Our first stop on our journey through Acts is the 2nd chapter. Peter, along with the others has obediently waited as Jesus instructed until he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Everyone present has seen the signs and wonders, heard men speak miraculously in their own languages, and have been told by Peter that this is the promised Holy Spirit as foretold by the prophet Joel. Peter then rises to preach the first gospel message on record after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He accuses the hearers of being murderers and gives a powerful witness to the deity of Jesus, that He was the promised Messiah, and of His bodily resurrection. After telling this mainly Jewish audience this Jesus has been made both Lord and Christ, they were “cut to the heart” and cried out “what shall we do?” Peter’s reply is at the heart of the theology of the modern Restoration Movement churches. Acts 2:38 is without question the most often quoted verse in coC class rooms and pulpits.
“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” Then the Bible says in verses 40 and 41 “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”
This text raises some questions that I believe have been answered incorrectly. Will you agree with me to see what the Bible says about this important subject? Will you put aside presuppositions and heritage and take God’s word as final authority? If not, you are wasting your time reading further. The Bible is its own best commentary. When we allow it to interpret itself we find the truth. We all agree that “about three thousand” people were saved that day. The questions arise concerning when and how.
- Were they saved when they repented, when they were baptized, or when they “received his word”?
- When did they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, when they repented, when they were baptized, or when they “received his word”?
I believe these “about 3,000” people were saved by faith in Christ. When they heard Peter’s testimony about Jesus their faith is implied when they asked “What must we do?” How did they “receive his word”? They received it by faith, by believing in and trusting on Christ. Romans 10 is crystal clear on this matter.
“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10)
One “believes with the heart” is how one is saved. That is the response Phillip preached to the Ethiopian. When he asked if he could be baptized he was told “If you believe with all your heart, you may”. (Acts 8:37) The Bible continues in Acts 2:44 saying “Now all who believed were together..” The common denominator for Christians is belief, or faith, not baptism. When did these new believers receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? Was it when they were baptized or when they believed? This is really the crux of the matter isn’t it? A whole movement of Christendom stands of falls on this answer. I will not answer the question. Peter is the man who said , “
and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”
lets let him answer the question.
In Acts 10 Peter arrives at the house of Cornelius having been sent by the Lord to the Gentiles. Peter boldly preached Christ to them and verses 44-48 we find this chain of events.
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.
Then Peter answered, “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days”.
These people received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized. While Peter was still speaking He fell on those who “heard the word”. Then Peter asks an important question. “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Just as we have! They had just received the Holy Spirit by hearing and believing the word and Peter says he and the others received the Holy Spirit the exact same way! They did not receive the Holy Spirit when they were baptized but before when they believed. Let’s allow Peter to confirm this once more. When speaking to the counsel at Jerusalem Peter said of the Gentiles
“So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 17:8-11)
Peter leaves no doubt; these Gentiles were saved just like he was. There is “no distinction between them and us”. He purified their hearts by faith. He expected to be saved “in the same manner as they”.
Still not convinced? Let’s hear Peter say it once more. In Acts 11:17 Peter defended his message to the Jewish brothers in Judea and when telling them about the Gentiles being saved and receiving the Holy Spirit he said to them,
“If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”(Acts 11:17)
This is the same Peter who is quoted in Acts 2:38 and he says he and the others received the gift of the Holy Spirit “when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ”. I am not teaching a “faith only heresy”, I am teaching the Bible. Peter’s own inspired words stand in stark disagreement with those who have misunderstood the meaning of Acts 2:38. Acts 2:38 says in part
“and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”.
If I have a party “for” my wife’s birthday, does the party cause the birth, or the birthday? No, the party celebrates her birthday and confirms that she was born on that day. It is not in any remote way the cause of it.The key word in Acts 2:38 is “Repent”, not “be baptized”. When one hears the message about Christ and changes his mind, turns in his heart toward Christ, he trusts Christ and is saved, and according to Peter, receives the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I am not demeaning baptism. It is a command to be obeyed by a child of God. It does not make one a child of God. Peter could have said “Repent” and do any number of good things and “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”. The efficaous act is the obedience of faith, not the obedience of submission to baptism. Should we tell people they will be lost if they do not obey the gospel? Absolutely we should, but first make sure you know what it means. Romans 10 states it plainly enough for anyone to understand. In Romans 10:16a the scriptures say
“But they have not all obeyed the gospel”.
Then, in the last part of the verse we find what it means to obey the gospel;
“For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?”
Those who don’t believe the report have not obeyed the gospel. Further, in verse 17 the Bible says
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
The Bible is consistent and clear that to obey the gospel is to believe it. In my next post I will go into more detail about what it means to “Obey the gospel”. I don’t intend to impose my view on anyone. It is my purpose to teach what the Bible clearly says.
Until next time Grace and Peace,