Monday, September 3, 2012

“Repent and be Baptized,” in Acts 2:38

We now leave the Gospels and move into Acts. Some of the uses of repentance words in Acts are not as clearly behavior-related as those in the Gospels. However, all but possibly two of them are demonstrably behavior-related, when considered in their larger contexts. Acts 2:38 is an example of a command to “repent” that requires a larger context to reveal its behavioral dimension. It is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has descended on the 120 disciples gathered together, apparently in an upper room (Acts 1:13, 15 & 2:1-3). As a result, the gathered disciples had begun to praise God in many different languages, the languages of the Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast. This gained the attention of the crowd, giving Peter the opportunity to preach his first sermon. The conclusion of Peter’s sermon, and the crowd’s response, were:

36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know certainly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 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?”

Acts 2:36-37

At this point, Peter could have reflected one modern Evangelical understanding by saying “nothing. You can do absolutely nothing—only believe!” But Peter did not say that. Instead, he told the crowd two things they were to do:

38 Peter said to them, “Repent (metanoēsate), and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38

Thus, Peter answered the question “what shall we do” with the commands “repent” and “be baptized.” I will not here investigate the issue of baptismal regeneration that has divided the Church for centuries—i.e., whether the new life starts at the time of baptism—as that question is not essential to the point I am making. Rather, I would merely point out that both repentance and baptism were here identified by the Apostle Peter as things that must be done, not merely believed.

Those who responded to Peter’s words were baptized. Acts 2:41. But their baptism was only the beginning of an entirely different way of life. Luke continues, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer.” Acts 2:42. Indeed, the transformation was so complete that they openly gave up ownership of their lives and property: “All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need.” Acts 2:44-45. The repentance that preceded their baptism gave them joy and an undivided heart to worship God: “Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people.” Acts 2:46-47a. Obviously, among those who believed on the day of Pentecost, repentance had very obvious behavioral results.