“Repent and be baptized” (Part 1)

Bronze sculpture of the apostle Peter preaching at Pentecost. Image credit

Acts 2:38 is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (ESV) There are those who use this verse as proof-text (a text cited without considering the context) that faith plus water baptism would save us. But that interpretation runs counter to the clear teaching of the Bible that by grace we are saved through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even in the Book of Acts, Luke affirmed that again and again (10:43; 13:38-39; 16:30-31; 20:21). Faith in Christ saves us. Baptism does not save us.

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So, what did Peter actually mean when he commanded people to “repent and be baptized”? Remember that baptism is our expression of repentance. John the Baptist declared, “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God.” (Matthew 3:11a, NLT) In the Good News Bible, it goes this way: “I baptize you with water to show that you have repented”. Note that baptism shows that we have already repented. Repentance goes before baptism. Read Acts 2:38 with that in mind. So, we repent for our sins to be forgiven. Then through baptism, we declare that we have repented. Note also the context. In verse 41a we read, “ So those who received his word were baptized” (ESV). They first received the word and then they were baptized. When they received, they were already saved even before they got baptized. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, the gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). To receive is to believe. 

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Yet, the fact that baptism does not save us should not be a reason for us to avoid baptism. Why? Because, in Acts 2:38, God commanded us to be baptized just as we are commanded to repent. Not to be baptized is disobedience. It might even show that we have not repented at all. 

Brothers and sisters, repent and be baptized.

Read Repent and be baptized Part 2


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