By Morris W. R. Bailey
Continuing our study of handling aright the word of truth, I shall now point out that such is required when dealing with the examples of conversion recorded in the book of Acts. A proper division of the word recognizes the distinction between.
The Essential And The Incidental
By the word, essential, is meant that which, in the nature of things, constitutes the process of conversion, and such things as are made necessary to conversion by divine appointment. The word, essential, is a derivative of the word, essence, which is defined as, “that which constitutes the particular nature of a thing” (Webster). He defines the word, essential, as, “Necessary to the constitution or existence of a thing.”
Conversion is essentially a change. Webster defines it as, “The act of turning or changing from one state to another.” Wheat, by the process of milling, is converted (changed) into flour. Flour, by another process is converted (changed) into bread. As used in the Bible, the conversion of man involves a threefold change.
1. A change of heart. Jeremiah said, The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” (Jer. 4:9). It is thus obvious that a change of heart is essentially a part of the process of conversion.
2. A change of life. That “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), is Paul’s indictment of the human race. Thus a change of life is essential to conversion.
3. A change of state, or relationship. In his unsaved state, man is in the kingdom of Satan. Paul’s work as an apostle was to “turn men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18). He reminded the Colossians that they had been “delivered out of the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Col. 1:13). Thus conversion is essentially a change of man’s state, or relationship.
Made Essential By Divine Appointment
To this three-fold change in man, there are conditions that are essential by reason of the fact that God has commanded them. Without obedience to these conditions he remains in his lost state.
1. God has appointed faith as the means of purifying the heart. Peter said, “And he made no distinction between us and them (Jew and Gentile, M.B.), purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
2. God has appointed repentance as the means of a change of life. John the Baptist exhorted those who came out to him to be baptized, to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). When asked by the multitudes what they must do in bringing forth such fruits, he pointed out that such repentance required a radical change from their former manner of life (Luke 3:10-14).
3. God has ordained baptism as the means of changing one’s state, or relationship. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Before baptism, one is outside of Christ and in the devil’s kingdom. In baptism one leaves the kingdom of Satan and enters into Christ and his kingdom. Before baptism, one is a servant of sin. After obedience from the heart, in baptism, one is a servant of righteousness (Rom. 6:17, 18).
We may say then, that the essentials of conversion are, that the gospel must be preached (1 Cor. 1:21). The heart must be purified by faith. The life must be purified by repentance. The state, or relationship must be changed by baptism into Christ.
These essentials are all found in the great commission given to the apostles by Christ, when he sent them forth to preach the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:46, 47).
An incidental is defined as, “Happening as an occasional event forming an incident; casual; not necessary to the chief purpose” (Webster).
That there were such incidentals involved in the conversions recorded in the book of Acts is obvious to all careful students of that book. These were incidents that, while not essential to the conversion of the subjects) yet which served an important function in preparing, or setting the stage for the preaching of the gospel which led to the conversions. It needs to be observed, too, that while the essentials of conversion were uniform in each example, the incidentals varied, their presence being determined by circumstances peculiar to each situation.
It must be remembered, too, that the conversions recorded in Acts occurred in an age of miracles, and consequently those incidentals often involved miraculous phenomena. Since, as we have pointed out in previous articles, the age of miracles has ceased, such incidentals could not be involved in any conversion today.
We are now prepared to study some of the conversions of the book of Acts, and to note the distinction between the essential and the incidental in each example.
The Conversion Of The Jews On Pentecost
This conversion is recorded in the second chapter of Acts. The events of that day began with the baptism of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Was it essential to conversion? If so, it would have been necessary to every conversion today. But the fact is, it was incidental, and fulfilled the promise of Christ regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit who would guide the apostles into all truth, and call to their remembrance the things that Jesus had taught them during his personal ministry (John 14:26; 16:12, 13).
The essentials of this conversion conform to all the requirements of the great commission. The gospel was preached (Acts 2:22-36). They believed the message. They repented. They were baptized (Acts 2:37-41).
The Conversion Of The Eunuch
In the conversion of the eunuch, recorded in the eighth chapter of Acts there are two incidentals of miraculous nature: 1. An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, directing him to go down to the Jerusalem-Gaza road (Acts 8:26). 2. The Holy Spirit directed Philip to go near and join himself to the chariot in which the eunuch was riding (vs. 29).
These were merely incidentals that served to bring the preacher and the man to be converted together.
The essential characteristics of this conversion again follow the pattern of the great commission. The gospel (Jesus) was preached (vs. 35). The eunuch believed (vs. 37, K.J.V.). Repentance, though not specifically stated, is implied. The eunuch was baptized (vs. 38).
The Conversion of Saul Of Tarsus
In the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, Christ appeared to him in a blaze of divine glory on the Damascus road. Is a personal appearance of Christ essential to conversion? If so, then everyone must experience such a personal appearance, or he is not converted. That leaves out this writer for one.
The fact is, Christ did not appear to Saul to save him. The purpose of Christ’s appearance is stated in Jesus’ own words, “For to this end have I appeared unto thee, to appoint thee a minister and a witness, both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16). It is thus obvious that the purpose of Christ’s appearance was to qualify him to be an apostle. Years later, Paul referred to the fact that he had seen Jesus as proof of his apostleship (1 Cor. 9:1).
In its essential points the conversion of Saul followed the pattern of all other conversions recorded in Acts. A gospel preacher was sent to him (Acts 9:10-12). He believed in Christ (Acts 22;10). Of the fact that he repented, what better evidence could we have than that he became a preacher of the faith of which he once made havoc (Gal. 1:23)? He was baptized (Acts 9:18).
The Conversion Of Cornelius
In the conversion of Cornelius and his household, there were three outstanding incidents. 1. The appearance of an angel to Cornelius. 2. Peter’s vision on the housetop. 3. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the audience.
Each of these served a purpose that was incidental, and was no essential part of the conversion, itself. The visit of the angel was to instruct Cornelius to send to Joppa for Peter (Acts 10:5). The purpose of Peter’s vision was to remove a long-standing prejudice of all Jews concerning social intercourse with the Gentiles (vss. 27, 28). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to convince Peter and his Jewish brethren that the gospel was for Gentiles as well as Jews (vss. 44-47; 11:17, 18).
Essentially, Cornelius’ conversion, like all others under the great commission, consisted of hearing the gospel preached (Acts 11:14), faith in Christ (Acts 15:8), repentance, though not specifically stated, yet implied, baptism in the name of Christ (Acts 10:48).
From the foregoing observations we thus conclude that while incidentals varied according to circumstances peculiar to each case, essentials were uniform and constitute a clear pattern for conversion today.
Truth Magazine XXI: 42, pp. 665-666
October 27, 1977