Wednesday, November 02, 2005
New Christian Class #3 - Questioning the Formula
Act 2:38 is the theme verse of baptism in my tradition. “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.’” Our modern way of thinking has created a formula that helps explain this teaching. The formula is…
Repent + Baptism = Forgiveness of Sin & Gift of the Holy Spirit.
Act 2:38 proves this formula to be true. However, other parts of the Bible would suggest there are exceptions.
Simon the Sorcerer was one of many who were baptized after hearing Philip preach the “good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12). Yet those baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John where sent to place “their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). Simon wanted to pay Peter and John for the ability to give the Holy Spirit. Peter rebuked Simon for trying to buy of the gifts of God with money. Peter said, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Act 8:21-23).
Simon was baptized without repentance therefore he did not receive forgiveness of sin or the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, no explanation is given to why the other who were baptized did not receive the Holy Spirit.
To another example, Peter was at the home of Cornelius (Act 10:44-48). When Peter was speaking “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out but not in full. Peter knew these people should be baptized so that they could receive the Holy Sprit just as he had received.
The point of interest was that the Holy Spirit was given without being baptized however, was not given in full until baptism.
I believe Acts 2:38 should not limit God on how he acts to “save” people. God works beyond the formula of Acts 2:38. God can give the spirit to those who are not baptized. Being baptized does guarantee the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 should not be the foundational teaching of becoming a Christian like so many have done.
I fear that when new Christians hear this teaching they assume they are forgiven of their sins and they receive the full gift of the Holy Spirit just because they are baptized. The “decision to except Christ” is not the same as repentance. Repentance is a process that takes a life time to replace the lies of the world with the Truths of God. We do not repent once and for all. We repent a lifetime.
As a youth minister I will gladly baptize any student who believes Jesus is the Christ. This baptism is once and for all. It’s serves as their symbol of the faith. But I can not tell students they are “saved,” forgiven of their sins, have the Holy Spirit, or that “angels are rejoicing” after baptism. These take place within conjunction of baptism and repentance. They are two different and separate acts.
We must leave room in our theology that people can be baptized without repenting of their sins. Baptism is not “being saved.”