Acts 2:38: “…For The Forgiveness of Sins…”

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.”

Acts 2:38

There is much confusion and division over the subject of baptism.  Is it pouring, sprinkling or immersion?  Must one be baptized in order to be saved, or is it simply a public confession of faith after having already been saved?  Is baptism done in order to have sins forgiven, or because sins have already been forgiven?  These and many other questions are often asked about baptism.  All are legitimate and deserve a biblical answer, especially since Jesus commanded baptism to be done (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  Today’s Bible Reflection will go to the Bible to find the answer of the inquiry about whether baptism is done in order to have sins forgiven or because sins have already been forgiven.

As mentioned earlier, Christ Himself after His death and resurrection commanded His apostles to preach the gospel and baptize believers in their efforts to make disciples everywhere (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  A short time later, the apostle Peter preached the gospel in Jerusalem on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, and commanded people to repent and be baptized “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38).  After exhorting his audience to be saved, many responded by being baptized (Acts 2:40-41).

Some believe that the “for” in Acts 2:38’s “for forgiveness of sins” means “because your sins have been forgiven” rather than “in order for your sins to be forgiven.”  This is because the Greek word translated “for” (eis) sometimes means “because of;” however, in most cases eis means “in order to.”  Which is the proper meaning in Acts 2:38?

Jesus’ thoughts about the cup when He instituted the Lord’s Supper shed light onto this conundrum.  He said, “Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).  When defining the fruit of the vine as “my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many…”, Christ used the identical grammatical construction in the Greek as is used in Acts 2:38:  “…for forgiveness of sins.”  When He said this – several hours before He died on the cross to provide forgiveness for the sins of mankind – did He intend his phrase “for forgiveness of sins” to mean that his blood had ALREADY provided forgiveness of sins?  Obviously not, for He had not yet died and thus made Himself the sacrifice that would provide forgiveness of our sins.  So it is clear that Jesus intended to convey that His blood would be shed for many IN ORDER TO provide forgiveness of sins.  Since Acts 2:38 contains the same identical phrase, we can confidently conclude that Peter was telling the Jews on Pentecost that they needed to be baptized IN ORDER TO have their sins forgiven (Acts 2:38), and they responded accordingly (Acts 2:41).

This makes even more sense when one sees that Peter also commanded repentance in addition to baptism in order to have sins forgiven.  The idea that sins could be forgiven BEFORE one repented of them is foreign to Scripture (2 Cor. 7:9-11; Acts 3:19; Luke 24:47).  To give just one example, Jesus told His followers on one occasion, “…but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).  Thus, it is clear that Peter was telling them to repent and be baptized IN ORDER TO  have their sins forgiven, not because their sins had ALREADY been forgiven.

Do you want your sins forgiven by God?  If so, then God’s promise and command through Peter to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins applies to you just as it did to Peter’s hearers on Pentecost.  We know this because Peter then said, “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” (Acts 2:39; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14; Rom. 1:16; Mark 16:15-16).  Why delay?  Repent of your sins, and be baptized to wash them away (Acts 22:16).  I would love to talk with you more about this and assist you in reaching this needed goal.  E-mail me at calhounchurchofchrist@gmail.com.

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