Tony Cooke

rsvpWe’ve all seen these initials. When you receive an invitation to a wedding or to some other type of formal event, these initials will likely be on the card. RSVP is derived from the French expression répondez s’il vous plaît, which means “Please Respond.” To honor such a request and to let the host know whether or not you are coming is a simple courtesy that allows an event planner to know how to prepare.

If it is proper to respond to earthly invitations, how much more should we respond appropriately to God’s Word?  Our purpose in responding to God is not to inform Him of something He wouldn’t otherwise know.  After all, He’s the God that knows “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10).  He is a God who initiates, and He desires people to respond2 Peter 1:5 (NLT) says, “…make every effort to respond to God’s promises.”

It becomes evident as we study the Bible that there is both a God-side and a man-side of every issue.  Consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 

What is the God-side of that verse?  God loved the world and gave His only begotten Son. 

What is the man-side of that verse?  If we believe in Him we will not perish but have everlasting life. 

In order for us to properly understand any biblical topic properly, we must always consider that God initiates AND that He expects us to respond.  To ignore either God’s part or man’s part in the equation will lead us to an imbalanced perspective of the truth.

Consider the God-side and man-side of Ephesians 2:8-10.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Grace refers to God’s initiation toward us and on our behalf.  Faith is man’s response to what God in His grace has provided.  But even the faith with which we respond to God did not originate with us.  Paul said that God’s grace and faith are gifts from God.  We know that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, but had God not given his Word we would have no basis or ability to respond with faith.  Nevertheless, a faith response is necessary to appropriate and to receive what God in His grace has provided.  Paul went on to say that God prepared good works beforehand (His initiation) that we should walk in them (our response).

Believers who only think of the God-side of things may bristle at suggestions that they embrace work, responsibility, obedience duty, etc.  They may be quick to declare: “It’s ALL grace.  I have been delivered from all that.  I’m not under bondage.  I don’t have to do anything to earn my salvation!”  I must agree with them in part.  We certainly don’t engage in any kind of “works” to earn our salvation.  However, we certainly do engage in works to express our salvation and to respond appropriately to the salvation that has been freely given to us.  The Bible says it plainly: we are to walk in the works God has prepared for us.

Paul, the Apostle of Grace, told believers in Philippi (2:12) to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  Notice that he did not tell them to work for their salvation, but to work out their salvation.  He wasn’t telling them to try to earn their salvation, but he was encouraging them to express the salvation that they had freely received.  Paul also advocated works in writing to Titus (3:8).  He said, “those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.”  These are good works, not dead works, but they are still works.

Likewise, Jesus (the Author and Initiator of salvation) told His earliest disciples (Matthew 5:16) to, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Even after His resurrection, Jesus did not tell the believers (Revelation 2-3) that He just wanted them to know that they were unconditionally accepted and that nothing they did mattered because of grace.  No, He told them (all seven churches), “I know your works.”  He specifically commended certain good works, and identified specific bad works of others.  He warned some of them in very strong terms to change their behavior.  How they responded mattered to Jesus!

We said earlier that there is a God-side and a man-side of every issue.  If a person only embraces the man-side of Scripture, he certainly would be imbalanced.  Assuming that everything depends on him and his efforts, he would be relying on his own strength, striving compulsively and frantically to keep all the commandments, and trying to earn acceptance through his performance.  This is certainly not what God has in mind for our lives, and such individuals would be under much bondage, fear, and insecurity.

However, if a person only recognizes the God-side of Scripture, he is going to be in the ditch on the other side of the road.  He is going to mistakenly think that God’s actions make his responses unnecessary.  He might think, “Well, Jesus died for my sins, so I’m automatically right with God.”  If you carry that type of thinking far enough, you’ll end up with universalism (“Since Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, everyone is going to be saved because God’s side covers everything; man’s response or lack of response is inconsequential”).  Such erroneous thinking elevates the God-side of Scripture but completely ignores clear biblical teaching about the necessity of man responding affirmatively toward God and His Word.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians illustrates perfectly the need for balance.  Chapters 1-3 are predominantly about the God-side of salvation (who we are and what we have through Christ and because of His work).  However, Ephesians 4-6 predominantly focuses on the man-side of salvation (how we are to live and walk in this world).  When we refer to the man-side (obedience) we are speaking of responding appropriately to God’s free gift and expressing that salvation through our lifestyle. 

A balanced Christian is not one who lives only in the spiritual realities of Ephesians 1-3, nor in the behavioral commandments of Ephesians 4-6.  Rather, he lives in the entirety of Ephesians 1-6.  He realizes that he’s been “accepted in the beloved” and “seated with Christ in heavenly places.” He has ALSO begun (with God’s empowering grace) walking in love, finding out what is acceptable to the Lord, giving thanks, treating one’s spouse properly, honoring one’s parents, etc.  He has also (with God’s empowering grace) stopped lying, stealing, fornicating, being covetous, etc.

When you RSVP… when you respond appropriately to God… you first recognize what He has done for you in His grace.  You recognize that Jesus – while you were yet a sinner – died for you, and that He has made available salvation, justification, and acceptance as an absolutely free gift.  There is no work or performance-oriented thing you can do to earn or merit His forgiveness.  But there’s more to responding than to God and His Word than simply accepting His free gift.  How else do we respond to Him?

  1. Repentance is a part of RSVP. 
  2. Getting water baptized is a part of RSVP. 
  3. Getting filled with the Holy Spirit is a part of RSVP. 
  4. Becoming a fully-committed disciple of the Lord Jesus is a part of RSVP.
  5. Growing in the Word is a part of RSVP. 
  6. Praising and Worshiping God is a part of RSVP.
  7. Getting involved in a good church is part of RSVP.
  8. Becoming a generous giver is a part of RSVP.
  9. Ministering to others is a part of RSVP.
  10. Evangelizing and sharing the love of God with others is a part of RSVP.
  11. When we miss it, acknowledging our sin and receiving His forgiveness is a part of RSVP.

When the Word says, “Please respond,” our response should be, “Thy will be done,” and then we should do it.  Responding appropriately and obediently to God is exactly what God is looking for in our lives.  God’s grace doesn’t eradicate the need for an appropriate response.  Rather, His grace is what empowers us to respond in ways that please Him.  May grace and faith work powerfully in your life to make you all that He intends for you to be!