by Tad Lindley
Acts 2:38 is a foundational scripture for Christianity. The very people who heaped sin upon themselves when they called for Jesus to be crucified were saved when they obeyed Acts 2:38. Acts 2:38 was the closing cry of the apostle Peter at the end of the very first sermon ever preached. Peter was teaching the people what they should do to receive the promise of the Holy Ghost as he had. Acts 2:38 teaches us how to respond to the preaching of the gospel. In one verse, Acts 2:38, reveals how Christians were born again of water and of the Spirit nearly two thousand years ago. Yet in our day many people have never heard of Acts 2:38.
Acts 2:38 never left the Bible…
… but it left the pulpit. Today you could not preach Acts 2:38 most places. Sure the preacher could read it from the pulpit, but he could not preach it. In fact in most churches if a preacher began to teach his people to obey Acts 2:38, he would soon be asked to resign his position. For this reason, it is largely ignored. It disagrees with what many churches teach. Instead of changing the church doctrines to match the Bible, people just blacklisted Acts 2:38. If you want to keep a secret, turn in the church’s big Bible to Acts chapter 2. Write your secret down in the margin next to verse 38. The chances are excellent that no one will ever find it.
Four versions of Acts 2:38
First let’s look at what Acts 2:38 says (I’ll give you three versions):
1) 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. (King James Version, widely used in Protestant churches)
2) Peter-am kanerutai, “Umyolenkigtse, angidloralutsedlu, tamatlkorpitse Yesusam Kristusam atranun, ashilinguerumadlerkagpitsinun. Anerneramikdlo Tankilramik tsikiumatshikutse. (Kenerearakgtar, the Yup’ik New Testament in the old orthography)
3) Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (New International Version)
4) Now you go get your Bible and see what it says.
Two commands and a promise
Regardless of the version, Acts 2:38 tells us to repent. Repentance means turning from sin and turning toward God. We cannot be saved without repentance. Jesus said, Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13:3,5). That still preaches in a lot of churches. The second command is to be baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of sin. Simply put, many churches don’t play that.
The real problem with Acts 2:38
Baptism is messy. It gets water on the floor. Folks have to change their clothes. Getting water can be hard work in villages without piped water. Let me say this though. If we are doing it to obey God, we need to do it right. Let me say that again, if we are doing it to obey God, we need to do it right. I realize that it is more convenient to sprinkle people, but that is a human tradition. Sprinkling is not what Peter meant when he preached Acts 2:38. He very specifically meant for us to be immersed in water. Jesus very specifically meant for us to be immersed in water when he taught, He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16).
Modern preachers vs. Apostle Peter
A lot of preachers have decided that Peter was wrong when he preached Acts 2:38. Notice that Peter was commanding them to be baptized in Jesus’ name. About a week earlier Jesus had told Peter and the other apostles, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Apparently Peter understood the Lord to be telling them to baptize in the name of Jesus. Of the 10 other disciples not a one contradicted Peter when he preached it this way. Not only that, but there is no record in scripture of a person ever being baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
When nothing else works, receive the promise
Read the end of Acts 2:38 out loud with me. And you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the promise from God that if we will repent of sin and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin from our lives, we will rise up in victory. Somebody is reading this who is at the end of their rope. You have tried everything you can think of to do. Counselors can’t fix it, Prozac hasn’t helped, claiming to be a Christian hasn’t done it. You are sure that there must be something more, but what is it? It is Acts 2:38. If your marriage is crumbling: Acts 2:38. If you can’t heal from hurts in the past: Acts 2:38. You say grace at every meal and go to church every Sunday, but still end up drinking: Acts 2:38.
Brother Lindley, that’s oversimplifying things
Not really. Jesus said, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33). You can never go wrong by obeying the word of God. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). When we obey the word of God, we will live the abundant life!
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, AK.