People who are concerned about spiritual things are interested in this subject of conversion. It is very common to have someone volunteer “their testimony” and “give their experience” regarding their conversion. Very often these accounts involve describing the degradation of their former spiritual condition, depicting how immoral, how drunkenly depraved or how dishonest, the person might have been. A direct, miraculous and, therefore, irresistible intervention of the Holy Spirit is usually also a part of these “testimonials.”
I cannot refute such narratives as this. I believe those that relate them are honest and sincere. Whatever they experienced was very real and meaningful to them. However, these tales are all subjective and unsubstantiated. This kind of testimony would be inadmissible in a court of law. Surely you can see how it could not be expected to persuade others. Whatever the experience was to those who had it; it is meaningless as proof of anything, especially conversion.
There are also accounts of conversion given in the New Testament, and there is a vast and obvious difference between the accounts of conversion men compose today and those accounts of conversion given in the book of Acts. So, in which should your confidence be placed? Which accounts should you seek to learn and to imitate? The accounts given in the New Testament are worthy of immeasurably more confidence. They are the record of people being instructed and directed in what they did by men who received their instruction from the Holy Spirit. The record itself is the work of a man inspired, controlled, by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we have, as it were, a double assurance of Divine approval. How far superior is the record of the New Testament to the recollections of one who may, by his own admission, have been emerging from a drunken stupor, or under the control of a craving for some narcotic, or in some similar circumstance, when his purported “conversion” took place. Therefore, in this lesson and in those to follow, we plan to study the various accounts of conversion given us by God, in the book of Acts. We will identify and seek to understand only those steps in conversion given according to the New Testament.
The first such account is found In Acts chapter two. It tells of the conversion of three thousand people on the first day of Pentecost following the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. In fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28–32, we read in Acts 2:4 that “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance”. Beginning with verse 14 of Acts 2 we have the record of the sermon preached by the apostle Peter, as the Holy Spirit gave him utterance. This sermon is climaxed by Peter with an assertion and a charge, in verse 36: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified”.
Meditate for a moment on the impact that such a charge must have had; put yourself in the place of one of those present, try to sense that horrified realization: “I have murdered the Son of God!” Such meditation makes their question in verse 37 the more significant: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?” The people, having heard the Gospel, were “pricked in the heart,” which tells us that they believed, because “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10). So, these people heard the gospel, and they believed it. Having believed, they wanted to know, “What shall we do?”
First, these people who have heard the gospel and have believed in Christ must repent. Repentance, according to Matthew 21:28–29, is an act of the will––a change of mind. You will remember that Jesus describes the son who did the will of his father as the son who changed his mind from “I will not” to “I will.”
The Pentecostians are charged then with the necessity of changing their mind about the way they had lived; they must repent. Then, these believing penitents must manifest the submission of their will to the Will of God by being baptized, according to the authority of Christ. This act of faith was to be accomplished unto, or “in order to,” the remission of sins. The word “remission” means dismissal, or release: their faithful obedience to the instruction given them by the apostle Peter would effect their release from the consequences of their sins.
In summation, these steps were involved in the conversion of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost: first, they heard the truth, the gospel; then, having believed the facts of which it is composed, they repented of their sins and were baptized in order to receive the remission of those sins. Acts 2:41 states “They then that received his word were baptized, and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.”
Let it be emphasized that this is a case of conversion stamped with the approval of God: there can be no question but that these people were truly forgiven, that they were released from the penalty for sins. They acted in response to the revealed will of God. It necessarily follows that, any accountable being in this dispensation does what they did, for the same reasons, you too will obtain remission of sins and the Lord will add you to the church of Christ: for God is no respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:34).
Many preachers teach and most denominations believe that baptism is what they call a “Christian duty,” that is, that one is saved and afterward is baptized for some reason other than the remission of sins. They tell us that baptism is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to obedience. Now think a minute, isn’t that just plain foolishness? That which is essential to obedience is essential to salvation. Hebrews 5:9 makes it plain: “[Christ] having been made perfect…became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation”. Baptism is not a “Christian duty”; it is rather an act of obedience required by God on those who would be converted. It stands between the alien sinner and the remission of his sins, Peter said in Acts 2:38, “be baptized ...unto the remission of your sins.”
Some insist that the word which is translated “unto” in Acts 2:38 should be translated “because of”, so that baptism would then be “because of” the remission of sins: be baptized because your sins have already been forgiven. In response let’s notice Matthew 26:28, and the statement of Jesus that “this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto remission of sins.” Acts 2:38 says be baptized unto the remission of sins; Matthew 26:28 says the blood of Christ is poured out unto the remission of sins. In both verses the same preposition is used, and translated “unto”. If it means “because of” in Acts 2, by what rule of Bible study or syntax does it not mean “because of” in Matthew 26? If it means that one is baptized because his sins are forgiven, in Acts 2, why does it not mean that the blood of Christ was shed because sins had already been remitted, in Matthew 26? Of course, such a doctrine would make the death of Christ absolutely unnecessary. The truth is that this preposition is used literally hundreds of times in the New Testament, and in every instance it obviously looks forward, to that which is not yet obtained.
Now, which will you believe? The record of the New Testament given by inspired men of what was actually said and done that resulted in the conversion of three thousand devout men, or will you believe the subjective testimonies of those who must struggle to explain away the plain words of the scriptures and the plain commandments of Christ?