Let’s take that same “how do you respond” idea and apply it to three important questions that are asked in the book of Acts. They really are the same question but their wording is slightly different.
1) “Brothers, what shall we do?” Here in Acts 2:37, the people are convinced that they needed salvation, so they ask Peter and the other Apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
2) “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In Acts 16:30, the jailer is asking Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved.
3) “What shall I do, Lord?” On the road to Damascus in Acts 9:5, Saul (soon to be Paul) had a spiritual encounter with Jesus and he asks, “Who are you, Lord.” In Acts 22:8, he recounts that same question, “Who are you, Lord?” But in Acts 22:10, when Jesus had Paul’s full attention, he asks, “What shall I do, Lord?”
Even though these questions are really the same, the answers given in the Bible seem, on the surface, to be different.
Before we examine the biblical response to these questions, let’s make sure that we understand two different methods of conveying an idea or thought. 1) Explicit statement. An explicit statement is clear and to the point. To say that, “A is taller than C” is an explicit statement. We are specifically told that A is taller than C and thus no judgement on our part is needed. 2) Implicit statement. An implicit statement suggests or affirms a conclusion through logical necessity. An example would be, “X is taller than Y. Y is taller than Z.” In these two statements, we are never explicitly told that X is taller than Z. However, based on the evidence the logical conclusion is that X is taller than Z. Truth does not demand or require either explicit or implicit statements. Truth is truth regardless of the methodology used.
Response to #1 above. Peter explicitly responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with these words, “Repent and be baptized, every one you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38). The results of Peter’s answer are given in Acts 2:41, “Those that accepted his message were baptized and about 3,000 were added to their number that day.” It’s interesting to note that Peter did not say anything about “faith” in his answer. Does that mean we don’t need faith to receive salvation? In Acts 2:36-37, Peter tells the people, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other Apostles, Brothers, what shall we do?” So, did the people believe? We are not explicitly told that they believed, but implicitly we must infer (conclude) that they believed. Why? Because they were “cut to the heart” over a statement that Peter made which implies (suggests by logical necessity) that they believed his explicit words. Since they believed that Jesus is the Christ, Peter only had to explicitly mention the two things that they still lacked in regard to their question. Those two things were to repent and be baptized. Thus, through explicit statements and the implication of faith, we know that the complete answer to the question in #1 above is that they needed to: a) believe in Jesus as the Christ, b) repent of their sins, and c) be baptized. Question. Did Peter in his answer mention anything about saying a certain prayer to have their sins forgiven and thus be added to the church because of that prayer?
Response to #2 above. Paul’s response to the question in #2 above seems to be very different from what Peter said. What did the jailer know about Jesus the Christ? Very little, if anything. Since the jailer did not even know that he had to believe that Jesus is the Christ, Acts 16:31 recounts that the very first thing Paul did was to explicitly tell him to believe in the Lord Jesus. When we read Acts 16:32-33 we also find that Paul immediately speaks the Word of the Lord to the jailer (teaches him the basics of the gospel), and in verse 33 it states, “At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds [he was sorry for what he had done and by washing their wounds repentance is implied] and he and all his family were baptized.” How did the jailer receive salvation? The same way the Jews did in Acts 2. Through explicit and implicit statements, the jailer: a) believed that Jesus is the Christ, b) repented of his sins, and c) was baptized. Again, I must ask the question. Did Paul say anything to the jailer about a certain prayer that brings about salvation?
Before we respond to #3, let’s summarize the response to #1 and #2 above. In Acts 2, Peter explicitly mentions that repentance and baptism are required for the forgiveness of sin. The implication in Acts 2 is that faith is also required but is not mentioned explicitly. However, Paul, in Acts 16, explicitly mentions that faith or belief is required for salvation and in turn implies repentance and baptism. Between these two conversion stories, faith, repentance and baptism are either specifically (explicitly) mentioned or implied to be requirements for salvation. Thus, one or more of these requirements cannot be left out of the “formula” for salvation. Now let’s look at our third question.
Response to #3 above. In Acts 9, Paul has an encounter with Jesus that would change his life forever. In Acts 22, he is recounting this story before a hostile crowd. In verse 10 of chapter 22, Paul repeats the question he had asked Jesus, “What shall I do, Lord?” In verses 14-16 of this chapter, he tells the crowd that Ananias gave him these instructions, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear the words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.” Ananias tells Paul to be baptized so that his sins would be washed away. Ananias does not explicitly mention faith or repentance. However, Paul is a well-educated Jew and he would have been very familiar with the concept of repentance. Also, after Jesus made him blind for 3 days, Paul most assuredly believed that Jesus is the Christ (who else could He be?). Paul only needed to completely understand the purpose of New Testament baptism much like the Jews of Acts chapter 2. Thus, Ananias explicitly confirmed that baptism washed away his sins. Once again, we see Scripture stress the items that recipients of salvation either did not know or with which they only had a limited understanding. What did Paul really need to do to receive the saving grace of Jesus? Through explicit and implicit statements, he needed to: a) believe, or have faith that Jesus is the Christ, b) repent of his sins and c) be baptized.
Ed Nill is the author of the book: “Christianity – Why I Believe What I Believe – Why Do You Believe What You Believe?” See www.BossPublishing.org for ordering information. The book has proven to be a conversation starter in small groups. Written in a style that does not abuse or accuse the reader.