"And Peter said unto them "repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
There are a hand full of verses in scripture, such as Acts 2:38 quoted above, which, if looked at in isolation, could reasonably be interpreted as requiring that baptism in water is necessary to remove the sin barrier that separates man from God. And there are cults and fringe denominations which see baptism in this very light. The problem, however, is that the Bible teaches that eternal life is the gift of God, and is received by faith alone in Christ alone. "For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is not a case of playing "one verse against another," however. There are over 160 verses in the New Testament which teach that eternal life is the gift of God through faith alone, and that it is not enhanced by any work of sinful man. See, for example, John 3:16, Romans 3:24-31, etc. Against this, there are precious few verses that, even when viewed in isolation, might be reasonably interpreted as teaching that water baptism, or any other work of man, is necessary for eternal salvation.
But there is a greater problem surrounding the salvation-by-baptism view of Acts 2:38. God's offer or promise is made void when a man trusts in his works to achieve or perfect his right standing before God. "For if by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise, grace is no longer grace." (Romans 11:6) "For if they which are of the law are made heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made none effect." (Romans 4:14.) See also Romans 4:3-5, 13-16, Galatians 2:21, 5:4.) In short, a man must either accept God's offer of eternal life as a gift, or not at all.
Until a man abandons any hope of securing eternal life through his own works, and trusts in Christ alone for his salvation, he remains dead in his sins, and the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:18) The controversy surrounding Acts 2:38 is therefore no insignificant theological debate.
The facts are these: Not only do between one and two hundred verses of Scripture teach that eternal life is a free gift received by faith apart from man's works, they do so clearly and unequivocally. Those who believe that baptism by water is required for eternal salvation (or any group who believes in salvation by Christ-plus-works) must not only cite as evidence Scripture they allege to support their position, they must face down and explain away between one and two hundred verses that teach the "faith alone in Christ alone". (See, e.g., Titus 1:9. An elder must not only to exhort in sound doctrine, but to refute those who contradict. Even apart from Titus 1:9, intellectual honesty demands this.) Yet in 2,000 years of church history, no salvation-by-works advocate has ever even tried to give a serious answer the galaxy of verses teaching salvation by grace through faith alone. A few have tried to dismiss the hundred plus verses by the wave of a magic wand, mumbling some idiotic and lexically untenable statement, such as "the word 'faith' actually implies works in the root meaning of the word." (For discussion, see the section on FAITH on our home page). Most, however, don't even try to answer Scripture. They simply play the "you've got your verses, and I've got mine" game. This is what the cults do, placing their hands over their ears, closing their eyes, and repeating their proof texts at the top of their lungs so that nothing else can penetrate the barrier. And that is not theology. In contrast, only a few verses in all of Scripture can be reasonably interpreted (in isolation) as teaching that some human work is necessary for salvation. And when scrutinized, those passages invariably yield to alternative interpretations that are consistent with the doctrine of grace.
The method is described in Titus 1:9. Not only exhorting in sound doctrine, but refuting those who contradict. And the jury is every man's conscience. Every man must face this controversy honestly, without an agenda of defending a cherished doctrine of salvation-by-works in which they have already invested their tithe, their time, their intellectual labor, their emotion, or which they have believed from their youth. For if a man is unwilling to do so, and the teaching of grace is indeed the message of Scripture, they will stand self condemned before the great white throne on judgment day.