Examples Of Conversion
The book of Acts is the history of the growth of the church that Jesus built as a result of the preaching of the gospel by the apostles and other first century Christians (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47). In this history, the writer gives several accounts of those who became Christians as a result of the apostles carrying out the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). The Great Commission teaches that the gospel of Christ and the necessity of obedience to the gospel was to be preached to "all nations" or "every creature," which is referring to all people throughout the world. When the gospel was preached in the first century those who were converted by that teaching took several important steps in order to be saved. As we shall see, although every step is not specifically listed in every account of conversion, because of what is taught in the Great Commission and because of what is taught on this subject as a whole in the New Testament, we must conclude that every person who was saved from his sins was saved in the same way and by taking the same steps!
In reading the New Testament of Christ to see what God requires of the sinner to receive salvation, we find many passages stressing the necessity of hearing the gospel, faith (belief), repentance, confession of Christ and baptism (immersion).
First, in order for a person to develop faith one must hear the word of God (Romans 10:17). Second, faith or belief in Christ is necessary (Hebrews 11:6; John 8:24). Third, the Bible stresses the necessity of repentance (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). Fourth, the New Testament teaches the necessity of confessing Jesus as the Son of God (Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37). Finally, the Bible emphasizes the need to be baptized or immersed in water (Galatians 3:26-27; 1 Peter 3:21).
The Bible not only emphasizes the need for one to take these steps, but it also gives the results of one taking these steps, which is the remission or forgiveness of sins and being added to the Lord's church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). The point is this: Since the Bible stresses the absolute necessity of these steps in passages other than those given in the book of Acts, then the fact that each step is not specifically stated in each account of conversion in the book of Acts does not mean they did not take place. Rather, the fact that the people were converted and thus saved from their sins proves that they obeyed each of the commands to hear, believe, repent, confess Christ and be baptized (immersed in water).
So let's begin our study by going back to the beginning of the church as recorded in Acts 2.
PENTECOST - ACTS 2:1-46
In Acts 2 we have the written record of the apostles being gathered together in the city of Jerusalem. They were waiting there because Jesus had commanded them to go there and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:4-8). In Acts 2:1-4 it is recorded that the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them and they began to preach by inspiration the first gospel sermon presented after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this sermon Peter convinced some of the people that they were guilty of crucifying the Son of God (Acts 2:22-24). Three thousand of the Jews were convinced of the truth of what the apostles preached that day. They were convinced that they were guilty as the apostles charged. Thus, the Bible says, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). Notice the phrase "now when they heard this." This indicates that they heard the gospel. Hearing the gospel produces faith (Romans 10:17). It was the hearing of the gospel that convicted them that they were sinners and that they needed to do something about their sin. This is why they ask, "what shall we do?" Having heard the gospel, and having now realized that they had crucified the Son of God, they now asked the only logical question: what could they do to be forgiven of the sin of crucifying the Son of God. Peter gives them the answer: "Then Peter said to them, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Unlike the usual answer that preachers give to this question today, notice that Peter told the people who asked this question on Pentecost day that they must "repent and be baptized." Two specific things were required for people on Pentecost day to be forgiven of their sins.
Isn't it natural to conclude that if those people back then were told to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins, then that's what we must do today to receive the remission of our sins? If not, why not?
SAMARIA - ACTS 8:5-12
The next account of conversion that we want to study is the conversion of the people of the city of Samaria. In this account, we find the evangelist Philip preaching Christ to the people of this city (Acts 8:5). Philip had performed many miracles, and as a result the people listened to what he had to say.
Verse 12 says, "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized." Two things are mentioned in this verse that was necessary for the people to do to be saved. They "believed" and they were "baptized." Did they repent of their sins? The passage doesn't specifically state that they did, but the answer is found in Acts 2:38 and other passages that teach that this is one step that must take place before one can be saved. Did they confess Jesus? Again, although it is not specifically stated that they did, we conclude that they did confess Him because of what Romans 10:9-10 and other passages teach. The point is this: Even though each step in the plan of salvation is not specifically stated in each account of conversion, we know that each step was taken because of what the Bible teaches concerning the necessity of each step and the fact that these people were forgiven of their sins.
EUNUCH - ACTS 8:35-39
The next account of conversion in the book of Acts is also found in chapter 8. Here again we find the evangelist Philip being told by an angel of the Lord to "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza..." (verse 26). Philip obeyed this command and found the Ethiopian nobleman who had been to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27). The Eunuch was reading from the book of Isaiah. The Spirit told Philip to "Go near and overtake this chariot" (verse 29). The purpose of this was so that he might teach the Eunuch the gospel.
I would like to point out that the Spirit did not operate on the sinner but on the preacher. God did not immediately send a direct operation of the Spirit on the Eunuch to save him. In fact, the Spirit only operated on the Eunuch indirectly through what Philip was inspired by the Holy Spirit to preach to the Eunuch. One other thing we might point out is this: The Spirit does not operate on the preacher today like he did in Philip's case. Today we have the written word so that we know we must preach to others and we also know what to preach. Back then, the written word (the New Testament) was not available to Philip, so the Holy Spirit told him what to say directly. In every case of conversion today the sinner must hear the word of God, believe it, and obey it to be saved. He is never saved directly by the Holy Spirit (and that is true of every case of conversion found in the New Testament).
When Philip approached the Eunuch and saw what he was reading he ask, "Do you understand what you are reading?" (verse 30). To which the Eunuch responded, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" (verse 31) It is interesting that the Eunuch was not afraid to admit that he needed some help in understanding. Even though he was a man of great authority in the physical realm, he realized that he had a lot to learn about God's word. If only people had open minds about the Scriptures today as the Eunuch did. Surely, we realize that this is the kind of attitude we MUST have, if we are to be saved. The willingness to humble ourselves, admit that we don't know everything, and to be guided to the truth. Of course, today we have one advantage that the Eunuch did not have. We have the New Testament in written form which gives us the fulfillment of prophecies like that of Isaiah. Thus, we can let the written word guide us today. That is, we can study the New Testament by ourselves and come to the correct conclusions without depending upon any other person if we do so with an open mind and a willingness to learn and accept the Bible for what it says.
The Eunuch had been reading and studying the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53. He no doubt had many questions in his mind concerning this great prophecy. Among them was this: "of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" (verse 34). The Bible then says, "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him" (verse 35).
Now what was involved in Philip preaching Jesus? Well, we don't know everything that Philip preached, but we know of at least one thing and that is the fact that one must be baptized. We know this because, ... as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "see, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" (verse 36). Now how did the Eunuch know he was supposed to be baptized? And how did he know he was supposed to be baptized in water? The only logical conclusion is, that in "preaching Jesus" to the Eunuch, Philip taught the necessity of baptism in water. How else would the Eunuch have known?
Philip was ready to baptize the Eunuch and he said these words to him: "If you believe with all your heart, you may." (verse 37). Believe what? Would it not be what Philip had just taught him concerning Jesus? Of course. The Eunuch replied, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (verse 37). This is the simple statement of what the Eunuch believed. This shows that Philip taught the Eunuch that Jesus is the Son of God. One is not qualified for baptism until he believes the great fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Notice, Philip didn't say, "if you believe that Jesus has saved you from your sins, you can be baptized." He didn't say, "If you believe that God for Christ's sake has forgiven you, you can be baptized." He said if you believe that JESUS CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD you may. And upon this simple confession of his faith, Philip baptized the Eunuch: "So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing." (verses 38-39). One thing I would like to point out about the Eunuch's baptism: In order for Philip to baptize the Eunuch both had to go "down into the water." The Bible also says that they both had to "come up out of the water." This is one of the things that shows us that the Eunuch's baptism was immersion, rather than sprinkling or pouring. Only a burial in water (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12) would require both Philip and the Eunuch to go down into the water and both to come back up out of the water.
Notice that the result of the realization that the Eunuch had that he had been forgiven of his sins brought about great rejoicing on his part, as it does for those who truly obey the gospel today. That rejoicing comes about when we realize that we have had our sins forgiven and that now we are walking in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).
The steps that the Eunuch took were belief (verses 36-37); confession of his faith (verse 37) and baptism (v. 38).
SAUL - ACTS 9:1-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18
In Acts 9, we have the account of the conversion of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. Saul was traveling on the road to Damascus. He was in the process of arresting Christians and taking them back to Jerusalem for trial and possibly death (Acts 9:1-2). As Paul was traveling the Bible says, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (verses 3-5). Here Saul actually sees the risen Lord and becomes convinced of the truth of Christianity which he had been trying to destroy. He no doubt is now convinced that he will be destroyed by this Lord who he has been persecuting. He no doubt is ashamed now of what he has done in persecuting the church. He is fearful. But he knows there is only one person he can go to to find out what to do to be saved. So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" (verse 6). Isn't this the question that everyone who is seeking salvation should ask? Isn't this the One that we should be asking?
Jesus responded to this question by saying, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (verse 6). It is interesting that Jesus did not tell Saul what to do to be saved. He could have, but this is not how God has chosen to reveal His will to mankind. He revealed His will then and does so now through inspired men. In Saul's day the inspired word was in inspired men and revealed verbally. Today it is in the inspired written word (the New Testament). Men today do not depend upon the Holy Spirit to reveal God's word to them directly so they can preach it, they now depend on the written word of God.
Another interesting thing concerning Jesus' statement to Saul is His use of the word "must." "You will be told what you MUST do." First, this is so foreign to the common belief today that a person can't DO anything to be saved. If that were true, then why would Jesus use the words "MUST DO?" Second, this tells us there is something man must to do receive salvation. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have all done their part. But we must do our part too. And we'll see what that is as we study further.
Saul did what Jesus commanded him and went into the city and waited for someone to come and tell him what he "must do." During the time he waited the Bible says he didn't eat or drink anything for three days (Acts 9:9). I believe this indicates his penitent attitude. Surely he was sorry for his sins and desired more than anything to be forgiven of them.
Here's another interesting thing: For those three days the Bible says Saul was praying (Acts 9:11). For those who think that in order to be saved one must pray the "sinners prayer," I would like to ask, why was not Paul saved during those three days? Jesus had told him that he must go into the city and he would be told what he must do. This is the answer to the question that Saul ask, "what shall I do?" He was surely asking what he should do to be saved from his sin of persecuting the Lord's church. Up to this point no one had come to tell Saul what he must do. Thus, he was not saved in spite of the fact that he had been praying for three days! No, the sinners prayer is not how people are saved from their sins. Saul was not and people today are not.
God sent a man named Anianias to Saul and when he came to him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized (verses 17-18). Now just reading the account in Acts 9 one would think that this was all that Anianias said to Saul. But one must ask, how did Saul know to be baptized? And for the answer we must go to Acts 22:16. In this verse, Anianias tells Saul to be baptized. This shows us that we can't limit ourselves to just one text in the Bible when it comes to finding out all the necessary information one must know to come to a correct conclusion concerning what the Bible teaches about any given subject. Many people go to the passages that teach that we must believe and conclude that is all one must do to be saved. However, we need to understand that we must examine everything the Bible says about a particular subject before we can come to a correct conclusion as to what the Bible teaches on that subject. This is true of salvation. Paul, in recounting this occasion of Anianias coming to him, shows that he said much more than what is recorded in chapter 9. Verses 14-16 of Acts chapter 22 says, "'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'" It was Anianias who told Saul to be baptized. If Saul had been saved from his sins on the road to Damascus, or as a result of spending three days in prayer, why would Anianias tell him to be baptized and wash away his sins? Anianias would have been speaking nonsense if he had told Saul to do that which had already been accomplished. The fact of the matter is that Saul had his sins washed away by the blood of Christ when he was baptized (cf. Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-4) not on the road and not as a result of his prayer.
CORNELIUS - ACTS 10:1-11:18
Cornelius was a Gentile, but one who feared God and lived a religious life. Yet, despite the fact that Cornelius was a good moral man and religious, he was lost. There are many today who believe that as long as a person is a good moral person and religious in some form or another, then that is all that is necessary for salvation. The case of Cornelius shows that this is not true.
Please read Acts 10. We find that Cornelius was told to send for Peter "who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved" (Acts 11:14). There can be no doubt that Cornelius and others of his household were searching for salvation. Cornelius obeyed the directions of God and sent for Peter. When he came to him he preached Jesus to him (Acts 10:37-43). Verse 43 mentions both faith and remission of sins. Then we find in Acts 10:44-46, that the Holy Spirit fell on them and they spoke in tongues and magnified God. The speaking in tongues (the ability to speak in a human language without previous study) was not a sign of their salvation, for they had not yet received salvation. It was a gift of the Holy Spirit to convince the Jews who were present that the Gentiles were granted repentance unto life just as the Jews were (Acts 11:18). It was when this gift of the Holy Spirit was given to them that Peter said, "Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" (Acts 10:47). Then the Bible says, "And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). Baptism is not an option, it is a command! The Bible doesn't say, "he suggested that they be baptized." It doesn't say, "receive salvation and then you can be baptized later." IT IS A COMMAND!
So, what did Cornelius and his household do to be saved? They believed (verse 43), were baptized (verse 48), and received remission of sins (verse 43).
THE JAILOR - ACTS 16:13-34
The case of the jailor is an interesting one. You will recall that Paul and Silas were placed in prison where they prayed and sang praises unto God. An earthquake occurred and all the doors of the prison were opened and every prisoners chains were loosed. The jailor, thinking that all the prisoners had escaped, drew out his sword and was going to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here" (verse 28). The jailor called for a light and fell down before Paul and Silas and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (verse 30). To which Paul and Silas answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (verse 31). Now if this is all that occurred, we might conclude that belief was all that was necessary for the jailor to be saved. However verse 32 says, Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. Paul and Silas told the jailor and his household more than just to believe. They taught them the gospel. They explained what they meant by telling him to believe. As a result of this teaching, the jailor did believe and verse 33 says, And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now how did the jailor know to be baptized? The logical answer is that when Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house they taught the necessity of baptism. Why was the jailor baptized? It was because he was told to be by Paul and Silas when they spoke the word of the Lord to him... It was because he wanted to be saved?
What did the jailor specifically do to be saved? He believed (Acts 16:31), he repented (verse 33 implies this in the fact that he washed their stripes which certainly shows a penitent attitude) and he was baptized (Acts 16:33). For those who believe that Paul and Silas told the jailor all that was necessary for him to be saved when he told him to believe, I have a question. Why was he baptized? Look at Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 to answer that question.
LYDIA - ACTS 16:13-15
There is another account of conversion recorded in Acts 16 and that's the case of Lydia. Not much is said about her, but that she heard the apostles preaching the gospel (verse 14) and that she took "heed to the things spoken by Paul" (verse 14). In other words she heard Paul's preaching and believed it. Then verse 15 says she was baptized. When we study this short account of conversion we conclude that two things are listed that are necessary to salvation. Belief and baptism.
THE CORINTHIANS - ACTS 18:5-8
This account shows that the Corinthians heard the word, believed and were baptized. These three things are shown to be necessary to the Corinthians' salvation. They heard the word preached, they believed what they heard, and the result of their belief was that they were baptized.
When we study every account of conversion in the book of Acts, we can clearly see what the Bible teaches we must to do be saved. Isn't it interesting, that the one step that is considered to be non-essential by most of the religious denominations today is specifically stated in each case? That being baptism. My friends, when the gospel is preached, people are saved by believing, repenting of sins, confessing Christ and being baptized (immersed in water). (In addition to this study you may want to look at the diagram in the article entitled God's Plan of Salvation in the Book of Acts).