Peter had called [wicked] may not have seemed wicked and warped to many. However, crosses were erected in that time period. Jesus Christ was put on a cross. By means of this event, the true nature of sinful humanity was made plain. Therefore, that era is called "a wicked time period, a wicked generation." How can we give more definition to the sinful nature that has been made plain in this [era] then? It was [a time when] human arrogance and stubbornness completely and utterly and willfully rejected the grace of God. It was a stubbornness in which [human beings] held on tight as death to their own way of living, their own thoughts, their own positions, their own decisions, and to whatever other various and miscellaneous things that pertain to "the self," and they refused to accept the rule of God's grace. It was also a time when by rejecting [God's] grace in that way, the sorrowful reality of humanity, which had invited disaster upon itself, was made plain. When they declined to be governed by the grace of God, the people could not avoid an existence under the rule of multifarious evil forces. When humanity thinks they [can] go independent apart from God, since they are under a huge misunderstanding, they just don't even perceive themselves as being under the rule of the various powers of sin and the power of death. But, sooner or later the time will come when they do notice it. "These wicked times" -- That was the time in which it had become plain that when they had rejected the light it would inevitably turn into darkness. So, indeed, as if at midday when the light of the sun is pouring down, and [you] shut yourself up in a room, close the windows, and fasten the curtains, humans have been acting like they are living in complete darkness. We see the depth of that darkness on the cross of Christ.
2. "Be saved from these wicked times!" That's what Peter says. Hardly anything about that wicked time period, that is, the true nature of humanity as made plain in the time period when Christ was crucified, has changed still after numerous centuries later. In the final analysis, there seems to be no difference in that even today, when after nearly two thousand years have passed, it is still "a wicked generation." Just as it has ever been, it is a world of darkness which has rejected the light. We are living in that kind of world and in that time.
3. In Argentina there is an evangelist named Carlos Annacondia. He has come to Japan a number of times. He had obtained huge success until his early thirties as the proprietor of a company that built nuts and bolts. He said that he got everything he wanted until he was thirty-four years old. Yet, he was full of worry and fear. [At the time] he had four children. Looking back at that time period he says, "I truly regretted bringing four children into this world the way it is. I regretted that I had done something very foolish, in bringing four children into this world so filled with violence, worry, and sorrow. I knew that even if you got everything you thought you needed in order to live happily, you wouldn't be happy, but even still I brought four kids into this generation, and so I always blamed himself for doing that." [I'd say] he gave some very serious thought about life, and he wanted true happiness for his family. He didn't play games when it came to his life and the happiness of his family. And so, if we give it some serious thought like he did, then we may not be able to avoid feeling some worry regarding [our] living along with our family in these wicked times, and we may blame ourselves for having brought children into it. As a matter of fact, looking at this objectively, if we even think the smallest bit, that we can protect our selves or our family on our own power, and that we can do it happily, then I think [we should call] that very [attitude] arrogance.
4. In today's times we too are living in "a wicked generation" like Peter's time period. It's that way for both our families and us. Peter exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this wicked generation." People have one of two possibilities in either living in the era along with the generation that rejects the grace of God and decaying away and being destroyed, or being saved from "the wicked generation" and living in the new order of God's grace and living in the life of God. We've already read the specific words of Peter's exhortation. He says, "Repent! Let each person receive baptism and forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus Christ! By so doing you will then receive the Holy Spirit as a gift."
5. A person can live filled with the life of God, under the rule of God's grace, in a relationship with God, all the while being amidst a wicked generation. To do this, we must "repent." This is not merely confessing the many wrongs we've done so far. We are to change directions. We are to change the direction of our lives. And also we receive forgiveness of sins. Baptism is a sign of grace. When we change directions and receive the forgiveness of sins, we are promised that we will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift. The spirit of God will come and dwell within us. Through forgiveness of sin and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit a person is saved from "the wicked generation." It is not a reward for human deeds. It is called a gift. It is a present from God.
6. The people who had accepted Peter's message received baptism, and that day as many as three thousand persons were added to the group. They made a complete change in direction and had a share in God's gifts. They received forgiveness of sins. They received the Holy Spirit. The spirit of God began to live in them and with them. They were saved from "the wicked generation."
7. They did not waste that gift. They received the Holy Spirit, they didn't just leave it alone. While accepting the present, they did not act foolishly pretending not to take ownership for themselves the contents [of the present]. They owned up to their true natures of being saved from "the wicked generation." How [did they do] that? It was through a specific faith practice. Of course, a faith practice does not save anyone. God's grace saves a person. But, salvation is experienced through a definite and real world faith life. The present may be ours but, unless we open the box and discover its contents, we cannot make it our own in a true sense.
8. The scripture says they "were zealous." If translated literally, this word could be translated "to hold tight, fix, bond, anchor." Some even translate it as "to hold to a strict observance." What's more, an expression is being used that reveals its continuous and tenacious nature. [I think] we should put it like this, "They continued to hold to a strict observance." Any way, what is being talked about here is not some mere whimsical emotional enthusiasm. It is not like sparklers, the fireworks kids whirl around. We should see it as showing forth a deliberate steadiness in one's faith life. It is continuous. It is a consciously deliberate continuity [in one's faith life and practice].
9. What could this main subject of theirs been? First of all, they strictly observed the learning of "the apostolic doctrines." The apostolic doctrines means the teaching of the Lord that was communicated via the apostles. They kept studying continuously the truth of the gospel from the apostles. Of course, we must take caution here; the doctrines themselves do not save a person. A person is not saved by studying and learning. Many make a mistake here. The one who saves a person is God. It is not doctrine [that saves]. But, when the spirit of God is alive and at work, not understanding the gospel correctly becomes a huge hindrance [to the work of God]. In not grasping the truth of the gospel correctly, the faith life that has depended only upon experience will always stumble no matter where. I think the coming of the Holy Spirit was a great experience for them. But, they did not attempt to make only that experience the base. They continued to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and in order to continue to be guided by the Holy Spirit they fervently and continuously studied the apostolic teachings.
10. Next, they respected their fellowship with one another, their bonds of relationship with each other. They understood and accepted that Jesus had said, "Love one another!" At the last supper Jesus said to his disciples, "I give you a new commandment. Love one another! As I have loved you, you, too, love one another! Whenever you love one another, then by that, everyone will come to know that you are my disciples," (John 13:34-35). Had they been self-centered only taking pleasure in their own salvation, they would have known for sure that they were not the true figures of persons saved from "the wicked generation" at all. They did discern the difference that the true figure of the saved was the figure of the community where [the people in it] loved each another. Therefore, they took great care in their fellowship and relationships with each other.
11. The text spelled out the specific way to be in fellowship. They broke bread together. This is equivalent today to what we call the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion. It is not the same form as today's, but when they broke bread together, of course, they would think of the death of the Christ and they would think of the Lord's grace. And I think that they affirmed [together] that they were made one through the death of Christ. And they would pray passionately. And by going to God together, they would live together. Without having prayer together they [could] not have had any real and true relationships. When prayer withers in the church, the lives of the relationships also wither. When we ponder the two points above, we see that what they took care of was not merely the human intimacy between themselves. Their relationships as saved persons is to be found in their having rejoiced together in the grace of God, in having given thanks together, in having surrendered themselves together. This was their specific regular faith practice. We must see how the persons who had been forgiven of sin and given the Holy Spirit had tried to live under this real "flesh and blood" implementation of salvation and examine ourselves by it.
12. Well, the abundant works of God were revealed in this community which had continued to practice this specific faith lifestyle. The Holy Spirit was among them and was at work mightily. Marvelous works and signs were performed through the apostles. God's authority and power were revealed among them. They had probably been revealed as miracles of many different healings. Even though it says that, they never did make much of the miracles themselves. Instead, what the appearance of God's authority and power brought forth was a holy fear. This, of course, does not merely mean that they were afraid of God. Everyone of them was struck with awe. Since the text says, "everybody," it probably means not just only [those] in the church. Many of the people in Jerusalem were touched by the reality of God being alive and at work and had come to revere God.
13. On the one hand, the believers owned everything together, they sold their properties and possessions, and in response to each need everyone shared. Unfortunately, this format did not continue for long. However, the central focus here is not that a collectivistic communistic community had come into existence. It was not established as a system for long. The central focus was not that, but rather the simple truth that the Holy Spirit had made them free. The Holy Spirit had freed them from absolute selfishness. The Holy Spirit freed them from the stubborn insistence that what they had had belonged to them hard and fast for good. It certainly was not as painful as to live and to keep saying, "mine." -- Because whether riches, time, or abilities, these things are not "mine" by nature. These are things entrusted by God in order to keep us alive, to keep our families alive, and to keep others alive. They were freed by the Holy Spirit. And in accordance with [the Holy Spirit's] will they had begun to use what they had in order to keep themselves and others alive. We don't need to seek for the kind of collectivistic communistic system as is written here in this text, but I think we still ought to seek for the freedom they used to have.
14. And they "went to the temple steadfastly each day with hearts made one, and then assembling from house to house, they broke bread, and had meals together with joy and sincerity, and they gave praises to God, and as they did this, the entire populace brought favor and good will upon them all," (verses forty-six and forty-seven). Both when they worshipped assembled at the temple and when they gave praises to God in small assemblies at each home, they were filled with sincerity and joy in those places -- Isn't that the kind of situation coming into your mind's eye? Their regular faith practice was not the kind where you just formally fulfill a duty, a stiff, gloomy, boring kind of thing. The splendor of the kingdom of God was overflowing in it. Therefore, many of them looked at it with favor. Many of them saw this figure of them and they too surely wanted what they had.
15. That is the figure of the original church, the true church. It is the figure of the believers, how the believers should truly be. And God was at work through this way of being of theirs, and "The Lord added the saved to the group daily and made them one." Evangelism in the first community was done in this way. First of all, they did not have evangelism schemes and evangelistic programs at the beginning. They had a congregation of believers just filled with life. Through those people, the Lord graciously worked.
16. We too want to be believers, the church where we experience God revealing his authority and power, where we are set free by 'the Spirit' and we are filled with joy and praise. We want to be such persons and we pray to be vessels used for the work of God's salvation. Everything we need has been prepared. What we need to live under the rule of God's grace, saved from this wicked generation is already given us through Christ's cross and resurrection. Therefore, the main thing is that we repent and receive his grace, and that we continue to participate in the reality of that grace, through a regular faith practice.