Purpose of Guarding the Treasure

The purpose of this blog is to encourage readers to invest their time into the Word of God and "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." Paul wrote these words to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14) in his presumed last letter before his execution. May we be those who see the word of God as a treasure, guarding it with our lives, investing in it with our hearts and minds, and reaping the fruit of an abundant life while getting to know the God who loves us and created us for His marvelous pleasure and glory.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Baptism and Acts 2:38

The word baptism carries the idea of identification or to be made one with something else. Most often when we think of baptism, we think of water baptism. But actually there are other baptisms mentioned in Scripture that have nothing to do with water. For example, 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 discusses the baptism of Moses in which the children of Israel were identified with Moses and the cloud as they passed through the Red Sea on draw land as the waters were parted. Another baptism is the baptism of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:27 in which believers are placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. In addition, John foretold of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire (judgment) in the future by Jesus, "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11) Yet another baptism not involving water is the sacrifice of Jesus itself in which Christ was indentified with the cup of suffering for the sins of the world, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" (Mark 10:38). So as you can see, not all baptisms involve water!

We see in the first part of Acts 2 the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus and prophecy of Joel (2:28-32) in the baptism of the Holy Spirit to believers on the day of Pentecost (50 days after the resurrection of Jesus). Before his ascension, Jesus had instructed his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, "Which you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." (Acts 1:4-5) There is an obvious distinction here between the John's baptism with water and the baptism with the Holy Spirit which does not involve water. These Pentecost believers were not baptized with water in order to receive the Holy Spirit, rather they received the Holy Spirit because they were already believers in Jesus Christ! As such, when thinking about Matthew 28:19 and the phrase "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" the main point is not necessarily the need for water baptism, but more importantly the need for people identify with the Father, Son and Spirit in salvation. How is one identified with the Father, Son and Spirit? By believing in the Son, Jesus Christ, and trusting Him alone for eternal life (John 3:16). By faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again and given access to the Father and gifted with the Holy Spirit. Now, I am not saying that water baptism is not important, but the act of water baptism itself is an outward expression of the inner spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit when He places believers into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Going back to Acts 2, we see that the Holy Spirit gave Peter incredible boldness to confront the men of Judea and Jerusalem. Peter spoke trying to convince these men that they were wrong about Jesus and had made a horrible mistake. They had not believed that He was the promised Messiah and in fact, had Him crucified for claiming that He was the Messiah. Peter spoke of the death and resurrection of the Messiah as prophesied by David and how Jesus was the fulfillment of these Scriptures. He concluded his message with this powerful verse, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-- this Jesus whom you crucified." (Acts 2:36) The Jews who crucified Jesus did not believe this about Jesus, that He was Lord (God) and Christ (Messiah). They saw Jesus as a blasphemer who was making Himself out to be God (John 19:7). The message obviously resonated with them because the Scriptures say they were ""pierced to the heart" (Acts 2:37). Those pierced then asked the disciples, "Brethren, what shall we do?" followed by Peter's response, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Peter's response was appropriate for these unbelieving Jews who had crucified the Man they need to trust for salvation. Peter asked those pierced to repent, which literally means they needed to change their minds about Jesus and believe that He is the Messiah, as well as be identified with Christ through baptism.

Acts 2:38 is a very tough passage. In fact, a prominent denomination has been established primarily on the contents of this very verse. Here is Acts 2:38 as translated from the original Greek by Kenneth S. Wuest, professor of New Testament Greek at Moody Bible Institute until his death in 1962, who translated the New Testament using as many English words as necessary to explain the original Greek meaning: "And Peter said to them, "Have a change of mind, that change of mind being accompanied by abhorrence of and sorrow for your deed, and let each one of you be baptized upon the ground of your confession of belief in the sum total of all that Jesus Christ is in His glorious Person, this baptismal testimony being in relation to the fact that your sins have been put away, and you shall receive the gratuitous gift of the Holy Spirit."

Some believe that Acts 2:38 states that both repentance and baptism are necessary for salvation. However, countless other places in Scripture (i.e. Romans 3:28,4:5, Galatians 3:8-9, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:9), including the book of Acts (5:31, 10:43, 13:38-39, 26:18), state that forgiveness of sins is based solely upon faith in Christ. Repentance is synonymous with faith when referring to an unbeliever seeking justification, meaning someone must change their mind about what they are trusting for salvation, from something or someone else to Jesus Christ. For example, the Jews in Acts 2 did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. They had to repent (change their mind) and believe that He is indeed the Christ. As such, it was their repentance (faith) in Christ that resulted in their justification before God, not the act of water baptism itself. However, water baptism was the natural response to those who believed in Christ for eternal life.

In addition, in the Greek, the verb "repent" is plural and so is the pronoun "your" in "your sins" indicating that "repent" actually relates with "for the forgiveness of your sins" in this verse. In addition, the phrase "be baptized" is singular, setting it off from the rest of the sentence and suggesting that the clause "let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ" is more parenthetical. Thus the verse could be translated, "And Peter said to them, "Repent for the forgiveness of your sins; and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38, my reordering) Again, the repentance for the forgiveness of sins fits with the remainder of Scripture as stated in the paragraph above.

Some also believe that Acts 2:38 states that it is the act of water baptism that imparts the Holy Spirit and provides forgiveness of sins. However, the remainder of Scripture does not support this belief either. In fact, Scripture teaches that by faith alone in Christ one is given eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:13-14, Luke 24:47, Acts 10:43). If baptism is required for salvation, then how do we reconcile this belief with the thief on the cross who clearly was not baptized but promised paradise with Christ? (Luke 23:43) Also in Acts 10, the gospel was preached by Peter to Cornelius and while Peter was preaching the Holy Spirit fell upon the hearers before they were actually water baptized, "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days." (Acts 10:43-48) Clearly the Holy Spirit fell upon them because they believed the message, not because they were water baptized. Water baptism is an obedient response of a believer, symbolic of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and a testimony to the world that you have trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal life.As to the method of baptism (immersion, sprinkling, etc.), whole denominations have been established over which is the right way to water baptize someone. I grew up Methodist and they sprinkle, while now I am attending a Baptist church and they immerse. While the Bible does not explicitly say which method is correct, I think we can gather that believers were immersed in the early church (see Acts 8:35-39). Isn't it interesting how both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch went into the water (v38)? Clearly the eunuch was immersed in the water in this passage. Immersion gives the best picture of the spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit referred to in Romans 6:3-4 in which the believer dies with Christ (goes down into the water), is buried with Him (laid under the water) and then is risen with Him to new life (comes out of the water). So does the amount of water really matter? Not really, but the Bible seems to advocate immersion. However, the most important thing for a believer to understand in baptism is the symbolism behind it and how it is a tangible picture of the spiritual baptism of the Holy Spirit.


Gary said...

I just read your article on Acts 2:38. Wow! It sure would have been nice if God had written the Bible in less confusing language! After reading your article, I now understand what God really meant to say. "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins" sure sounds like sins are forgiven in baptism, but you explained very well why of course that can't be true.

Thank the Lord we have educated churchmen like yourselves who can explain to us what God failed to clearly express. It is obvious to me, after reading your article, that the Christian layperson is incapable of reading the Bible and understanding it without the assistance and oversight of good educated churchmen.

I am still puzzled by this, however: why is there no historical evidence, anywhere, of anyone in the first approximately 800 years of Christianity who believed that baptism is simply and only our public profession of faith/act of obedience? I can't find a single historical document of any early Christian pastor or layperson stating the Baptist/evangelical position on this doctrine. Can you explain this?



Scott Larrison said...

Thanks for reading the article Gary. The sarcasm in your comments is laid on pretty thick don't you think?

By the way, I am a Christian layperson so you can feel free to disregard what I have wrote in the article since I'm obviously not a "good educated" churchman.

My personal beliefs on water baptism are the result of careful study of the Bible. I will admit that I could be wrong in my beliefs and I often ask the LORD to show me the truth and give me correct theology.

If you care to share your personal beliefs on water baptism, I would be more than willing to hear you out. And then maybe we could respectfully continue the dialogue.

God bless you and may He lead us both into all truth through the power of the Holy Spriit!