An Answer Often Misunderstood

preaching5In Matthew when asked by Jesus, “Who do men say that I am?”  Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the Living God.”  On this teaching occasion Jesus made a promise to Peter.  He was told, “I will give to you the keys to the kingdom, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  As we move forward to Acts chapter two we find the Apostles have received the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the power.  Now the power was here, the time had come.  Peter stood up with the eleven and began to preach as the Spirit gave him words.  This was fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to Peter in Matthew.  It was now time for Peter to use the keys given him to open the doors to the kingdom. 

Upon hearing the message of Peter the Jews were convicted of the wrong they had perpetrated.  They had taken the life of the hope of the world.  Now their problem was two-fold.  They were guilty of murder before the Roman government and they had taken the life of the Son of God.  The question they asked was their only possible hope.  “What must we do to be saved?”

The answer Peter gave on that day applies to us today as well.  The Jews may have physically taken the life of Jesus, but our sins made his death necessary.  Peter’s answer that day was so simple, yet so simply misunderstood.  In Acts 2:38 Peter told them, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  All of my adult life I have quoted and discussed this verse as an answer to man’s sin problem.  Much of this time I have failed to understand the depth of the answer.

I looked at this verse much like a mathematical equation.  Just as 3 plus 1 equals 4; I believed that if I obeyed the formula of repentance plus baptism I would get the sum of forgiveness.  It was a purely clinical equation; if I obeyed the formula I earned the reward.  In 30 years of preaching the message of Christ I never considered the “heart” of the matter.

Upon a close examination of this passage and many others I discovered that salvation was much deeper than a physical formula.  Nothing I could do could possibly warrant or earn my salvation.  Without God’s marvelous grace my soul could never be reconciled to God. Salvation is a gift from God pure and simple.  My best hope is complete trust in Jesus the Christ and God’s marvelous mercy.

Let’s examine carefully the answer Peter gave to them on that day so long ago.  Peter said repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins and we would receive the Holy Spirit.  For much of my life I have taken a purely clinical view of repentance.  I understood that repentance was a change of direction.  I didn’t take time to ask what motivated that change.  My change of direction, i.e. repentance, is not the important part of the equation.  The importance of repentance lies in what causes that change of direction.  My repentance is brought about by changing where my heart  is.  Before trusting in Jesus my heart is in the world and the things of the world.  When I fully trust in Jesus  my heart resides in different place.  My heart resides in Jesus and Jesus resides in my heart.  Peter isn’t asking them to obey a formula in order to obtain the gift.  Peter is telling them that they must  give their heart totally to Jesus.  This is  total commitment, completely following in the footsteps of Jesus.  The natural direction in following Jesus is obedience to the  form of Jesus death, burial, and resurrection.  This following in the footsteps of Jesus naturally results in our emulating Jesus death through baptism.  Repentance and baptism are not an all-cleansing formula.  These are the natural result of a heart that now totally trusts in Jesus.  Peter wasn’t asking that they Jews on Pentecost obey a sterile formula.  Peter was asking that they believe and trust totally in Jesus.  The natural result of this trust is a comittment that brings about change of direction and emulation of Jesus death through baptism.  Repentance and baptism are responses to the change of heart that initially occurs.  Without this change of heart baptism will only succeed in getting you wet, nothing more.  I fear that Peter’s answer on Pentecost is today an answer often misunderstood.


One Response to An Answer Often Misunderstood

  1. Matt says:

    Dell, nice points made here. I would interject that someone’s reasons/motivations of repentance still fall under repentance. If someone repents for the wrong reasons, then I do not see that as a true repentant heart. But I think it’s wrong, as you say, to look at salvation as a type of formula or 1 2 3 now you’re saved. I’ll have to stop by more often. Praise the Lord!

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