The New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John record the life, teachings, commands, and promises of Jesus. One promise was, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). One command was, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
The book of Acts is based on those two verses. Acts 1 records Jesus’ ascension to heaven; Acts 2 records the building of His church; Acts 3–28 record Christians taking the gospel to the world.
The good news, aided by God’s Spirit, flowed down Mount Zion with such momentum that it soon spread from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the faraway capital of Rome (Acts 1:8; Isaiah 2:2–4). It had such force that it still circles the globe today.
What God Did
Preachers are quick to talk about what man must do to be saved, but the discussion of salvation begins with what God did and does. God loved man and initiated salvation when men were sinners (John 3:16; 12:47; Acts 10:36; Romans 5:6–8).
God sent His Son to take the punishment man deserved (Acts 13:23; 1 John 4:14). Isaiah prophesied of this, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
What the Apostles Taught
Acts shows God’s plan of salvation applied in ten specific conversions, some non-conversions, and a few related summary statements.
In Acts 3:19 and 26, instruction was given to repent and be converted, but no conversions took place. In 5:29, Peter told the council that men “ought to obey God rather than men,” but they rejected it, and none were converted (5:33). Apollos was a convert who needed further teaching (18:24–26). Felix, Festus, and Agrippa rejected the gospel (24:25; 26:24, 28).
Some were not converted, but many were. We will look for a pattern of how sinners were saved in Acts. Read these in your Bible and draw your own conclusions (Acts 17:11).
Conversion 1: 3000 Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2:22–47). Acts 2 records the beginning of the church. The Jewish feast of Pentecost had brought devout Jews to Jerusalem from many places. The day began with the coming of the Holy Spirit (2:1–13). When people came to see what was happening, they heard the apostles speaking in all the tongues of the people. Some thought they were drunk (2:12–13).
Peter denied that and explained this event fulfilled Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28–32). Peter concluded, “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:14–36).
Peter began with what God did (2:16–36) and finished with what man must do (2:38). About 3000 Jews
- heard (2:6, 14) and then initiated their salvation process (2:37).
- repented (2:38). This means to change one’s mind about sinful behavior.
- confessed (2:21). Calling on the Lord’s name includes confession and can stand for the entire process (cf. 22:16).
- were baptized for the remission of sins (2:41). “For” (Greek eis) means “in order to obtain.” Eis is found 1173 times in the New Testament and is never translated “because of” (cf. Matthew 26:28).
- received forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38).
- were added to the church/kingdom (2:47; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 1:13).
- continued in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42; Revelation 2:10).
- enjoyed fellowship with each other and favor with outsiders (2:44–47).
Conversion 2: Samaritans (8:5–13). Philip began with what Christ did (8:5, 12). They heard (8:5–6), believed (8:12), and were baptized (8:12–13).
Conversion 3: Ethiopian Treasurer (8:26–39). He heard (8:30–31, 35) and then initiated the salvation process (8:34, 36). He believed (8:37), confessed Christ (8:37), and was baptized (8:38). He “went on his way rejoicing” (8:39). This shows the following three things about baptism:
- “Here is water” shows baptism’s medium—water (8:36).
- “Both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water” shows baptism’s mode—immersion (8:38).
- “What hinders me from being baptized?” (desiring immediate baptism) (8:36) shows conformity to baptism’s purpose—forgiveness (2:38; Matthew 28:19–20).
Conversion 4: Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1–18; 22:6–16; 26:12–23). Saul heard (9:4), believed (9:4, 6), repented (indicated by fasting) (9:9), and was baptized (9:18). He asked two questions of eternal significance: “Who are You, Lord?” (9:5; cf. Matthew 3:17; 16:15–16); and “What do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6; cf. 2:37; 16:30; 22:16). Every person’s eternal destiny rests on how he answers these questions.
Conversion 5: Cornelius and His Household (10:1–48). Peter used the keys Jesus gave him (Matthew 16:19) to swing salvation’s door open to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 2:39). Unlike Moses’ Law (Deuteronomy 10:15), God now shows no favor to any racial or national background. All people are on equal footing in receiving the gospel, as He honors all who fear and obey Him (Acts 10:34–35). Cornelius heard (10:33–44), believed (10:43), and was baptized (10:47–48).
Conversion 6: Deputy and Other Gentiles (13:6–52). These heard (13:7, 42–44) and believed (13:12, 48). No detail is given of what was preached or practiced. It does not say they repented, confessed, or were baptized.
In a few places in Acts (4:1–4; 17:34), as here, “believe” is used as a summary or a synecdoche. Synecdoche is “a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole.”1 When Moses said not a “hoof” shall be left behind (Exodus 10:26), he used a synecdoche, as does a cattleman who says he has “ninety head of cattle.” Jesus used synecdoche in John 3:16: “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” He permitted belief, which is only one condition of pardon, to stand for all the conditions.
This does not make repentance or baptism unnecessary any more than God’s granting Gentiles “repentance to life” (Acts 11:18) makes belief unnecessary.
Conversion 7: Lydia and Her Household (16:13–15). These women meeting for prayer heard the gospel (16:13) and were baptized (16:15).
Conversion 8: The Philippian Jailer and His Household (16:26–34). When Paul and Silas met a demon-possessed girl, they cast out the demon, which got them cast into prison. After an earthquake, Paul stopped his jailer from committing suicide. The jailer asked what to do to be saved (16:30).
Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (16:31). To understand this, one must consider the context and full response (16:22–24).2 The jailer was a Roman. He was at best irreligious, and at worst a pagan.
Why would Paul say, “Repent and be baptized for remission of sins” to one unfamiliar with God, Jesus, penitence, baptism, sin, and forgiveness? Paul gave the short answer and then taught him what belief involved.
The jailer then heard (16:31–32), believed (16:34), repented (implied by washing their stripes) (16:33), and was baptized the same hour (16:33). He rejoiced after being baptized (16:34).
Conversion 9: Crispus and the Corinthians (Acts 18:8). They heard, believed, and were baptized (18:8).
Conversion 10: Ephesian Disciples (19:1–7). They heard (19:2–4), believed (19:4), and were baptized (19:5). They received gifts of the Spirit (19:6).
What We Learn
(See chart. I=implied). No single conversion records all that is involved in a sinner’s salvation. Taken together, though, they show a clear pattern. To be saved, a sinner must hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized (Mark 16:15–16; John 3:3–5). A convert receives salvation, the gift of the Spirit, church membership, joy, and community. Then one must remain faithful (Acts 2:42; Revelation 2:10).
Since the entirety of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:160), and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34–35), we must take the whole as what God requires for salvation. Every person who is truly saved is saved the same way.
Salvation is like a combination safe. Its lock will open only after certain numbers are entered in sequence. If a combination is: turn right to 3, left to 10, right to 7, left to 4, and right to 1, then it will not open if one
- Turns left first and stops at 3.
- Turns right first and stops at 10.
- Turns right last and stops at 2.
- Omits 10 from the sequence.
- Adds 8 to the sequence.
Man’s response to God’s offer of salvation is like that. The five requirements for scriptural baptism are as follows:
- Immersion in water (Acts 8:35–39; Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12),
- of a penitent believer (Acts 2:38; 8:36–38; Mark 16:16),
- upon a public confession of faith in Jesus (Acts 8:37; Matthew 10:32–33),
- for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16),
- in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
Acts 19:1–7 illustrates salvation’s combination lock. Apollos baptized disciples after teaching them outdated doctrine—John’s baptism, which was replaced at the cross (John 3:23; Colossians 2:14). John’s baptism differed from Jesus’ baptism in the order of the commands (repent/believe instead of believe/repent, Mark 1:153), required no confession of Jesus, and was not in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Apply the combination lock principle:
- Immersion in water? Yes.
- Penitent believers? Yes/no. They were penitent but were taught to believe on the One to come.
- Forgiveness of sins? Originally, yes (Mark 1:4), but it was invalidated.
- Upon confessing Christ as Lord? No.
- In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? No.
This combination did not work, so Paul correctly taught and baptized them.
The most important question one can ask is, “Am I saved?” To hear “yes” on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 25:31–33), we must make preparation now. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
Following Acts is the correct path. You are invited to visit the church of Christ in your community, where you will find this taught and practiced.
2 The thief on the cross (Luke 23:43), often appealed to for deathbed, faith-only conversion, lived under Moses’ Law. As one saved prior to Jesus’ testament (Hebrews 9:15–17), he can no more be an example of how to be saved today than Naaman, Jonah, the Samaritan woman, or Bartimaeus. Jesus had not been resurrected; the Great Commission had not been given; the church (kingdom) did not yet exist.
3 John urged people to repent of not keeping the Law and to believe on the One to come. Great Commission baptism requires people to believe in Jesus
(who has come) and to repent of sins.