Acts 2:38-41 is a practical guide on how to be saved.
Not speaking of the deeper theological understanding and work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the repentant believer, in answer to the people’s question “what shall we do?,” Peter gives a simple & practical teaching, or model, of how to be saved (Acts 2:37).
Many times in Christianity, we tend to take out the biblical understanding of the command and need to “repent” and replace it with “if you want to believe, pray this prayer,” and “The Sinner’s Prayer” goes from helping someone understand repentance and communicate their heart belief to their Savior to a works-based, “magic words” salvation act. This traditional “Sinner’s Prayer,” however it is done, must not become the “how to” of one’s salvation: “I was saved when I prayed the prayer” vs. “I was saved when I believed with faith and repented of my sins and accepted God’s way of life, hope, and salvation by the gracious gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection in my place.” The issue is of the heart of man, not the works.
[The works are simply to be as the result of one’s salvation and are in no way able to save: God is holy, perfect; man is sinful, imperfect; God’s holy grace, mercy and love have provided a perfect way of salvation by Jesus coming himself to live a perfect and innocent life, to die a sacrificial death as atonement for all our sins, to be raised to new life as our only hope of new life; accepting this way of salvation allows us to enter into a right relationship with Holy God.]
Through a study of this passage, we see two important aspects of salvation: God’s sovereignty & human responsibility: “God calls” and “those who accepted/received the message” (Acts 2:39, 40). This speaks to a proper balance between the different passages of Scripture that are used to support a God-only, God-determined, and no-human-involvement idea of salvation and the obvious heart of God, such as Revelation 5:9-11 and 7:9-17, II Peter 3:9 & I Timothy 2:4. Peter speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in saving and changing someone, while also acknowledging the role of the person in needing to believe, repent, have faith, and accept/receive the calling and message and work of God. Ephesians 2:1-10 speaks to this dynamic balance of by grace & through faith, as well clearly separating salvation from the works of man as it is the gift of God.
The practical guidance Peter gives is simple.
Repent. Accept the message, the good news of Jesus Christ.
[The good news of Jesus’ salvation is simply presented by Peter in the passages of Acts 2:21, 22-24, 30-33, 36.]
Then, immediate discipleship is commanded: be baptized (Acts 2:38, 41). [See previous blog on Immediate Baptism: When to Baptize.]
In seeking to be biblical, we should seek to follow the biblical methods and models of the early church, adjusting them to context perhaps but definitely without compromising the biblical principles and meanings.