Matthew 16 describes a pivotal conversation between Jesus and His disciples, during which Simon-Peter confesses the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds by declaring that Peter is ‘a rock’ and that on ‘the bedrock’ of this revelation and truth He will build His church! (Matthew 16:13-18, catch up here).
A year or so later, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, just as He’d promised (see Acts 1:1-8) and a huge crowd gathered to hear and see what was happening amongst the believers (Acts 2:1-6). Now Peter begins to fulfil the prophetic declaration Jesus has made about him; sure and steady as a rock, he explains the outpouring and draws his sermon to a climax by once again declaring this same great revelatory truth – that “this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). The crowd are “cut to the heart” – confronted by the truth and convicted by their sin – and ask “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37). Without hesitation, Peter sets forth three ‘first steps’ they must take: “repent, be baptised and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These three things are as vital and relevant now as they were then! So, how are they to be understood? There’s so much to explore here, but to get us started:
First, repentance is a ‘change of mind’ (metanoeó) leading to a change of direction. It involves a recognition of our sin, a genuine remorse and a redirection of our lives, in which we turn away from sin and turn towards God, by putting our faith in Christ alone and producing “the fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is from “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and is therefore always life-giving; it acknowledges that Jesus is King and Lord over our lives, and is the way we are born again and enter His Kingdom (John 3:3-5).
Then, baptism is a means of grace with real power to enable new believers to make a clean-break from their past (Acts 22:16), burying the old life and beginning to live in resurrection power (Romans 6:1-14). It’s always by full immersion (since the word baptizo means ‘plunge’, ‘immerse’ or ‘submerge’) and the New Testament never suggests any other type or practice. The book of Acts also makes clear that repentance and faith are preconditions of baptism (it’s a ‘believers baptism’), but otherwise there is no biblical warrant for delaying it. Rather, it is the expected, commanded and immediate next step of all who’ve repented; in other words, repentance and baptism always go together (see, for example, Acts 8:36-39: 10:47-48, 16:33, 22:16).
Receiving the Spirit is the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that John anticipated (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and Jesus affirmed (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8), for the context of Acts 2 makes it impossible Peter could have been referring to anything else! The biblical evidence is that this “baptism” or “empowering” (these and other phrases are used synonymously) is a distinct experience (not the ‘equivalent’ of repentance or water baptism). By His own baptism in water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus set the example for us to follow. It is God’s wonderful promise and provision for all believers (Acts 2:17-18, 39), enabling us to live the Christian life the way He always intended.
It’s notable that as part of their ‘foundation-laying’ role (1 Corinthians 3:10, Ephesians 2:20), the New Testament apostles consistently ensured all three of these essential events had occurred in the lives of believers. Thus: Peter and John laid hands on believers in Samaria who’d only been baptised in water, so they’d also receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14ff); Peter commanded Cornelius’s household to be baptised in water as soon as they’d received the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:47-48); having made enquiries of the disciples in Ephesus, Paul baptised them in water and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6)… The apostles knew that to leave any ‘gaps’ in the foundations was to leave believers diminished and unsteady.
Those who accepted Peter’s message were “that day…added to them” (Acts 2:41), a final step which effectively completed their ‘total salvation’. Now, like them, we can be totally saved – saved from eternal death by repentance and faith; saved from the power of the past through the waters of baptism; saved from powerlessness in the future by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; and saved from going it alone by being added to His Church. What a wonderful salvation!…