Acts 2:38 - A formula for salvation?

The following post is from Rick Shallengerger addressing the meaning of Acts 2:38 and the issue of baptism.

Many look at Acts 2:38 as a formula of how to do right by God. Here Peter says: "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.”
So the verse seems to give us a step-by-step process that leads to salvation: 1) Be baptized, 2) Be forgiven, 3) Receive the Holy Spirit. It seems clear on it’s own. But if this is true, then isn’t baptism a work we “must do” in order to be saved? And if that is the case, we have a problem because that contradicts the gospel.

Let’s put Acts 2:38 into context. The day is Pentecost and the many Jews have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Holy Day. While the disciples were all together, a sound like a strong wind came and the Holy Spirit filled the room. The disciples started speaking in foreign languages. (We know these were languages because those listening said they heard the disciples speaking “in our own tongues.” So this is different from the manifestation of speaking in tongues we find elsewhere in the NT.)

As people were speculating what was going on, Peter stood to address the crowd. “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you...” (Acts 2:14). Notice the explanation he makes mention of in verse 17. This is the time God spoke of when he would pour out the Holy Spirit on all flesh. Now that statement alone says a lot, but we will come back to that next week. Continuing on Peter proceeds to tell the crowd about Jesus. He tells them that Jesus was the Messiah, the prophesied one and he was now Lord and King. The people were cut to the core and they said, “What shall we do?”

The first thing Peter tells the whole crowd of people to repent, metanoeo
in the Greek. The simple definition of Metanoeo is to change one’s mind. But let me give you more because this very interesting word may help you look at Acts 2:38 a bit differently. Noeo literally means “to direct one’s mind to a subject.” in classic Greek it meant to perceive or to notice. Meta compounds Noeo and means “after,” “with,” “around,” etc. So Metanoeo literally means "after directing one's mind to a subject." If the change of mind shows that the previous view was foolish, improper or evil, a sense of regret or remorse arises.

So Peter is telling the crowd to change their way of thinking about Jesus. After directing one’s mind to a subject – Jesus – change the way you see him or think about him. In other words, now believe Who he is. When he says “Repent,” he is simply saying, “Now that I have told you that the very man you crucified is the One the prophets talked about and who we’ve been praying about for years, change your thinking about who he is and believe.”

Then Peter tells the people to be baptized “for the forgiveness of your sins.” This Scripture seems to imply that in order to be forgiven, we need to get wet in order for Jesus to give us the forgiveness he came to give. That the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world is waiting for us to get wet in order for my sins to be forgiven. I submit, this is a real problem when we start talking about grace being a gift. So what’s the solution. I think the old Wycliffe translation gives us a clue when it says be baptized “into the remission of your sins.”

Let’s give an illustration to make a point. If you saw a wanted poster that said “Wanted for Terrorism and Murder, Osama Bin Laden, $1 million reward,” you would never assume that the U.S. Government or anyone else wants to hire Bin Laden to murder and terrorize. You know he is wanted because of what he has done. Acts 2:38 is similar. When Peter said, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin” he used the word “eis” which means “because of” not “in order to.”

So let’s put Peter’s words in context.

“Change your way of thinking about who Jesus is and believe what he did for you. Because of his gift of life and forgiveness to you, respond by being baptized. Through baptism you give your life to him by symbolically burying the old person and rising out of the water a new person.”

Salvation is not the result of baptism, baptism is the response of the gift of forgiveness and the Good News of our salvation.

Forgiveness is a gift. Salvation is a gift. This is Good News.

Comments

  1. I think that Rick is onto something here. In fact, I have recently been studying this very passage, and I, too, came up with a rendering, which might be helpful in understanding what God wants from us. It is:

    Acts 2:38--Peter replied, "Change your way of thinking and immerse yourself, 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. (Parker with help from the NIV)

    The best to you all!

    J. Richard Parker

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