The Greatest Personal Question
Anyone who has ever been in the position of truly wanting to know, "What must I
do," should be interested in this study.
"What must I do?"
That all important question doesn't have one thing to do with your choice of vocation, your financial planning, or your career. It is strange that if I were some sort of expert in the field of financial planning I could arrest your attention much more quickly than if I show you from your own Bible what you and I must do to be saved.
On the day of Pentecost the first gospel sermon ever preached in the name of Jesus was heard by thousands of people in the ancient city of Jerusalem. At one point in the sermon, conviction was so strong that the audience cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). We know not how many made such a cry, but there were enough that the inspired preacher responded as he was guided by the Holy Spirit of God. "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" (verse 38).
The answer of the Holy Spirit through Peter to this all important question is simple, plain, and unmistakable: "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, the Christ, and Savior of men, and convicted of their sins against him, they could repent of such sins. Their faith in Jesus led to this repentance.
Repentance is turning away in Godly sorrow from all sin (2 Cor. 7: 10) -- sins of thought, word, and deed, secret sins and known sins. He who repents is ashamed of and sorry for all sins alike because they are wrong, and turns from all alike. It does not require a long time to repent; these people repented on the spot.
Next, Peter said, "and be baptized every one of you" -- that is -- all who believed and repented. Those who had not believed and repented would not and could not be baptized in obedience to God.
"Be baptized" means to be dipped, buried, immersed. All Greek-English lexicons so define it. There is no other word in the Bible so well defined as this one. All religious people agree that a believer in Christ who has been immersed in obedience to God has been baptized. The facts and circumstances in the Bible connected with obedience to this command show that it means immersion. Much water is necessary in order to baptize (John 3:23); those who were baptized "went out" and "came" to the water (Matt 3:5; John 3:23); they went down into the water (Acts 8:38).
Baptism is a burial (Rom. 6:4, Col. 2:12); so when the people were baptized "in the river Jordan," they were buried. Thus John buried Jesus and Philip buried the eunuch. In baptism the body is washed; hence it is a washing (Heb. 10:2; Tit. 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21). It is a birth (John 3:5). In our efforts to obey God we should always do that about which there can be no question or doubt.
"In the name of Jesus Christ" means, while in faith, turning from their sins, they were baptized "unto the remission" of sins, they must look to Jesus and rely upon his name for pardon and salvation.
"Remission" of sins means release from sins; the pardon, or forgiveness, of sins. "For the remission of sins," as given in the Common Version means unto, or into, or in order to the pardon, or forgiveness, of sins or in order that sins may be forgiven.
Horatio Hackett (Baptist), in his Commentary on Acts, says: "In order to the remission of sins." Again he says: "In order to the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28; Luke 3:3) we connect naturally with both the preceding verbs. This clause states the motive, or object, which should induce them to repent and be baptized."
John A. Broadus (Baptist), at Matt. 26:28, says of the same expression: "'For [or unto] the remission of sins,' in order that sins may be remitted."
Alvah Hovey (Baptist) says: "Here repentance and baptism are represented as leading to the forgiveness of sins."
Harkness (Baptist) says it may be rendered "in order to. or for the purpose of receiving."
Harman (Methodist) says: "For [that ye may obtain] the remission of your sins."
H.A.W. Meyer (German Lutheran) says: "'Eis' [for] denotes the object of the baptism, which is the remission of the guilt contracted in the state before 'metanoia' [repentance]."
McClintock (Methodist) says: "To be baptized for the remission of sins means to be baptized with a view to receiving this."
Philip Schaff: (Presbyterian) says: "He called upon his hearers to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, . . . that even they . . . might receive the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost."
Joseph H. Thayer (Congregationalist/Unitarian) says: "To obtain the forgiveness of sins."
Peter continued saying, "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" (verse 39). "For" shows that they would receive the Spirit because Jesus had promised another Comforter. To the apostles, Jesus promised: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:16-17).
"To you . . . and to your children," means the Jews and their descendants. "All that are afar off" means the Gentiles. God calls through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14), and all who obey the gospel are the called of God. The Holy Spirit was to bring all that Jesus had said to the remembrance of the apostles and to guide them "into all the truth," (John 16:13) and thus through inspired men he guided all who heeded the gospel call into all truth and all blessings which are in Christ.
Peter continued "with many other words" to testify and exhort. To testify was to bear witness to Jesus and to prove that he was "both Lord and Christ." To exhort was to persuade people to accept him as such. Peter's command is clear: "Save yourselves." The Holy Spirit and the apostles understood that people could save themselves. He who speaks against people doing anything to be saved speaks against the Bible.
Certainly, people cannot do anything that will merit, procure, or provide salvation. They cannot forgive their own sins. God does this through Jesus. Paul explains exactly how people save themselves. "So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation [by continuing to obey God] with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12, 13).
So the people addressed by Peter could save themselves by doing what God commanded. In this sense alone can people save themselves; but this they can do, and must do, if they would be saved. Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to all those who obey Him (Heb. 5:7-10).
Verse 41 reads, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized . . ." All who gladly received the word of God, or terms of pardon were baptized. Those who did not gladly receive God's word were not baptized. The Bible tells us, "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him" (Luke 7:30). So today those who believe in Jesus, trust God, and gladly receive the word of God, will be baptized for the remission of sins. Those who do not gladly receive his word are not baptized.
"And there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls."
They were added that day. Since there was then one church - the church of Christ -- all saved persons were added to that church. They were added by virtue of their obedience to God and in becoming his children There is given no form or ceremony of adding the saved to the church. Being saved, or becoming God's children, constituted them a part of the church or numbered them among the "called out" ones.
This shows that the Lord adds people to his church; that only the pardoned, or saved, are added; and that he adds them as fast as he saves them. That which saves people adds them to the church (verse 47).
Verse 42 reads, "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." These new disciples continued "steadfastly" in the things named in this verse. They continued to learn from the apostles the will of God and continued likewise to practice it.
The "fellowship" was mutual joy, sympathy, and helpfulness in one another's successes and triumphs, sufferings and wants, afflictions and sorrows (Rom. 12:15; 1 Cor. 12:26). This embraces the contribution of money and means to relieve the distressed and to help the needy.
The "breaking of bread" refers to the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-30; Acts, 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16).
"And the prayers" refers to prayers in their meetings. This verse does not state the regular day or time of meeting for this purpose, but other passages do (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1, 2; Heb. 10:25). Thus all Christians must continue in the worship of God.
From this chapter we learn how the Spirit influenced sinners and guided them into the remission of sins and into the church of Christ. So through the inspired apostles in the same way the Spirit guides sinners today. And we learn, too, how the Spirit guides all Christians in the worship of God and the work of the church. This is the simple story of the answer God gives to the most important question any of us will ever face. I hope you will consider what has been said and if we can assist you in your obedience to the gospel of Christ, please let us know.
Much of this transcript is taken directly from E.A. Elam's Notes, 1925, pages 106-110)
By Dudley R. Spears
From Expository Files 4.9; September 1997