Summary: Those who are saved, and only those who are saved, are commanded to identify with the Master in baptism.
“When [those listening] heard [Peter’s command] they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Ask at random a dozen people what Baptists believe and it is almost guaranteed that each will tell you that Baptists believe in baptism. This is not quite accurate. Baptists are biblicists; Baptists believe all that the Bible teaches, beginning with the revelation of Christ as Saviour and Lord of life. Baptists are convinced of the fallen condition of mankind, the grace of God revealed through Jesus our Master, and salvation through faith in Him who gave His life as a ransom and rose from the dead. Consequently, Baptists believe that each one who believes in Him should openly confess his or her faith through identification with Him in His death and resurrection. Baptists do not believe that a ceremony can suffice to coerce God into accepting a person.
The biblical model for the initial confession of faith for any believer is baptism. Though one should be cautious about developing a doctrine based solely on the historical account of the apostolic churches, certain elements of the ancient practise are seen to have been commonly and universally practised among the early churches. If we desire to be identified as a New Testament church, we will make every effort to bring our own practise into line with the standard observed among those first churches.
One such practise that has been substantially altered among contemporary religious societies is baptism. What should be evident from even a casual reading of the New Testament is that baptism was never meant to be slavific—it was intended as a means of identification and not as a means of redemption. What should also be immediately evident is that only those who were saved were called to baptism, and baptism was administered immediately for those who did believe. I invite you to explore the purpose for this ordinance through considering the response of those who listened to the Apostles’ salvation message on that momentous Day of Pentecost.
THE QUESTION — “Brothers, what shall we do?” The modern pulpit is dysfunctional. Doctrine is seldom preached, and consequently, few people can define Christianity accurately. A little boy asked his father, “Daddy, what is a Christian?” The father carefully explained the biblical teachings of mankind’s sin and of Christ’s sacrifice for sin. He spoke of the transformation that occurs in the life of one who is born from above. When the little guy heard what a Christian should be, he asked, “Do we know one?”
Consider what Peter said to prompt his listeners’ response. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know … you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it…
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing…
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” [ACTS 2:22-24, 32, 33, 36].
Let me put Peter’s sermon into concise, contemporary terms. We are sinners. We are responsible for the death of Christ. As surely as though we drove the nails into His hands ourselves, we are the cause of His death, which was a sacrifice because of sinful people. However, He did not remain dead, but He was raised from the dead. And now, God has poured out His Spirit on all who willingly accept this Jesus as Master of life.
Peter charged those listening to his message with deicide—God-murder, murder of the long-anticipated Messiah. I question whether we can actually grasp the horror generated in the hearts of those hearing his words. The Jewish people had awaited the advent of Messiah for centuries. That hope had sustained them through exile, oppression and occupation by foreign troops of the land they loved. Yet, when He appeared, the people rejected Him and murdered Him. Peter was charging those listening with exalting their own distorted religious values above God’s offer of a Saviour and Lord.