Think with me about specific types of situations. As a Christian you are approached by a man or woman in one of the following situations.

He or she is in a horrible marriage; a total disaster that is creating enormous personal suffering.

He or she is in a horrible home. No one should have to live in such circumstances. The home is a war zone twenty-four hours a day.

He or she has been rejected and abandoned. This person is living in a loneliness that is devastating him or her. Experiencing rejection makes him or her trust absolutely no one.

He or she is a victim. He or she has been raped, or abused, or otherwise victimized by a crime upon his or her person. Though he or she was the victim, the person is a slave to personal feelings of guilt.

He or she struggles with a problem with drugs or with alcohol.

All these people have one thing in common. The person is sick of the problem. He or she is desperate to change life. He or she wants to escape the problem and redirect life. This person asks you for guidance and insights.

What do you do?

  1. "I would convince the person that Jesus Christ is the answer in his or her life."
    1. Excellent! What do you mean by that?
      1. "I mean that Jesus can:"
        1. "Forgive the person's sins.
        2. "Give the person hope.
        3. "Give the person strength.
        4. "Change the person's life."
        5. Great!
      2. When will that happen?
        1. "When the person is baptized."
        2. All of that will happen when the person is baptized?
        3. All of that will happen immediately upon baptism?
    2. To often we try to give a person the right hope with the wrong expectation.
      1. Can Jesus Christ forgive the sins of any person who turns to him? Absolutely.
      2. Can Jesus Christ save any person who turns to him? Absolutely.
      3. Can Jesus Christ make any person a son or daughter of God if that person enters Christ? Absolutely.
      4. Does that mean that immediately upon baptism all the distresses the person experienced miraculously disappear?
      5. Listen and see if you hear a subtle but dramatic change in what we say.
        1. Before the person is baptized, we emphasize what Christ can do for the person.
        2. After the person is baptized, we emphasize, "You don't do that any more."
        3. Before, it is the power of Christ; after it is "your responsibility."
    3. Give some serious thought to the situations I mentioned.
      1. After baptism, will the person in a horrible marriage go home to a good marriage? Will being baptized change the marriage?
      2. After baptism, will the person who is living in a home that is a war zone go back to a home that is now at peace? Will being baptized change the nature of the home?
      3. After baptism, will the person who has been rejected and abandoned find marvelous acceptance and immediately be able to trust that acceptance?
      4. After baptism, will the victim who is consumed with guilt immediately have all guilt feelings destroyed? Will baptism immediately and totally change that person's view of himself or herself?
      5. After baptism, will all cravings for drugs or alcohol disappear? Will the temptation to take the drugs or drink the alcohol just disappear? Will stress and struggle no longer tempt him or her to escape with drugs or alcohol?
      6. I seriously doubt that any of us would affirm that those things would happen.
        1. I have encouraged many troubled people in all of those situations.
        2. I have had the privilege of encouraging and teaching some faith filled, highly committed people in all those situations.
        3. I have never seen one situation instantly change.
        4. The New Testament promises instant forgiveness, but it does not declare that the problems will instantly disappear.
      7. If we build the expectation that coming to Christ will instantly remove all temptation and totally destroy the problems, we create the perfect opportunity for Satan to disillusion the person.

  2. When I mention the apostle Paul, conversion, strength, and the redirection of life, what comes to your mind?
    1. Paul is a striking figure in the New Testament.
      1. Prior to conversion, his opposition to Christianity was dramatic.
        1. He held the robes of Stephen's executioners (Acts 7:58).
        2. He made a house to house search in the city of Jerusalem to find and arrest Christians (Acts 8:3).
        3. When he located Christians, he dragged them out of their homes and sent them to prison (Acts 8:3)
        4. He used his personal influence to have Christians executed (Acts 26:10).
        5. After being a Christian for years, he said of his pre-Christian life that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor (1 Timothy 1:13).
      2. Then he was dramatically converted to Christ on the Damascus road (Acts 9).
        1. He was certain that Jesus was fraud, that the resurrection never occurred, and that the good news about Jesus being the Savior was an enormous deceit.
        2. He met the resurrected Jesus face to face and spoke to him.
        3. He was devastated; he expected to die for what he had done.
        4. When he was forgiven instead of killed, he immediately began to tell people that Jesus was real, that he was Savior, and that he would willingly forgive and save anyone.
      3. His Christian dedication was just as dramatic as his Christian opposition.
        1. 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 is an astounding list of the sufferings and hardships Paul endured to preach Christ.
        2. And his life ended with execution in Rome.
    2. Consider this:
      1. Before Paul's conversion, he was a hardened man of violence.
        1. That had to involve his heart.
        2. It had to involve his mind.
        3. It had to involve his view of people.
        4. It had to involve every aspect of his life.
      2. Do you think that after his baptism that everything in and about Paul immediately changed, instantly, without growth, without development?
    3. It is likely that we claim things about Paul that Paul never claimed about himself.
      1. Years after his conversion, Paul said of himself "...I am the foremost of sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15).
      2. The statement, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24-8:1) is about himself.
      3. He said, "I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest...I myself should be disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
      4. He said that he did not consider himself to have obtained his spiritual objective or to have reached full spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:12).
      5. He said that he pressed on toward the goal of God's call in Christ (Philippians 3:14).
      6. Because of Paul's activities, because of his writings, and because of his insights, we tend to look at Paul as the person who instantly turned from persecutor to mature Christian, from violent enemy of Christ to perfect servant of Christ.
      7. Paul never spoke of himself in those terms.
      8. Spiritual development in Christ is a journey, not an achievement, and no one understood that more clearly than did Paul.

  3. Consider four common situations of today.
    1. A person who is very young decides to be baptized; he or she has learned the factual information and wants to do what God requested.
      1. The person has had little or no internal struggle with evil.
      2. This person has no experience with moral failure on an intense, personal level.
      3. Within a few years of baptism, he or she confronts evil, temptation, and personal struggles on levels that he or she did not even know existed at the time of baptism.
      4. Should the person conclude that he or she did not know what "I was doing?"
      5. Should the person conclude, "There is something wrong with me or I would not be having these struggles and temptations?"
    2. A person is converted from a good family and good circumstances.
      1. Several generations of Christians within the family live near each other and create an excellent, positive family support group.
      2. The family had worshipped and been meaningfully involved in the same congregation for generations.
      3. It is convenient to live a good life; it would be inconvenient to live an ungodly life.
      4. Because of career or job, this person moves some distance away to a heavily populated area.
      5. Everything immediately changes: family closeness, family support group, family congregation, and the convenience of being and doing good are gone.
      6. He or she daily must cope with life in evil and ungodly circumstances unlike anything he or she knew or experienced.
      7. He or she knows struggle and temptation as it has never existed before.
      8. Is he or she to conclude that conversion was not real and baptism was ineffective?
    3. A person is converted from evil circumstances.
      1. His or her family were never religious, never attended any church, never owned or read a Bible, and never had "any use" for religion.
      2. He or she has absolutely no Christian background, no Bible knowledge, and no understanding of Christian values or concepts.
      3. He or she is baptized to escape an ungodly world and life of guilt.
      4. Within months of being baptized, he or she discovers that the same struggles must be faced and the same temptations still exist.
      5. Is he or she to conclude that Christianity is a fraud and that baptism is just one more way to get wet?
    4. A person is converted from a totally messed up life.
      1. Prior to baptism, he or she was depressed, had no hope, felt absolutely useless and worthless, and had a level of self-respect and self-esteem that reached zero on the best of days.
      2. Six months after baptism all the factors that contributed to the mess in his or her life are still there.
      3. Circumstances are such that it seems easier to surrender to the mess than to resist it.
      4. Is he or she to conclude that conversion is a lot of unrealistic words and baptism is a farce?
    5. May I suggest that if we create the impression that Christianity is supposed to create a quick fix for your life,
      1. That it rescues you from your messes,
      2. And that it delivers you from occasions of temptation,
      3. We create false expectations that can spiritually destroy instead of save.

What Christ does in the life, the mind, the heart of a person when that person enters Christ is real. Forgiveness is real. The destruction of sin and guilt is real. The new relationship with God is real.

It is equally true that Satan is just as real after baptism as he is before. Evil has the same power and force in the world and in life after baptism as before. Temptation is just as real after baptism as before.

We must not create the illusion that conversion to Christ is just a matter of learning the right rules and regulations, doing the right dos, refusing to do the wrong don'ts, and taking the right stand on the right issues.

When faith and repentance are combined with baptism, you have a birth. The rest of the person's life will be spent in learning, understanding, developing, growing, and maturing. The new is not a quick fix. The new is relationship with God. You are now God's son or daughter. What happens is very simple--you grow, and God forgives. Life does not become wonderfully easy. Life becomes wonderfully possible. That is the transition: from impossible life in an impossible world controlled by evil to possible life created by Christ and sustained by God's forgiveness.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 10 May 1998

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