Repentance and Baptism
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 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." (Ac. 2:36-38)
* * * * * * * * * * *
Nothing clears the fog of ignorance like a bracing blast of reality. On this Pentecost, the assembled Jews got a heavy dose of it, and it turned their lives upside down.
Peter proved that Jesus the Nazarene, in whose death they had earlier played a role, was, in fact, their long-awaited Messiah. Could there be any sin more grievous, more unforgivable, than what they had done? God had every right to strike them dead on the spot for their crime. "What shall we do?" was not an expression of curiosity; it was a cry for mercy.
Peter's answer to these new believers was simple but profound: "Repent and be baptized." Peter's coupling of these two actions was deliberate and significant.
Repentance is a change of heart with a view to reforming one's life. It's more than being sorry for sin; and it goes beyond a desire to escape the consequences of sin. Rather, it's an inner resolve to turn one's life around, to clean out the mental clutter that has impeded our decision-making and chart a fresh course in life.
Baptism is immersion in water, symbolizing a cleansing, a renewal, a rebirth. Baptism makes public the resolution that has been made in private. John the Baptizer had already popularized this ritual as a prerequisite to getting right with God (Mk. 1:4-5), so this requirement was nothing new to these people.
Both of these conditions are acts of faith. We resolve to change our lives because we have been convinced that Jesus is Lord and Christ. We submit to the rite of baptism because we believe in His power to save. The faith is important, but if we decline either of these additional requirements (as the Pharisees did, Lk. 7:29-30), we reject the will of God for our lives. We remain in our sins.
Repentance and baptism are linked elsewhere in the New Testament, using a variety of expressions (Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3; Heb. 10:22; Eph. 4:22-24 & 5:26; 1 Pet. 3:21). As with Peter on Pentecost, both should play a prominent role in our efforts to bring sinners back to God today.