Acts 2:38; Eph. 2:8-9; John 1:12-13; Eph. 1:13-14
I promise, I promise, I promise we will actually start going through Acts starting tomorrow, with no more distractions for a while. But yesterday we went over a verse that’s engendered a lot of controversy and has inadvertently caused some confusion. Not that there’s anything wrong with God’s word, but our human understanding can cause some problems sometimes.
I’m of course referring to Acts 2:38. There are some churches out there (and at least one major denomination) that teach that you have to be baptized in order to be saved. The name for this doctrine is baptismal regeneration. They contend that there are four steps to being saved: belief, confession, repentance, and baptism. If you fall short and don’t finish step #4, your salvation is questioned if not outright denied.
My Grandmother actually had a slight confrontation over this. She was saved during the winter-time, and there was no hot water available at that time for baptism. She related this story to a friend of hers years later, and her friend was astonished: “What if you'd died before springtime?!”
As you might've guessed, they love Acts 2:38. I’ve been in some “discussions” (which I’m ashamed to admit turned rather heated) with some dear siblings in Christ who make this claim. I showed them verse upon verse upon verse that teaches that we’re saved at the moment of faith in Christ, and they'd keep going back to this verse like a mantra: “But what about Acts 2:38?” Well, since to some folks this is such a pivotal verse on how to get saved, let’s take a closer look at it.
First off, there are some points about the original Greek to consider. It all hinges on one little word: “for.” The crowds of new converts asked Peter what they should do in response to the Good News, and he told them to be baptized in the name of Jesus "for [eis] the forgiveness of [their] sins." At first this sounds like baptismal regeneration is correct: Peter told them to repent and be baptized in order to get forgiveness of sins. That's certainly one way we can interpret the word "for" in English: "I went to the store for [i.e. in order to get] some milk."
The problem is that the Greek preposition here—eis—can be translated other ways as well. Most interestingly, it can be rendered “because of” or “in view of.” Here are some samples: Matt. 12:41 says that the Ninevites repented “at” (eis) the preaching of Jonah. They didn’t repent in order to get the preaching of Jonah. They repented because of—or in view of—his preaching which already existed before their response. John the Baptist told the crowds that he baptized with water “for” (eis) repentance. He wasn’t saying that he would baptize them with water in order for them to get repentance. He said that he would baptize them because of the repentance they already had.
Someone might say “But you can translate it as ‘in order to get’! Here’s another passage where eis is used in the sense of ‘in order to get.’” And that’s absolutely true. As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs above, Eis can be translated that way as well.
Here’s a great time to remind us all of another great principle in biblical hermeneutics: You interpret hard-to-understand passages by easy-to-grasp passages. You can read the other passages in today’s reading, and they're perfectly clear: You're saved by grace through faith in Christ and are a child of God at the moment of faith. There's no “step by step process.” No one is “three quarters” saved. In Ephesians one Paul said that they were sealed by the Holy Spirit once they believed in Christ. It'd be hard for the Apostle to be any clearer. And I just picked some of the more familiar passages. The book of John and the Epistles (especially of Paul) teach this over and over and over and over and over.
Why do I bring this up? Because Paul was very zealous for the purity of the Good News. All you have to do is read the book of Galatians to get that immediately. The reason he was so adamant about stuff like this is because he cared about two things: 1) The glory of God and 2) The well-being of people. Adding anything to the Good News as far as a requirement diminishes from God’s glory. Salvation is from him and by him, and we can’t add anything to that. And telling people they need to do X in order to be saved when God tells them all they need to do is trust in his Son doesn’t do them any favors either.
If you happen to be reading this posting and aren't sure if you are saved or not, please read this. It's so simple a child of six can grasp what's needed: You place your trust in Jesus and submit to him, and you're in. He loves you, and the last thing he wants is for you to be confused on this.
Lord Jesus, I praise you because salvation is completely from you. I don’t bring anything to it except for my sin and my need, and all the glory goes to you, and none of it to me. What can I say, except “Thank you,” and “I’m yours”?