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Baptism: Thoughts from Acts 2:38 by John MacArthur

Sep 9, 2020 |

In Acts 2:14-40, after the Holy Spirit’s arrival, the first major event of church history was Peter’s sermon, which led to 3,000 conversions and established the church (vv. 41-47).

From that sermon, we read in Acts 2:38:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (NKJV)

Repent refers to a change of mind and purpose that turns an individual from sin to God (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Such change involves more than fearing the consequences of God’s judgment. Genuine repentance knows that the evil of sin must be forsaken, and the person and work of Christ totally and singularly embraced. Peter exhorted his hearers to repent, otherwise they would not experience true conversion.

The Greek word for baptized literally means “be dipped or immersed” in water. Peter was obeying Christ’s command from Matthew 28:19 (“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”) and urging the people who repented and turned to the Lord Christ for salvation to identify, through the waters of baptism, with His death, burial, and resurrection (compare Acts 19:5; Romans 6:3,4; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and Galatians 3:27).

This is the first time the apostles publicly enjoined people to obey that ceremony. Prior to this, many Jews had experienced the baptism of John the Baptist and were also familiar with the baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism (proselytes). For the new believer, being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ was a crucial but costly identification to accept.

For the forgiveness of your sins might better be translated “because of the forgiveness of sins.” Baptism does not produce forgiveness and cleansing from sin. The reality of forgiveness precedes the rite of baptism (v. 41). Genuine repentance brings from God the forgiveness of sins (compare Ephesians 1:7: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace …”), and because of that the new believer was to be baptized.

Baptism, however, was to be the ever-present act of obedience, so that it became synonymous with salvation. Thus to say one was baptized for forgiveness was the same as saying one was saved. Every believer enjoys the complete forgiveness of sins (see Matthew 26:28; Luke 24:47; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13; 1 John 2:12).

One baptism probably refers to the water baptism following salvation, a believer’s public confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Spiritual baptism, by which all believers are placed into the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:11–13) is implied.

Consider journaling about …

What does baptism means to you based on what you read in Acts 2:38?

As in the first century, baptism “in the name of Christ” remains a “a crucial but costly identification to accept.” Are you willing to pay that price? Why?


Content taken from the MacArthur Study Bible, 2nd edition available now in the NKJV and the NASB translations.

Over 2 million readers around the world have had their spiritual lives enriched and their understanding of God’s Word expanded by The MacArthur Study Bible. Drawing on more than fifty years of dedicated pastoral and scholarly work, Dr. John MacArthur’s verse-by-verse study notes, book introductions, and articles display an unparalleled commitment to interpretive precision—with the goal of making God known through His Word.

5 comments on “Baptism: Thoughts from Acts 2:38 by John MacArthur

  1. Andrew Phillips says:

    Acts 22 What did Ananias mean whwn he said to Paul arise and be baptized and wash Away yours sins, as Paul was already saved? What dud Peter mean when ge said Baptism which now saves you. Giving the Ark as an example of salvation?

  2. Samuel R Cundiff says:

    What about Matthew 28:18-20. /and Jesus came and spoke to them, saying “All authority has been given unto Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and lo I am with you always even to the end of the age”

  3. Jose Quintin says:

    The TRUE Repentance and forgiveness of our sins occur ,when we are been baptized in the NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST According to Holy Bible Acts 2.38. By this we have PUTON CHRIST.Galatians. 3.27.more it is fulfillment of gospel of luke 24.47.And that repentance and FORGIVENESS of sins should be preached in HIS name, to all nations. Why because JESUS CHRIST died for our sins. Amen

  4. In Acts 2:38 the Greek text links repentance and baptism together. Just as repentance is “for” (unto, for the purpose of receiving) the forgiveness of sins, so also baptism is “for” (unto, for the purpose of receiving) the forgiveness of sins. Also, the reason that English Bibles do not use the words “because of” here is that the Greek preposition means “for,” “unto,” “for the purpose of.”

  5. Bo Perry says:

    We must be baptized in the Name of Jesus. No other name given by which we must be saved. It takes saying the name during baptism to save us.

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