COMING TO CHRIST
"THE CONVERSION EXPERIENCE"
In 1971 the country Joyce and I lived in closed down all religious activities of
Church of Christ and ordered all congregations not to meet. About 1960 the United
Nations ended colonialism in Africa by dividing former African colonies into nations.
In most nations in Africa and in many nations in Europe, a church has to have
permission to exist and work in that nation. If a religious movement is not registered
with the government, it is illegal. It commonly is treated as an illegal organization.
When the missionaries were ordered by the government to cease all activities
and the congregations were told they could not meet, several crises were immediately
created. I want to share just one of them with you.
At that time, communication with this country was slow. Our fastest and most
reliable method was to use aerograms (an air mail letter). It took those letters three
weeks to travel one way. Thus a prompt response would take at least six weeks.
This crisis I share with you is a crisis among the missionary families. Each
family notified its sponsoring congregation of the situation. The responses were varied
and interesting. My sharing this is not a condemnation--Joyce and I had a wonderful
overseeing congregation. Their response to us was, "Stay as long as possible and
work with the government. The future of the church for generations yet to come hangs
in the balance."
But not all congregations responded to their families in such an encouraging
manner. One said to its family, "We are not supporting you there to work with the
government. If you cannot preach, either come home or go to a nation that will allow
you to preach." Another said to its family, "If you cannot be out baptizing people, you
do not need to be there."
The clear message communicated to some families was this: "No baptism
reports, no support."
The question I want you to consider this evening is this: "Is there more to biblical
conversion to Christ than baptism?"
- Hopefully, before anyone begins to make assumptions about
me, may I affirm
as clearly as I know how that I believe everything scripture says and affirms
about burial by water into Christ.
- Why? For two reasons.
- The first is that it is the clear teaching of scripture.
- The second is that it is by entering a covenant relationship with God on the
basis of what God did and does in Jesus Christ.
- Do I conclude that baptism is the only thing important in conversion to Christ?
- The clear teaching of scripture is that baptism is not the only important thing.
- Much more is involved in conversion to Christ than the physical act of
I want to share with you numerous readings from New Testament scripture
three categories: faith, repentance, and baptism. I particularly want scripture
to connect each of these categories with salvation.
- First, I call your attention to some scriptures that talk about "faith" in regard
the concept of "salvation."
- [At the conclusion of Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus] John 3:16-18 For
God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever
believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send
the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved
through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe
has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the
only begotten Son of God.
- [A statement from John the Baptist about the significance of Jesus] John 3:36
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the
Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
- [A statement from Jesus to his opponents] John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to
you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life,
and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.
- [A statement from Jesus] John 6:40 For this is the will of My Father, that
everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and
I Myself will raise him up on the last day.
- [A statement Jesus made prior to Lazarus' resurrection] John 11:25,26 Jesus
said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live
even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do
you believe this?"
- [A statement from Paul to the Philippian jailer] Acts 16:28-31 But Paul cried
out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!" And
he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before
Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do
to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,
you and your household."
- [A statement from Paul to Christians in Rome] Romans 3:21-23 But now apart
from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being
witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God
through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no
distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ...
- [A statement from Paul to Christians in Rome] Romans 10:9-11 ... if you
confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God
raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person
believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses,
resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in Him will
not be disappointed."
- Does scripture establish a clear link between faith in God's work in Jesus [or
confidence in God's work in Jesus] and salvation? Yes.
- Second, I call your attention to scriptures that talk about "repentance" in regard
to the concept of "salvation."
- [A statement from Mark about the work of John the Baptist] Mark 1:4 John
Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins.
- [A statement from Luke concerning the preaching of John the Baptist] Luke
3:3 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism
of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
- [A statement from Jesus on the power and importance of repentance]
Matthew 11:20-24 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of
His miracles were done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin!
Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon
which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and
ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon
in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted
to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had
occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.
Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom
in the day of judgment, than for you."
- [A statement from Jesus on the importance of repentance] Luke 13:1-5 Now
on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about
the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus
said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners
than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but
unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those
eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse
culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you
repent, you will all likewise perish."
- [A statement from the resurrected Jesus to his apostles] Luke 24:46,47 He
said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again
from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins
would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from
- [A statement from Peter to Jews assembled at the temple on the necessity of
repentance] Acts 3:18-20 But the things which God announced beforehand
by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus
fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in
order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and
that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you.
- [A comment by Jewish Christians concerning the first conversion of gentiles]
Acts 11:18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God,
saying, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that
leads to life."
- [A statement from Paul to an assembly of Gentiles [who are not Christians] in
Athens on the necessity of repentance] Acts 17:30,31 "Therefore having
overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all
people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He
will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed,
having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
- [A statement from Paul to the elders from Ephesus] Acts 20:18-21 And when
they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first
day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the
Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me
through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you
anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to
house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward
God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
- [A statement from Paul to King Agrippa] Acts 26:19,20 So, King Agrippa, I did
not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those
of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region
of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God,
performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
- [A statement from Paul to Timothy] 2 Timothy 2:24-26 The Lord's
bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach,
patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in
opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the
knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from
the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
- [A statement from Peter] 2 Peter 3:8,9 But do not let this one fact escape
your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and
a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as
some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish
but for all to come to repentance.
- Does scripture declare a clear link between the human decision to repent
and God granting salvation in Christ? Yes.
- Third I call your attention to scriptures that connect baptism and salvation.
- [A statement from Peter to a Jewish audience] Acts 2:38 Peter said to them,
"Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- [A statement from Christian Ananias to the yet to be Christian Paul] Acts
22:14-16 And he [Ananias] said, "The God of our fathers has appointed you
[Paul] to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an
utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what
you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized,
and wash away your sins, calling on His name."
- [A statement from Paul to Christians in Rome] Romans 6:1-11 What shall we
say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never
be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of
us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His
death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death,
so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so
we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him
in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His
resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order
that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be
slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with
Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ,
having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is
master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but
the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be
dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
- [A statement from Paul to the Christians at Corinth] 1 Corinthians 12:12,13
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the
members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or
Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
- [A statement from Paul to the Christians in Galatia] Galatians 3:26,27 For you
are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were
baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
- [A statement from Paul to Christians at Colossae] Colossians 2:9-12 For in
Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been
made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him
you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the
removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been
buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him
through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
- [A statement from Peter] 1 Peter 3:21,22 Corresponding to that, baptism now
saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a
good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the
right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and
powers had been subjected to Him.
Allow me to call something to your attention.
- Often our approach to conversion has been (is) definitely American.
- The restoration movement which resulted in the Church of Christ, the
Christian Church, and The Disciples of Christ is an American movement.
[That is not a criticism, just an observation.]
- We Americans have our own thought pattern, our own thought process, our
- If you need a reminder of that, it is obvious that most of us do not think as
the Iraqi people think, and the Iraqi people do not think as Americans
- It does not take many attempts to interact with other nationalities to
realize that this is true with others, also including Europeans and
- Commonly our American approach is to analyze everything and try to break it
down into components.
- Then we consider which components are essential and which are
- Then we stress what we conclude is essential and assume that others
already accept and know what we classify as incidental.
- Christianity did not begin in America and did not follow the American thought
- Jesus was born, lived, and died as an Israelite in Palestine.
- Jesus preached almost exclusively to Jewish audiences.
- The New Testament writers wrote to first century people living in first century
- Salvation is presented to the people of the first century as a whole, as a unit, not
- It was not a matter of "steps"--which is an American emphasis.
- It is a matter of faith in the atonement of Jesus' death and God's power in
- That faith is so real and so deep that it produces a redirection of life.
- That faith is so deep and real it enters a covenant with God by reenacting
Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection as the person, by knowing choice,
dies to sin and is resurrected by God into Christ.
- If I am to receive forgiveness of sins from God:
- Must I have faith in what God did in Jesus' crucifixion and
- Must I redirect my life away from evil behavior and attitudes toward
- Must I be baptized in order to enter a covenant relationship with God?
- As steps? No! As a whole person response to a new relationship with
God in which I permit God to rule me!
- Faith says, "I genuinely trust what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection!"
- Repentance is an expression of that faith: "I trust what God did so much that I
redirect my entire existence!"
- Baptism is an expression of that faith: "I trust what God did in Jesus so much
that I personally make a covenant with God to be ruled by Him and Him
- Conversion is a whole person response that declares a person's faith in God.
Do we really need to understand conversion? Absolutely! One of the reasons
we have so many baptized people willingly living evil lives is this: we do not understand
conversion. The result of conversion is the genuine desire to have "my" life ruled by
God. That is "my" choice--not my necessity!
The question of conversion to Christ is not resolved merely by asking the
question, "Has he been baptized?" That is far too little! The question of conversion can
be nothing less than, "Is he/she ruled by God?"
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 16 May 2004
Link to next sermon
Link to other Writings of David