“Ye Shall Receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit”
A lady in England asks, “Why does the apostle Peter, in Acts 2:38, use the future tense when he says, ‘ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost’? I am puzzled because we must already have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit in order to repent and trust in Christ ‘for the remission of sins.’”
The questioner adds this to her question: “It [i.e., the text] is used here [in my local church] to imply that no one is saved until they are baptized—that they have to do something to contribute to their salvation, a thoroughly Arminian idea. The pastor and other preachers can be Reformed in preaching to Christians but they become Arminian when addressing non-believers.”
Let us have the text, Acts 2:38, clearly before us: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
Before I answer the lady’s question, I want to make a few points about the e-mail that accompanied her question. I have received many such e-mails and letters over the years, and heard similar sorry tales on our many visits with saints in the British Isles. When I hear accounts from them of this sort of distortion of the Scriptures, it always fills me with sorrow. My wife and I literally wept when we left homes where we ministered to a few saints who faced similar problems to those of the questioner. There is no church in their area where the gospel of sovereign grace is faithfully preached. In the local churches, Arminianism is rampant and the doctrines of sovereign grace are corrupted by unfaithful shepherds who shear the sheep rather than feed them. We frequently pray for these scattered sheep who know not where to turn to hear the glorious gospel of free grace.
Godly saints who love the Lord, confess that their salvation is a gift of grace, and rely wholly on their Saviour, Jesus Christ. But, in many areas, the sermons in the churches are a mixture of Arminianism and God’s grace. No wonder they are, as the questioner is, “puzzled” by the preaching. Men who claim to be ministers of God’s Word trouble the hearts and minds of godly saints with confusion and contradiction.
Pentecostals interpret such a passage as this as teaching the “second blessing.” Though a man or woman is saved, they claim that the believer needs more to attain the second outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will enable him or her to speak in tongues (i.e., utter gibberish), prophesy, perform miracles and experience the constant bliss of unclouded communion with God.
While certainly, in the apostolic era, when the Scriptures were not completed, God gave special signs to some by which signs the truth of the gospel was verified, that is not the reference here.
Peter simply uses a very common biblical expression that explains the power of faith and its relation to salvation. You will find the future tense used repeatedly in Scripture where faith is set forth as the instrument of receiving salvation.
First of all, one does not need to be baptized to be saved, contrary to the impression the lady received in her church (“Acts 2:38 ... is used to imply that no one is saved until they are baptized”).
If one does require baptism to be saved, unborn babies cannot be regenerated and infants dying in infancy, even though born of believing parents, cannot be saved (contra Luke 1:15, 44; Canons I:17). If a minister preaches that baptism saves, then he has adopted the Roman Catholic and the “high church” Anglican heresy of baptismal regeneration.
However, I do not think that the people to whom the lady refers actually hold this. From her correspondence, it appears to me that their error springs from a more Baptist and Arminian approach to the text: baptism as a work that we do that adds or contributes to our salvation.
Second, Peter is using here the common expressions of Scripture to define the relation between faith and our conscious experience of that salvation. One can find instances of this throughout Scripture. God sovereignly begins the work of salvation in the hearts of the elect. This is regeneration, and God gives the gift of faith in regeneration.
But the efficacious calling is a part of salvation. This is the reference in the text, for Peter is preaching and God uses the external call in working His internal call in the hearts of His elect. By that sweet and irresistible call, God brings His people to conscious faith in Christ as He is set forth in the gospel. That gift of faith brings the child of God to the cross and Christ crucified, in whom our salvation is perfect and complete. By faith in Christ, we come to repentance and the assurance of our salvation, through the Holy Spirit.
The call of the gospel, heard in the preaching, demands faith in Christ from all who hear. The wicked refuse and are damned (John 12:48). God, by His Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ, works faith in the elect so that they believe and are saved. Always “it is God which worketh in [us] both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Anything else is a damnable lie (Gal. 1:6-9).
Why do preachers not preach this simple and God-glorifying gospel? That way, they will not puzzle and disturb Christ’s saints but comfort and edify them! Prof. Hanko