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"The Age of the Spirit."

MESSAGE for Sunday, November 29, 2009, Acts 2:14-36

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          This week, we finish Luke s account of Peter s sermon on the day of Pentecost recorded in the second chapter of Acts.  Last week, we examined what Peter preached to those Jews from all over the Ancient world as he interpreted the miraculous events of Pentecost they had just witnessed.  He interpreted these as signs of the new age of the Spirit spoken of by the prophet Joel.  Pentecost marked the dawning of a new chapter in salvation history that would be characterized by certain signs given to all those who receive the Spirit.  Peter then goes on to pronounce the Jews guilt before God because they had consented to the death of Jesus of Nazareth.  They were guilty of killing their exalted, Messianic King who now sits enthroned at the right hand of God and who was pouring out the Spirit of God.  Today, we want to examine the response of these Jews to Peter s sermon and Peter s charge to them.

          After hearing this message that so powerfully communicates their grievous sin in killing their own Messiah, Luke records their reaction beginning with verse 37, Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? 38 And Peter said to them, 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. 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. 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation. 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  

          Luke records about 20 messages in the book of Acts and several calls to faith in Christ.  This call to faith in chapter two serves as something of a paradigm for us because in all of Acts, this one most fully describes what it means to call upon the name of the Lord in order to be saved.  Because that is Luke s main point in these verses, this text gives us a great lesson on what is involved in a person becoming a genuine follower of Christ.  When you look at all the conversion experiences he describes in Acts, you find five components of conversion to Christ.[1]  These are, faith placing your faith in Christ to save you from your sin, repentance the act of faith where you turn from your sin to Christ, baptism-- the outward sign that indicates you have inwardly trusted in Christ, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord where you publicly declare your new allegiance to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit.  Luke s account here in Acts chapter two is particularly helpful because he explicitly gives four of these components of conversion and the one other is strongly implied. 

          This truth is very important today because this whole question of what is involved in becoming a follower of Christ is very often muddled in the church today and the result is many false converts in the church who think they are Christians, but who in fact have not undergone a biblically valid conversion experience their experience does not match up with these Luke describes and what Peter at points prescribes.  Though every believer has a unique encounter with God when they are saved, certain things must occur in a person if they are to be genuinely converted to Christ.  There are some non-negotiables here that I trust we will see as we look closely at Luke s account this morning as we allow Luke to show us: What is involved in calling on the name of the Lord in order to be saved?  Luke sees five components of conversion and because they all happen on the same day in the accounts recorded in Acts, that makes many of these conversion accounts in Acts difficult to translate to our experience where they are very seldom all experienced on the same day. 

          Bob Stein describes this dynamic this way.  If Cornelius or the Philippian jailor in Acts were asked, Do you remember when you received the Holy Spirit? each could reply: Yes, it was when I repented; Yes, it was when I put my faith in Jesus Christ; Yes it was when I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord;   Yes, it was when I was baptized! [2]  That explains why sometimes in Acts, Luke describes conversion in terms of repenting, while at others he focuses on believing and at others, confessing and still others being baptized.  And you can find various combinations of those five components in the conversion narratives in Acts.  That doesn t mean that some are important and some are not.  At times, Luke just chooses to highlight some and not others.  You must look at the testimony of the entire book to get a comprehensive understanding.

As we said a few weeks ago, it s like the various components involved in getting married.  I can ask a person about when they were married in several ways.  I can ask, When did you put the ring on?   Or, When did you stand up before the preacher?   Or, When did you get the marriage license signed by the witnesses, Or, (if I want to get a strange look), When did you consummate the union?   All of those point to the various components of being joined in marriage.[3]  Today, we separate out some of the components of conversion over time and sometimes people are sadly not baptized until long after they have received the Holy Spirit.  Because the timing of our experience of these five components is different than how Luke describes them in Acts, that has lead to confusion about what is involved in salvation.  Today, some people wonder how baptism or repenting or confessing Christ as Lord relate to receiving the Spirit.  My hope is by God s grace to help clear some of that up this morning.

          This account of Pentecost is one of the few in Acts where Luke not only describes what happens at conversion, but also what God does to prepare people for conversion.  We see that in verse 37.  The Jews have through Peter heard God s ringing condemnation of them for murdering his now exalted and reigning Messiah and Luke says in verse 37, Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do?   Before these people are converted and the Holy Spirit falls upon them, the Spirit is already at work in their lives, bringing this deeply felt conviction of personal guilt before God.  This is important to note because it s clear that the Holy Spirit is the One drawing them to God.  This was not the only possible way for them to respond to this message.  As we will see many times in Acts, typically when the Jews hear the gospel, they violently oppose it.  Most of the Jews who heard the gospel rejected it and the notion of a crucified Messiah was an enormous affront to them a huge stumbling block.  These Jews however were deeply convinced of their guilt before God.  The difference between these Jews in chapter two and so many of the others in Acts is the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction of their sin upon them. 

          Jesus said in John 6:44, 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him&   As Peter is preaching, the Father through the Holy Spirit is drawing these people to Christ convicting them of their guilt and their tremendous need for forgiveness before God.  The response of these Jews cannot be explained by natural means.  This is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit convicting these people of their guilt before God.  Peter s message was a stumbling block to the Jews but the Holy Spirit enables them to overcome that stumbling block and convinces them they stood condemned before a holy God, in great need of a kind of forgiveness.  They knew there was nothing they could do to make amends for their scandalous sin.  In desperation for their souls, they ask Peter and the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do?

          This element of the pre-conversion work of God in bringing conviction to a sinner is often ignored today to our peril. Today, a person s guilt before God if it is pressed at all, is often communicated to the sinner something like this:  You know that everyone sins no one is perfect and you don t claim to be perfect, do you?  Well, for some reason God requires perfection and that means that those who aren t perfect are sentenced to hell when they die.  You don t want to go to hell, do you?  If not, then all you have to do is pray this prayer asking Jesus to come into your heart.  Are you ready to pray now?  Good.  Let s do it and Jesus will come into your heart.   Is it possible for someone to be genuinely converted in that setting?  About as possible as a person agreeing to have major surgery when their surgeon has only told them that they are not well.   If you are going to submit to major surgery, you want a bit more information than that. 

What opportunity was given to the person to see their guilt before God?  Their offense is imperfection.   People don t tend to see imperfection as a grievous sin.  They don t typically feel grief over being less than perfect.  That diagnosis is not going to bring most people to any real sense of desperation about their soul. That s not a problem that will cause most people to cry out, Brothers, what shall we do?   The intention behind this approach is not to tell the truth to the person, it s to spare the person s feelings as much as possible.  This would be like a surgeon looking at your x-ray showing a large cancerous growth on one of your vital organs, but not telling you about it for fear of making you upset. Would we say that was good medicine?  No.  Yet sinners we claim to love are walking around with something far worse than cancer and we know about it and we know the cure, but we aren t saying anything to them.  This isn t about being obnoxious or arrogant.  It s about telling people the truth in love so that they can see their disease and call on the Great Physician to bring healing to them through the cross.

          The reason these Jews in Acts chapter two were desperate about their souls is because Peter had labored to tell them in detail from the Scriptures their sin before a holy God he wanted them to see the depth of their deception about the identity of Jesus Christ and by implication, the incredible self-deception they had about their souls.  And by the grace of God s convicting work of the Spirit, they were cut to the heart.   They saw something of the enormity of their sin before God and knew they stood condemned by him needing to be saved.  They were ready for conversion.  We must see the point here.  Before people see their need of a Savior, they must by the Holy Spirit sense their deep guilt before God.  If Jesus is presented as simply a ticket to heaven for people who have not deeply sensed their need of his saving work, genuine conversions will not occur. 

That doesn t mean that every case will be as dramatic as this one in Acts two.  In Acts 16, we read of the conversion of Lydia in Thyatira.  Luke writes, The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.  The Lord was pressing in on Lydia her need to give heed to the gospel Paul was preaching it was for her she needed it.  Like everyone else, Lydia s heart was naturally closed to the gospel.  But the Lord miraculously opened it to show her that the gospel was for her she needed a Savior!  That s less dramatic than the Jews in Acts chapter two, but just as effective.  The point for us is that we must share the truth about sin with boldness today. 

Our top priority must be speaking the truth in love, not protecting someone s feelings.  As those who have committed ourselves to carrying our cross, we must be willing to risk the relationship or suffer some level of persecution.  That is a cost we must count up front.  In our post-modern world where many deny even the existence of absolute truth, this is a longer process in most cases.  In a context where the concept of sin is rapidly eroding, this takes more work to help people understand their need for a Savior, but God s arm is not shortened!  He is still in the business of drawing people to himself as we are willing to labor in love with others to show them through the Holy Spirit their need of a Savior.

          As we move into the conversion of these Jews, we see four components of their conversion mentioned explicitly.  First, we see that by God s grace they had faith in Christ.  Luke doesn t mention the word faith here, but we see it in verse 41 as he summarizes his account of this event.  He says, So those who received his word were baptized&   To receive the word is to accept it by faith.  John says in 1:12, 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.   The words receive and believe are used more or less synonymously there.  The Jews received the word by believing it and placing their trust in Christ to save them from their sin.  They renounced trusting in their own performance or their status as children of Abraham or their temple worship.  The Holy Spirit had convinced them that those were inadequate to their tremendous need.  They placed their hope in Christ. 

A second component of conversion is really an expression of faith.  It s rightly said that faith and this component are two sides of the same coin.  That is they repented of their sin.  When the Jews saw their guilt before God and asked the apostles what they could do, Peter responds, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.   This is the component that is perhaps most overlooked today in evangelism and the reason is not hard to figure out.  If Jesus is presented only as the answer to your sin problem, then repentance doesn t seem necessary.  Just add Jesus to your life and you will be forgiven.  The problem with that is that Peter doesn t present Jesus as simply something to add to your life or mentally assent to in order to be forgiven.  As we said last week, Peter presents him in verse 36 as both Lord and Christ.   Jesus isn t just a Savior, he s Lord He s the King and he is building his kingdom through the church as transformed people are added to it.  In order to become part of the kingdom of light, you must first renounce your membership in the kingdom of darkness.  That s repentance.

Listen again to Jesus charge in Luke 24:46 when he commissioned the apostles.  Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.   When Peter tells these Jews to repent, he is simply being faithful to the commission he received from Jesus.  In Acts 3:19 Peter says in another sermon, 19 Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you&   The forgiveness of sins in both our text today and this one in chapter three is dependent upon repenting.  No repentance no forgiveness.  Paul in Acts 17 as he is preaching to the scholars in Athens says, The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.   This command is for all people, everywhere.

In Acts 26, when Paul is summarizing his apostolic ministry to King Agrippa, he says in verse 20 that [he] declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.   The New Testament knows nothing of salvation without repentance.  When Jesus came on the scene, what was his gospel?  In Mark 1:14 we read, 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.   When the apostles preach a gospel of repentance for entrance into the kingdom, they are simply repeating what they have heard from their Master. 

When Peter says in verse 40, Save yourselves from this crooked generation, he is calling them to come out from among this sinful generation and be different by God s grace.  The Greek word for church literally means the called out ones.   That implies repentance from the sins of those from whom you have been called out.  So often, this crucial component of repentance is missing in the proclamation of the gospel as people are convinced into believing the lie that Jesus is willing to simply be an addition to their life to keep them from hell.  There is no turning from sin no renouncing of evil just mentally agreeing that Jesus died on the cross for your sins.  It s possible to grow a very large church with people who have been told that you can be a Christian and go to heaven when you die while still living for yourself.  But it s not possible to be faithful to Scripture and win genuine, radically changed converts to Christ with that message.  As we ll read in next week s text, these Jews were radically changed by Christ and the reason is because they had by God s grace repented of their sin.  They had received the gift of repentance.  Repentance is the fruit of genuine, saving faith.

In addition to repenting, these believers were also baptized and publicly confessed Christ through their baptism.  In baptism as Peter teaches it, we see two components of conversion combined baptism and confessing Christ as Lord.  This is what Peter means when he calls these Jews to &be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of you sins&   Baptism is the outward sign of what God has done inwardly in saving you.  Baptism symbolically portrays a washing, a cleansing, which is precisely what God does when he forgives or cleanses you from your sin.  It is an expression of your repentance because it communicates a willingness to publicly identify yourself with Jesus Christ.  When Peter commands that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ he is not prescribing a baptismal formula.  He is saying that when you are baptized in the name of Jesus, you are confessing that your allegiance is to him now not to yourself not to the life you formerly lived or the gods you used to worship.  You now serve Jesus Christ.  It is a sad development that today in the church we often have a lengthy separation of time between receiving the Spirit and being baptized.  There is some wisdom perhaps in making certain a person is showing some of the fruits of repentance before being baptized, but to wait for several months or even years to be baptized when it is evident a person has been converted to Christ is to separate what God has joined together. If you are trusting in Christ, but have not been baptized, then obey Christ and be baptized soon.  Call the church office this week and let s talk.

The final component of conversion is seen in verse 39.  Peter says, 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.   Here we read that they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  If we were to move into Paul s teaching on the Spirit, we would see that receiving the Spirit is the way he most often understands conversion.  If you have not received the Spirit, you are not converted and there can be no genuine saving faith or repentance.  God gives the Spirit this is something he does in conversion along with forgiving our sins.  A third element of God s part in this process is in verse 39. Speaking of the promise of the Spirit, Peter says, 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.   Just as Peter took pains to communicate that the crucifixion of Christ was not ultimately caused by sinful humanity, but was done according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, here too he wants to make certain that the Jews know that God, not sinful humanity is sovereign over who is saved. Those who God calls are saved through the gospel.  When we answer the question what is involved in calling on the name of the Lord? one of the answers is those who call on the name of the Lord are those who God has already called to himself.[4]

As we close, let s think about some application.  When you share the gospel with others, do you first share the bad news of their sin, before you share the good news of the gospel?  Without the bad news, there is no need for the good news.  Unless they know they have a terminal disease, there is no need for a radical treatment like conversion through the cross.  By God s grace, we must love people enough to tell them the truth about their sin so that God can use that truth in their lives to show them the need of the Savior.  Do we call people to repent to turn from their sin to Jesus?  The Christian life is a life of repentance.  It begins with repentance; it continues and ends with repentance.  Is your life marked by ongoing repentance of sin?  How important is baptism to us in the process?  It s clearly not necessary to be saved, but it is so frequently related to conversion in Acts and is an important way we can obey Christ and declare our allegiance to him.  Have you been baptized as a believer and are you encouraging others to publicly confess Jesus is the Lord of their life through their baptism?  Are you trusting in Christ alone for your salvation not your church affiliation or your baptism or being a nice person?  Only faith in Christ alone will save us from sin.  Finally, is there evidence that you have received the Spirit and the life transformation he brings he takes out the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  He writes the law on our hearts.  He gives us an increasing love for God, his word and God s people.  Is this who you are in Christ?

If you are feeling the need to get right with God to be genuinely converted or to repent in some other way, do that today the Spirit of God is graciously moving in your heart.  Don t continue to put him off.  Come to Christ he will not turn away anyone who comes to him no matter what you have done.  Grace is available for you.  Let s pray.


[1] Five components of conversion is used by Robert Stein in his helpful chapter in Schreiner/Wright s book Believer s Baptism, p. 65.

[2] Stein, in Schreiner/Wright s Believer s Baptism, p. 65.

[3] Stein, pgs 57-58.

[4] Bruce, The Book of Acts, NICNT, p. 72.

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