There are many churches that teach the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. And they get this doctrine from Acts 2:38. They use Acts 2:38 to prove that you must be baptized in water in order to be saved and to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Take a look carefully at the context of Acts 2:38. You will see, first of all, that the audience is entirely Jewish. As a matter of fact, Peter is addressing “the house of Israel.” In verse 36, he let them know that God made the same Jesus that they crucified both Lord and Christ. After hearing this, they asked Peter “what shall we do?” You might recognize that this is not the same question that the Philippian jailer asked in Acts 16: 30. There, he asked “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The Jews, in Acts 2, did not ask what they needed to do to be saved!
To the contrary, the question in Acts 2:37 referred to the problem the Jews had as a result of the resurrection. In other words, at the crucifixion they hollered for Pilate to crucify Jesus and told him, “His blood be on us, and on our children,” (Matthew 27: 25). After the resurrection, when God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ, these same Jews had a serious problem. The man that they had crucified was alive and was now in a position to judge them for what they had done. They had asked for his blood to be on them!!
So, Peter explained to them that they had a way out of the problem. He told them, in Acts 2:38, to “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.” That’s exactly what they had to do. However, if this were the proper method of salvation for everyone, then we would find water baptism preceding the gift of the Holy Ghost in other places in the Bible. But, such is not the case!
In Acts 10, for instance, Peter was directed by God to go to the house of Cornelius. He went and took six other men with him. He began to preach in Acts 10:34. By the time he got to verse 43, he was preaching “remission of sins.” He was preaching this to “whosoever believeth in him.” Up to this point, he said nothing about being “baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Now look carefully at verse 44. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” Verse 45 shows you clearly, “that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Well, they got the gift without any baptism. Following the gift of the Holy Ghost, they were baptized in water. Notice, water baptism followed the gift of the Holy Ghost. It did not precede it as in Acts 2:38.
In Acts 11, Peter had to explain to the Jews in Jerusalem what happened to Cornelius and the Gentiles. In Acts 11:15, Peter said, “and as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning.” He then explained, in verse 16, that the Holy Ghost falling on them was the fulfillment of the word of the Lord in which he said, “ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” Notice in verse 17, that the Holy Spirit falling on them was evidence that “God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
They received what the Jews got in Acts 2:38, without the water baptism!! Clearly, then, we see a case of the Holy Spirit being given to men prior to their water baptism. This gift was the baptism with the Holy Ghost. The baptism with the Holy Ghost accomplishes three things. First, it puts the new convert into the body of Christ as a member of his body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Second, it spiritually circumcises the new convert’s body from his soul (Colossians 2:10-12). Third, its seals the new convert until the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13, 4:30). Water baptism can do none of these things!!
According to Rom. 10: 9-10, salvation is a matter of confessing with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believing in your heart that God raised him from the dead. That is exactly what the Ethiopian eunuch did in Acts 8. Philip “preached unto him Jesus,” (Acts 8: 35). After a little preaching, the eunuch wanted to be baptized. That’s when Philip laid one of the conditions of Rom. 10: 9-10 on him. He said, “if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”
The eunuch then met the other condition when he confessed with his mouth, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” These conditions were both met in Acts 8: 37, prior to the eunuch’s baptism. Oddly enough, Acts 8:37 has been cleverly removed from most modern Bibles to protect those who hold the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. Isn’t that wild? Following the eunuch’s salvation, he was baptized in water.
So, the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The way to be saved after hearing the gospel is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and confess him as your Saviour. Following your salvation, you should be baptized in water, not to be saved but as evidence of your salvation and in obedience to the Lord’s command.
Hope this helps,