Acts 2:38-39: The Promise of the Spirit


Today we are having a baptismal service where some of the candidates were once baptised as infants and have since come to recognise that their parents cannot obey the call to repent and be baptised on their behalf, and so are being baptised today as their own act of obedience to Christ’s command. Today then I would like us to think carefully about the differences between infant baptism and believer’s baptism. We will not be able to look at every verse relevant to this discussion so we will look at one of the more important ones, Acts 2:38-39. Many paedobaptists take this verse to be a clear indication that infants were to be included in the visible covenant community of the church just as the children of Israelites were included in the Abrahamic covenant in the OT, as well as proving that circumcision has been replaced by baptism.

I am preaching this message with two goals in mind. I am wanting to clearly preach on the meaning of baptism and the gospel it visibly portrays, and I believe that in order to do that I have to show how infant baptism muddies the picture of the gospel being portrayed and how believer’s baptism most clearly and accurately sets it forth.

Our text is a well known one, the Spirit has been sent upon the Church on the Day of Pentecost, Peter has just preached his sermon, the crowd cut to the heart by the Spirit have asked what they should do. Peter tells this group of Jewish hearers who have rejected their Messiah and have not received the promised Spirit what they must do in order to be the benefactors of the promised Spirit. Acts 2:38-39 are his response, ‘And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised 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.”’ As we look at the fulfilment of the coming of the Spirit as the manifestation of the Messiah’s reign we will consider three points, the conditions that must be met before we can receive the promise of the Spirit, the benefits that come to those that meet the conditions, and who the recipients of the promise are. It is the last point in particular that we will unpack and more deeply explore the issue of infant versus believer’s baptism.