Meditations in Acts : 29 : The Need to Repent
Acts 2:37,38 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
Sometimes preachers appear a little unsure how to conclude their message or sermon and so ramble on, but Peter isn’t given that opportunity. This ‘sermon’ comes with such clarity and anointing that it produces instant response in his listeners. Luke tells us that they “were cut to the heart” meaning they were deeply moved. Oh, for sermons like that today! A sermon isn’t like a nice little ‘talk’; it should be a displaying of the facts of salvation that reveals needs in the people and it should come with such authority that people know they have to do something about it.
These people were deeply moved by the facts that had been laid before them and the Old Testament prophetic support that helped explain those facts, so much so that they couldn’t hold themselves back. Note “they said to Peter”. He wasn’t so distant from them that they couldn’t speak directly to him. But note also “and the other apostles.” It was still clear and obvious who this distinct bunch were and so listeners turned to the nearest of the apostolic group there and questioned them.
Note that this sermon was so clear and anointed that it raised questions in the listeners about how they should respond. Good preaching does that. It doesn’t just present information, it does it in such a way that need is revealed and obviously response is needed. “Brothers, what shall we do?” was their response.
Peter is quite clear on what they need to do: “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (v.38a). If the facts presented to us in the sermon reveal something we haven’t done or something we shouldn’t have done, then it is obvious that a response is necessary of disciples to correct it, and correcting it means first acknowledging it, acknowledging the wrong and determining to put it right. That is what repentance is. It is an acknowledgement of failure – and we all do it – and a recognition that I need to do something about it. That is what leads to receiving God’s forgiveness.
The apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Confession there means the same thing: repentance, acknowledgement of failure and need to put it right before God. This isn’t something that only very bad people need to do; we all fail at some time or other and when we do, the path back to God is always the same – repentance.
It is, of course, the path that every single believer has to take to come to Christ, for without that acknowledgment that our past life was godless and self-centred, we cannot come to the place where we surrender our lives to God for Him to lead, and we cannot receive His forgiveness. No, repentance is the absolute requirement for entering the kingdom of God and receiving forgiveness of sins through Christ.
But there is something else Peter adds to repentance, and this is “be baptized”. In some parts of the Church we may play this down but as far as the early church were concerned this was an essential. Jesus was baptized, his disciples were baptized and they baptized all new believers – who were adults. For the early church, baptism was an opportunity to declare your allegiance to Jesus Christ and clearly was a significant part of the process of conversion.
But there is yet more: “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (v.38b,39) The coming of the Holy Spirit to every new believer was a significant part of the Gospel message to indwell, empower, teach and guide.
The question must come for modern preaching, do we present the message of salvation so that the facts of the New Testament are conveyed in such a way that personal need is revealed and responses follow? Is repentance a part of our package along with baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. May we not sell the message short!