A gracEmail subscriber in the Far East writes, “My study convinces me that the doctrine of baptism ‘for the remission of sins’ is biblical (Acts 2:38). Yet when someone hears the gospel of Christ in many evangelistic campaigns and responds by praying to receive Jesus into his heart, he is declared saved. Should I congratulate him as a brother or should I say to him, ‘Wait a minute, don’t be happy so soon. You’ve not yet been saved?'”
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If Acts 2:38 were the only text in Acts that mentioned baptism in a larger sequence of events, or if all other texts had the same sequence, we might conclude that God followed some strict order. However, in another passage the same apostle Peter tells Cornelius’ household that “all the prophets bear witness, that whoever believes in [Jesus] receives remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). Those Gentiles do believe, they receive the Holy Spirit, then Peter commands them to be baptized in water in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 10:36-48). I must acknowledge that God deals with people in different orders at different times.
How is it said in one place that “whoever believes has remission of sins” (Acts 10:43), and said in another place that people are to be “baptized for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38)? The key is in seeing baptism as an expression of faith. Whoever believes in Jesus — in the saving sense of entrusting self to God in Christ, of relying only on what Jesus did for us to set us right with God — has remission of sins (Acts 10:43). But when one is baptized as an expression of that faith, such baptism may also be said to be “for the remission of sins” as well (Acts 2:38).
The evangelists you mention preach Jesus and urge people to give themselves to Him, to trust Him alone for salvation. That is the pure gospel. I wish that they would tell converts to express their faith by being baptized in Jesus’ name, instead of telling them only to pray a sinner’s prayer (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21-22). But all who are true believers have remission of sins, according to Acts 10:43. Like the Gentiles at Cornelius’ house, they may well receive the Holy Spirit when they hear and believe (see also Gal. 3:2). As such, they are my brothers and sisters, and I am not embarrassed to claim them as such. No one who trusts in Christ for salvation will ever be disappointed (Rom. 10:8-11).