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Acts 2:38 And The Truth On Baptism


Because there is much conflict within the body of Christ about the subject of baptism, and because much of that conflict revolves around a strong stance by many people regarding Acts 2:38, I would like to clarify by the Scriptures the real truth on the subject. And let me say that my reason for doing so is merely to dissolve conflicts and make for peace between God's people. I want to bring this truth out by explaining why the baptism that Peter mentioned in Acts 2:38 is not the true new testament remission of sins. And I realize that I've already managed to incense some with that statement, but please allow me to explain before coming to any conclusion on why I'm saying this. To start off with, let me point out that when the approximate 120 believers received the Spirit of God at Pentecost (which experience was the birth of the body of Christ - I Cor. 12:13), there was no one present but Jews. In fact Jesus said that He was not sent BUT to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mat. 15:24). And the Scriptures certainly bear forth that from the beginning, the gospel was to the Jews first and then to the gentiles (Rom. 1:16; Rom. 2:10).

When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, he preached the presently established truth that he knew, and there was absolutely no one at Pentecost who received the Spirit, that had not been through John's baptism, which of course was continued by Jesus' disciples; though as the scripture states, Jesus Himself did NOT baptize (Jn. 4:1,2). In fact, as of the time of Pentecost it would have been impossible to receive the holy Ghost without having gone through that baptism, because it was ordained and required by God, and was for the remission of sins at that time; meaning before Pentecost (Mk. 1:4; Mat. 3:6). But that time was still the old covenant dispensation, and that baptism was an old covenant ordinance (a work of the law). This is evidenced by Mat. 5:17 along with Mat. 3:15, in which scriptures we are told that Jesus came to fulfill the law, and that He was baptized by John for that very purpose. And to confirm that John's baptism was an ordinance of the law, we also have Jn. 4:2 with Heb. 8:4: The reason why Jesus didn't baptize while He was here, was the same reason that He couldn't be a priest while He was here. That reason being because there were priests according to the law while Jesus was here, and by the same token there were also baptizers according to the law while He was here. Even as He was to become the High Priest of the heavenly (spiritual) order, so also He was to become THE baptizer of the heavenly (spiritual) order. And in fact the spirit baptism is the work of Jesus' priesthood, evidenced by the fact that when He ascended back to heaven to begin his priesthood in heaven; which priesthood was and is about making intercession to God for the remission of sins for those who come unto God by Him; He at that time began baptizing with the holy Ghost (Heb. 9:12; Acts 1:4,5; Heb. 9:24-26; etc.). For more information on this point, see our online gospel tract called The Token.

As I mentioned earlier, there was no one at Pentecost but Jews, and the Jews had been under the law for over 1300 years, including newly added ordinances to the law, like John's baptism. God knows that human beings take time to readjust, especially to something as sacred as the law and covenant that He had given to Israel. It would have been unlike God to just yank everything that they had been accustomed to, out from under them in one hard jerk, and expect them to be able to handle that. So HE DID NOT REVEAL the fulfillment of the law to Peter, or any of the other apostles, who were all Jews ministering only to Jews. This is where Acts 2:38 enters in. Was Peter in error in saying that the baptism that they had all gone through for the sake of preparing them to be ready to receive Jesus and His baptism, was for the remission of sins? Technically yes, but Peter also stated that those who went through the same channels that he and the others at Pentecost had gone through (including water baptism), would receive the resulting and intended baptism of the holy Ghost. So functionally it was not wrong, and that is really what mattered to God at that moment in time. And it was only technically wrong because, as of that day and that hour, a NEW TESTAMENT remission of sins had been established, which was and is the spiritual baptism for the inner man. And as great as the apostles were, they were still men, and were still in the position that they understood nothing divine except what was revealed to them by God. Nobody receives everything from God in one lump sum, but rather by means of an ongoing experience of learning through the Spirit (Jn. 14:26; I Jn., 2:27; etc.).

So the Jews in the early body of Christ continued with many of the ordinances of the law that pertained to the worship and service of God, and that was okay because the faithful among them certainly loved the Spirit above any of the ceremonies of the law. They had now learned by experience that true divine "righteousness, and peace, and joy" could only be found "in the holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17); and that is what the hearts of the true sheep have always craved. But when we look at the case of Cornelius in Acts ch. 10, we begin to see that God changed directions when He sent His gospel to the gentiles, who had never been under the law to begin with. First He had to convince Peter rather emphatically to even go to the gentiles. He gave Peter the vision of the unclean beasts, which all were unlawful for the Jews to eat under the law. Of course Peter being determined to be true to the things that he presently understood to be commandments of God, was not about to eat these meats, as the voice of the Lord had commanded him to. No doubt he believed at the moment that God was testing his faithfulness by telling him to eat these meats that God himself had deemed unclean and unlawful to eat under the law. But that was not was God was doing, and Peter realized this after God explained that He was moving in another direction, not only with meats, but also that He was sending His gospel to a people who were previously classified as unclean.

So when Peter went to Cornelius and his people, and had barely begun preaching about Jesus, and about the remission of sins that Jesus had made available, that was beyond what the law could offer; the new testament remission of sins fell on a repentant, believing and hungry crowd of folks who were seeking for EXACTLY THAT (Acts 10:37-44)! And we need to consider that none of these people were Jews, none of them were circumcised, and none of them had been through ANY of the previously established criteria for receiving this blessed experience of the Spirit baptism; INCLUDING the baptism that Peter mentioned in Acts 2:38. And we see by the scripture that Peter and the Jewish brethren who had come with him were all absolutely astonished that God had poured out the holy Ghost on these gentiles. They were astonished first of all because the gentiles were not presently established as being part of God's people. Secondly they were astonished because God had worked contrary in that situation to what was the presently established order, part of which order Peter had confirmed in Acts 2:38. So why did God choose to do things in this manner with the very first gentiles to receive His gospel? Because He was showing forth the powerful reality of the fulfillment of the law that He would afterward reveal to a man whom He raised up to take a special message to the gentiles. That man was Paul, and that powerful message was and is that repentance from sin and faith toward Jesus, resulting in the baptism of the holy Ghost for the remission of sins; was and is the new birth, the entrance into the one body of Christ, and the transforming experience that makes one a "new creature" in Christ. (I Cor. 6:ll; Jn. 3:5; I Cor. 12:13; II Cor. 5:17). In other words the gentiles were given the direct route to Christ - repentance, faith in Jesus, and the baptism of heavenly water for the inner man where the problem of sin actually is. For a people who were never under the law, there simply is no need for symbols and ceremonies that merely led the way up to this reality. This is what Paul was referring to in Gal. 3:24,25 when he referred to the law as a "schoolmaster" which led the Jews to faith in Christ. He stated that there was no purpose left for the schoolmaster once faith in Christ had been established.

So it was not so important to God to reveal this mystery to the Jews or the apostles who ministered originally only to Jews, but it was very important that He caused the gentiles to understand immediately that His Son is what this gospel is all about; and that the spiritual worship and service that His Son made available by His death, resurrection, and heavenly priesthood, had taken the place of the old covenant format of worship. And as far as that goes, we have the writings of the Apostle Paul to confirm and illustrate to us that ALL of the law was about Jesus and His spiritual order of worship and service to God that He has made available to us (Heb. 8:4-6; Heb. 10: 1,12,14; Rom 2:28,29; Rom. 10:4; etc.).

I mentioned earlier that the earliest believing Jews who received the Spirit and continued faithfully toward God, loved the Spirit more than anything else that they may have continued in, pertaining to the natural ordinances of the law. Well the flip side of that is that the Jews who received the Spirit but did NOT continue faithful toward God from their hearts, were the ones who went about trying to seduce the gentile congregations that Paul established, into believing that they had to also keep the natural ordinances of the law in order to be fully right with God (Acts 15:1,23,24; Gal. 1:6; Gal. 3:3; Gal. 5:4; I Jn. 2:18,19; etc.). And just as it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats could take away sins (Heb. 10:4), and just as it is true that circumcision  is no longer outward in the flesh (Rom. 2:28); neither is it possible that baptism of the outer man can take away sins from the inner man; but rather baptism is now for the inner man, as is circumcision. That and that alone is why water baptism is not actually a part of the new testament gospel. John's baptism, which was continued by his and Jesus' disciples, was just like the remainder of the old testament ordinances in the sense that it was a carnal ceremonial ordinance that symbolized what Jesus would accomplish after a spiritual order for the inner man, where sin truly needed to be cleansed away. Nothing but the power of the Spirit, which is the spiritual blood of Christ, can purge sin from the heart of a man, even as we are emphatically told in Heb. 9:13,14.

That is the whole point, both of this explanation, and of the gospel itself - sin being literally removed from the heart and spirit of a person, and the divine nature of Christ being infused into us in its place! And I have to say, that is something that really excites me, and in fact I'm more excited about it today than I was 26+ years ago when I first experienced it. In other words this ENTIRE GOSPEL is about one thing, that being the one thing that Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended to heaven for - me and you being able to be NEW CREATURES IN HIM!! Period! It just doesn't get any better than having power over the sinful nature, letting Jesus live in us and through us by means of His Spirit (II Cor. 3:17), and having "joy unspeakable and full of GLORY!!" This is exactly what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he said, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:15,16). In other words our peace and unity is reliant upon us being satisfied with walking in the love of God, and having rest and contentment in our souls. To add a supposed necessity of carnal ordinances to this process, is actually taking away from our peace, as Paul warned the Galatians of (Gal. 5: 2-4,14,15). We simply cannot achieve more than being newly made in Christ, and growing in that "newness of life."

Okay, so let me go back to Corneliuls' house and take up where I left off. After Jesus beat Peter to the punch and baptized these gentiles with the holy Ghost; Peter and the Jews, as I mentioned above, were astonished about this happening. And in astonishment, and true bewilderment, Peter immediately asked the following question with all sincerity: "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the holy Ghost as well as we?" This, as I stated was a genuinely honest question. He was shocked by what had happened, and he was looking for answers. Peter knew that Jesus had overwritten his preaching, and indeed HIS OWN previously established  order. Though he saw this happen, he did not understand it, simply because Jesus did not choose to reveal it to him. He had other plans. So in bewilderment and in sincerity he baptized Cornelius and his household in water, though with all certainty, in the eyes of God it was not necessary, and neither is it now.

But the truth that was demonstrated by God that day, which was later revealed to the Apostle Paul, was that God was showing forth the "simplicity of the gospel" for the gentile people. Again, that simplicity was and is that repentance from sin and faith toward Jesus results in the baptism of the holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking with other tongues; which experience is all that Jesus came here to accomplish for us. It is the gospel experience. This is what Paul meant in Col. 2:10, where he said "And ye are COMPLETE in him, which is the head of all principality and power:" In other words, to be repetitive, we can't be more complete, or more fully right with God, than being a new creature in Christ. And we can only get into Christ by one means; that being the baptism of the Spirit (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:27; with I Cor. 12:13). In summary of these scriptures, water baptism cannot give us the capacity to "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3,4). Neither can water baptism, in any name, cause us to literally "put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). However, the baptism of the power and Spirit of God, alone can and DOES give us these capacities, when "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body (of Christ)" [I Cor. 12:13].

The problem with baptism today is what the problem with circumcision was in Paul's day. To uphold water baptism as something that God requires of believers, in order to be fully right with Him, is the same as the Jews of Paul's time persuading the gentile believers (who were already Spirit baptized - Gal. 3:2,3, etc.) that they had to be circumcised to really be right with God. And those errant Jews could, and most assuredly did, point to Gen. 17 and say "See, the WORD says that if you are Abraham's seed, you have to be circumcised, or you'll be cut off." And no doubt they reminded these young, unstable believers that Paul taught that they were the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29). What could these people say to that? There were no new testament scriptures stating differently, or giving any answer to this kind of intimidation. But a highly skilled and highly caring man of God had the answer to this question, and to similar things as well. Thus we have the bulk of the new testament scriptures written by this man Paul, endeavoring in the love and knowledge of God to save these intimidated believers from the snares of spiritual death set so cunningly by these men who the majority of believers knew as apostles and ministers of Christ, though Paul and the true servants of God knew better (II Cor. 11:13-22; II Pet. 2:1,2; I Jn. 2:18,19; Rev. 2:2; etc.).

In conclusion let me say that of course I'm aware that the Apostle Paul also baptized in water, but I'm also aware that he only did so for a time. The fact that he ceased from this ordinance is evidenced in I Cor. 1:17, where he stated that Christ did not send him to baptize, but rather to preach the gospel. It is evident that if he had known previously that Christ had not sent him to baptize, that he wouldn't have been doing so. And in Eph. 4:5 he clearly stated that there is now only one baptism. This also was obviously written after he had stopped baptizing in water, because Jesus' fulfilling spiritual baptism was certainly the one that he was referring to. So these things simply mean that Paul was human also, and that he did not receive all of the revelations of God's truth in one day. And all that is left for us is to be at peace with one another, and "with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:6)



"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, ..."
(I Cor.12:13)

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