The book of Acts gives us a very important lesson on this issue (the systematic study of Scripture on a particular doctrine or topic). Before we go there, though, we need to quickly consider two texts to set the stage. First, Paul says in Romans 8:9 "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." According to Paul, if you don't have the Spirit, you're not a Christian. Second, Ephesians makes it clear that we receive the Spirit when we believe: "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13). This passage states: They listened (heard) the Word, believed and were sealed. But yes, you are correct, my evangelical brother, we receive the Spirit at the same time that we believe.
"Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." "For by grace are you saved, through faith, it is a gift of God..." Conclusion: the Word gifts faith which creates belief. Faith is not a product manufactured by the sinner's intelligence, maturity, or decision-making capabilities. It is a GIFT. This is a CRITICAL point to remember when dealing with evangelicals and Baptists. Many of them, of the Arminian persuasion, believe that faith is something produced by the sinner by his Free Will decision, enabling him to "accept" Christ. Scripture clearly states in Roman chapter 3 and the second chapters of Colossians and Ephesians that sinners are spiritually dead. Dead men do not make decisions.)
We learn from these references that you must possess the Holy Spirit before you can be a Christian, and we possess the Spirit when we believe. That's very clear. It's not ambiguous. Wrong. You possess the Holy Spirit at the very MOMENT you become a Christian. These events are one and the same. The second part of the sentence is correct: We possess the Spirit when we believe.
With this as a foundation, we go to Acts 10 where Peter is preaching to Gentiles who are non-Christians. In the midst of his preaching, they suddenly begin to speak in tongues and to prophesy.
Why is this significant? It's a sign to Peter, who understands that the external manifestation of spiritual power shows that these Gentiles have the Spirit inside of them. We just learned from Romans and Ephesians that they can only have the Spirit if they have believed and are now part of God's family. True.
What apparently happened is that, because Peter is preaching and the "fruit" is so ripe, these Gentiles begin believing in their hearts and get transformed and regenerated right then and there. The Holy Spirit enters them and they start evidencing the Holy Spirit in their lives by manifestations of spiritual gifts. (They were regenerated/saved solely by the power of the Word of God. You notice there is no mention of an altar call or a request for them to pray the Sinner's Prayer.)
This is a critical passage in the question of baptismal regeneration. Here we have saved people who obviously have the Holy Spirit, evidenced by the manifestations that Peter himself sees. Note the details here in Acts 10: 44-48:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.Peter is saying that these people were now Christians just like he and his companions. But guess what? They haven't gotten wet yet! Baptism comes later. Peter says because they've already received the Spirit, they can now be baptized. No argument from Lutherans, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox on this point. It is the Word that saves, and the Word can save with Baptism, and it can save without Baptism, as in this situation. Orthodox Christians have taught this duality for 2,000 years, but for some reason, Baptists and evangelicals still put up the straw man that orthodox Christians mandate baptism before salvation/regeneration can occur. You would think that after 2,000 years they would finally represent our doctrinal position correctly. The only Christian denomination who believes that salvation absolutely CANNOT occur without water Baptism is the Church of Christ...and they have only been around for less than 200 years.
The Acts 10 passage seems completely inflexible in its meaning. The sequence of events leaves no question, it seems, that the order is faith/regeneration/baptism (though I'm open to suggestions). In this situation, the order of events are: Preaching of the Word, faith/belief, and then baptism. Again, a perfectly acceptable pattern of salvation/regeneration for orthodox Christians.
The idea that regeneration follows faith, not baptism, is reaffirmed in Acts 11:17-18 where Paul says:
If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life."Notice there is no mention of baptism here, only the salient details of regeneration: repentance, faith, and salvation. By all appearances, Acts 10 is univocal. Baptism isn't necessary for salvation. This passage shows that Baptism is not MANDATED by God to always occur at the same time as regeneration, that is all that this passage is unequivocal about.
Orthodox Christians have always taught that regeneration occurs by the power of the Word. Many martyrs were killed in the Early Church who were unable to be baptized prior to their deaths. All orthodox Churches teach that these martyrs were Christians, were saved, are in heaven, even though they were never baptized. Baptists and evangelicals must stop using the straw man of Mandatory Water Baptism for Regeneration...unless they are debating the Church of Christ, the only Christian Church that teaches this false doctrine.
With this truth in place, let's go back to Acts 2:38. (Yes, we knew you would come back to dismantle this passage.) At the end of his sermon, Peter says to the crowd, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Those who teach baptismal regeneration say this verse means you repent and are baptized, and that brings about the forgiveness of your sins--an understandable interpretation given the translation. The problem with this view, though, is that it creates a contradiction later in Acts. In the case of Cornelius (Acts 10), his household didn't get baptized in order to receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, but after both had happened. I have an idea, how about just believing what God says: that regeneration can occur before baptism as in Acts 10 and that the forgiveness of sins is obtained in Baptism as stated in Acts 2:38, instead forcing the plain, simple interpretation of one passage to conform to that of another passage?
How do you resolve the apparent contradiction? (Accept both plain, simple interpretations as true, even when there appears to be a contradiction, because God cannot contradict himself.) The Acts 10 passage seems completely inflexible in its meaning. The sequence of events leaves no question (though I'm open to suggestions) that the order is faith/regeneration/baptism. (Yes. In Acts 10, the order is: Word preached, faith/regeneration occurs/then baptism.)
What about Acts 2? Is it possible this passage means something different than it appears to at first? On closer inspection the answer is yes. The key is in the grammar.
In Acts 2, the command to repent is in the plural, as is the reference to those who receive the forgiveness of sins (i.e., "All of you repent so all of you can receive forgiveness"). The command to be baptized is in the singular (i.e., "Each of you should be baptized"). This makes it clear that repentance, not baptism, leads to salvation, since an individual's baptism cannot cause the salvation of the entire group. Individual (singular) baptisms do not result in corporate (plural) salvation.
As it turns out, the phrase "for the forgiveness of sins" modifies repentance, not baptism. A more precise rendering might be, "Let all of you repent so all of you can receive forgiveness, and then each who has should be baptized." Wow. Now that's some job of contorting the sentence structure! Let's see exactly how the translators of the ESV wrote it:
And Peter said to them, “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.
So from that, our evangelical brother wants us to retranslate it thus:
BVB (Baptist version of the Bible) Let all of you repent so all of you can receive forgiveness, and then each who has should be baptized.
Do you notice something interesting about the Baptist version of this passage? He left off the last part of Peter's statement. Let's add it: "Let all of you repent so all of you can receive forgiveness, and then each who has should be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
So are Baptists and evangelicals saying that each person on Pentecost that repented and received the forgiveness of sins, received the Holy Spirit...after Baptism? If we accept this as the "unequivocal" pattern of salvation, aren't Baptists and evangelicals teaching that REPENTANCE AND BAPTISM occur before we receive the Holy Spirit???
Why not just believe the passage as the Apostle Peter said it: Repent and be baptized and you will receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit? Why all the grammatical gymnastics to force God to say what YOU want him to?
Any question about which translation is appropriate should be answered by Acts 10 and 11. (Says who?? Did God reveal this to you in a personal revelation?) Clearly, these people were not getting baptized in order to bring about their salvation. They were baptized as a result of the salvation. The clear teaching in Acts 10 and 11 informs the ambiguous nature of Acts 2:38. Isn't it odd that not ONE single translation of the Bible from the original languages, either into English, or into any other language, EVER translates Acts 2:38 as Baptists and evangelicals so desperately want it to be translated? If God really meant what he said about preserving his Word, every jot and every tittle, wouldn't he have made sure that at least ONE translator during the last 2,000 years would correctly translate Acts 2:38??
One last verse, 1 Peter 3:21: "And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you." Some quote this verse and say, "There it is, clear as day! Baptism saves you." Well, it wasn't the case that baptism saved Cornelius in Acts 10, and so at best we have an apparent contradiction if this is the way we must read this verse. So Acts 10 is the proof text on Baptism? Just because Cornelius was baptized after he believed, that mandates that Salvation/Regeneration and Baptism must always occur in the same exact order?
The problem is solved if you keep reading. The next words are, "...not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Everybody knows that baptism isn't for the sake of washing your body. This a metaphor. What Peter is saying is that baptism now saves you in this sense: not the getting wet part, but rather the appeal to God for a clean conscience that is signified by baptism. Exactly!!! Peter says that Baptism now saves you, not by cleaning your skin, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience. In the NT, isn't "conscience" synonymous with "soul"?
The appeal comes first--belief, faith, repentance towards God. And that appeal can be made without getting wet. What??? The passage says no such thing! It says that Baptism is the appeal to God, not your "decision for Christ" or your recitation of the Sinner's Prayer.
Of 71 references in the New Testament to some form of the word baptism, only 19 passages refer to Christian water baptism, (only because you treat the word "baptism" as if it were only a spiritual act and not an actual physical act, in most of the NT; beginning with the first chapter of Romans all the way to the end of Revelation! However, when the word "baptism" is used in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, Baptists and evangelicals will readily admit that the word is referring to the physical act of WATER BAPTISM. Who gave Baptists and evangelicals the right to use the word "baptism" to mean water baptism in the first five books of the NT and to mean a spiritual baptism in all the rest??) and over half of those are simply references to people being baptized. The pattern in those cases seems to be that first someone believed, then he was baptized. Only a few verses seem to give us any theological content about the sacrament itself. Do these few verses make it clear that baptism is necessary for salvation? I don't think so. (Let's see what God says on this subject. I am all in favor of going with what God says, and not what any man says.)
References to people being baptized:
Acts 2:41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Isn't it strange that this passage doesn't say, "And as many as made a decision for Christ were added to them".
Baptism, baptism, baptism...over and over again we see it mentioned, throughout the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. But remember, according to our evangelical brother, water baptism is rarely mentioned in the NT.
Acts 8:12-13 But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip; and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed. Why not: preaching--->repentance and belief by asking Christ into your heart--->then baptism?
Acts 8:36, 38 And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch *said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?....And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. Where is the mention of a "decision for Christ"? Why was baptism so important to the eunuch? Wouldn't it have been a much better "public profession" if the eunuch had turned the chariot around and headed into the closest village or city to publically profess his faith?
Acts 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized. Why didn't he arise and pray the Sinner's Prayer?
Acts 10:47-48 "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days. No Sinner's Prayer, no Decision for Christ, no asking Jesus into their Hearts...hmmm.
Acts 16:15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. Where is any mention of her household "accepting Christ" before being baptized?
Acts 16:33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. If the purpose of Baptism is as a public profession of faith, why didn't they wait until the morning when there would have actually been people watching to "profess" to? The author doesn't mention this but look this passage up in your Bible. Paul and Silas promise salvation not just to the jailer if HE believes, but also to his entire household if HE believes!
Acts 18:8 And Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized. Why doesn't this passage mention the "decision for Christ" of every member of Cripus' household, including his servants and slaves, and their children, prior to their baptism?
Acts 19:5 And when they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
1 Cor. 1:13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? An error in translation occurred here: They were fighting over who had "led them to Christ"...not who had baptized them. Remember, water baptism is rarely mentioned in the NT as it not really that important. We should do it...sometime...when we get around to it...especially if we want to join the local church. These people obviously did not see water baptism as that important to fight over.
1 Cor. 1:14-16 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. Why all the fuss over Baptism? Remember, Baptism isn't really important. It is our "decision for Christ" that matters.
References to baptism that give us some theological content:
Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." We receive the forgiveness of sins when we repent and are baptized.
Acts 22:16 "And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name." Baptism washes away sins and calls on the name of Christ.
Rom. 6:3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Water baptism, my Baptist and evangelical brothers and sisters, not a spiritual baptism of "accepting Christ".
Gal. 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. In Baptism we put on Christ.
Rom. 6:4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. We are buried with Christ in Baptism that we may walk in newness of life (sounds like regeneration to me.)
Eph. 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism... There is only one baptism: water baptism
Col. 2:12 ...having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. We are buried with Christ in our Baptism.
1 Pet. 3:21 And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you-- not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-- through the resurrection of Jesus Christ... Baptism saves you by appealing to God for a new conscience.
So what do we see here in this comparison of the Baptist/evangelical and Lutheran/orthodox positions on Baptism?
Answer: the Baptists and evangelicals are all wet! "Baptism now saves you" means exactly what God said. I notice that our evangelical author left out one very important passage regarding Baptism. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said in Mark 16:16: He that believes and is baptized will be saved.
I suggest we take Christ's word on this doctrine over that of this evangelical brother.