Acts 3:17-19 presents an important – though currently unpopular – lesson on the subject of sin: In addressing people who had gathered in the area of the temple called “Solomon’s porch” (Acts 3:11), Peter spoke of Jesus’ crucifixion and noted three things with respect to those listening to his words:
- First, he emphasized their liability and guilt in the matter of Jesus’ death; they had denied Him and followed the Jewish rulers in asking for the release of Barabbas in His place (vv. 13-14).
- Second, Peter also acknowledged the fact that they, along with their spiritual leaders, had been ignorant of the implications of what they were doing, vs. 17.
- Third, and most important, in Acts 3:19 Peter calls on them to repent of this sin.
The lesson to draw from Peter’s words is that ignorance does not excuse sin. Even if I don’t know it when I disobey God, my ignorance of His laws does not excuse my sin: And the remedy for that sin is still repentance. Many people think God should simply “disregard” all sins of ignorance, but Peter’s words to these people clearly show that He does not.
As Peter addresses the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, (after being arrested with John, and jailed overnight for their preaching in the temple, chapter 3), he plainly told that assembly that their only hope for salvation was in Jesus Christ (vs. 12). These were people whose whole lives revolved around the belief that their Jewish heritage “guaranteed” them a place in heaven, so they were extremely offended by Peter’s bold declaration (so much so that they threatened Peter and John, and commanded them to not even speak in the name of Jesus, vs. 18). The message that so offended those Jewish rulers has not changed over time, however; there is still “no other name under heaven” in which we must be saved!
The way that Peter and John responded in Acts 4:19 to the demand that they stop preaching and sharing the gospel (and the response of all the apostles in Acts 5:29) is an example of the one circumstance when it is permissible for Christians to violate a civil law (or a civil “commandment,” in this case): When a civil ruler’s commands contradict God’s commandments, Christians must acknowledge that God’s will supersedes human law. This is the only situation in the scripture in which disobedience to human laws is not condemned. Under “normal” circumstances – i.e., where human laws do not conflict with God’s – the Holy Spirit’s words in Romans 13:1- 2 are the standard for how Christians must interact with civil laws and commandments.
The account in Acts 8:9-24 of Simon the “sorcerer” attempting to buy the apostles’ ability to lay hands on others to impart spiritual/miraculous gifts shows that this gift was not given to Christians generally, even in the first generation of the church. When the Lord promised this ability, He spoke only to the apostles (Mark 16:18). Modern claims of miraculous gifts fail on the fact that there are no more apostles to impart such abilities today. Peter’s statement to Simon (“You have neither part nor lot in this matter,” vs. 21) agrees with what the Lord told the apostles in Mark 16. Those who have made possessing and using miraculous gifts into a “rite of passage” for their followers (in modern “charismatic” or pentecostal groups) are actually seeking a return to the spiritual “infancy” of the church! They need to repent just like Simon – of coveting something the Lord never promised to them!