A gracEmail subscriber writes: “You seem to say that people are initiated into the church in different ways, suggesting that Acts 2 is a pattern for Jewish conversions and Acts 10 is a pattern for Gentile conversions.”
I am sorry if I left that impression. I am not suggesting a sepaate “pattern” for Jews and Gentiles — or any pattern at all in the sense of a formula stating “man’s part” in some do-it-yourself salvation scheme. Acts 2 is the story of the first conversion of Jews to Jesus as resurrected and ascended Messiah. Acts 10 is the story of the first conversion of Gentiles (non-Jews). The first story speaks of baptism “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). The second story promises that whoever believes in Jesus “has remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). God saves all believers and Jesus commands all believers to be baptized.
Present-day confusion about baptism and salvation often results from unscriptural formulations about “God’s part” and “our part” and because of arguments involving such unbiblical expressions as baptism being “essential” and “necessary” for salvation — or being “non-essential” and “unnecessary.” We contradict the Word of God if we treat baptism as a take-it-or-leave-it affair, or fail to baptize believers or to instruct them to be baptized as their faith-response to the gospel. Such carelessness ignores a command of Jesus Christ himself, betrays a “sloppy” attitude toward obedience, and reflects a lack of appreciation for the important role the New Testament assigns to water baptism in light of the gospel. We also contradict the Word of God if we deny that God will save all who truly put their trust in him, based on the finished work of Jesus Christ for sinners.
If we go out preaching baptism, we might find ourselves persuading people to get in the water who haven’t the foggiest idea about trusting Jesus Christ alone for their right standing with God. However, if we focus on preaching Jesus, people whose hearts the Holy Spirit touches will not hesitate to be baptized. The two conversion stories in Acts 2 and Acts 10 are fully consistent with each other. Read thoughtfully, both emphasize relationship more than ritual. Both stories illustrate that Christian conversion involves wholehearted abandonment to Jesus as our sole but all-sufficient Savior who has set sinners right with God.