Taking a Second Look

I recently saw a picture online that caught me off guard. At first glance, I thought I saw what
appeared to be a young girl with cat-like features. But I knew that idea was absurd, so I took a
second look. Now I could see what was really there. I was looking at a picture of a young girl holding
a cat in front of her face in just the right way that the cat’s nose and mouth looked like they were part
of the young girl’s face. Now that I saw it, the answer was obvious. However, to come to that
conclusion, I needed to take a second look.
Sometimes we can read a verse of Scripture and our initial reaction is, “Come again?”, because we
are caught off guard by what it says. I came across such a verse this week. Acts 2:38 says, “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.” Two questions immediately popped into my head after
initially reading this verse: (1) Is this verse teaching that, in order for God to forgive a person’s sins,
they must repent and be baptized? and (2) Is this verse teaching that the Holy Spirit indwells a
Christian only after they have repented and been baptized?
In order to answer these questions, let’s take a second look at Acts 2:38, and its context.  It is the Day
of Pentecost (2:1).  The believers in Jerusalem have just been filled with the Holy Spirit, and given the
ability to speak in other known languages (2:4).  Peter gets up in front of a Jewish crowd and
preaches his first public sermon (2:14-36).  The crowd is obviously moved by what Peter says, and
asks, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter replies, “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”
To answer the above questions, we need to start with Peter’s statement, “Repent and be
baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins.”  Grammatically, it may seem like Peter is saying that for a
person to have their sins forgiven they must repent AND be baptized. Theologically, we know this
can’t be Peter’s intent.  How do we know?  Because the main issue resolved by the Jerusalem
Council in Acts 15 was that the gospel reveals a salvation which comes through faith in Christ alone,
not Christ + something else. Therefore, Peter could not possibly be stating that forgiveness of sins
comes as a result of repentance AND baptism.
So what is the connection then between repentance, baptism, and the forgiveness of sins?  When
a person repents of his sins and gives their life over to Christ, God forgives them of their sins.  Shortly
afterwards, the newfound Christian ideally will be baptized in order to publicly identify himself with
Jesus Christ.  One could argue that Peter here is viewing repentance and baptism as both being part
of the initial conversion experience, although he would readily admit that it is repentance, and not
baptism, that leads to the forgiveness of sins.  I think that is what Peter is communicating in Acts
Now, regarding the timing of when a Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, Romans 8:9 makes
it clear that, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”  In other
words, a person is not a true believer unless he has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. Therefore, a
Christian receives the gift of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their conversion, not after they are
baptized.  I believe that, in Acts 2:38, Peter, is connecting repentance and baptism as part of the
general conversion experience of a new believer, and says that the gift of the Holy
Spirit accompanies that conversion experience, even though the Holy Spirit actually takes residence
in the new believer after they repent and turn to Christ, not after they get baptized. The picture
seems clear to me, but only after taking a second look.

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