First Century Conversion
Quarter 2, Lesson 12

Lesson Twelve

Conversion Now

For decades Christians have read the Bible as though it was written to them. We read it as if it were a single book written by a group of authors functioning under the oversight of an editor. We read it as if words appearing in one writing {book} are interchangeable with similar words in other writings {books}. We read it with too little knowledge of context in a conviction that context is insignificant. We read it as if the intent of its message was to address today's questions [thousands of years after a writing {book} was originally written].

These statements neither deny nor attack the Bible's divine inspiration. God worked through His Spirit to guide the understandings of the people who were authors of the letters, messages, and records that compose the Bible. People collected those writings into one volume, and people named that volume the Bible. God's mind is the origin of the Bible's messages, letters, and records. God's mind revealed the Bible's concepts and teachings through the Spirit's work in the authors' hearts and minds. Its messages [and the meaning of its messages ] are not determined by our desires and concerns. Its meaning must be understood first by understanding the meaning of the messages given to those who first received them.

The concern is not divine guidance. The concern is an accurate understanding of the teachings revealed through divine guidance. We accept the conclusion that the Bible is God inspired. The question is not inspiration. The question is meaning.

Conversion illustrates the significance of this question. In the first century, this was the essential conversion concern: is Jesus the Christ? Related to that concern was understanding the meaning of Jesus' crucifixion and the significance of his resurrection. In the first century, converts responded to a life-altering conviction: Jesus was the Christ.

Almost 2000 years have passed since Jesus' death and resurrection. Often words in first century conversions are acknowledged, but conversion issues have changed. Many think our conversion issues are identical to those of the first century. They likely think that because they have an inadequate understanding of first century conversion.

In typical procedures prior to baptism, today it is common to ask a person if he or she believes that Jesus is the Christ. That statement reflects the core of first century conversion. Today the candidate for baptism responds with a statement that affirms belief in Jesus as the Christ. What does the statement mean? What does the affirmation mean? What is the candidate's understanding of the statement and affirmation? What is the significance of the Christ? Is the word "Christ" Jesus' last name? Is it merely Jesus' title? Is a concept of the "Christ" relevant to salvation? What is the relationship between receiving forgiveness and the "Christ"?

Today, conversion is often synonymous with baptism (immersion). To many, baptism symbolizes conversion. Today, the primary spiritual concern focuses on the act of immersion and the reason for immersion. [In no way does this suggest that immersion into Christ for the destruction of sin is insignificant or unimportant.]

Immersion into Christ is the response of the person who believes Jesus is the Christ. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 easily can be misunderstood. [An accurate understanding of this statement must come from understanding Paul's point to the Christians at Corinth. In context, he was concerned about party loyalties that fractured their fellowship.] In his statement, "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel..." an obvious fact is relevant to a discussion of conversion. Baptizing and preaching the gospel are not identical. Faith in the gospel produces the response of baptism. Baptism is a response to the gospel, not the gospel itself. The gospel's core is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Long ago faith fell on hard times. Faith in Christ does not receive the emphasis today that it received in the New Testament. The primary issue in the first century conversion process was faith in Jesus as the Christ. Faith in the Christ was far more than accepting the accuracy of a historical fact. Faith accepted a life-altering understanding. Today we assume faith exists. In the fear that faith's role in conversion will be over emphasized, faith's importance has been reduced to a ritual question: "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" In America, that question can be answered without consequence or [sadly] significance.

Repentance is virtually a nonexistent consideration in today's conversion. Conversion emphasis seems to fall more on questions concerning church membership than on a redirection of life. It should trouble us that many "converted" people never consider changing their use of life or direction in life. First century Christian teachers found it inconceivable that a Jew could be converted to Christ without conversion impacting the direction of the convert's life. To them it was inconceivable that a person who worshipped idols could be converted to Christ without conversion impacting the direction of the convert's life.

This does not suggest that all first century converts had a clear, accurate understanding of conversion. It states that Christian teachers understood that conversion (1) was the result of faith in Jesus being the Christ and (2) produced a redirection of the convert's life. Conversion understood the significance of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Conversion trusted the significance of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

In the first century did situations occur when converts continued their preconversion lifestyle? Yes! Consider Ephesians 4:17-32 or Colossians 3:1-17. Was "no redirection of life" an acceptable result of faith in the Christ? No! Did baptism make continued preconversion lifestyles "okay"? No! That was not what they were taught when they learned Christ. That was not the substance of being raised with Christ.

Please note when such misunderstandings occurred, the issue was a proper understanding of Christ. Corrections of a conversion misimpression were not based on the organization of the church, on the need to represent the church properly as an organization or institution, or on establishing a tradition for the future. Corrections of any misimpression were based on understanding the Christ.

Regarding today's conversions, the important question Christians ask is not about faith or the redirection of life. It is, "Have they been baptized?" When a believer repents and responds to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection through baptism, God powerfully acts in his or her life. When immersion occurs without faith in Christ and a desire to redirect life, baptism is meaningless.

Thought question:

Read the two examples (Ephesians 4:17-32 and Colossians 3:1-17) and note the stress on Christ. Note that an understanding of Christ results in a desire to be the new self. What can we do to help converts realize they are responding to the Savior? What can we do to make conversion a process of "becoming" instead of a process of "placing membership"?

Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 2, Lesson 12

Copyright © 2001
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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