Whether a person examines the first century or today, people with differing backgrounds and problems must resolve different issues to be converted to Jesus. Accepting Jesus as the forgiving Savior who destroys "my" sins involves different concerns for different people. That was reality when Christianity began. It always has been reality. It always will be reality.
All the conversions in Acts were first generation conversions. Paul's letters to congregations were written to first generation congregations. Paul's letters to individuals were written to first generation Christian individuals. These first generation Christians had neither family background nor family history in Christian relationships, Christians ethics, Christian morality, Christian behavior, or Christian worship. There was no background or history in Christian/Christian relationships, Christian/Christian responsibilities, Christian/nonchristian interaction, or levels of Christian leadership. No one had Christian influences from their past.
Two thousand years later we confront concerns first generation Christians did not have. For example, if a child is reared in a godly environment by Christian parents, when is the child truly ready to be baptized? When he or she is six to eight years old, loves God in a God-loving environment, and wants to please God? When he or she is nine to eleven years old, understands facts, and bases conduct on facts, and makes factual decisions? When he or she is a teen who now thinks conceptually and bases actions on understanding oversimplified concepts? When he or she is a young adult, has experienced war with major temptations, has lost battles to evil, and needs forgiveness?
The New Testament wrote about first generation adult conversions of men and women with no Christian background. These adults came from inadequate religious perspectives or from ungodly lifestyles. What happened when these first Christian homes produced a second generation of believers who wanted to belong to God? The parents first heard and believed as adults. The second generation was born into a believing environment. In that environment, they always believed on some level. The conversion "awakening" of first generation parents and of second generation children were distinctly different experiences.
Every missionary experiences this difference in conversion issues. The first people who learned about Christ resolved a specific set of questions and concerns before baptism into Christ. Until those questions and concerns were resolved, faith did not fully exist. Faith could not lead them to conversion if those questions and concerns were not addressed. However, the issues and concerns of the descendants of the first converts are different.
Even the initial questions and concerns differed from region to region. The questions and concerns of people who are religious [though not Christian] differ significantly from the questions and concerns of people who are not religious.
Consider some conversion issues in the spiritually segmented community of first century Israel.
The righteous: these people knew God was working through Jesus to keep His promise to Israel. They did not grasp specifically what God was doing, but they knew God was at work. Remember people in Israel such as Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1), Simeon (Luke 2:25-35), and Anna (Luke 2:36-38). The righteous existed in first century Israel. Their conversion issue was joyful acceptance.
The sinners: these people knew they were in basic violation of God's law and will. Was God compassionate and merciful? Could Jesus' blood destroy their wickedness? Could God through forgiveness accept them? Their conversion issue was forgiveness.
The Pharisees: these people accepted Scripture and God's law as God's living word which revealed His purposes. For them, conversion issues took many forms. What was the Messiah's mission and purpose? How did his mission and purpose relate to their understanding of Scripture? How did that mission and purpose relate to their application of the law? Conversion issues focused on their interpretations and applications of God's word and law.
The Sadduccees: these people did not believe life after death existed. They also rejected the existence of angels and resurrection. (See Acts 23:8.) Conversion issues addressed questions and concerns about resurrection and life after death. Such issues would include the spiritual nature of the person, the existence of the soul, and God's means for rewarding the godly. They could not respond to a resurrected Savior unless they resolved those issues.
The proselytes: these people were not Jews by birth. In their past, they converted to Judaism. Their issues would arise from their understandings in Judaism. The men paid a great price for conversion to Judaism--circumcision. Among the issues would be these: can other men who are not Jews become God's children without the pain of circumcision? Can they become God's children without enduring contemptuous attitudes from people who were not Jews?
Certainly, everyone's conversion was based on faith in Jesus Christ. However, placing faith in Jesus Christ did not involve the same issues or concerns for everyone. The end result was faith in the one Savior. The avenues leading to that faith were different journeys for different people.
This only considers the variety of issues that existed among some of the Jews. First century Jews were a minority population in their world. The issues confronting those who honored the gods by worshipping idols involved different sets of complex issues.
"Now" conversion issues: what are some of the primary conversion issues of these people?
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 2, Lesson 4
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