In Peter’s next encounter with a crowd in Jerusalem, he says simply, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Not a word about baptism. But many Christians engage in fierce debates about the meaning of baptism. An outsider, listening to them, might conclude either that baptism is not terribly important or that salvation is contingent on baptism. These are extreme views, neither of which is correct. Those who hold the second opinion add that the candidate must realize that baptism is “for forgiveness,” and that a correct baptismal formula must be observed, such as “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Jesus commanded the apostles to baptize their converts, and they obeyed, as is clear in Acts. Baptism is not an option for Christians. But their sermons emphasized repentance and faith as the essentials for salvation. Furthermore, in no place in Acts, where the sermons are recorded, is baptism explained. For that matter, the subject is not expounded thoroughly anywhere in the New Testament. Typical of its treatment is Romans 6:1–7. The focus in that paragraph is Christian conduct. Paul says in effect that an easy-going attitude toward sin is unthinkable, given our union with Christ. Baptism portrays that union and is presented in Romans 6 to drive home the point that the doctrine of justification by faith is not an excuse for misbehavior.
As for not understanding the meaning of baptism when you were baptized, take comfort in contemplating the case of Apollos (Acts 18:24–26). He was a powerful preacher when as yet he knew nothing about Christian baptism. Most of us who were baptized as children or in our early teens knew only that Christ had commanded it.