The publican and the multitude who repented at Peter's preaching felt the plague of sin, each in his own heart. This mourning springs from a conscience made tender and a heartfelt awareness of hostility toward God's will and personal rebellion against Him. It is grief expressed because one has become acutely aware that the morality he holds falls so far short of holiness that shame rises to the surface. One also feels this agony when he realizes that his personal behavior and attitudes have caused the death of his Creator and Savior.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning
When the Jews killed Jesus, they did not believe they were sinning. They thought they were doing God a service. In his ignorance, the apostle Paul was guilty of hailing of men and women into prison, and very likely, people were persecuted and maybe even some were put to death. In regard to the death of Stephen, the indication is that Paul was a ringleader in it. He thought he was doing God service, a favor, but when he was stopped by the light of God on the road to Damascus, and the truth was suddenly revealed to him, he realized he was nothing but a hunk of junk lying blind on the road.
The Holy Spirit did that. It smote these people in the heart so that they could clearly see that they were individually responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, even if they had not been there when it actually took place.
Without the Spirit of God, the truth of God is like looking into the gloom. We see the shape and form of things, but without the Spirit of God, the truths—the doctrines, the teachings—that make up the mechanism of God's purpose do not make sense. They cannot be put in their right order so that they really add up or give a clear picture of what God is doing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)
God gradually unfolds before us what the conditions for conversion are. Layer upon layer of truth, or revelation, is needed to get the fullness of a subject.
Here are the conditions: We have to be called (John 6:44). We have to repent. We have to believe the gospel. We have to believe in Jesus Christ. We have to begin obeying God, because God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (John 14:15-18; Acts 5:32). We have to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We also have to have hands laid on us (Acts 8:14-17).
This should help us to understand that the "writing of the law on our hearts" (Hebrews 8:10) is a cooperative effort. It is not something done only by God, but it absolutely requires what God does. It also requires that we do something. When a person does these things, he is meeting the terms of the New Covenant - not all of them yet.
Were there terms like this in the Old Covenant? No. What a difference exists between the two! It is no wonder that the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). It is no wonder the Old Covenant could not be kept (Hebrews 8:7). There is such a flaw, a fault, in every one of us (Hebrews 8:8). God knew this when He made the Old Covenant with Israel. Since God is love, He left us an example of how much the New Covenant means to us, so that we could look back on history and understand what awesome gifts have been given to us. By that, He hopes to create within us a deep sense of thanksgiving and of obligation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twelve)
We must turn our guilt into responsibility, first by acknowledging and admitting we have committed sin, and then by repenting, changing, and overcoming our wrong ways. The initial step to overcoming sin is to humble our hearts and accept our guilt. Overcoming, that is, our struggle after righteousness, is evidence of our admission of personal guilt; by striving to rid ourselves of sin and living in accordance with God's standards, we admit to God that we are guilty of sin. The apostle James writes:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted [found guilty] by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:8-10)
Vine's Expository Dictionary defines the Greek word enochos, “guilty” in James 2:10, as “lit., 'held in, bound by, liable to a charge or action by law.'” When guilty of sin, we have bound ourselves by it, relinquishing our liberty.
Martin G. Collins
What Must We Do When We Recognize Our Guilt?
Clearly, baptism is a commanded ordinance for those who would be saved. Though it is strictly a physical ritual, our participation in it shows the sincerity of our repentance, our belief of His Word, our desire to obey God, and our acceptance of what Jesus Christ did on our behalf. It is such an important beginning to our Christian lives that Jesus says that "unless one is born of water [baptism] and the Spirit [by a laying on of hands (Hebrews 6:2; Acts 8:17)], he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Basic Doctrines: Water Baptism