By Cecil Willis
In our extended study of conversion, we have but one motive in mind. We want to learn what men and women did in New Testament times in order to get the forgiveness of their sins, for we know that the same law that governed them still governs us today, Therefore, one must do the same thing to be saved today that men and women did in New Testament times.
Every case of conversion in the New Testament follows a certain pattern. Insofar as commandments are concerned, God makes no exceptions for men, regardless of their popularity or power. All must obey the same commandments. And if one who claims to be converted today should find that his so-called conversion transpired in a manner different from conversions in the Bible, he knows assuredly that he was not converted, but was deceived. God is not making a special case out of you or me.
Every time God gave a commandment He gave the rules to be followed in carrying out the commandment. When God commanded Noah to build an ark to avert destruction by the flood, God specified how the ark was to be built. It was to be constructed of a specific kind of wood, gopher wood, and was to be 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high, with one door and one window. These were the rules to be followed in complying with God’s command.
We find that a number of years after God told Noah to build the ark, He told Moses how the tabernacle was to be built. “This pattern fills three chapters of the book of Exodus and relates not only to the dimensions and apartments of the tabernacle, but also to its materials and furniture, its pillars and its coverings, its curtains and its fastenings; the most explicit directions being given with reference even to the smallest things pertaining to this unique structure” (B.F. Manire, Conversion, pg. 54). Then God exhorted Moses, “See . . . that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown thee in the mount” (Heb. 8:5).
After the Israelites entered into Palestine, Solomon gathered about him the world’s most skilled builders, and according to the precise instructions of his father David, he guided the building of the temple.
Then when God’s spiritual house, the church, made up of living stones, came to be constructed, God’s wisdom is made known to us by the holy apostles in order that God’s rules in regard to the building of the church may by carefully followed. The church is adequately described in the Scriptures, and any organization that does not measure favorably in the light of the divine rules, is not the church of the Lord.
God also wanted people to be converted, for the spiritual house of God, the church, consists of converted people. There may be people who are nominally on a church roll who have never obeyed the Gospel. But in God’s sight, only these individuals who have sincerely submitted to the instructions of Christ and his inspired helpers are members of the church of the Lord. God wants all men to be converted. We have seen that God has always given rules to be followed in doing what He wants done. God’s desire that men be converted is no different. God has given certain rules of conversion, and these rules we want to study.
Just prior to Christ’s ascension back into heaven, He gave the Great Commission. There were certain inspired men who heard Him proclaim the great salvation. They were witnesses to Christ’s declaration. These men who were to be witnesses of Christ had been chosen, trained, commissioned by Christ, and finally Christ sent the Holy Spirit upon them to endue them with power. They were especially chosen men, and were given special powers by God to confirm their word as they went forth.
Just prior to Christ’s ascension, they asked, “Lord, dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath set within his own authority. But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:68). Again in 2 Pet. 1:16,17, Peter declared that he was an eyewitness of these things. Incidentally, we might observe that it is absurd for one to declare that he is one of “Jehovah’s witnesses” when he was not an eyewitness as were Peter and the other apostles. We may recite the testimony of the witnesses, but we are not Jehovah’s witnesses as were the apostles. But to call ourselves by a title given to those who were eyewitnesses is no worse than many denominationalists do. They claim the power that God gave to His specially chosen witnesses, One might just as well claim the name that God gave His witnesses, or one might as well call himself “Jehovah’s Witness” as to claim he can perform the miracles that God enabled His witnesses to do. But to do either or both is wrong.
These inspired witnesses who heard Jesus tell them what to preach ought to know what the God-given rules of conversion are. So let us turn to the testimony of the inspired writers. We want to consider the testimony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Matthew quoted Jesus as saying, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples (teach, K.J.V.) of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20). Mark’s testimony reads, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16: 15, 16). Luke’s account reads, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24: 46, 47). This is the testimony of the witnesses. In their statement of what Jesus said, we see that the preacher has something to do in converting people; the sinner has something to do in his own conversion; and God is the One who grants the remission of sins. Let us study the rules of conversion by studying the responsibility of each of these separately.
The Duty of the Preacher
If you will notice carefully what each of the three witnesses say, you will see what the duty of the preacher is. Matthew records Jesus’ statement in which the preacher is told to make disciples of all nations (A.S.V.). The King James translation reads “Go ye therefore and teach all nations.” Mark says, “Go ye therefore and preach the gospel to every creature.” Luke says, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The work of the preacher in one’s conversion is that of preaching the Gospel of Christ. In fact, this duty is the responsibility of every Christian, and the magnitude of our obligation should be clear when we see that we are to preach the Gospel to every creature. A tremendous task! But as we learn God’s rules of conversion from the mouth of these three eyewitnesses to the giving of the Great Commission, we learn that this coincides perfectly with Paul’s declaration in which he says, “it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). So in the conversion of the souls of men and women, the task of the preacher is to preach the Gospel.
The Duty of the Sinner
But in conversion, it should be, and usually is, recognized by all that the duty is not all the preacher’s. Faithful Gospel preachers could spend their lifetime preaching, and not a soul would be saved unless the sinner recognizes that he has a duty also. In these three records of the Great Commission we are studying, the sinner’s duty is clearly defined. The preacher is to preach the Gospel. The Gospel consists of certain commandments that one must obey. Of course this is not the whole of the Gospel story, but it is a definite part of it. No one will share in the blessings promised in the Gospel who does not obey the commandments of the Gospel.
Remember also that it is merely the business of the preacher to proclaim what God said. It is not the business of the authority of the preacher to alter a single commandment that God has given to us. The preacher must preach the Gospel; the sinner must obey the Gospel. As we read again Christ’s statement as recorded by Matthew, we hear Christ saying, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” In this instance, Matthew says the sinner is to be baptized. In Mark’s record, Jesus says, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” In Mark’s account we see that two conditions precede one’s salvation. One must believe and be baptized in order to be saved. Remember that man did not make this statement; Jesus did, and that this is the same statement by which you will one day be judged. Luke adds, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.”
In these three passages we see the duty of the alien sinner stated. He must believe in Jesus Christ, repent of his sins, and be baptized. No man lives who has the authority to promise an unbeliever salvation. No man lives who has the authority to promise an impentitent believer salvation. No man lives who has the authority to promise an unbapztized penitent believer salvation. But the Lord Jesus, who has all authority, tenderly promises to save those who believe, repent and are baptized. There will not be a person saved who has lived in the Christian dispensation who has not done these things.
God has conditioned certain blessings on man’s obedience, Mark says that he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. Luke says that repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in Jesus’ name. These are the great blessings ihat we can enjoy through Christ our Lord. No greater blessing could be ours than the forgiveness of our sins. No greater curse could come upon man than for him to die guilty of sin. No greater privilege could be extended to us than the opportunity to have our sins forgiven. We could picture no more wonderful home than the one Jesus has prepared in heaven.
We need to constantly be reminded that what happens to us in judgment will be up to us. God has provided a plan of salvation that is broad enough in scope to include all men, but God has not promised to save a single person unconditionally. He has stipulated certain rules of conversion. There will be no conversion except these rules are followed. Regardless of how good, or how saved you may feel, let me assure you that if you did not follow the rules we have studied this week or in previous weeks as they were expressed by our Lord, you have not been converted! The Lord will not permit you to substitute a plan of salvation of your own for the one that He has given.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the witnesses have faithfully told us what Jesus said for us to do. Gospel preachers are diligently trying to teach people God’s way of salvation. If we preach what Jesus said, people can be saved by obeying it. Unsaved people must do the duty the Great Commission enjoins upon them. You must believe, repent and be baptized. You are not, nor will you ever be, saved before you do this! But when you comply with the rules of conversion, you can assuredly know that God, who promised eternal life will keep His promise. But you may also know that if you die without obeying the Gospel, that the same God promised to take vengeance on those who obey not the Gospel, and He will also keep that promise.
The most important decision you will ever make in this life will be the decision to become a Christian by obeying the rules of conversion. Have you done that?
Truth Magazine XX: 51, pp. 802-803
December 23, 1976