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Salvation in the Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles is part of the history section of the New Testament. It is a record of the early days of the Church following primarily the acts of Peter and Paul. Some have described this period as a transition from Judaism to Christianity but I believe it is better understood as the infancy of the Church.
The gospel message in this period should be among the most original of the gospel messages. From the message here we can compare what changes, if any, occur in later circumstances. The gospel that is preached early to the Jews is somewhat different than what is found later, but not sufficiently to suggest a doctrinal change, only a circumstantial one related to the Jews.
The gospel message that is first preached by Peter in Chapter 2 can be summarized as Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. When the Jews heard this message they asked “What shall we do?” The Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,…”. To the Jews repentance and baptism had more meaning than to a comparable Gentile audience. They realized that they needed to change from Judaism, baptism would mean a break with Judaism as they were being baptized in the name of the Jesus Christ.
The second message which Peter gives (3:12-19) in the temple is similar in that he preaches Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. This time however he does not wait for the crowd to ask what to do but preaches “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,…”. The message appears somewhat simpler in that repentance and conversion are the key words. I would suggest that to the hearers there was no difference in this call than the earlier one Peter had given at Pentecost (2:38).
As Peter stands before the Sanhedrin he gives another gospel message which again recounts Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. He then gives a statement which has become one of the more noted gospel verses (4:12) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby ye must be saved.” Salvation then is found in a person, not in a doctrine, not in a work nor a set of works, but in a person, and that person is Jesus Christ.
The next time that the gospel is preached it is Philip, one of the deacons in Jerusalem, who is doing the preaching. This time he speaks about Isaiah 53 and its relation to Jesus Christ (8:27-37). When the man he is preaching to requests baptism Philip places belief in Jesus Christ as a precondition for baptism to the man “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” It is important to note this precondition because some believe that belief and baptism go together. In this passage they are shown as consecutive actions rather concurrent, belief in Jesus Christ is a precondition to baptism.
Peter again becomes the speaker in Chapter 10. He again gives what has by now become the standard gospel message, Jesus crucified and raised from the dead He then provides a plain statement of the requirement for salvation, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” (10:43). Belief is the sole requirement for salvation given in this message.
From this point the focus of Acts switches to Paul. The first specific message of his that is recorded is found in Chapter 13, it is the same as the message Peter gave, Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. Paul then states the requirements for the forgiveness of sins, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (13:38-39). At this point we have both forgiveness of sins and justification attached to belief in Jesus Christ.
The next time that we have the words of Paul specifically recorded about salvation occurs in Chapter 16:25-31. Paul and Barnabas are specifically asked by the jailer “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They reply “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,…”. This is the first time that the full title is given to Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ. This perhaps highlights Paul’s understanding of the gospel without changing the gospel message. At Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 he learns that the Lord is Jesus, which is what is preached here. We will later (Chapter 17:2-3) find Paul preaching Christ and that this Christ is Jesus, this is not a contradiction of his teaching, merely a different aspect. The gospel message in Chapter 17 is the same as earlier, Jesus crucified and raised from the dead.
Throughout the Acts, whether it is Peter, Philip, or Paul speaking the message has been the same, Jesus crucified and raised from the dead, salvation through belief. Baptism is a consequence of salvation not a concurrent action. Whether in the gospel or as a defence before the Sanhedrin or the Roman governor the message is the same. Toward the end of Acts we see Jesus being more frequently referred to as the Lord Jesus Christ. The message to the Jews was definitely Jesus as the Christ, while to Gentiles it is Jesus as Lord.
Salvation in the Acts of the Apostles is the same as in the Gospel of John and in the Epistle to the Romans. For that matter it is the same as in the rest of the New Testament, salvation comes only through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.