Online and face-to-face discussions abound about grace, work, and salvation. People on all sides fuss and feud, casting accusations, knocking down straw men, looking down noses. How can we cut through all the mess and see what God has really said about grace? I think there are pictures of grace throughout the Bible that mark the way of God’s grace. One such picture is the lame beggar in Acts 3.
Healing Stories are Salvation Stories
First, we need to understand that Jesus and the apostles didn’t go around healing people because they had a healing ministry. They healed people for two reasons. 1) As a testimony from God that they and their teaching were from God. This is highlighted in Hebrews 2:3-4. 2) As analogies of salvation. This becomes especially clear when comparing Jesus’s interaction with the sinful woman at Simon’s house in Luke 7:36-50 and Jesus’s interaction with the woman with an issue of blood in Luke 8:40-48. The first account ends with “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The second ends with, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.” The Greek for these two phrases is exactly the same. Being saved and being made well is the same word and concept. Healing stories are analogies for salvation stories.
The Lame Beggar’s Healing; Our Salvation
As we work through the Lame Beggar’s healing story, we actually see a mirror of our salvation story. Examine some parallels that we need to grasp about our salvation, God’s grace, and our work.
#1: The goal of salvation is a walk we can’t do on our own
The goal for the lame man is clearly walking, continued, on-going walking. The goal was not a feeling in his legs. The goal was not a dream of walking. The goal was not belief in his ability to walk. The goal was walking. But this man couldn’t walk. He was lame from birth. There was no way for him to walk.
We need to understand the goal of our salvation is also walking. Ephesians 2:1 explained that as sinners our walk was broken. Ephesians 2:10 explains that we have been saved by God in order to walk in His good works. The goal of salvation is walking. Interestingly, in Ephesians 4-6, Paul describes the walk 5 times (Ephesians 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15). This is a walk we cannot do on our own. There is a difference in the beggar’s story and ours. We are not sinners from birth, but having submitted to sin, it has become our master and we are no longer able to walk God’s way (cf. Romans 6:16; 7:14-24).
#2: Salvation requires a faith-filled response
Don’t miss this. The lame beggar was laying on his backside. Peter gave him a command, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” The lame man had to cooperate with that command. If he had not believed Peter, he would have resisted Peter’s aid in lifting him up to walk. When Peter told him to get up, he did.
Ananias’s words to Paul as recorded in Acts 22:16 provide a parallel for us. “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Do you believe you will be saved by God when you obey this command? Jesus is offering you salvation, healing from your sin-sickness, power over your sin-lameness. He is reaching His hand down to lift you up. Will you cooperate by obeying His command to rise and be baptized to have your sins washed away?
#3: God’s power does the healing
Was the power that healed the lame man bound up in his faithful response? No. It was God’s power that healed him. The authority for healing came from Jesus Christ of Nazareth. This man did not strengthen his own legs by his faithful response. Only Jesus had that power.
In the same way, while we cooperate with the command of God, obeying it, the power for salvation doesn’t come from our working. It is God’s working that provides the salvation. Thus, in Colossians 2:12 it is through faith in the working of God that we are saved by baptism, not through faith in our work of baptism. Thus, in Titus 3:5, Paul claims that we are not saved by works done by us in righteousness. Surrendering to God as a faith-based response is not asking God to save us because of our righteousness. It is admitting that salvation only comes through God and His working, so we simply surrender to His word and work. Baptism then, submitted to properly, is not a work of our righteousness. It is a submission to the working of God. Of course, some do not submit to baptism properly, and instead believed they are saved because they were so righteous as to be baptized.
#4: Walk like you have been healed
What did the man do after he was healed? He went walking, leaping, and praising God. He lived as a healed man. How ridiculous would it be for him to be healed, but then go back to living as a beggar? How ridiculous would it be for him to continue laying at the gate of the temple, begging for money, having people carry him around? He’s been healed; he needs to get up and walk.
In like manner, if you are in Christ, you have been saved. You have been taken from death to life. You have been given the power to walk. You need to walk like it. Again, consider Ephesians. The first half of the book explains what God has done, healing us by His grace. The blood of Jesus drew us to God, saved us by God’s grace. Then the last half of the book explains the implications of this for us. The implication is not that we can continue to sit on our backsides like lame beggars. The point is that we have now been empowered to walk; so get up and walk. Ephesians 2:1-5 explains that we were dead in our sins and trespasses, but God made us alive. Shouldn’t living people behave differently than dead people? You have been made alive; quit acting like a dead person. Shouldn’t healed people behave differently than lame people? You have been healed; quit acting like a lame person.
#5: Give God the glory when you walk
The lame man didn’t just go about walking and leaping. He went about walking and leaping and praising God. Why praise God? After all, walking and leaping isn’t that big of a deal, is it? Additionally, isn’t he walking and leaping based on the strength in his legs and back? Isn’t he walking based on his own choice and his own volition? Yet, despite all of that, he is praising God for every step because the one thing this man knows is if it weren’t for God, he wouldn’t be walking. For the rest of his life, this man knew that every step he took was based on the power and healing of God. Was he cooperating? Of course. Was he working? Absolutely. But he knew he wasn’t walking just because he was so awesome at it. He was walking because of the empowering strength of God. He wasn’t walking in order to be healed; he had been healed in order to walk. So when he went walking and leaping, he did so praising God.
When you have been walking as a Christian, God should be glorified. Anyone who has grasped, as Paul did in Romans 7:13-24, the complete inability to walk in God’s will recognizes the need to praise and glorify God when they actually walk in His will. They don’t bring their walk to God trying to impress Him with their power. They bring their walk to God thanking Him for the empowering strength that lifted them up on their spiritual legs. Like Gideon with the 300, they know that they can’t boast over God about their victories (Judges 7). They know they aren’t winning the victory because of their power and strength. They are only winning the victory because of God’s power. They understand this, they aren’t walking in order to be healed; they were healed in order to walk. Therefore, they praise and glorify God for their healing and the power to walk.
#6: Don’t atrophy
Let’s face it. We’ve all heard of people who have been given the power to work, but decide they would rather beg. After having spent his entire life laying at the temple gate, this man could have decided that he wanted to go back to that life. A walking man, working to provide for himself might seem like too much responsibility. It was one thing to walk and leap the day he was healed. That seemed exciting. But what would happen the next day when it came time for him to get food to eat? Would he walk like a healed man or go back to laying around like a lame beggar? This seems odd, but even Israel looked back at slavery in Egypt with longing when walking with the Lord seemed hard. What would happen if this man went back to his begging ways, laying around, convincing everyone he was lame again, having people carry him instead of walking? His healed legs would atrophy. They would lose their ability to walk.
The same is true for us. We enter Christ through our faith-filled response to His offer of healing grace. We walk, leap, and praise God in our newfound spiritual living. But then the birds come to strip the seed away, the sun comes up and bears down on us, the weeds grow and distract us (cf. Matthew 13:1-23). How will we react? Will we continue to walk in the power of God or will we look longingly back to the days of lameness and begging? I know this sounds ridiculous, but somehow Satan can make the slavery to sin seem appealing even after we have known the misery of its bonds. If we go back to that behavior, our spiritual strength will atrophy. The spiritual muscles we had been exercising will become flabby and powerless again. Yes, despite what many say, if we refuse to walk God’s way, exercising the spiritual strength He has given us, we will lose the strength. We will lose the healing and salvation God gave us.
The Whole Picture
I hope you can see the whole picture without getting distracted by each part. God offers His healing grace to lame beggars. We gain access to that grace through a faith-filled response. That grace empowers us to walk God’s way. Yet, when we have walked God’s way, we glorify Him and not ourselves knowing that we don’t walk in order to impress God so He will heal us, but understanding that we are walking because He has healed us. Since we are healed, we need to walk like it or we’ll atrophy and lose our spiritual strength. This is a picture of God’s grace.
I hope this picture helps you in your walk.