Lesson 8: ACTS and the Pattern of Conversion
Acts Chapter 2, Review
We have completed two chapters in the book of Acts --a grand total of 73 verses. I congratulate you for your study. Up until now, we've spent an average of about two minutes on each verse. My goal is to move at a pace of more like one verse per minute for the rest of the book, so I'm going to be using Lesson 8 to set the stage for the future. As noted before, this book is sometimes called the "book of conversions" because it records all the detailed examples of becoming a Christian in the Bible. Every conversion follows the same pattern. We've considered the example of Pentecost. Several more examples follow. Our goal in this lesson is to examine the pattern that emerges in these many examples of conversion. Thus, in such an analysis we want to keep our own obedience first and foremost in mind. We want to sort out what the Bible teaches and follow it tenaciously. We'd like to discard all of the doctrines and commandments of men that clutter up the waterfront of Christianity today—the Christian religion today.
Since reference will be made to this pattern many times before we complete our study in this book, I suggest that we get that pattern clearly in mind now so as to save time in our discussion as we examined the many cases in this book. It will, in many instances, help us to understand the wording that's used by Luke. Now you recall the words of Peter recorded in Acts 2 are the first time in the Bible in which someone was told how to become a follower of Christ, how to become a member of his church. To simplify this discussion, let's assume that a person knows nothing about Christ and the Bible. They may have heard the word "God". They may even understand that God created the world, but they don't really understand that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the savior of the world. They don't really understand that a promise of eternal life has been made by God. They don't understand that they have a part in accepting that promise. They don't understand that their life can be richer and fuller and more meaningful by doing this part. They don't understand that the Holy Spirit can dwell in their body and they can be in covenant relationship with God. They may have heard others refer to heaven or hell. They may actually have read a few pages in the Bible. They may even know some names and terms that are used in the Bible. You see, they're something like the people on Pentecost. Let's refer to this person as an "alien sinner". He is not doing God's will. Therefore, he is a sinner. Jesus said:
He that is not with me is against me. Matt. 12:30.
He is not a citizen of the kingdom of God, that is, the church, so he is a foreigner or an alien from God. Thus, an "alien sinner". Now how does an "alien sinner" become a child of God, that is, a citizen of God's kingdom and enjoy the blessings in Christ? Romans 8:1 says:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit
All spiritual blessings are in Christ. Eph. 1:3. II Cor. 5:17 says:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
The question is, how can an "alien sinner" become a child of God, that is, get into Christ where the spiritual blessings are? God is no respecter of persons. The same formula applies to all. The steps are just like Pentecost:
1. An "alien sinner" must hear - remember verse 37 in
Now when they heard this, there were pricked in their hearts.
Faith cometh by hearing. Romans 10:17.
How could one believe in anything without first getting the message? As simple as it may seem, no one becomes a child without getting the message first. The word "gospel" means "good news". Now the "good news" is that message. Paul says in I Cor.l5:l:
I declare unto you the gospel.... Two verses down he tells what he declares:
I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Now that's the gospel message in its most simplified form.
2. After one gets the message that Christ died for our
sins, he must believe it. Step No. 1 is hear. Step No.
2, believe - that is, have faith that Jesus was and is the
Christ, God's Son. Hebrews 11:6 says:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Ok, the Jews on Pentecost had the faith. They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was God's Son. They were pricked in their hearts. They believed -1 mean really believed - and they were sorry that they had sinned.
3. Repent. You will remember verse 38. Step 1, they
hear the message, Step 2, they believe the message,
and Step 3, repent - that is, change your mind, turn
from sin and turn to God. In Luke 13:3, Jesus said:
I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
4. Confess. Now you probably ask how did you get that
out of Peter's answer? Well, the Jews did confess that
Jesus was the Christ, that is, they admitted that by their
question. Peter said Jesus of Nazareth was the one
approved of God - verse 22. The Jews accepted this
fact. That is clear from their question in verse 37.
Thus, they confessed Jesus as God's Son. True, this
point was not emphasized in the record at Pentecost.
However, Jesus had made it a requirement in Matt.
Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
Thus, Jesus requires us to confess him.
5. Be baptized as the Jews did here in verse 41. Jesus
had made this requirement also:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Matt. 28:19
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. Mark 16:16
These five steps, hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized, complete the requirements for one's obedience to be added to Christ. Now man does not do the adding as we saw before. Christ and the Holy Spirit add us to Christ's kingdom or church when we sincerely do these five steps. Now that's the formula - that's the pattern. Some object to the idea of a formula. I'd like to emphasize that I'm not trying to make God's plan impersonal by that word. It must be very personal. One must do these tilings absolutely sincerely. Now, this is God's plan of salvation for us today. You should understand this is not all the requirements of a Christian. These are just the initial steps in becoming a Christian - that is, becoming a child of God. After one becomes a child of God they must live the Christian life and be faithful. Peter, one of those preachers on Pentecost, said it like this: II Peter 1:5-7
5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to
your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
6 And to knowledge temperance; and to
temperance patience; and to patience
7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to
brotherly kindness charity.
Once one becomes a child of God, he must "grow up" in the faith. John, another one of those preachers on Pentecost, records that Jesus made the point like this:
be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
Now he said this to baptized believers in Smyrna. Rev. 2:10. You see, the promise of eternal life is to those who live faithful lives in Christ. It's sad, but some today try to live faithful lives out of Christ. That is, without becoming a member of Christ's church. They equate morality with the Christian life. They have no promise that the Holy Spirit will dwell in them. They have no promise of eternal life. Others are diluted into thinking they can become a member of Christ's church some other way, but there is no other way. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 10:1:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.
In this verse Jesus compares the kingdom of the church to a sheepfold. I'm sure that you can see the figurative likeness. Only those inside are safe. Maybe I'm repeating myself too much, but I wouldn't want you to miss the point. The five steps to becoming a Christian, hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized, that are exemplified to us several times in the book of Acts agree perfectly with all statements in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John made by Jesus concerning the church that he promised to establish. It also agrees perfectly with the letters to Christians that make up the latter part of the New Testament.
Did you notice that becoming a Christian by these steps is a gradual process. In some persons it takes only an hour or two to get the message, that is, to hear - Step No. 1 -and then they carry through quickly with the other steps and are added to the Lord's church just like those on Pentecost. Others finally get the message by bits and pieces. Sometimes it takes months or years to be convinced - that is, to have faith
- Step No. 2. Now sometimes one may have faith - that is,
they believe that Jesus Christ is God's Son, our savior, yet they
fight their stubborn will for months and even decades and
refuse to turn from sin and to turn to God - that is, repent -
Step No. 3. Personally, I've never seen a knowledgeable
person who did the first three steps that did not do the last two
quickly. You see, once they change their mind, decide to turn
to God and act accordingly, then they're willing to speak out
- Step No. 4 - that is, confess that Jesus Christ is God's Son
and be baptized - Step No. 5 - quickly. Can you see how
going from an "alien sinner" to a saved person in covenant
relationship with God is a gradual built up step-by-step
obedience? It's not something that just strikes you like
lightning you know.
Now I should emphasize these five steps are the only steps given in the New Testament for becoming a child of God in the Christian age. I challenge you to find an exception. Now I know someone is going to say "Brother Horsley, do you know what Jesus told the thief on the cross?" Yes, I know, but, you see, they didn't understand me. I said the only steps given in the New Testament for becoming a child of God in the Christian age. Now the thief on the cross lived and died in the Jewish age - the Old Testament dispensation - he was under the old covenant. These steps did not apply to him. Remember, this was preached to the Jews first on Pentecost, 52 days after the thief on the cross was put on the cross. I know, someone else will say "Brother Horsley, what about the rich young ruler?" Matt. 19. Jesus told him to "keep the commandments". You see, they didn't understand me. The rich young ruler lived under the Ten Commandment law too. I said the only steps given in the New Testament for becoming a child of God in the Christian age. Have you got it?
Now I wish I didn't have to mention this, but you'll find many other steps in the religious world today being urged upon people. Some are told "pray through". I've never figured out through what, but that's what they say. Some are told to accept Jesus as their personal savior. That's all right, but they still have to do the five steps given in the New Testament to become a child of God. Some are told "lay your hand on the radio and pray". Some are told to sign a card. Some are told "just believe and you'll be saved". Some are told "repent and believe the gospel". First of all, it's impossible to do it in that order, but further, they imply, you see, this is all that one has to do. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone in the religious world would just accept what the New Testament teaches and obey Jesus, throw out their creeds, throw out denominational theories, doctrines and hobbies? You see, denominational theories, doctrines and hobbies, they won't save you. No way. You cant fool the Spirit. He's the one who adds you, not some assembly or church council that wrote a creed book. The Holy Spirit gave us the New Testament "That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works". II Timothy 3:17. I recall trying to study with one denominational preacher who argued that one is saved before they are baptized. He said Acts 2:38 means that Peter told the Jews on Pentecost to be baptized because their sins were already forgiven. Now you have it there in your hand. Look at it. Peter said "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ". What for Peter? "For the remission of sins". How could it be plainer that one is baptized for the remission or forgiveness of sins? Now the Holy Spirit did his work well, so just in case someone has a question about Acts 2:38, the Spirit had Peter to say it again in I Peter 3:21:
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us....
See, it all agrees perfectly together. I made these comments because I want you, as we continue to study the book of Acts, to be on your toes. What does the Bible teach? We're not interested in the creeds and doctrines of men, but we would like to be able to distinguish which is which.
Now, one more short review. Make sure you understand the kingdom idea. A kingdom has a king. A kingdom has subjects, that is, citizens. It has a law or constitution, and earthly kingdoms involve territory. There have been three dispensations of time in the Bible. The Patriarchal period when God dealt directly with the fathers, that is, the heads of the households. Adam lived during that age. Noah and Abraham lived in that age. God spoke directly to those men. Then, following the Patriarchal age, there was the Jewish age that lasted about 1,500 years. It started at the time of Moses receiving the law on Mt. Sinai and it ended on Pentecost. Acts 2. On this point, there is much religious confusion in the world today. Some say that the kingdom came with John the Baptist. Some say when Jesus started his earthly ministry. Some say at the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. Some say the kingdom came during the resurrection. Some say at the ascension. Some say in the 1800s. Some say in the 1900s. Some say that the kingdom hasn't come yet and they're still looking. Isn't that a mess? What does the Bible teach? That's what we want to know. Get it indelibly imprinted in your brain cells now! It will help you sort out false doctrine faster than anything I know. Now, I want you to draw the conclusion. Let me read a few verses. John the Baptist said in Matt. 3:2:
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. That means in the near future to John. In Matt. 4:12 it says:
Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison....
And John never got out of prison until his head was cut off, but in verse 17 it says:
From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus said in Matt. 11:11:
he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Now, that's not because John is not a great prophet. That's because John was never in the kingdom. The kingdom came after John. Later, when Jesus sent out the 12 on the limited commission, Jesus told them to preach "the kingdom of heaven is at hand," Matt. 10.7. Still later, Jesus sent out another 70 in Luke 10:1 and guess what he told them to preach? The same thing. Then, at the close of Jesus' earthly ministry in Jerusalem after cleansing the temple in Matt. 21, Jesus said to those Jews down in verse 43:
The kingdom of God shall be taken from you.
Now, it wasn't yet at that time, but it was going to be taken away. Therefore, that last week Jesus lived was still under the Jewish kingdom - or the law of Moses - and you know that in Acts 1, during those 40 days that Jesus appeared to the apostles, Jesus talked about the kingdom and the apostles asked "wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom?" Obviously, it had not come at that time, but they were told to remain in the city and "wait for the promise of the father". Verse 4. Now, nothing is recorded about the ten days after Jesus ascended except for the selection of Mathias. 3,000 were added to the kingdom on the day of Pentecost, and the Lord added daily to that church or kingdom after that according to verse 47. Now, for the benefit of those still looking, Paul said in Col. 1:13 that God:
Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
That included Paul. Now 3,000 could not have been added to something that didn't exist, and Paul could not have been translated into something that didn't exist. So I ask you, when did the kingdom come? When did it start?
Now I trust that you've got the answer. Every kingdom has some legal door of entry. This entry into God's church kingdom is termed a "birth". There are five steps in this naturalization process. The kingdom exists. You are invited to become a citizen of that kingdom.