Acts 2:38, a second look

I just read a post at that prompted this post. You should visit Keith’s blog and read some of his stuff, especially the latest post. He poses the question “Is an imperative always a command?” He then takes a look at Acts 2:38. His take is interesting to say the least. All of his posts are excellent reading.

Acts 2:38. Is there any church of Christ/Christian church member who has not heard scores of sermons on this foundational verse? Perhaps you can answer some questions.

  • In the verse there are two imperatives “repent” and “be baptised”. Since “repent”, “repentance”, etc. are mentioned far, far more than baptism, why is the emphasis of perhaps 99% of all lessons on this verse focused on baptism rather than “repent”?
  • In my view, an improper empasis on baptism can result in a person trusting an event rather than a person, the Lord Jesus. Isn’t baptism meaningless unless one has truely “changed his or her mind” (repented) about the course of their life?
  • Is it possible that we might have misunderstood the meaning of Acts 2:38? The gift of the Holy Spirit is a promised result of obeying these two imperatives, or commands. In Peter’s own words later, he connected the gift of the Holy Spirit, not to baptism but to “belief”, which is the flip side of repentance. ““Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47) In the next chapter Peter defends his action of baptizing Gentiles. His clear answer was “Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 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 11:15,17)

Is it possible that many of us have put the gospel cart before the horse?

His peace,
Royce Ogle




9 comments on “Acts 2:38, a second look

  1. many dunked…a few baptized. I think somehow a very gnostic view of separation of physical and spiritual won out in most of these situations. My experience is most Church of Christ’s have championed the physical over the spiritual and baptism of the heart isn’t even a consideration…as long as they got wet. (all of them)

  2. I agree that too many times people who baptize in the name of Jesus Christ focus first on the second imperative. Throughout the gospels, repentance is the first message and the most essential message. Without believing, baptism doesn’t count.

  3. Royce, thanks for your kind words. You won’t be surprised that I agree that Restoration churches may often over-emphasize the role of baptism (even expressing it as some kind of “work” of our doing, rather than Christ’s!), yet I believe it is the way God chooses – and would prefer – to begin His work in our lives.

    I also believe it is a gift (as I’ve blogged before) from Him, through Christ – just as surely as His Spirit is given.

    At the same time, He chooses those on whom He will have mercy. He knows hearts when we can only see actions. Baptism is an action – one of many – that can testify to our faith, and work His purpose in our lives. And though the contested passage Mark 16:16 does indeed say “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” it also says “but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Not “whoever does not believe and become immersed.” Is that “wiggle room”?

    James says that faith not put into action is dead (2:26). Baptism is one of the ways you can put your faith into action. The Spirit is given to help us put our faith into action, be blessed by it, and draw closer to God through it. I think it’s all part of a package – a gift-wrapped package that’s given to those who believe.

  4. There’s no reason not to say that repentance is also for the forgiveness of sins and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Does that mean that if you don’t repent knowing that that’s the reason that you have to be re-repented?

    Grace and peace,

  5. Keith,

    In my post of last year “Faith 101” ( )I made the following introductory statement.

    “The understanding of many, even church leaders and preachers, is that faith is synomonous with our contemporary understanding of “belief”, or “believing”. They often have the same root meaning in the Bible but in regard to salvation are far different than what is commonly understood in 2007.

    There is an element of “belief” in the concept, or truth of Biblical faith. In both belief and faith the mind must acquire some facts. The intellect is engaged when one hears, or reads, or sees a set of facts, and those facts are recorded in the brain. By the use of this human mechanism that we all share I am convinced that George Washington was the first President of the
    United States. I “believe” the facts as recorded in history. That sort of “belief” requires no trust; I never have to rely on those facts, nor am I motivated to act in any way because of the fact that I have given mental assent to them. Biblical faith is not only intellectual but also emotional and volitional. Unless we come to the place where our hearts embrace the facts of the gospel and our wills are predisposed to act on what we believe, we do not have faith.”

    I hope I am never accused of teaching a “faith” that only resides in the head and does not result in an obedient heart. Another post I published makes by position crystal clear. (

    Thanks for your visit and comments as always.

    His peace,
    Royce Ogle

  6. Tim,

    You have left me looking like a human question mark!

    After reading your comment several times I still don’t know what you asked or the point you are making.

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comment.

    His peace,

  7. If a baptism thread was started in a forest would it be heard by Church of Christ people?

    I think the answer is yes and they would knock down a bunch of trees to get there.

    At some point we humans said it was a formula and was supposed to be and had to be and if we don’t figure it out we won’t be saved. I have heard people who say they are saved because they prayed a prayer. I don’t see much difference in the two.

    We created a modern idea that we had to know when, which is it and it can only be one because obviously it is a formula. God said if you seek him you will find him. Jesus said he would back any who called upon his name before the Father.

    Faith believes that since God said it that makes it true. It isn’t true because I understand it or get it exactly right. It isn’t doing it the exact right way with the mouth held just right.

    I personally think it is both. We are saved at both places. I don’t know how that can be but since the Bible says both I agree. Instead of discounting each other we should appreciate each sides desire to honor God.

    Great discussion and I appreciate your heart Royce. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Darin,

    Thanks for your good comments.

    The fact is we are saved by taking God at his word (faith) and no other way. Praying a prayer (“Whosoecver calls upon the Lord will be saved..”)Telling other people that you have decided to follow Jesus (“confess with the mouth..”)submitting to immersion in water (“Let every one of you be baptised..”) charting a new course for your life (repent) are all expressions of saving faith. NONE of these takes the place of faith (expecting God to do what He has promised) and none are meritous by themselves.

    Just as a lame man expressed his faith by extending his hand, or rising at Jesus’ command, just as Abraham purposed to offer Issac, sinners respond in faith (“believe in your heart..”)in several ways, all observable expressions of an unseen faith (except by God).

    Just like the Gentiles Peter preached to long ago, a sinner can become a justified saint in a nano-second by putting his or her trust in Jesus Christ the moment the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces and grants repentance and faith. EVERY person who thus believes will in some way express that faith in an observable way.

    Hear Paul’s words to the churches of Galatia. ” knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16).And again, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?(my post shows that Peter received the Spirit the exact same way) 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:2,3) And finally, Paul’s urgent warning to those who would add to the Gospel of the grace of God, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
    10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.”

    It is a dangerous thing to add to the gospel, make the gospel something other than what Paul and Peter and others preached.

    His peace,

  9. Great post Royce!
    I think repentance is a key and should be stressed even more than baptism in this passage.
    God wants all men to be baptized? Or ….Wait come to repentance. Repentance is harder than baptism. How many people did Jesus baptize? Yet how many did he call to repentance? Many, countless. Repentance is a demonstration of true faith, living faith, loving faith. Repentance proves is proving in a way our love to Christ.

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