There is a fine and often imperceptible line between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. It is difficult to put defined parameters around where that line is, but God gives us examples of that balance in His Word. One that comes to mind is when Peter was released from prison. He was scheduled for execution because Herod saw how popular it had been amongst the Jews to behead James, John’s brother (Acts 12:1-3). Resting in God’s sovereignty and knowing how he would die (John 21:18-19), Peter awaited his execution sound asleep between his two guards (Acts 12:6). (It was the custom in those days for a condemned prisoner to be chained to his guards.)
Understanding their responsibility before God, the people of the church did the only thing they could do. They prayed. So, “…prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for [Peter]” (Acts 12:5b).
Then the angel of the Lord crossed that line between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty:
“And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise up quickly.’ And his chains fell off from his hands” (Acts 12:7).
God did for Peter what he could not. Then He told Peter to do for himself what he could:
“And the angel said unto him, ‘Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals.’ And so he did. And he saith unto him, ‘Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me’” (Acts 12:8).
Peter was so overwhelmed by the events, he thought he was dreaming, but this was really happening (Acts 12:9). Following the angel as he had been instructed, the pair passed through two wards of the prison until “they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him” (Acts 12:10b). From there, Peter was able to find his own way home, no angels necessary.
The line between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty defies definition. Peter’s experience shows us that it is a fluid border. When we pray asking for God’s grace we need to remember that God will freely give us His grace for those things that are beyond our own ability and He will give us the grace to use our own abilities but it is up to us to act upon that grace. The angel did not dress Peter or carry him out of prison. He ordered Peter to dress himself and to follow him. Had Peter not acted on God’s grace, he literally would have ended up a head shorter before the day was done.
Our Christian growth and our service to God is subject to the same give and take between God’s grace and our responsibilities. My position before God is all Christ’s doing. Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ alone, but the growth of my relationship with Christ is a cooperative effort. God’s calling on my life is God’s doing, but my service to Him is a cooperative effort.
God has freed me to live for Him, but I have to put my sandals on.