The primary purpose of the Book of Acts is not provide a handbook for the life of the church. Rather, it describes the work of the risen Christ through his Spirit, extending his kingdom from Jerusalem to Rome (the ends of the earth). Yet, as it does that, in Acts 2:42–47 Luke shows you what a church, deluged by the Spirit, looks like.
Devote yourself to the apostles’ teaching. Proclaim the good news about Jesus. In Acts 2 Peter has just proclaimed Jesus as crucified and risen. He has challenged his hearers with the knowledge that the One whom they put to death is Lord’s Christ! God’s call (v. 39) might be translated “summons,” see Acts 4:18. It is a call to the nations to repent as the blessing of the Holy Spirit extends beyond Israel. The command grows out of a conviction of sin, v. 37. Don’t allow the call to repentance to be minimized as you present the gospel. Though it may not be popular to call people to repentance, ambiguity regarding man’s sinfulness makes it impossible to appreciate the depths of God’s grace in Christ. Repentance involves a change of mind, leading to a new life. It not only marks conversion, but also characterizes the entire Christian life this side of heaven. The primary mark of the church is the preaching of the Word. No church is perfect in that, but faithfulness in the Word is essential, or the church loses its reason for existence. The kingdom belongs to those who have turned (and continue to turn) from sin to Christ.
“In some respects, Pentecost may be viewed as the inaugural revival of the New Testament epoch. Certainly the description of the conviction of sin experienced, the ‘sense of awe’ (Acts 2:43) which was evoked, and the detailed model of what church life ought to be (Acts 2:44–47) point in that direction. This is what revival is. To develop further the metaphor of the flow of water, we might say that revival is the unstopping of the pent-up energies of the Spirit of God breaking down the dams which have been erected against his convicting and converting ministry in whole communities of individuals, as happened at Pentecost and in the ‘awakenings’ which have followed.” (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 90)
Focus on the Word! The central place of the Word of God means that the preacher needs to be concerned to carry out its proclamation with faithfulness, clarity, and zeal. The elders of the church have a responsibility ensure that is happening. But the devotion to the apostolic teaching in Acts 2 describes not just effective preaching and instruction. Because the Word is central, do the hard work of concentrated listening, of continuing study, and of consecrated living that flows out of the Word. Fathers leading family worship is part of that commitment to the Word, seen as the church lives Monday through Saturday. Children learn more by your example in this than by your talking about it. When you brought your child for baptism, you promised to pray with and for him or her. Are you doing that? Are you leading him or her in the Word? As you read and study the Word, keep clear its focus on Christ and his work for you.
“If Christian orthodoxy turns the joy of the gospel into sour legalism, then it is not really orthodox, nor is it the apostolic proclamation. The great mark of the church is in the message it proclaims: the gospel of salvation from sin and eternal death through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 103)
Devote yourself to the things that accompany the Word. Observe the sacraments. Baptism marks those who belong to the church of the Jesus Christ. Repeatedly in Acts conversion is indicated by baptism. Note the difference in emphasis from the decisionism and individualism of much contemporary evangelism. (Yes, it is crucial that you personally trust in Christ. Remember that when too many people place their trust, not in Christ, but in the act of baptism. But remember that coming to Christ also implies an involvement with his church. Those baptized were counted. People were being added to the number.) Baptism is a sign of separation from sin and cleansing from its guilt. Water is the substance that is used in baptism. It seals your union with Christ, Romans 6. It marks you as belonging to your Lord. A true church is marked by the administration of the sacraments in a Biblical way. That is indicated in the breaking of bread (the breaking of the bread in Acts 2:42 occurs in the context of public worship, while the breaking in Acts 2:46 in the homes likely means eating together). Do you really hear what God is saying to you in the sacraments?
Be disciplined! Although church discipline is not explicitly described in Acts 2, mutual accountability is implied in the fellowship. It is not long before the implication is explicitly carried out, as you see in Ananias and Saphira, Acts 5. A church that is faithful to the Lord will not ignore sin, but will encourage repentance–because the church belongs to the Lord. And discipline starts with a with self-discipline (we talk of a disciplined athlete). It includes being willing to listen to the Word as you read it and hear it proclaimed. It means being willing to listen as fellow believers, and particularly those who have been set apart to provide oversight–your elders, speak to you.
Reflect your Savior’s love. Although love is not usually listed as one of the marks of the church, it is essential. You see it in this text in being devoted to the fellowship, the concern of believers for one another. And you see love for God in the devotion to prayer. This is not just a mechanical making requests, but a living relationship with God. He speaks in the Word, you respond in prayer. Jesus, the ultimate servant, speaks of his sacrificial love, summons you to love, and tells you that this will be the distinguishing mark of those who belong to him, John 13:34–35.
“It was not easier in the first century than it is in the twentieth to come together and stay together in genuine Christian community. There were no fewer distractions and no fewer temptations toward selfish, aloof individualism, protective of one’s privacy. Yet the early church as a gathering of people who rejoiced to be together consistently, to eat, share, and serve together. What force bound them to each other? The grace of God.” “Luke wants us to understand that the familial bond uniting believers to one another is of utmost importance to the identity of Christ’s church and to our identity as individual members. Delight over belonging to the family of God evokes a joyful eagerness to be with and share with new siblings.” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, pages 74 & 75)
Although the specifics of how that love came to expression in Jerusalem were not mandated for all the churches, the mutual concern and care is required. But it’s not just a task, something you have to do whether or not you feel like it. Rather, it is your response to the depths of Christ’s love for you.
What does a church, baptized with the Holy Spirit look like? What is it doing? It focuses on the Word of the risen, ascended Lord, described also as the teaching of the apostles. It not only hears and reads the Word, it lives it. The church, aware that her very existence flows out of the sacrificial love of Christ for her, in turn reflects that love to fellow believers and to the world around her.