I John 2 – Part 4

“I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” I John 2:12

Weapons of warfare have changed considerably since the day the apostle John wrote his first epistle. While Romans soldiers in the first century fought with swords and spears, they would be no match for our Special Ops today that use the M4 carbine rifle, a shortened version of the standard U.S. M16 with a detachable 40mm grenade launcher mounted beneath the barrel. The weapon can also mount a night-vision sight, and some troops carry night-vision goggles with them. A soldier on sniper duty might lug a heavy Barrett .50 caliber rifle that can hit targets a mile away with a bullet stout enough to pierce armor. Some soldiers carry the M3 Carl Gustav reusable launcher, a bazooka that fires antipersonnel and antitank rockets. 1

But a Christian’s weapons have not changed. Our enemy remains the same in spiritual warfare and so do our weapons regardless of what century we live in. But the tactics of the enemy can vary from situation to situation, but the weapons that bring us victory remain unchanged.

The book of I John is primarily about having fellowship with God, not about going to heaven; it is about our practice, not our position. But understanding and believing our position in Christ is foundational for victorious Christian living. For example, in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in the city of Ephesus, he first presents the truth about our position in Christ (Ephes. 1-3) before addressing our practice of that truth (Ephes. 4-6). Paul knows that it is essential to know and believe our position in Christ if we are to effectively live it out. 2

The apostle John is preparing his readers for spiritual warfare. Christians face three primary enemies: the devil (Ephes. 2:2b; 6:12; I Pet. 5:8; Rev. 12:9), the world (John 15:18-19; Ephes. 2:2a), and our sin (Ephes. 2:3; James 1:14-15). John addressed our sin in I John 1:5-2:2. He is about to deal with our other two enemies: the world (2:15-17) and the devil (2:18-25). To get us ready to deal with these two enemies, he is going to review some basic truth about our position in Christ (2:12-14). 3

In 2:12-14, the terms “children… fathers… young men” refer to all the readers in each case since John addressed all his readers as “little children” (cf. 2:1, 18, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21). If John was referring to different chronological age groups or differences in spiritual maturity, we would expect the sequence: “little children, young men, and fathers.” But instead, we see the sequence: little children, fathers, and young men. 4

“It seems best… to view the terms of address as referring to all the readers in each case. Then each experience ascribed to them is appropriate to the category named.” 5

Anderson writes, “But the words are switched up to look back at ground already covered and look forward to the battle ahead:

Little Children—Forgiveness; ground covered in 1:5−2:2.

Fathers—Intimacy (deep knowledge of God); ground covered in 2:3-11.

Young Men—Victory over the Evil One; ground covered in 2:15-28.” 6

In verses 2:12-14, it is also noteworthy to observe the phrase, “I write to you… because…” “Clearly John does not regard his readers as ‘false professors.’ Viewing this epistle as presenting ‘tests’ by which to determine the genuineness of a person’s salvation misreads the epistle.” 7

John is not writing this epistle to provide tests for eternal life. He is not questioning whether his readers are saved or not. He is writing because he is assured of their salvation and their deepening fellowship with God. His concern is that their enemies may jeopardize their fellowship with God by questioning the genuineness of their salvation experience (2:25-27; 5:9-13) and their subsequent fellowship with the Lord.

John begins with his readers’ experience as “little children.” “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (I John 2:12). Like “little children” (teknia = “little born ones”) 8 John’s readers had experienced the forgiveness of their heavenly Father. That John is referring to his readers’ position in Christ is underscored by using the Greek perfect tense of the word “forgiven” (apheōntai) which refers to a completed action in the past with continuing results to the present. 9 When John’s readers believed in Christ for His gift of eternal life in the past (5:13a), they were forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future (Col. 2:13-14) – and they remain forgiven in the present when John writes to them.

The word for “forgiven” means “to release or cancel” a debt owed. 10 This is judicial or positional forgiveness whereby God cancels our sin debt to Him the moment we believe in Jesus for His complete forgiveness of all our sins so we can become His forever children (cf. Acts 10:43; Col. 2:13-14; John 1:12; 6:37). We are declared totally righteous before God in His courtroom at the moment of faith in Christ (Romans 3:21-4:5; 8:33). This not only includes our past sin debt, but our present and future sin debt to God as well (Col. 2:13-14). Nothing is more important for a believer in spiritual battle than his secure standing before God. Satan will accuse the believer of wrongdoing, but he cannot do so successfully because Christ has canceled that believer’s sin debt in full and declared him to be totally righteous in God’s courtroom the moment he believed in Jesus (Rom. 8:33-34). This is positional forgiveness.

Another feature in this verse that points to a believer’s position in Christ is the phrase “for His name’s sake.” Why did God grant complete forgiveness to John’s readers? It was “for His name’s sake.” This phrase looks back to the first time John’s readers believed in Jesus’ name. 11 John writes, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). God wants people to know that complete forgiveness is connected to believing in “the name of the Son of God,” Jesus Christ. Christ forgives us not because we deserve it but because He wants His name as a forgiving God to become more well known among people all around the world. If Christians lost their positional forgiveness in Christ, it would tarnish Jesus’ name as a forgiving Savior.

First John speaks of two types of forgiveness. One is the forgiveness we receive because of our position in Christ. This is the forgiveness spoken of in I John 2:12 (cf. Ephes. 1:7). The only condition for positional forgiveness is belief in Christ (Acts 10:43). The extent of this forgiveness is past, present, and future sins (Col. 2:13-14). It is permanent as the prefect tense suggests in 2:12 and is therefore unrepeatable. The second type of forgiveness is practical or fellowship forgiveness which was addressed in I John 1:6-2:2. The condition for this forgiveness is confession of sin (I John 1:9). The extent of this forgiveness is the confessed sin. It is temporary and needs to be repeated whenever the believer becomes aware of his unconfessed sin (Matt. 6:12, 14-15). It is important to understand that this practical forgiveness is based on our positional forgiveness.

Anderson illustrates: “When my oldest daughter started to drive, she took Driver’s Ed. She was a good student and did well, but on the day she got her license, she was quite nervous. That night she wanted to go to Young Life, and she borrowed our brand-new family car to do so. I was out that evening myself, so when I got home, I happened to notice that the left side of the car was smashed in, and the left rear-view mirror was missing. I walked into the house and didn’t say a thing. Because I have an eternal relationship with my daughter, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to injure herself, me, or our family. We had insurance on the car, so it was no big deal, but I knew she was going to be feeling very badly.

“I just sat downstairs and turned on the TV, waiting for her to come to me. Well, an hour went by. She didn’t come. She knew I was home because she could hear the TV. But it wasn’t until her older brother called out, ‘Christie, Dad’s home. Don’t you have something to tell him?’ that she came down the stairs. It was hard for her to get up the courage to tell me. But she finally did so and started crying.

“I said, ‘Christie, don’t worry. You are not hurt, you didn’t hurt anyone, and the car can be fixed. But even if we didn’t have insurance on the car and you were hurt, I would forgive you. You’re my daughter. My love for you will last forever. Come here.’

“She came over and I gave her a big hug. Then I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we go out and practice some more.’ So, with me at her side, we went out driving.

“Christie was still somewhat shaken by her first mistake, so she made a second. She drove at thirty miles per hour right through a four-way stop. A policeman saw and stopped us. As he walked up to the car, he had his head cocked with a curious expression on his face. He said, ‘You just didn’t see it, did you, honey?’

“You see, most stop signs are run out of defiance (in which case the car is often accelerating) or with a ‘roll stop.’ But Christie just cruised right through at the accepted speed limit for the area. From this the policeman deduced that she had not seen the stop sign at all. He was merciful and only gave her a warning. Now her second mistake wasn’t as bad as the first, and she learned even another lesson. Slowly she developed her confidence as a driver and hasn’t had any more wrecks (to my knowledge) since then. She is now thirty-one years old.

“But in order for Christie to relax and become a better driver, she had to know that she was forgiven for her mistake. And not only the first big mistake, but she had to know that I wasn’t going to revoke my forgiveness for the first mistake when she made the second mistake. Because of our father/daughter relationship, because of her position in our family as my daughter, she already has advanced forgiveness for any mistake she may make in life. That’s what we call positional forgiveness, forgiveness because of our relationship. But in order to feel close to me, she needs forgiveness not only in her position, but also in her condition. That’s why she needed to tell me what she had done, and that’s why I reassured her of my love and forgiveness and gave her a big hug. It is very important to see that our fellowship is based on our relationship.

“My daughter and I have an eternal relationship. As such, she has advanced forgiveness for anything she might do to hurt me. This is relationship forgiveness. But when she does do something wrong, she needs to come to me and confess that wrong in order to be reassured of my love and forgiveness. This is fellowship forgiveness. The latter is based on the former. Any child needs the assurance of relationship forgiveness over and over!

“In the passage before us, John is reassuring his little children of God’s forgiveness because of their eternal relationship with Him. A knowledge and assurance of this forgiveness is absolutely essential for them to feel confident as they go into battle against the world and the devil. A good soldier cannot operate at his best with the fear that a mistake or two will take him off the front lines.” 12

The challenge for many Christians is they don’t believe they have positional forgiveness. Charles Stanley illustrates this with an experience from his seminary days:

“One of my most memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating the concept of grace for his students. At the end of his evangelism course, he would hand out the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it. This caution was written on the exam as well.

“As we read through the exam, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough. The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard throughout the lecture hall. By the time we were turning to the last page, we were all ready to turn the exam in blank. It was impossible to pass.

“On the last page, however, there was a note that read, ‘You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment.’

“Wow! We sat there stunned. ‘Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?’ Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room. It took the rest of the afternoon for me to get over it. I had the urge to go back and check with him one more time to make sure he was serious.

“When I talked with him about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years as he had given the same exam. There were always students who did not follow instructions and began to take the exam without reading it all the way through. Some of them would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page. Their ignorance caused them unnecessary anxiety.

“Then there were the ones who would read the first two pages, become angry, turn in their paper blank, and storm out of the room. They never realized what was available. As a result, they lost out totally.

“One fellow, however, topped them all. He read the entire test, including the note at the end, but he decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, which was amazing considering the difficulty of the test. But he could have easily had an A.

“This story vividly illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Many are like the first group. They spend their lives trying to earn what they discover years later was freely offered to them the whole time. They spend years sweating it out, always wondering if God is listening to their pleas for forgiveness, always wondering if they have finally pushed Him too far. They hope God has forgiven them; they suppose He has. They do all they know to do to get forgiven. But insofar as God is concerned, they do not want to be presumptuous. So, they live their lives with doubts.

“Many people respond like the second group. They look at God’s standard—moral and ethical perfection—and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? they tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. They live the way they please, not expecting anything from God when they die. Often, they decide there is no God. Their acknowledged inability to live up to His standard drives them to this conclusion. Instead of living under constant pressure and guilt, they choose to completely abandon the standard. What a shock it will be for them when they stand before God and understand for the first time what was available had they only asked!

“Then there is the guy who took the test anyway. I meet people like him all the time who are unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness. Striking out to do it on their own, they strive to earn enough points with God to give them the right to look to their own goodness as a means of pardon and forgiveness. They constantly work at ‘evening the score’ with God through their good works. ‘Sure, I have my faults,’ they say. ‘But God does not expect anyone to be perfect.’

“When it comes to forgiveness, there is no room for boasting in one’s own ability. As we will see, forgiveness is not a team effort. It is not a matter of God’s doing His part and us doing ours. Unlike my professor’s test, in God’s economy anything less than 100 percent is failing.” 13

When Christians go into spiritual battle, our enemy, the devil, will accuse us of wrongdoing to get us to focus on our past. He wants to persuade us that our past sins cannot be forgiven. Satan knows that focusing on our past will make it difficult for us to face the enemy in front of us. This will also weaken us when we face the world with its various temptations.

John reminds us that we have been completely forgiven in Christ the moment we believed in Him (I John 2:12; cf. Acts 10:43; Ephes. 1:7; Col. 2:13-14). In Christ, God sees in us absolute holiness… purity… righteousness… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in us (Rom. 4:5; 8:33; Ephes. 1:4; Heb. 10:10-14). Our relationship with God is eternal and therefore can never be lost (John 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 17:3). This is the first unchanging weapon that all Christians possess going into battle.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise You because we are Your little children whose sins are all completely forgiven forever the moment we believed in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. There is no other name given under heaven by which we could be saved and forgiven forever (Acts 4:10-12). Thank You for this assurance and security that gives us sure footing as we prepare to go into battle against the devil and his world system with its many temptations. Knowing we have an eternal relationship with You strengthens our resolve to stand firm against the schemes of the evil one. No matter what we face, You remain our heavenly Father and we Your children forever. Thank You for this blessed assurance! In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. David R. Anderson, Maximum Joy: I John – Relationship or Fellowship? (Grace Theology Press, 2013 Kindle Edition), pg. 95.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Zane C. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Kindle Location 3669 to 3673.

5. Ibid., Kindle Location 3673.

6. Anderson, pg. 96.

7. Zane C. Hodges; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 591.

8. Hodges, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Kindle Location 3558.  

9. Anderson, pg. 96.

10. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 156.  

11. Anderson, pg. 96.

12. Ibid., pp. 97-98.

13. Ibid., pp. 98-100 cites Charles Stanley, The Gift of Forgiveness: Put the Past Behind You and Give… (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 43-45.

Lesson 1 Part 4 – Three principles to guide discipleship training (Video)

This is the fourth video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It addresses important truths for growing in the Christians life. It also looks at three essential principles that will guide the remainder of this discipleship training.

Is water baptism necessary to go to heaven?

Some students of the Bible do believe that water baptism is necessary for eternal salvation. They refer to six debatable verses to argue that one must be baptized with water in order to go to heaven. But this assertion clearly contradicts the New Testament teaching that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. For example, if water baptism is necessary to obtain eternal life, why didn’t Jesus say, “He who believes in Me [and is baptized] has eternal life” in John 6:47? Why didn’t Luke write, “[Be baptized and] believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” in Acts 16:31? Why didn’t the apostle Paul say, “For by grace you have been saved through [baptism and] faith” in Ephesians 2:8? If water baptism is necessary for salvation, why did the apostle Paul say that preaching the gospel was more important than water baptism when he wrote, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 1:17)? Paul makes it clear that water baptism is not part of the gospel message. Paul did not baptize many people because water baptism is not necessary for salvation from hell (cf. I Corinthians 1:14-16).

Obviously God did not intend for us to let six unclear verses interpret the over 200 clear verses that teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). So if these six verses are not referring to salvation from hell, then to what are they referring?

– “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Mark 1:4

John the Baptist’s call to repentance was a call for the nation of Israel to change their mind about their sin and the Person of Jesus Christ. The word “repentance” is from the Greek word metanoia, a compound word from meta, “after,” and nóēma, “thought.” Together it means to an after thought or a change of mind. John was calling the nation of Israel to change its mind because the Messiah God was coming from heaven to set up His Kingdom. John says they need to repent and change their mind about their own condition and/or the coming Messiah so they can trust in Him as their Savior and He will set up His kingdom. This was a self-righteous nation that needed to recognize its own sinfulness and need for a Savior.

John the Baptist’s baptism had no saving value. It was designed to prepare the Jewish people to place their faith in the coming Messiah according to Acts 19:4: Then Paul said, ‘John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’” Those Jews who were baptized by John realized their own sinfulness and inability to save themselves. John’s baptism initiated them into the community of people who anticipated the coming Messiah, Who alone could save them from their sins.

– “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16

Water baptism in Mark 16:16 cannot refer to salvation from hell because this would contradict over 200 clear verses in the New Testament which teach that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Matthew 18:6; 21:32; Mark 1:15; 9:42; 15:32; Luke 8:12-13; John 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 30, 35, 40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I John 5:1, 13; et. al). God’s Word will not contradict Itself.

Jesus used the word “believe” three times in Mark 16:15-17. Notice that failure to believe results in condemnation, not failure to be baptized which is consistent with John 3:18. If water baptism is necessary for salvation, we would expect the Lord to have said, “He who does not believe [and is not baptized] will be condemned.” But He does not say this because water baptism is not a condition for salvation from hell. What this means is even if a person is baptized with water but does not believe the gospel, he or she will still be condemned to hell. Clearly, the only condition for condemnation is failure to believe, not failure to be baptized with water.

It is better to understand the word “baptized” as a reference to Spirit baptism which takes place the moment a person believes in Christ for the gift of salvation (Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). In Mark 1:8, John the Baptist said, “I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This is supported further in the context of Mark 16:16. Christ said “these signs will follow those who believe” and then He lists the miraculous signs that will accompany the preaching of the gospel to “confirm” the message (Mark 16:17-20) and the apostolic messenger (2 Cor. 12:12). These miraculous signs accompanied the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the early church (Acts 2:1ff). The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual baptism. It places believers into the body of Christ forever and joins them spiritually to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ the moment they believe the gospel (Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 15:7-8; 19:5; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:11, 13). Water baptism is necessary for discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20), but not for salvation.

– “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ ” John 3:5

When Jesus refers to being “born of water” He is speaking of physical birth. Christ explains this in the next verse. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Christ is saying that a person must first be born physically before he can be born spiritually. So to be “born of water” refers to the amniotic fluid which breaks when a baby is delivered. To be “born of the Spirit” refers to our spiritual birth into God’s family the moment we believe in Christ (John 3:15-16; cf. John 1:12). The Bible does not contradict itself. John makes it clear that the only condition for eternal life is belief in Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 7:37-39; 11:25-27; 20:31). The clear must always interpret the unclear.

– “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

After preaching Jesus’ death and resurrection to his Jewish audience in Jerusalem (Acts 2:22-35), the apostle Peter informed them “that God has made this Jesus, whom” they “crucified, both Lord and Christ” (2:36). When these Jews felt sorrow or regret about what they did to their “Lord and Christ,” they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” (2:37). Peter told them to “Repent” (metanoeō) or change their mind about their wrong view of Jesus and then believe in Him for salvation from Hell (2:38a). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

Acts 3:19-4:4 also supports this usage of the verb “repent.” After Peter and John healed the lame man (3:1-10), Peter preached the death and resurrection of Christ to his Jewish audience (3:11-18) and invites his audience to “repent” or change their view of Christ and see that He is the Messiah. His Jewish audience was thinking, “If Jesus is the Messiah, then where is His Messianic Kingdom?” Peter explains that if they would “repent” and believe in Jesus as the Messiah, His Messianic Kingdom would commence (3:19-26; cf. Mark 1:15). How did these Jews respond? “Many of those who heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4). 

Several factors must be taken into consideration to properly understand Acts 2:38: 

1. Throughout the book of Acts we see that salvation is byfaith alone in Christ alone as taught by Philip (8:12, 37), Peter (10:43; 15:7-11), and Paul (13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31). God’s Word does not contradict itself, so Acts 2:38 must be talking about something more than salvation from hell. 

2. The distinction between regeneration and forgiveness. Regeneration is imparting the very life of God at the moment of faith in Christ to the believer (John 1:12-13; I John 5:1). Therefore, it is judicial and cannot be changed. Forgiveness, on the other hand, involves the restoration of harmony between God and believers (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). 

The Bible speaks of two types of forgiveness: Positional forgiveness involves the pardon of past, present and future sins at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14). This is a one-time event and cannot be changed. Fellowship forgiveness involves closeness to God, and it can be lost and restored repeatedly throughout a Christian’s life (Luke 6:37; 11:4; I John 1:9). For example, when you are born into your earthly family you will always be your parents’ child no matter what (regeneration), but closeness with your parents can be broken by your disobedience and restored by confession and forgiveness (fellowship). The same is true in our relationship with God. 

3. The meaning of repent. The word “repent” (metanoeō) means “to change one’s mind.” Whenever this word is used in a salvation context, it means “to change your mind about whatever is keeping you from trusting Christ and then trust Him to save you” (cf. Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 17:30; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). 

4. The book of Acts is dealing with a transitional time in God’s program. The birth of the Church takes place in Acts 2. For a brief period of time after the birth of the Church, people were not baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13) at the moment of faith in Christ. For example, Samaritan believers (Acts 8:12-17), disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:2-6), and Saul (22:1-16) received the Holy Spirit after they were baptized with water. But Cornelius and his family all received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ (Acts 10:43-48) which is the normative experience for believers today (cf. Mark 1:8; Acts 10:43-48; 19:5; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). Why the difference?

Palestinian Jews who had helped crucify Christ had to be baptized to be placed in the Church and have fellowship with God. That is, in order to enter into closeness with Christ, they had to publicly identify with Him through water baptism because they had earlier rejected Christ publicly when they participated in His crucifixion. This is why Gentiles in Acts 10:43-48, who had no part in Christ’s crucifixion, received the Holy Spirit at the moment of faith in Christ and were baptized later. 

So when we come to Acts 2:36-38, Peter says to his Jewish audience, “’36Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ 37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” (2:36-37). Peter has just preached that Jesus, whom His Jewish audience had personally helped to crucify, was both Lord and Christ (2:22-26). Peter replies, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). By calling the people to repent, Peter was commanding them to trust the One whom they had crucified (cf. John 11:25-26; 20:31; I John 5:1). Acts 2:41, 44 confirm this understanding when they say the people “received his word” (2:41) and “all who believed were together” (2:44). 

The forgiveness spoken of in Acts 2:38 is fellowship forgiveness, just as we see in I John 1:9. For these Jews guilty of crucifying the Messiah, they had to be baptized and receive forgiveness for this sin of rejecting Christ in order to have fellowship with God and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without water baptism they would still have eternal life because they believed in Jesus (Acts 2:41, 44; 4:4; cf. John 3:16;  I John 5:1), but they would not escape the temporal judgment coming upon their sinful generation for crucifying the Messiah (Acts 2:40). 

– “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Acts 22:16

This verse is parallel in thought to Acts 2:38. Saul of Tarsus was saved on the road to Damascus, as seen in Galatians 1:11-12 where Paul said he received his Gospel directly from the Lord Jesus and not from any man. Paul must have been saved on the Road to Damascus because this is where Jesus spoke directly to Paul (Acts 9:3-6). In the above verse, Ananias commanded Saul to be baptized so that he might receive the forgiveness of his sins or the same fellowship forgiveness seen in Acts 2:38 and I John 1:9. Paul was regenerated on the road to Damascus, but received fellowship forgiveness for persecuting Christ (Acts 9:4) when he was baptized three days later by Ananias (Acts 22:16; 9:17).

This explains why Ananias called Saul, “Brother Saul,” (Acts 9:17; 22:13) and why he didn’t command him to believe in Christ. Saul already believed in Christ for eternal life on the road to Damascus. The demand to be baptized for forgiveness of sins was imposed upon Palestinians who had openly rejected Christ and is never directed toward Gentiles (Acts 8:36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). Therefore, these accounts in Acts 2 and 22 are the exception, not the norm.

There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 3:21

Before we can properly understand this verse, we must look at the preceding verses: 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). Christ took our place and punishment when He died on the cross and was made alive by the Spirit (3:18). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ preached through Noah to the unbelievers (“spirits”) of Noah’s day (3:19-20).

Why refer to Noah in this context? Because Noah’s deliverance is a picture (“antitype”) of the kind of baptism mentioned in verse 21 – Spirit baptism. The water did not save Noah and his family. The ark saved them. Just as the waters of God’s judgment fell upon the ark and not Noah, so God’s eternal judgment fell upon Christ and not us (3:18). Furthermore, just as Noah and his family escaped God’s watery judgment by being placed in the ark, likewise Christians escape God’s eternal judgment by being placed in Christ through Spirit baptism the moment they believe in Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27). When Noah came out of the ark, he entered into a new life – a world that had been cleansed of sin. Likewise, Spirit baptism places us in a new relationship to Christ so we can experience a new kind of resurrection life (Romans 6:3-5).

Spirit baptism not only saves us from Hell, but it also saves us from the power of sin. Peter says that this baptism is not a physical cleansing (“the removal of the filth of the flesh”), but a spiritual cleansing (“the answer of a good conscience toward God”). Spirit baptism gives us a good conscience regarding our past sin and guilt and enables us to live victoriously now in the power of the resurrection.

Some people will ask “What about infant baptism?” To make a disciple you need first a person who has believed. Infants are not able to understand their need to believe in Christ. Therefore, parents should wait until their child is old enough to believe and understand the true meaning of baptism before he or she is baptized.

Some churches practice infant baptism as a means of committing the child to be reared in the church under the influence of spiritual teachers (Pastors, Sunday School teachers, etc.). This can be called a “baptism of confirmation” for children. This ceremony is intended to be a covenant between the parents and God on the behalf of the child. The parents promise to raise their child in the faith until the child is old enough to make his own personal confession of Christ. This custom began about 300 years after the Bible was completed. It is not in the Bible. This is different from the baptism talked about in the Bible which was only for those old enough to believe. Some churches do provide Baby Dedications whereby the child is committed to the Lord and the parents publicly confess their commitment to raise the child according to the principles in the Bible.

Conclusion: Water baptism is not a necessary for salvation or going to heaven. Only believing in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose from the dead is necessary to go heaven (cf. John 3:15-16, 36; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; Acts 8:12, 37; 10:43; 15:7-11; 13:39, 48; 14:27; 15:1-2; 16:30-31; Romans 4:5; I Corinthians 15:1-6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). However, water baptism is a condition for discipleship (Matthew 28:19) and is to be done as soon as possible after a person believes in Christ for His gift of salvation (cf. Acts 2:41; 8:6-13, 36-38; 10:43-48; 16:31-33; 18:8). When a believer is baptized with water, he is telling God and those who witness his baptism, that he desires to follow Jesus as His disciple no matter what the cost (cf. Matthew 10:16-39; 28:19-20; Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 13:34-35; 15:1-8).