THE GOSPEL -- REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED
The simple solution to the problem of sin is that sinners must repent and be baptized to be saved.
Sometimes complicated problems have simple solutions. A personal computer reduces everything to an internal binary code of "I" or "O". The computer understands only that a circuit is on or off. Whether surfing the Internet, writing a document, using a data- base, or playing a game, these are no more than the machine distinguishing between an "I" or an "O".
Similarly, though the problem of sin is great, God has provided a simple solution. The first time the gospel of the resurrected Jesus was preached; the first time men and women called upon Jesus as Lord and Christ; they first time they sought to remedy their rejuction of Jesus, the apostles simply replied, "Repent, and be baptized" (Acts 2:38).
This article will examine the two actions and two benefits of Acts 2;38. It will also examine some aspects of the underlying grammar.
Jews from throughout the Roman Empire (Acts 2:5-11) descended upon Jerusalem at Pentecost (v. 1) expecting to celebrate the recent harvest and remember the Sinai Covenant (Exo. 23:16; Lev. 23:15-21; Deut. 16:9-12). None, however, expected the spiritual harvest due at the preaching of Christ and His new covenant.
Peter's sermon begins as reply to the charge of drunkenness, and then evolves into an inauguration of the kingdom. Its thesis is verse 21. Peter, quoting Joel 2:32, reminds them that, "whoever call on the name of the Lord will be saved." The remainder of the sermon establishes the identity of this Lord who grants salvation, Jesus of Nazareth. The One they rejected (vv 22-36) is their Lord and Savior.
Only a few weeks earlier, many in this audience cried, "Crucify him!" Seeing the magnitude of their sin, they now cried, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (v. 37). Peter's reply (v. 38) has two requirements and two results. The requirements are repentance and baptism. The results are forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Repentace is a change of mind, and in the New Testament it implies a corresponding change of behavior (Lk. 3:8-14; 2 Cor. 7: 9-11). Peter's listeners had to change their minds about Jesus. If they once viewed Him as a rebel under the curse of God, they must now bow to Him as Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22,23,36; Phil. 2:9-11). Our sins, no less than theirs, put Him on the cross (Isa. 53:4ff), and we too must change our thinking, putting Him at the very center of our lives (Gal. 2:20).
Baptism is a burial in water (Acts 8:36; 10:47,48), symbolizing death to sin and resurrection to new life in Him (Rom. 6:1-7). It follows faith (Mk. 16:15,16) and repentance (Acts 2:38), yielding forgiveness (Acts 2:38) washing away of sins (Acts 22:16) and salvation from sin (Mk. 16:15,16; 1 Pet. 3:21). It brings us into Christ (Gal. 3;27; 1 Cor. 12:13) and is a mark of discipleship (Matt. 28:19). In the words of F.F. Bruce, "the idea of an unbaptized Christian is simply not entertained in the New Testament."
Forgiveness is a dismissal or release from an obligation. The Septuagint used this word in connection with the Jubilee (Lev. 24: 10; compare Lk. 4:18,19) in reference to cancelled debts and released slaves. It is redemption from spiritual slavery by the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7). This forgiveness was not available under the law of Moses (Acts 13:38,39; Heb. 10:1-18), but now is for both Jew and Gentile (Acts 26:17,18).
It is best to view "the gift of the Holy Spirit" as the Spirit Himself. Soon after Pentecost, the apostles again proclaimed forgiveness through Jesus according to "the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). The Spirit is given as a down payment on our future inheritance (Eph. 1:13,14). He dwells within us bother personally (1 Cor. 6:19) and corporately (1 Cor. 3:16f) by the Word (Eph. 5:18,19; Col. 3:16) through faith (Eph. 3:17).
The English text presents no real problems, and adequately expresses the simple instructions of the apostles. However, the underlying Greek text has some features that some have used to deny a relationship between baptism and forgiveness of sins. There are several answers to these objections. One argument is that "repent" and (forgiveness) "of your" sins are second person plural and thus are unrelated to "be baptized" and "each" which are third person singular. However, a plural imperative verb followed by a singular imperative verb is not uncommon when addressing an audience and stresses the personal duty of each listener. In Eph. 4:26 "be angry" and "do not sin" are second person plural imperatives followed by the third person singular imperative "do not let the sun set." In Phil. 4:6 "be anxious" is second person plural imperative; followed by "make known" which is third person singular imperative. The first is what, the second is how. In these examples, one might expect a shift from second person plural to second person singular if agreement was the main syntactical issue.
Acts 2;38 has two main verbs. The verb "repent" is second person plural, and its subject is the included "you" (plural). "Be baptized" is the other verb. Its subject is the singular pronominal adjective "each" modified by the plural genitive pronoun "of you." "Forgiveness of your sins" serves as the object of both verbs. "Forgiveness" is accusative (the direct object) and is modified by the plural genitives "of your" and "sins." The two genitive pronouns, "of your" (connected with "sins") and "of you" (connected with "each"), are identical and provide the link between the two verbs and the object. When Peter says, "for the forgiveness of your sins," whose sins are meant? "Each of you" in the multitude who repented and was baptized.
The logic of the verse also dictates a connection between the commands and the resulting benefits. How could the group repent unto the forgiveness of their sins, while the individuals must be baptized for no expressed purpose? Obviously, both benefits (forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit) are intended for each and every person who responded with repentance and baptism (vs. 41) If baptism has no relevance to salvation, Peter pulled it from thin air for no apparent reason.
Some attempt to define the word "for" as "because of." This backfires twice. First, if the preposition means baptism is "because of" forgiveness already received, it means the same for repentance. However, repentance always precedes salvation (Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3; Acts 3:19). Second, four other New Testament texts (Matt. 26:28; Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3; 24:47) use the phrase "for the forgiveness of sins" (identical in English and Greek to Acts 2:38, except for "of your"). In each case, "for" expresses purpose, not basis.
Try as they will, men cannot undermine the simple commands of God. The problem then and now is sin. The answer then and now is Jesus Christ. The offer then and now is forgiveness and blessing. The solution then and now is to repent and be baptized. For the willing heart, it's that simple.
By - Cloyce Sutton III in Biblical Insights, Vol. 4, No. 10, Oct. 2004.
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