Written Word

Grace and Faith at Pentecost

by Edward Fudge (gracEmail)

A brother from a Bible church asks: “I wonder if you can explain why Peter, when asked on Pentecost ‘what must we do?’ didn’t say, ‘Why, there is nothing you can do, it has already been done — just accept what we have told you and rely totally on the grace of God.'”

Perhaps it was because Peter perceived that the Pentecost audience, which included many who had demanded Jesus’ death less than two months before, were not asking a question to which that was the answer. These are not inquisitive students striving to comprehend the theories and mysteries of salvation. They are desperate souls, deeply convicted of their sin against Jesus himself — whom they just learned is Israel’s resurrected Messiah and now-ascended Lord (Acts 2:22-24,36). They are ready and eager to do whatever Jesus desires, and Peter instructs them according to the Lord’s own parting commission. (Luke 24:47; Matt. 28:19)

The apostle commands the conscience-stricken audience to make a spiritual U-turn on the inside (“repent”) and to express that repentance individually in a tangible, physical way on the outside (“be baptised”). Gospel baptism is a specific act of submission and surrender to the crucified and risen Messiah (“in the name of Jesus Christ”). Because Pentecost marks the beginning of the “last days,” God will fulfill his ancient promise to save and to give his Spirit (his personal, powerful Presence) to everyone who calls on the Lord — all those whom God calls to himself (Acts 2:38; Joel 2:28-32). These truths are not limited to the Pentecost audience, or even to Jewish people, but are applicable to men and women from all nations throughout the gospel era. (Acts 2:39)

It is right to remember that baptism does not cause God to love us. Baptism does not make us merit salvation or earn God’s forgiveness. It is not part of the underlying work which sets us right with God. That work was fully accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth before we ever heard of it. Only because Jesus finished that saving work, which both demonstrated and justified God’s love for sinners, can anyone “repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” — to use Peter’s very words of instruction to his Pentecost audience. (Acts 2:38)

There is no conflict between grace and faith on the one hand, and repentance and baptism on the other hand, so long as those who repent and are baptised do so trusting only God’s grace as shown in Jesus Christ.

© 2001 Edward Fudge – Unlimited permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.