Sunday, September 2, 2012

Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sin?

Why do you suppose Peter told the people they had to "Repent and be baptized" for the forgiveness of their sin in Acts 2:37-41?  Does this mean we must be baptized to be saved?  I placed my faith in Christ when I was 6 years old but wasn't baptized until I was 11.  Was I saved at age 6 or 11?  What about those who are never baptized; are they saved?  Isn't all this faith plus works?   

Well yes it is.  And people do all sorts of things to make these verses fit with what Paul tells us later on (Rom 3:21-28, etc.).  Things like, "Repentance is turning from sin and baptism is turning toward the church, meaning that you're publicly identifying with the church when you're baptized."  It is further explained that "conversion is not a feeling" and that "it isn't faith alone plus whatever you feel like doing.  You must act like you've been converted, and this includes being publicly identified with the church."

I guess I can't really blame them since Peter is preaching faith plus works.  I do blame them, however, for not noting to whom he was speaking (Jews!) or the progression of Scripture.  For example, look at the following passages:

In the Gospels we read that John proclaimed "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" so that Jesus Christ might be revealed to Israel.  And don't forget, Israel was still under the law at this time (Matt 5:18-20; 7:12; 8:4; 19:17; 23:2-3; Mk 1:44; Lk 2:22; 5:14; Gal 4:4), which explains the faith plus works he preached.**

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4).

And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Lk 3:2-6).

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel” (Jn 1:29-31).

Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel (Acts 13:24).

Peter continued to preach to Israel the kingdom at hand and a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:36-41; 3:19-21).

“...Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:36-41).

In order to correctly interpret the book of Acts, we must remember that it is a transitional book, starting with "to the Jews only" in the beginning chapters and closing with "to the Gentiles and the Jews."  As one author well said, "During the years covered by the first nine chapters of Acts, God's order was 'to the Jews first not to the Gentiles.' Beginning with Acts 13:46 God's order was 'to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles,' until the close of Acts.' Since the judgment of God, recorded in Acts 28:25-28, God's order has been 'to the Gentiles and also to the Jews.'"  Also concerning the Book of Acts, Sir Robert Anderson says this in his book Silence of God: “My contention is that the Acts, as a whole is the record of a temporary and transitional dispensation in which blessing was again offered to the Jew and again rejected.” “The right understanding of the Acts of the Apostles . . . a book which is primarily the record, not as commonly supposed, of the founding of the Christian Church, but of the apostasy of the favoured nation.”

Keeping this in mind, let's look again at Acts 2:38.  Scripture tells us that John proclaimed "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" to Israel.  The only difference between Peter's proposition to Israel in Acts 2:38 and John's is one of historical development; the Holy Spirit had come so Peter could add, "and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

The first part of Acts, then, doesn't present Christianity at all.  It presents Judaism!  No revelation had yet been given that salvation was to be by grace through faith alone.**  In fact, we will not clearly see the "gospel of the grace of God" until Paul comes on the scene (Rom 3:21-28; Eph 2:11-22).

This is why there is such a huge difference between Peter at Pentecost, demanding repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, and Paul later proclaiming Christ's righteousness for the remission of sins (Rom 3:21-28).

**"Faith will most assuredly approach God in God’s way at any time, and to seek to gain acceptance with Him in any other way would, of course, be unbelief and self-will. Thus, while works never did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions of faith…..Does this mean that works will be efficacious in themselves? No! They will avail only as the expression and evidence of faith..."