Let’s put ourselves into the shoes of the people hearing this first sermon preached about Jesus Christ.
Some of these people were probably there on the day when Jesus was before Pilate being judged. Some may have even been part of the crowd that was yelling, “Crucify Him, crucify Him (Luke 23:21).” Their hearts must have been deeply pierced by the words of Peter when he, by the Spirit, said to them that they were guilty of putting to death the Son of God, the promised Messiah in whom they had been so anxiously awaiting (Acts 2:23, 36). We probably could not begin to understand the sorrow that was in their hearts for their wickedness in turning over the Son of God to the Gentiles to have Him crucified.
I don’t know what your response would be to the words of Peter, but the question that I would ask, begging for an answer, would be, “What must I do to be forgiven?”
This is exactly how the people responded to Peter and the other Apostles. We see the peoples’ response to the word of God in Acts 2:37: “When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” I’m sure that they, just as any of us, couldn’t wait for the answer to this question! What would the answer be? What would they need to do to be forgiven of their sin against God?
Did Peter answer by giving some of these answers you commonly hear today:
- “You don’t have to do a thing. Jesus did it all on the cross just 50 days ago for you!”
- “Just say this prayer with me and Jesus will come into your heart.” How about,
- “It seems like you already believe what I’ve said, so you are already saved!”
No, he didn’t say any of these things, because these were not what the Lord told him to say to the people on how they could receive forgiveness. So how did Peter answer this great question? Peter, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).”
Peter tells them that if they wanted to be forgiven of their sins each of them needed to as believers “repent and be baptized” for the remission of those sins. These were the things they needed to do! We see that there were about 3000 people who did just that! Acts 2:41 says, “those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” When these people received the word of God, they obeyed it by being baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. It should not surprise us that Peter would give this answer to the people because Jesus Himself gave this instruction in the great commission. Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).” It is interesting that there are so many who claim to be Christians today who would not have responded gladly to the command of Peter in the passage. They would accuse Peter of teaching “works salvation”. But Peter is not teaching this at all. The Spirit was using the words Peter was preaching, convicting people to come to faith, repentance, and baptism so that God would save them and forgive them. Those who were convicted and brought to faith and repentance by the Spirit would also be convicted to be baptized for the reason which Peter told them to, in order to receive remission of their sins. This conviction and obedience to the command of Peter was the work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of the people to earn their salvation.
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” is the answer to the great question, “What shall we do?”
Have you been told to do something different than what was instructed to the people in Acts 2? Have you been told that you do not need to do anything to be saved, or that you just needed to say a prayer? That’s not what Peter (and the other Apostles), inspired by the Holy Spirit, said to do!
Some respond to what has been written here by trying to retranslate what Peter says in Acts 2:38. What is argued is that the Greek word “eis”, which is translated in EVERY major translation in this verse, can also be translated as ‘because of’. So they say that Peter is instead saying, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ [because of] the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” There are a few problems with this retranslation of the verse:
- Every major modern translation translates it “for”, showing that one must repent and be baptized in order to receive forgiveness. Why reject the translation that hundreds of Greek scholars for over 500 years have given. Do they not have more experience with the Greek than you and I? When someone must retranslate a passage to get it to fit their belief system, the problem is usually not with the passage, but the belief system. One must read their presuppositions into the text to translate it differently.
- When ‘eis’ is translated ‘because of’, one is forced not only to say that baptism is ‘because of’ the remission of sins that was previously done, but also that repentance comes because remission of sins already happened prior. Most who prefer to retranslate the passage believe that both repentance and faith are necessary conditions to receive forgiveness, but in retranslating the passage, they shoot themselves in the foot and deny that repentance is necessary also, bringing themselves into contradiction with Jesus (Luke 13:3).
Acts 2:38 means what it says. It means what it has been translated by hundreds of Greek scholars for hundreds of years to say. The only reason to believe otherwise is because one is bringing a presupposition to the text which contradicts the text as it is written in our translations.
The people that obeyed the gospel on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 were added by the Lord to the church and were set free from the bondage of sin. Will you gladly receive the word of God just as they did, by repenting of your sins and by being baptized for the forgiveness of your sins?