What must I do to he saved? How can I receive forgiveness (remission of sins)? What does God demand of me? This question, in one form or another, has been asked over and over since God put mankind on this earth. This is the very same question that many Jews on the day of Pentecost wanted answered. These are the very same people who, some forty days earlier had cried out for the torturous death of Jesus. So, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter spoke the words needed to pierce their hearts (Acts 2:22-36).
The people, instead of reacting to this accusation with anger, as some today, reacted with godly sorrow: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They were asking the question of universal interest to all. What shall we do? How do we gain atonement for our sins’? They wanted to know what was necessary to remove the stain of blood from our hands’?
But remission of sins comes by grace
What shall we do? Do; was it possible that there was something that they (or we) could do? People for ages have insisted quite strenuously that there is nothing we can do in order to have our sins forgiven. Their rational is, “If we must do something, salvation is not of grace – it is not the free gift of God.”
Is it possible that salvation can be of grace and that we still must do something to obtain it? An illustration used to make the point go something like this: Two men were sitting at the table talking. when one noticed the other had a very nice pen. Upon the man commenting about the nice pen, the owner of the pen held it out and said, “You may have it.” Here is a gift. This is an act of grace. The man did not pay for the pen. the other simply gave it to him.
But, if this man took the modern notion of grace he would have simply sat there and stared at the pen. Why? If the gift is of grace, there is nothing for him to do to obtain the gift. If he so much as reached out his hand to take the pen he has “worked” for it and the gift is not of grace. He, however, not burdened by this false notion of grace, would take the pen and thank the owner for his gracious offer. He did something.
Those on Pentecost understood remission of sins and salvation
And indeed, on the day of Pentecost there was something the crowd had to do. In fact, there were several things. First, they had to recognize (believe) that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Notice, something they had to do. They demonstrated this by their reaction to Peter’s sermon. Having believed, they felt they must do more. Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, agreed. His directions were simple: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
They were commanded to repent; change their heart and ways. Also, they were commanded to be baptized. The result? The remission (blotting out) of their sins. As straight forward as this seems. many who would call themselves Christians claim forgiveness of sins is not contingent upon baptism. Their reasoning goes; baptism is a “work” and if remission requires you to do anything, it cannot be of grace. They fail to comprehend what was said in John 6:28-29 about belief.
If we say baptism paid the price for sin, the argument would have some merit. But the fact is, I know of no one who teaches that baptism earns forgiveness of sins. Simply being obedient to God earns us nothing. We are His and this is our duty (Luke 17:10). Every one I am acquainted with (regardless of religious affiliation) accepts the necessity of belief and repentance for forgiveness. But these are things one must do. So, also, must one be baptized.
When does remission of sins come?
One objection continually raised by some is; Acts 2:38 says “because of the remission of sins . . .” instead of “for the remission of sins ….” Their reasoning; A person is baptized because he is saved, not in order to be saved. Circular logic comes into play at this point. The proponents of this reasoning argue salvation happens when they believe (and repent), otherwise salvation is of works, not faith. Despite this claim, not one single respectable translation of the Bible contains this reading! For comparrison refer to the KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, MV, NCV, RSV, NRSV and any other acronyms that you can think of.
In fact, Peter’s words properly translated into English remain: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Three thousand people understood that day and were baptized (Acts 2:41). There is a similar passage when Ananias is instructing Saul (later known as the apostle Paul) as to what was necessary for the remission of sins in Acts 22:16. If you want remission of your sins, you will believe, repent, and be baptized.
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