37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized 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 your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.
I’ve always loved this passage. For one, it gives me hope that whenever anyone shares the truth of God, there is an opportunity for those in hearing to experience what I have experienced. Secondly, it makes me imagine this time where all this craziness is going on and after Peter is finished speaking, so many suddenly become honed in, as if it all makes sense. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a miracle.
God calls us to live a repentant life. We saw in the study of Amos that God continually calls us to repentance because He knows what will happen to us if we don’t. Peter’s words in verse 40 have been repeated since the beginning of time. The fact that people were pierced to the heart and that God bore through their hardness of heart and unrepentance is the miracle. The problem that we have with this is sometimes we are too prideful to accept what is happening inside of us and act on it.
Let us not lessen the process. Once God opened their eyes to their depravity, Peter’s response as to what comes next is to repent. Sometimes we slide over that point and skip right to the baptism part thinking if we have someone pray over us and dunk us under water that we will be saved. Our response to our depravity is to repent. This is the recognition not only of our sinfulness and how it has pulled us away from the presence of God, but also that we can’t not do it without God’s help! This is what Calvinists would call “total depravity.”
The baptism symbolizes us choosing to die to ourselves (being buried in the watery grave). We aren’t forced and held underwater against our will. Some may argue that we cannot refuse God and that we have no choice but to go through with this. The drive inside us might lead us to this path, but ultimately we still have the choice to refuse it. Just like when someone hands you a $100 bill: you most likely will be driven to reach out and take it but some will refuse it for one reason or another, possibly thinking their choice is noble and just. After being buried in the watery grave, we are pulled back out, signifying the cleansing of our souls and the forgiveness of our sins. Keep in mind; this isn’t just for past sins, but future as well as long as we continue to repent. Based on your upbringing in the church and the doctrine you have been taught, you might think, “well, we can’t fall from grace. If we did nothing to earn it, then we cannot do anything to unearn it.” Here’s the challenge, in Matthew 6, Jesus reveals a different element to our forgiveness:
14 "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Two questions arise out of this conundrum:
Can we fall from grace and salvation?
When does salvation start?
This “conundrum” is a result of our linear thinking. Our salvation does not slide up and down on a timeline that is based upon our obedience and faithfulness to God. In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul details this:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
God’s mercy and grace saves us (ie. is our salvation) which gives us the capacity to trust Him. This is the piercing of the heart that we read about in Acts. The turning and changing of the heart as a result of our eyes being opened to our spiritual depravity (realizing we are far from God and we need Him to draw closer to Him) that causes us to say, “what shall we do” is the grace of God. Peter says, “be saved,” which in it’s format reveals that salvation is available, but we must act on the salvation that has been given to us. The fact that we begin seeking God from that point on is the ability He has given us to believe in Him (faith) and the baptism is the action we take as a result of our heart change and choosing to take the path He has now illuminated for us. Faith is our trust in what God has revealed to us and our belief is the activating of that faith (Read the book of James) and making use of what God has shown and offered us. Can we undo the opening of our eyes and the piercing of our hearts? Absolutely not. Can we reject the grace God has given us? Absolutely.
In Luke 15:11-32 we read the story of the prodigal son. Even though the prodigal son went away, lost himself to the world, and squandered what his father had given him, he never stopped being the man’s son. When the son returned, the father embraced him not only because he had returned, but he finally realized the error in his ways and repented of his actions. This repentance brought the son back into the presence of the father and rekindled the relationship they had but it did not in any way stop the son from being a son. Our initial repentance and salvation is a different event than when we fall away from God and return. Once we become God’s son or daughter, we are forever His. In Ephesians 1, we read about God’s adoption of us through His grace:
In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Adoption is a choice. It is a choice between both parties, both the adopter and adoptee must agree to the new relationship. It is a choice to forever be united as parent and child, which is initiated by the parent. So too is our relationship with God and even if we run away, we are still His child. Our life after this event is the development of our relationship with God. We may be close or far away, but one truth remains that never wavers: we are his children.