Just WHAT must we do to be Saved?

eposter1Then 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.” Acts 2:38

There are two principles taken from this verse by some. To be saved from the penalty of sin, one must turn from their sins (repent) and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. A companion verse is Acts 22 verse 16 when Paul was recounting his conversion experience when Ananias said to him, “Now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

To begin with repent according to Strong’s Dictionary of New Testament Words means literally ‘to think differently’.  Souter’s Pocket Lexicon defines the word similarly, ‘I change my mind, particularly with reference to acceptance to the will of God by the mind.’ Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon defines it ‘to perceive afterward or too late’ and secondly to change one’s mind or purpose.’

About salvation, one must repent, change his mind. Dr. Renald Showers aptly explains, {“Certainly, the unsaved person who insists he is not a condemned sinner must experience a radical change of mind. To be saved, that person must genuinely admit he is a condemned sinner in need of salvation.

In addition, if, after such repentance, a person attempts to be saved through his own works or through false religion, then he needs another change of mind. There must be a genuine acceptance that his works and false religion cannot save him.

…There is another kind of repentance that is absolutely essential for salvation… This repentance is the change of mind that rejects wrong beliefs concerning Jesus Christ, accepts as truth what the I Corinthians 15 gospel says about Him and His redemptive work, and trusts Him personally as Savior for sin.”}

This exactly what Peter was expressing in Acts chapter 2. It was the day of Pentecost, and they spoke to the crowd with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (2:4) He explained that the supernatural event was from Jesus, who had risen from the dead and was now exalted to the right hand of God. (2:33)

Peter proclaimed that they were guilty of crucifying Jesus, the Lord, and Messiah. When they heard this, they were cut to the heart and immediately wanted to know what shall we do? (2:37) Man always wants to know what he can do. But we can do nothing to be made right with God.

He told them to repent. If repenting means to turn from sin, then how could they turn from something already completed – their killing of Jesus? Secondly how could turning from their other sins make them right with God? Sin demands a payment, and if one could just stop doing them, it still does not pay for the ones already committed. Thirdly, if turning from sin means to stop sinning, how could anyone ever say they have repented? All people continue to struggle with sin after they ‘repent’ to one degree or another – in thought, word, or deed.

Peter indicated that they needed a change of mind about who Jesus is and what He did on their behalf. He exhorted them by saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  Prior to Peter’s sermon they had rejected Jesus. But now some of them changed their minds and believed in Him. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” (2:40, 41) “Now all who believed were together…” (2:42)

If turning from sin for salvation is part of the requirement, there are numerous questions that require answers. Do I need to turn from all of them or just those I am aware? How could I turn from what I am not aware? If I turned from all of them, did I turn from them if I still commit them? If I attempted to turn from them does that count? Is continual turning from sin necessary to keep my salvation?

Turning from one’s sins (meaning to stop sinning or to promise to do so) to receive forgiveness is impossible for the sinner. Secondly, that makes salvation an exchange – my turning from my sins for forgiveness. Then my salvation is somewhat dependent on my performance and no longer a gift.  For that reason, it is adding works and making salvation a process. And finally there is no assurance in this teaching because it focuses on what the sinner must do rather than on what Jesus has done on the sinners’ behalf.

Likewise baptism focuses on what the sinner must do. When the Philippian jailer asked what must I do to be saved, the apostle didn’t say turn from all your sins and be baptized.  What he did say was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31) Then after having believed he and his household then were baptized. (v. 33, 34)

Baptism follows after one is saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentile converts when they believed, but prior to them being baptized. (Acts 10:45, 47; 11:17) The Lord was including the Gentile believers as part of His church prior to being water baptized. The thief on the cross was saved, and not water baptized. (Luke 23:43)

The apostle Paul said that he was not sent to baptize, “but to preach the gospel.” (I Cor. 1:17)  In fact, he stated that he thanked God that he had not baptized many in the Corinthian church except for Crispus and Gaius. (I Cor. 1:14) That would be very odd if he believed it was necessary for converts to be baptized to be saved.  In fact, he would have been preaching a message that did not save if baptism is necessary for salvation.

There are over a hundred verses in the New Testament that teach that one is saved by faith alone in Christ alone. (For example: John 1:12; 3:16; 3:36; 6:29, 40, 47; 7:39; 9:35; 10:9; 11:25; 20:31; Acts 4:4; 8:12; 11:21; 13:39; 15:7; 16:31; 20:21; 26:18; Romans 1:16; 3:24, 26; 4:5; 5:16; I Corinthians 2:2; 15:3, 4; II Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16; 3:8; 3:26; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 3:9)

In light of the central teaching of the word, Peter uses repent to exhort them to change their wrong thinking about Jesus to right thinking about Jesus.  He instructed them to believe in the name of Jesus Christ, which represents who He is and what He did. It is the object of our faith, Jesus, who provided the remission of sin through the shedding of His blood. Baptism should follow belief as an outward expression of inward truth as a witness and testimony. Verse 41 of Chapter 2 expresses the order – “they received the word gladly and were baptized.

It is important to note that a doctrine should not be taught from a single verse or two. Seemingly contradictory verses must fit the main and plain teaching of the entire Scripture. Baptism should follow belief, but has nothing to do with saving a person from the penalty of their sins. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

Peter exhorted the Jewish audience to change their thinking about Jesus. They believed he was a mere man and had rejected Him as Messiah and Lord. (John 10:33) They crucified Him, but He rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of God. By being baptized in the name of Jesus they were outwardly testifying to a change of belief concerning Him (repented). They were now trusting in Him as their Messiah and Lord – in His name. By faith in Him, they received forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Their baptisms were a public testimony to other Jews as well that they were now trusting in Christ. This would have caused great risk to their physical welfare.  In making a deliberate choice to leave the Jewish religious system, their baptisms identified them with being a believer in and a follower of Jesus Christ, thus subjecting them to persecution from the religious Jews. But the forgiveness of sins came only as the result of belief in His name, not baptism. The same can be said of Acts 22 verse 16.

Peter was following the exact commands of Jesus. He was a witness immediately in Jerusalem to his Jewish countrymen. (Acts 1:8) He preached the gospel to them. (Mark 16:15) The gospel is clearly spelled out in first Corinthians 15: 1 – 4 as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s what the Apostle Paul preached and by which they were saved (v. 2). And Jesus commanded the ones who believed to be baptized. (Acts 28:19)

Every Jewish person had to make a personal decision – “let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” It was faith in Jesus as the resurrected Messiah and Lord that saved them – in His name. Neither verse has anything to do with the necessity of baptism for salvation.

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