CONVERSION

What does it take to be converted? How can we aid the process for someone to be converted to our beliefs? Should we even be trying? The apostle Paul gives us much understanding as we consider his life and teachings.

In a moment of time, Saul was converted.

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The story of Paul’s conversion from a fire-breathing hater of Christians to becoming a Christian himself is found in Acts 9:1-19.

He had what could be described as a pretty severe encounter with the Lord.

We first meet him as Saul in chapter 7 of the Acts at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.

Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Act 7:58

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Act 8:1

Then from chapter 13 to the end of the book of Acts, it is all Paul’s story which occupies more than half the book.

Paul’s letters to the various churches also comprise half the entire New Testament. There are 27 books in the NT and 13 of them were written by the apostle Paul.

Paul is a fascinating individual. Of all the characters in the Bible, his story stands second only to the story of Jesus.

Much of our theology—that is, our understanding of what the life of Jesus means—is drawn from Paul’s writings.

Let’s look at what we can learn about being converted from Paul—both from his life and his teachings.

‘Converted’ is an interesting word which is mainly used in the idea of religion—being converted from one faith to another.

It has the basic idea of changing from one thing to another.

When I was in Italy, I converted my dollars into Lira, and when I was in France, I changed them into francs.

Gracie has converted a bedroom of our house into her craft room.

In religious terms, we know it means to convert from one faith to another.

Paul was converted from Judaism to Christianity.

We can learn from Paul how someone is converted from whatever it is that they believe to Christianity.

What was in Paul’s character that made him open to becoming a Christian?

He was furious with Christians for causing many to leave his beloved Jewish heritage. But, he had something going for him that Jesus said would satisfy him.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matt 5:8

Now, we may question the idea of a pure heart that wants to see people killed, but we must remember that those were the laws of the Jews at that time.

That word ‘pure’ carries with it the idea of sincere.

And Paul was sincerely zealous for God.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
Act 22:3

This is another thing that Jesus spoke about in His sermon on the mount.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
Mat 5:6

I think that we too often look at those of another religion and think that they are completely lost.

We may not do that so much with other Christian denominations, but we certainly do it with faiths like the Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus.

However, if you will carefully consider what Jesus said, you will see that there are no qualifications other than purity of heart and a desire for righteousness.

With those two qualities—sincere heart hungering for righteousness—God will meet anyone right where they are.

We see that with Thomas and his skepticism about Jesus resurrection. Jesus met Thomas with what he needed in order to believe.

Thomas needed physical proof and Jesus gave him just that.

Thomas was converted from an unbeliever to a believer.

In both Thomas and Paul, we see a heart condition that was conducive to the working of the Holy Spirit.

Is a certain heart condition an absolutely necessary thing to have, though, for the Holy Spirit to work?

If we say yes, then we are limiting the power of God to the condition of the human being; and we know that is a lie.

So, let’s reconsider what I have said about Paul.

Let’s look at him from our vantage point of being human.

When we do that, we see that Saul, before he became Paul, was not a nice man.

In fact, we read that he was a murderer before he was converted.

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest”
Act 9:1

He was threatening. He was intimidating. He was on a mission to destroy the new faith which was growing in Israel.

Later on, when Paul was writing his letters, he gained a different understanding of what he had been doing.

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,  was pleased to reveal his Son to me, …
Gal 1:13-16

Paul believed he was set apart by God before he was born.

I would bet that many of you could also say the same thing as you think back over your life with the Lord.

I know I can. I can trace the beginnings of my spiritual awareness to when I was 6 years old.

And because of my understanding of salvation, I can also say that I was set apart by God before I was born.

But that is not the most important part of this passage.

The main point that I want us to see is that God had a plan.

He had a plan that was waiting for the right time in Paul’s life.

And when that time came, God did not send a preacher, teacher or evangelist.

He simply revealed Himself to Saul while he was on the way to Damascus to collect more Christians for the Jewish jail.

God has done that with many others also.

He did it for my mother, who was a Catholic.

She was concerned about her oldest boy who was going the way of following the protestant way of thinking.

One day in the kitchen while praying for me to be restored, the Lord revealed Himself to her in a way that dropped her to her knees.

She never again doubted what I was doing as a preacher in serving the Lord.

God has a way of revealing Himself to anyone in any way that they may need in order to see His truth.

We call their experience “being converted.”

Conversion can also happen through another means, as we see in the case of Timothy.

“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” 2Ti 3:15

Paul is telling Timothy here that the scriptures are able to make us wise concerning salvation.

The scriptures are what God used in my life.

A year or so after I got out of the Navy, I was still wandering around lost as a goose wondering what I was going to do with my life.

Somehow, I don’t recall how, I came across a little paperback book called Good News For Modern Man. It was a copy of the New Testament in modern language.

After work, I would stay up all night until 3 or 4 in the morning at a restaurant reading from that book.

I was fascinated with what I was learning.

I had read other books about spiritual ways, but this one captivated me.

I couldn’t put it down.

My life began to change.

Why? The answer is simple and found within the scriptures themselves.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Heb 4:12

The words from the Bible were doing their work in my life.

I was converted by the reading of the New Testament.

Others have been converted by reading from the Old Testament.

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. … And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
Act 8:30-31, 34-35

The Ethiopian was reading from the OT, but he needed someone to explain to him the meaning of what he was reading.

This brings us to the final thought about the means God uses for how we are converted. Paul writes in Romans—

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
Rom 10:14

Many have made this the only way that someone can be converted or saved.

Hopefully, though, you have been able to see from this that God is not limited by any means. There is nothing He cannot use, no place that He cannot go, no resistance that He cannot overcome in order to bring someone to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

He can meet them in church, in their home, on the road, in a shooting gallery for meth and heroin addicts, in a bar, in jail or even in hell—as the psalmist wrote.

“If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”
Psa 139:8

We do not have to require our family or friends to come to church to get saved.

We do not have to force them to listen to our preaching.

We do not have to force or arrange anything, because God is greater than any plan we could ever concoct.

How does conversion happen?

I will leave you with one last verse.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.”
Zec 4:6

Pray for those who do not yet know the Lord.

Pray and leave it there.

God’s got this.

Of that you can be sure.

RESURRECTION SUNDAY

The resurrection of Jesus is the focal point of the Christian faith. Many in the course of history have tried to disprove the fact of Jesus being raised from the dead. If the resurrection did not happen as told, then our faith is useless and we are fools.

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NOTE: for a video of this message, click here.
NOTE: for a podcast of this message, click here.

This is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the arrival of the rabbit who lays eggs.

While that may be somewhat funny, or even sacrilegeous to some, we need to realize that even as Christmas has its imaginative fables and characters, so also does Easter.

There is nothing wrong with those, but let us not forget the real reason those stories came to be.

Easter Sunday is the day Christians celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the focal point of the Christian faith, as Paul writes in our Scripture Lesson today.

And if our hope in Christ is only for this life,
we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
1Co 15:19

Paul was handling arguments against the resurrection, as there were some who doubted its veracity then—just as there are now those who doubt.

He pointed to the fact of people giving their lives for the resurrection when he made this statement.

Obviously, if there is nothing beyond this life, then our hope and belief is ridiculous.

Many have tried to prove that the Christian claims have no basis.

In the 1700’s there were two young intellectuals who were both lawyers and both rejected the claims of Christ.

One day in a conversation they concluded that Christianity stood on two foundations: the resurrection of Jesus and the conversion of the apostle Paul.

Should these two stories be disproved, the rest of Christianity would fall with them.

One agreed to write a book disproving Jesus’ resurrection and the other agreed to write a book disproving that Paul was converted by hearing a voice from heaven.

No problem, they thought. But when they got together to share their progress reports, they each had to confess that the evidence was winning them over to the other side.

In fact, when it was all over, there were two books: Lord Lyttleton’s The Conversion of St. Paul and Gilbert West’s book, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, arguing that the resurrection is a fact of history.

This is also what happened to Josh McDowell who wrote “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” He set out to disprove Christianity, but instead became convinced of its reality. His book still ranks in the top 25 all time for Christian books.

Our faith is built upon the fact of the resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate today.

As Paul said, if it were only in this life that we had hope, we would be the greatest of fools.

However, because the resurrection is a fact of history, our faith because of it has powerful effects.

The resurrection does impact this life and also our life beyond this physical plane.

The resurrection declares that Christ’s sacrifice was accepted

(Jesus), who was delivered up for our trespasses
and raised for our justification.
Rom 4:25

Notice how His death and resurrection are linked together. Both were necessary.

His death was caused by us, but His resurrection affects us and is the basis for our justification.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men,
so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
Rom 5:18

We have spoken before about the fact that His one act of righteousness has the same effect as Adam’s one sin

The effect of Adam’s sin extended to the entire human race.

The effect of Jesus’ one act of righteousness also extends to the entire human race.

The effect of Adam’s sin was not something potential, depending on our choice. We did not choose to be in Adam and to suffer his results.

The effect of Jesus’ one act of righteousness is also not something only potentially waiting for man’s choice.

Right now, though, we want to focus on the word “justification.” What is justification?
JUSTIFICATION
the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him

Because of Jesus, God has declared us free from the guilt of our sin and made us acceptable in His sight.

If there were no resurrection, being born again would not be possible.

Being born again is a result of the resurrection.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1Pe 1:3

The resurrection makes the new birth possible. Death cannot give life. The cross secured atonement, but it takes a living Savior to apply salvation.

Our new birth is dependent upon the resurrection of Jesus.

Our being made free from the guilt of our sin is dependent upon the resurrection of Jesus.

Our being able to stand freely before the Father is dependent on the resurrection of Jesus.

Otherwise,

…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 1Co 15:17

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb is a marvelous thing.

It was scary for those who first encountered it.

However, as the word of this miracle spread throughout the land and down through the ages, His resurrection has become the cornerstone of our faith.

And as we mark this event today, it is a cause for great joy among all God’s people.

And that is why we call it a celebration.

Today we celebrate the fact of a risen savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.