Many Pentecostal movements, there is a discussion about the importance of Acts 2:38. Some groups, such as the United Pentecostal Church consider it of critical significance. Others such as the Assemblies of God and Church of God believe it has its’ place but it is not the “go to” verse.
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)
While there has been some questionable hermeneutics concerning this verse without regard for the larger context; the truth we must repent of our sins to be a child of God. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness of sin. The emphasis must be of the work of the Spirit in our lives. All the different “camps” tend to miss this is about the Spirit’s movement, not ours.
The division that comes from this verse is hard to understand. Whole movements have been split because of it. In 1916, the Oneness brethren was kicked out of the Assemblies of God, for example. When started as a revelation of the name of Jesus at Maria Woodworth-Etter meeting has become the largest division in the Pentecostal movement.
Acts 2:38 is emotional
Peter has been confronting the Jews present about their failure to accept Jesus as their King. He has been telling them that the risen King is their hope but they did not and do not understand it.
In the same vein as the prophets (such as Joel) and continuing the message of John the Baptist and Jesus; he calls the people to return to God. Turning to the Lord or returning to Him is a theme often used in the minor prophets, for example.
Peter was purposefully trying to engage them on an emotional level. This is why we read about “cutting to the heart.” This is a cultural adage for dealing with one emotionally. We know could produce rage, anxiety or desperation.
Peter turns to the people and continues the message that they would relate to in the ministry of John the Baptist. The focus is of repentance is not just accepting Jesus as the Messiah but it is a turning from sin and iniquity. μετανοέω is changing how you view God, sin and yourself. Without a change in attitude, there would be no true conversion.
What changed was that it was no longer about national repentance. It was personal. You couldn’t just hide in the crowds of people lamenting for wandering from the Lord. It was the person and what they did with Jesus. It was “everyone of you.” Would the person be enraged, depressed or would they surrender to the Kingship of Christ?
If they did respond to the gospel, (and thousands did) they had to give up their loyalty to the government that many benefited from. They also have to give up their own status to be someone in society. When this are considered, one can see repenting of sins for a Jew present was a major life changing decision.
Understanding Baptism in Jewish culture
In the Torah, there are extreme requirements for cleansing one. For someone that was not of the camp to be declared clean, they had even more challenges. However, in Christ Jesus, we are declared pure by the blood. The purpose of baptism is this declaration from being impure.
In Jewish culture, only gentiles needs to be baptized. However, Peter tells everyone that they must be cleansed from their impure sinful ways. This would have been radical to consider for a first century Jew but it was the standard for all. There was no special rules for Jews and another one for Gentiles.
The purpose of baptism was (and is) drawing a line of demarkation from the old life and coming into a new life in Christ. This was considered an extreme departure from cultural tradition but it was establishing truth. Baptism was a leaving of the old life and the beginning of the new life. It was true for the Jewish people then and it is true for us today.
There is power in what happens in baptism. We often just see as a sign of following Jesus but to them, it was about loyalty. They were making a clear call that they were not loyal to their rabbi or a governor of the empire. They were giving their loyalty to Christ and not to Caesar.
What about in the name of Jesus or in the Trinity? I believe that the Book of Acts gives us the example of baptizing in the name of Jesus and even early Assemblies of God believed this but leaned towards the Matthew 28:19 to keep the peace.
Receive Holy Spirit
The miracle of Pentecost is that everyone who desires to be a follower of Jesus can receive the Holy Spirit. When someone repents of their sin, turns from their wicked ways and accepts the work of Jesus at Calvary; they are born of the Holy Spirit and they are a child of God. They are sealed unto redemption.
However, I would hold that Peter is expanding on what Luke told us about in Acts 1: the promise of the Father which is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He did not just want the people present to receive the Spirit in conversion but to be baptized with the Spirit with biblical confirmation.
Given the context of this is minutes after the Holy Spirit had been poured out in the Upper Room, they baptism was fresh and the people (up to 500 at this point) all received a prayer language. (Acts 2:1-4); I believe it is logically that Peter was focused on both the redemption and the baptism of Holy Spirit.
However, the significance of the Spirit in the life of the believer can be overstated. It was not just some cute Pentecostal thing to them. They did not do anything with the presence of the Spirit. They walk in the breath of Him and knew the anointing like they knew their name.
Is Acts 2:38 formula or progression?
When Pentecostals seem to divide on the issue is over if this is a formula or not. Oneness Pentecostals such as the United Pentecostal Church and Pentecostal Assemblies of the World hold that it is. They believe that repentance, baptism in Jesus name, forgiveness of sins and the Baptism of the Spirit must be present to be biblical saved.
Others such as the Assemblies of God hold that is a progression of the early convert. People repent and are born again. Afterwards, they get baptized and finally they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and pray in tongues.
Which is right? I lean towards that is a progression of spiritual matters in the life of an early convert.