“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38, AV)
When I was in college, I participated in competitive marksmanship on the ROTC rifle team. After the first year, they made me the Team Captain. In this role, there were certain expectations placed upon me. First, it was expected that I attend all the team practices and matches. Second, it was expected that I would coach and encourage the other team members. The point is that the titles that we have carry with them certain expectations.
After Peter preached the evangelistic message, the audience being “cut to the heart” asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter responds, “Repent and be baptized.” With these words, he presents two expectations of a believer in Jesus Christ. It is not that these are required for a person to be saved, since salvation is by grace alone through faith (Eph 2:8-9), but here he tells them two steps that should spring forth from a genuine conversion experience. True conversion results in repentance and baptism.
The word repentance is the Greek word, metanoeo, which means to change one’s mind. In salvation, the Spirit of God regenerates the new believer, giving him or her a new divine nature. This changes the believer’s mind or attitude toward God and the things of God. Repentance, being a change of mind is the natural response of a true believer, which results in a change in actions and attitudes. This repentance will be both an initial response of faith and also something that is ongoing in the life of a true believer as he or she has a transformed nature that desires to seek God and His righteousness.
The word baptized is a transliteration of the Greek word, baptizo, which means to dip, plunge or immerse. When we study the New Testament church, every example of baptism follows conversion. It is a step of obedience, and a visible testimony of the reality of one’s conversion experience.
There is a false teaching among some, so called Christian denominations, that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. They tout Peter’s words to support this heretical teaching. The problem with this teaching is that it adds a work of the believer to grace. Any work added to grace results in an effort of a person to trust in their own effort rather than the finished work of Christ. This teaching undermines the sovereignty of God over salvation and the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.
The wording of Peters command, be baptized . . . for the remission of sins,” has a striking resemblance to John the Baptist’s words recorded when he called for people to be baptized. “I baptize you with water for repentance” (Matthew 3:11, ESV). John’s baptism with water was in response to the repentance of the people, it did not bring about repentance. Peter’s baptism was “for forgiveness” and John’s was “for repentance.” Just as John’s baptism signified peoples’ repentance, Peter’s baptism, signified peoples’ forgiveness of sins. Peter’s baptism was because the believer had experienced grace and thus the forgiveness of sins.
What is the main point of this? When you talk to people about salvation, you should also explain the expected response to salvation. A person’s good works do not bring about his or her salvation, but a person’s salvation will necessarily bring about good works. For the new believer the first works we expect to see in a new believer’s life are repentance and baptism.