The Conversion of the Corinthians

By Joshua Gurtler

As Paul entered into the sin-ridden port city of Corinth in Acts 18:1, his expectations might have been running a little lower than usual. Paul had just arrived from Athens where he had received some ridicule as well as some fruit in the Lord, neither of which were to be compared to what was about to take place. He immediately joined himself to a couple of the same trade and he began making tents until his support from Macedonia arrived via the hands of Silas and Timothy (2 Cor. 11:9; Phil. 4:15; Acts 18:5).

What a great weight of responsibility now lay on the shoulders of the apostle to the Gentiles. Corinth was a sin-sick cesspool of the vilest sort, yet this was to be his audience for the next few months. He at once engaged in “testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5). This effort was met with resistance in the form of blasphemies (Acts 18:6). What a discouragement this could and might have been, yet he continued his proclamation, next going to the house of Titus Justus (Acts 18:7). Here the word found the good soil of honest hearts and Crispus and his household were baptized (Acts 18:8).

We will take a moment to note the interesting fact that baptism was obviously considered a necessary element to enter the kingdom of God in the New Testament and attain all the privileges and blessings as a child of God. In case one may wonder whether the baptism here was only an isolated, unique incident to the Corinth church, we have but to turn and read 1 Corinthians 12:13 where we are told that the whole church in the city of Corinth was “baptized into one body” (see also 1 Cor. 1:14-16). Of course, shortly after this, thanks to the help of a band of some of Paul’s ungodly, closed-minded Jewish brethren, he was brought before the Roman Proconsul to stand trial. The charges were dismissed as a farce and Paul pressed on to Syria (Acts 18:12-18). This is the history of the beginning of the Lord’s body in Corinth to whom Paul eventually wrote at least three letters (see 1 Cor. 5:9).

I recently heard a sermon in which the preacher said, “The Bible is clear about the subject of salvation in the New Testament, and if anyone has any questions then all he needs to do is to sit down and read the book of Acts.”

How simple and yet how true. Why is it that mankind must question, criticize, and reject God’s biblical directives given for our own well being? The conversion of the Corinthian brethren, which involved hearing and believing God’s word, repenting of their past wickedness, confessing Christ as the Son of God and Lord, and being baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins, is the simple and repeated method we see in the Scriptures. Modern critics, the de- nominational world, and even some of our own brethren will mock the “five fingered plan of salvation” as being that which has its origin in man. Take away the fingers if you like, but what steps do we need more or less in order to gain entrance into the kingdom of God? I’ve also heard talk of doing away with the invitation at the end of every worship service and whether or not we should even mention baptism when we teach one the gospel of Christ! Change for the sake of God’s word is always a good thing, but change for the sake of change should always be questioned as to motive, consequence, and scriptural authority.

Inevitably, sin entered the body of saved believers in Corinth at which time Paul wrote a searing but loving letter of rebuke and admonition. “What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod or with love and a spirit of gentle- ness?” is how he put it in 1 Corinthians 5:21. The sins of fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, drunkenness, reviling and swindling are listed as those that some had previously engaged in before their conversion (1 Cor. 6:9, 10). In the same letter we learn that some of them are back at it, adding even more sins to their already lengthy list. When Paul directs his first N.T. letter to the church, he specifically addresses the problems of division, quarrels, and sectarianism (ch. 1); jealousy and strife (ch. 3); arrogance (ch. 4); fornication and the tolerance of sin (ch. 5); taking a brother to law (ch. 6); misunderstandings of God’s marriage law (ch. 7); causing a brother to stumble from personal liberties (ch. 8); idolatry (ch. 10); headship and abuse of the Lord’s supper (ch. 11); spiritual gifts and the usurping of authority in the worship by women (chs. 12- 14); and misunderstandings on the resurrection (ch. 15).

Paul did not overlook these sins with such excuses as, “we need to give them time to grow” or “we might be too hard and run them off” or “we should tolerate their sin under Romans 14 since they are the weaker brethren” (1 Cor. 3:1, 2). Paul recognized sin in the camp and confronted it as such. This is our example and pattern which we too often fail. Frequently, we would rather look the other way when sin enters the church, and sometimes we may even fail to teach the “whole counsel” when speaking with a non-Christian. But all too soon we will stand before God almighty and render an account for the deeds we have done and the blood of the souls of mankind which stain our head and our hands (Acts 20:26, 27; Ezek. 3:18). If we don’t do our best to call for true conversion as Paul did the Corinthians and to keep the church pure, we may someday be the ones God is purging for the purification of his Church (Eph. 5:26, 27).