“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”Acts 2:37-38
After reading these verses, one could conclude that repentance precedes salvation. That is, that the work of repentance ushers in the gift of the Holy Spirit. But if we are not careful, we might assume that baptism is also necessary to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which of course would be a false statement. Further more, we could also read into Peter’s statement in verse 40 that there is a need to save oneself from this crooked generation. So here are three points which when casually looked upon may imply a work on the part of the individual in gaining their salvation.
But I think in order to understand these particular verses more accurately, and for that matter the role of repentance and baptism in salvation, we must consider the surrounding verses in the whole context of this chapter.
We know clearly from scripture that faith comes by hearing and that by the word of God. Prior to verse 37, Peter had been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to a large crowd of Jewish men who had gathered from every nation under heaven. Another interesting point is mentioned regarding these men; they were described as being devout. Clearly God had prepared these chosen men beforehand, to be present at Pentecost in order to hear the news of the gospel, and return to their lands, essentially spreading the gospel to the far reaches of the known world.
Much can be said regarding this monumental chapter of Acts, however I wish to focus on a few key points. Since these men were devout Jews, they were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures and no doubt the prophecies concerning Christ and His return. However, they had missed the coming of Christ and had written off His death as that of a deceiver and common criminal. But when Peter spoke with the power of the Holy Spirit, divine revelation was imparted into their hearts, cutting them to the core of their conscience, so that they cried out; “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The response was quite obvious but Peter guides them in their proper response to the Lord and commands them to repent and be baptized.
So we see here clearly that faith had preceded their realization of the need to repent, and had done a work of conviction in their hearts so that they willingly sought God’s forgiveness. They were then immediately baptized and solidly continued in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. What an awesome sight that must have been to see 3000 news believers meeting in oneness worshiping Christ.
Now obviously these devout Jewish men had a large foundation of scriptural understanding and knowledge that had paved the way for this smooth transition into the church. Since they knew of the prophecies and law of God, once their hearts had been illuminated by the Holy Spirit, they knew exactly where and what they needed to repent from. These were not your typical Jewish men at the time, but devout seekers of the truth.
Now what about people that come to Christ today? Can we possibly expect someone to repent who has never heard the law of God, or does not know what God considers to be sinful? As Galatians tells us, “The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” There is a definite need of the preaching of the law these days. If God is warning all men everywhere to repent, they must know what to repent from. The word of God does the preparatory work in convicting the heart of sin, leading the individual to realize his need to repent and trust Christ for His salvation.
Only when we see a holy God, will we ever see our wicked and sinful condition. The need for repentance goes much further than the initial act of salvation. There will be the need at times to repent of things that we may not have seen, or have stubbornly held on to. As we spend time meditating on the word of God, the Holy Spirit will probe our hearts and bring conviction upon any ungodly act or attitude we may be harboring.
Let us not quench the Holy Spirit in our life today, but respond with humility as He speaks to us.
God's richest blessings!