Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
How we rejoice in the response of the apostle to the people when they realized they were guilty of the blood of the Lamb of God! We are all guilty of that precious blood because it was for sin that Christ died, and Rom 3:23 tells us all have sinned. What should be done to such a people? In the response to the parable of the wicked husbandmen that killed the only son of the landowner, the Jews speak truthfully about the landowner’s rightful response to such men: “He will destroy those wicked men miserably…” (Mt 21:41) That judgment should be the inheritance of the entire human race, but God in His great mercy offers hope when there should be none! “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Hallelujah, what a Savior!!!
So, when the people asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”, thank God that Peter didn’t say, “There’s no hope for you now!” He gave them hope and said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” Now, the easy part of that statement is “be baptized”. Water baptism is a work of man. Anyone can get in the baptism waters and leave no better than when he came. Should you be baptized following true repentance? Absolutely! God commands it, and none of God’s commands should be ignored. But we must be clear: baptism, just like every other work of man, does not save you! Many have been baptized whose hearts were never changed, and even now, they live in rebellion abiding under the wrath of God!
If the emphasis of what you must do to have your sins forgiven was to be baptized, Peter would have given different advice in the next chapter of Acts. He speaks to a new group of people here, and, again, he brings the sin of killing the son of God to bear upon them in Ac 3:14-15. This time, however, as he reveals their only hope of finding forgiveness, baptism is not mentioned once! His word to them is: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…” (Ac 3:19) Only repentance is mentioned! This should be no surprise since this is exactly the message that Jesus came preaching (Mt 4:17) and the message He’s committed to His church (Lk 24:47). Sadly, repentance is too often the missing message in many pulpits today!
As I’ve already stated before, there is no work we can do to save ourselves. “Salvation is of the Lord!” (Jon 2:9) “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) But some will ask, “Isn’t repentance a work of man?” Actually, true repentance is a work of God because it stems from faith which is the gift of God! Did you know that Judas repented according to Mt 27:3? Some translations may remove the word from that verse, but in the Greek it literally reads: “Then Judas, the one betraying Him, seeing that He was condemned, repenting, returned the thirty pieces of silver…” Judas repented, yet died in his sins! Why? Because his repentance came as a work of his flesh, not that which is given of God. Listen to how the Scripture reads when the Jewish Christians began to realize God was saving Gentiles. “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.'” (Ac 11:18) In 2 Tim 2:25, we are told to teach others “in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance…” True repentance is a work of God in the heart of those He saves!
“So, what’s the big deal”, you ask? The answer to that question is what distinguishes Christianity from every religion of the world. The problem is that if we add any work of our own to be saved, then Christ’s work is made of no effect! Paul dealt with the Galatians on this very issue as some were trying to convince them they had to add to the finished work of Christ (didn’t He say on the cross, “It is finished”?). The issue among them was circumcision. Listen to how devastating it would have been to their eternal well-being if they had been circumcised in order to be saved. “Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.” (Gal 5:2) Every religion of the world is based on man working to please God. In contrast, God teaches us by His word that we are accepted by Him based on what He has done for us through the work of the beloved Son of God! (Eph 1:6, Rom 4:2-5, Eph 2:8-9, Tit 3:5). Our works of obedience now are simply expressions of love toward God because He did what we could not do for ourselves. (Jn 14:15, Eph 2:10, 1 Jn 5:3) The message of the gospel is simply, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” (Ac 16:31) There’s a reason the church sings, “Jesus paid it all…all to Him I owe!”