Reading online the transcript of a sermon by a man named John MacArthur in which he preached on Peter's sermon at Pentecost and the reaction to it, I was a little surprised to see how flimsy the argument put forth was regarding the role of baptism in salvation. With no reference to any other Scripture and essentially putting words in Peter's mouth that he did not say, he concludes that the purpose of baptism was to make a public declaration of one's association with Christ. That's my interpretation of his words, but I find that you're much more articulate than I am, so could you speak to what you see as the structure of his argument? I'd like to try and hone my communication skills so that I can follow Peter's words: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" (I Peter 3:15). Thanks.
[It] says that they were pierced in their hearts and they said, "What do we do?" They were really rattled. And many of them in their hearts had believed on Messiah and they had accepted the fact that this was true, that Jesus was the Messiah. And I'm sure the temptation would have been to say, "Boy, I'm going to believe this but I'm not sure to open my mouth about it. I open my mouth and whish....you know."
But you know something? There's something distasteful about such a secret disciple. So Peter doesn't want to tolerate any of that. He wants those to come to Christ who are really right on and really serious so he makes a formality here that is graphic as a symbol but that is even more graphic as a renouncement of Judaism. You see, he's saying, "I don't want any secret disciples. If you mean it, I don't only want you to change your attitude, I want you to change your association."
Now notice it says in verse 38, "Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ." He made that clear because in Judaism there were all kinds of washings, weren't there? And they could have been washed and it wouldn't necessarily been connected with Jesus, so he says, "I want you to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." That was tying them in with Him as their Messiah. Wow, what a transformation! And it meant that their families and all the rest of their world would count them as dead. The most despicable thing a Jew could do would be to come to Jesus Christ who was a blasphemer they had decided and worthy only of execution. But Peter says, "I want you to make a public act of severing your ties with Judaism and a new identification with Jesus Christ. And so I want you to be baptized, baptism of being a symbol of union with Christ."
Mr. MacArthur ascribing a motive to Peter's command that isn't in the text. He does this to avoid what is actually in the text and he is counting on his audience not bothering to reading the passage for themselves.
"Then Peter said to them, "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).
Peter tells us the purpose of his command and it wasn't about making a public statement about leaving Judaism. They had to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Therefore, though they believed that they had killed the Messiah, that belief by itself did not free them from their sins. After all, as James pointed out, "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble!" (James 2:19). Paul learned the same lesson. He met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He called Jesus his Lord, he prayed and fasted three days, and still when Ananias came to him, Paul was told: "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).
Does baptism unite the believer with Jesus? Yes. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:3-7). Or as Paul told the Galatians, "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).
Notice too that Mr. MacArthur makes it sound as if baptism was only for the Jews leaving Judaism; yet, Paul spoke of baptism to the Romans, a congregation of both Gentiles and Jews, and to the Galatians, congregations made up almost exclusively of Gentiles. Baptism did not severe the Jews from the Old Law, Jesus' death did that, "having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14). Baptism, however, did join both Jews and Gentiles under a new covenant. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses" (Colossians 2:11-13).
It is confession, not baptism, that makes the public declaration. "But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10). That confession has to be before men. "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32).
Thus, in trying to distract from the obvious, Mr. MacArthur taught things not found in the Bible.