Main Point: You must be born again.
We are a church praying for conversions but what is that? What does it mean to be a convert or to convert a person? I have some idea of conversion rates on the dollar so that I can go to the bank and convert one American dollar into .89 euros, 1.31 Canadian dollars, or 19 pesos. I can convert a dollar but what about a person? How do I convert a person? Can I convert a person? What happens to a person that converts and what do they convert into? Does it hurt? Does it stick?
Today, in Acts 2:37-41 we get the story of 3,000 Jewish converts. As we look back at what happened at Pentecost, we need to understand what went down and we need to determine if we should expect the same things in our lives. This happened to them. Should the same happen to me?
The big picture is we are going to set up four marks of conversion from Acts 2:37-41. The evidence of conversion in these people is conviction, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Read Acts 2:29-41
We start with conviction
I. Conviction is a part of conversion
I want to be clear that sorrow over sin or conviction is not explicitly commanded. Peter doesn’t say, “Be sad about your sin, repent and be baptized.” You see it there in front of you, Peter goes straight to repent and be baptized. But here we take note of the connection between verses 37 and 38
- The people were cut to the heart (2:37)
The people were pierced; they experienced distress over their situation. And what was their situation? Through the preaching of God’s word, they realized Jesus is the Messiah Son of God and they crucified him. The word of God pierced their hearts, opened them up, and showed them the dark reality of what was going on inside (Heb 4:12). They saw who Jesus really is, they saw who they are, and they saw how they had turned away from God. Seeing these truths cut them to the heart.
And there is fear in this conviction. Look again at verse 37. When they heard the word of God, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Conviction is the emotional distress and fear experienced because of guilt. Instead of worshipping the Son of God, these people shamed and humiliated him. Instead of serving the Son of God, these people killed him. Instead of loving the Son of God, these people hated him. Instead of listening to the Son of God, these people rejected him. The reality of their sin, coupled with the promise of judgment (Acts 2:19-20), caused great fear. These people in Acts 2 experienced conviction. Maybe their stomachs were in knots, maybe they felt gross or dirty, we don’t know the individual expression. We just know they feared because of their sin. Should we experience the same? Here’s where we bring this historical account into the 21st century.
- Can a person be a Christian without conviction of sin?
Now I will ask you for patience as you listen because I am about to beg the question. I must assume that repentance is a necessary part of conversion in order to claim conviction is a necessary part of conversion. I will show you in our next point that repentance is necessary and seeing that, it will prove that conviction is necessary. Repentance and conviction are inseparable.
In order to become a Christian a person must repent; a person must turn in thought and deed away from godlessness and to Jesus. A person must turn in thought and deed away from self-dependence to dependence on Christ. This turning, this repentance, necessarily involves the experience of sadness over one’s godlessness and selfishness.
We are a people who regret the ways we live without God. We are a people who experience sorrow over the ways we think that are opposite of God’s good ways. We are a people who are pierced to the heart because we have tried to live life on our own without the Holy Spirit. A person cannot be a Christian without repentance and therefore a person cannot be a Christian without experiencing conviction because of sin. It is sorrow that leads to turning.
You who claim to be a Christian, do you experience sadness over your sin? When you look at the way you treat God and treat your neighbor, do you experience regret? Does the word of God pierce your heart showing you where you have gone your own way? If so, if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of sin, repent because
II. Repentance is a part of conversion
- Peter told them to repent
The people ask Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” We killed our Messiah. We rejected and humiliated and hated the King of all creation. There is sorrow and fear because of sin. Peter tells them in verse 38 to repent.
To repent is to turn. They realized they were living fighting against Jesus and Peter tells them they must turn and follow Jesus. They realized in their thinking they were arguing with God and Peter tells them they must humble themselves and agree with God. The things they were doing were self-serving and contrary to love of God and love of neighbor. They must turn. They must repent.
The theme of repentance shows up 10 times in the book of Acts. I will give you one summary statement from Acts 20. There in Acts 20 Paul is describing his ministry to the Ephesian elders and he recounts how he “[testified] to both Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Repentance was central to Paul’s preaching. And repentance was central to Jesus’ preaching. Mark recounts in his gospel that Jesus began his ministry saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
So, repentance was commanded by Peter, Paul, and Jesus. What about us?
- Can a person be a Christian without repentance?
Acts 17:30 answers this question soundly. There Paul is preaching to Greeks and says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). God commands everyone to repent.
Children, who disobey your parents, you are headed toward judgment because you reject the authority of God in your life. Do you feel the pain of your sin and do you want to turn to God? You who sneak to your phone and look at pornography, does the word of God pierce your heart and show you your godlessness? You who envy the married and quietly despise God for the path of singleness God has given you do you see your sin? The Father has raised the Son proving to us that Jesus is the judge and the standard. We will each be judged. Follow the Spirit as he uses the word to expose your sin, convict you of your sin, and call you to turn to Christ. Our message is still this ancient message. We proclaim repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Look back at Acts 2:38, “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
III. Baptism is a part of conversion
- Peter told them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins
Throughout the New Testament, baptism is the conscious act of repentant people who are turning to Jesus Christ. Notice that Peter does not simply command an act. His words are not simply, “be baptized”. He tells the people to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is an act of trust. The one being baptized is deliberately doing so as an act of faith. I am being baptized in Jesus’ name because he forgives me of my sin. The one being baptized is deliberately doing so as an act of allegiance. I am being baptized in Jesus’ name because I no longer want to rule myself; I want to be cared for and ruled by King Jesus. Baptism is the public demonstration of the inward truth that God has transferred this one from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13-14).
In baptism there is a personal shift of allegiance away from rule of self to being ruled by Christ, and in baptism there is the explicit desire to be forgiven. The Holy Spirit leads a person to understand the gospel, be convicted because of personal rebellion, turn from that rebellion, and seek forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.
Listen to Peter’s explanation of baptism in 1 Peter 3:21, “Baptism, which corresponds [to Noah’s ark], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It is not the act of baptism that saves you. It is not being baptized that saves you. It is the appeal to God for forgiveness in Jesus’ name which is explicit in baptism that saves you. Salvation is by grace through faith and faith is put on display in baptism.
Baptism without personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is ineffective. Peter commanded men, women, and children to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sin. But what about us?
- Can a person be a Christian without baptism?
The short answer is, “Not for long.” In Matthew 28:18 King Jesus declares, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These are the rules for Jesus’ kingdom. Go and make disciples. Preach the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return. Baptize those people who are followers of Jesus. Teach them to follow all that Jesus commands. The three primary commands that mark entrance into Jesus’ kingdom are repentance, faith, and baptism. To put it plainly, the person who resists baptism is the person who rejects Jesus’ command. To reject baptism is sin.
Mark Dever is correct in saying the refusal to be baptized would soon be grounds for church discipline. So, the person who claims to be a Christian but has not been baptized needs to be taught to obey Jesus’ command. If that person still refuses to obey the clear commands of Jesus, then that person would be subject to church discipline.
Can a person be a Christian without baptism? Not for long. So Christian, what is keeping you from seeking baptism? Follow Jesus, obey his commands, when we sing together in a moment, come forward and ask for baptism.
There is conviction, there is repentance, there is baptism, and there is the gift of the Spirit.
IV. Receiving the Holy Spirit is part of conversion
Peter says in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
- Peter promised them the Holy Spirit
Remember, the Holy Spirit is on center stage in Acts 2. It is the flame like fire, sound like wind, and miraculous gift of tongues that has drawn this group together. Peter has explained the gift of the Holy Spirit as the promised result of the crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ.
I hope you see the thinking that is going on in these commands. The one being baptized is thinking specifically about forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ. The one who is repenting, believing, and being baptized is thinking about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. These are not mindless deeds done by or to unknowing people. This is hungry faith exercised in desperate people. Jesus, give me forgiveness. Jesus, give me the Holy Spirit.
I need to make two additional points here. First, we must not be slaves to the order. Here in Acts 2 the order is preaching, repentance, baptism, and then the Holy Spirit. In Acts 10:43-48 the order is preaching, repentance, Holy Spirit, then baptism. We have no right to demand a certain order like we can control the Holy Spirit. Second, throughout the book of Acts and particularly here in Acts 2 the people receive the Holy Spirit but do not speak in tongues. The demand that a person must speak in tongues as evidence of having received the Holy Spirit is an unbiblical demand.
Back to the text in Acts 2. Through repentance, faith, and baptism, the individual is deliberately longing for the gift of the Holy Spirit. When a person is being baptized there should be two thoughts in the front of her mind. First, I need the forgiveness of sins through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, I need the Holy Spirit in order to live the Christian life. Peter taught this back then. What about today?
- Can a person be a Christian without the Holy Spirit?
The short answer is, “no, a person cannot be a Christian without receiving the Holy Spirit.” Romans 8:14 says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” It is by the Spirit that we understand the gospel and repent.
Turn again to Peter’s words in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
The promise is the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is for those Jews, the coming generations, and for all who are far off. All who are far off appears to be the Jews dispersed throughout the earth and as the book of Acts unfolds, we understand that all who are far off includes Gentiles as well. That’s you and me. The promise of the Holy Spirit is for Jews and Gentiles in the book of Acts and throughout this age.
But notice who is in control. The apostles do not control the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands or through baptism. Peter says the promise is for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. The effectual call of God is the sovereign act by which the Father draws a person to Jesus and gives the called the Holy Spirit. It was in John 6 that Peter heard Jesus unpack this promise of the effectual calling of God’s elect. Bring your questions about election and calling to John 6; let’s get together and talk them out. For now, listen to Jesus in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
The Father is working to draw people to believe in Jesus. All those who are taught by the Father come to Jesus; not one is lost or left in the process. It is in fact impossible to come to Jesus apart from being taught by the Father! And it is such sweet news to hear that all who are taught and drawn will be brought safely home to glory. Jesus will raise them up on the last day.
Can a person be a Christian without receiving the Holy Spirit? No, a person must be taught by God the Spirit. It is this teaching that God uses to draw the person to repentance and faith. It is by faith that we receive the Holy Spirit who is the very presence of God in our lives and the surety of our salvation on the last day (Gal 3:2; Eph 4:30).
Let’s finish by following Peter’s example. Acts 2:40 tells us, “with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them saying, ‘Save yourself from this crooked generation.” Listen,
V. You must be born again
You cannot continue on the path you are on and escape God’s judgment. God has made his judgment clear by raising Jesus from the grave. Look at Jesus the standard of holiness and the standard of love. He will judge us. Can you stay where you are? Can you continue in your anger, in your rebellion, and in your pride? No, you must turn. You must repent of your sin. Tell your Maker that you know you have run away from him and you are sorry. Follow the Spirit’s conviction of sin to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Today, because of your sin and coming judgment, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a righteous life for you, Jesus died an atoning death for you, Jesus rose victorious over the grave for you, Jesus is now praying for you that you will repent and believe the gospel. Repent, believe, and come seek baptism. Make your allegiance known. Declare to the world that you belong to Jesus. And do all of this depending up and asking for the Holy Spirit. If the Father is drawing you today to repent and believe the gospel then the gift of the Holy Spirit is for you. Trust him and follow him to faith in Jesus.