Summary: What is expected of new believers? The answer to this question is revealed through examining the life of the first congregation after the body was flooded with a multitude of believers following Pentecost.
“Those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized, and there were added [to the Faith] that day about three thousand souls.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The first response to the Spirit was amazement. Then, the disciples began to point to the Living Saviour and one stood to charge those who listened with deicide! His words were unlike what passes as a sermon in this day. It was pointed and it was unsparing. The concluding words stung: “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 2:36].
If the first response was amazement and questions, the second response was conviction. Those who listened “were cut to the heart;” they urgently pleaded, “Brothers, what shall we do” [see ACTS 2:37]? The Spirit-empowered message stripped them naked before the righteous demands of Holy God; every excuse for unbelief was torn away and their sin fully exposed. Those listening were rendered helpless; they knew they were unable to deliver themselves from God’s righteous wrath. Those who listened were broken, they were contrite, they were no longer self-reliant; if God was to be satisfied, He would have to perform a new work in their hearts.
What the Law could not accomplish, the gospel message was doing. Whereas they had been filled with pride, they were now grieved over their sin. Where confidence in their accomplishments had once marked their lives, there was genuine contrition. They looked upward to discover peace and pardon. Their lives were now marked by repentance—sorrow for their sin, grief that they had caused the death of God’s Son and determination to forsake their attempts of self-willed religious justification.
The preacher answered their cry, demanding that they repent, turning from their efforts to justify themselves. This was not a demand for a few, but it was universal—all must heed the call to repent. When they had turned from their own pursuit of righteousness, they were to openly identify with the Risen Lord of Glory. Then, and only then, would they know the forgiveness of sin. Baptism, immersion in water to picture what was taking place in the heart, would be the public mark that they now belonged to the Lord. This immersion would become for them the picture of God’s grace working in their lives as they believed the message of grace.
When they had thus obeyed, they would receive the Holy Spirit. He would not be some second work of grace, but He would be God’s promised gift to all who were obedient. What they experience and what they received was promised to all who will believe.
Much more was said that day; the air was electric with expectancy and earnestness. Unlike modern church services, there was little decorum, where sermons devoid of passion echo to empty pews while a few unresponsive people look at their watches and wonder if they will beat the church crowd to the cafeteria. The preacher insisted, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” And people responded—in swelling numbers. Three thousand were added to the number of disciples on that one day. They accepted the message and they quickly, openly submitted to the baptism demanded of any who would identify with the Saviour.
In one day, the number of believers grew to more than Jesus had gathered in His entire ministry. This was more impressive than merely feeding four or five thousand with a few loaves and some fish. It was fulfilment of Christ’s promise that “Whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” [JOHN 14:12]. Could there be a greater demonstration of the power of the Risen Christ than the salvation of lost people? Where Christ is faithfully proclaimed, His Spirit works to convict people of sin, compelling them to look to the Son of God. This is the promise that calls churches to faithful proclamation of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. This is the anticipated harvest of lives that are transformed by God’s Spirit working in human hearts.
It is what followed when those who heard the message looked to Christ that concerns us today. It is vital that we see how God was working in their lives to transform people from a pious group of men and women into the Body of Christ. To discover how God worked then, and how He works now, we must look to the model He has provided. That model is provided in these closing verses of the second chapter of Acts.