By Your Choice and God's Work
One popular, but erroneous, view of salvation says that man does nothing to be saved, but that God chose before time began all the ones who will ever be saved, then grants faith to those whom He predestined for salvation by sending the Holy Spirit into the heart of that predestined individual, and secures salvation for that predestined individual until the end, never allowing him to sin, or at least overlooking whatever sins he may commit so that his salvation can never be taken away or forfeited. I repeat: It is popular, but it is erroneous. There is not one example within the Scriptures of an individual being saved in such manner as was just described.
But what we do find in the Scriptures, particularly in the book of Acts, are several examples of conversion. A study of those conversions is beneficial for anyone today, for it is by considering the series of events that led to their conversion that we can learn what all men must do in order to be saved. We find examples of conversions in the following passages: Acts 2:11-41; Acts 3:12-4:4; Acts 8:5-13; Acts 8:26-39; Acts 9:1-18 (Acts 22:6-16); Acts 10:1-48; Acts 13:6-12; Acts 13:44-48; Acts 16:13-15; Acts 16:25-34; Acts 17:1-4; Acts 17:22-34; and Acts 18:5-8. An honest and complete examination of all of these examples of conversion will give a true and full picture of what must take place for one to be saved, and I will reiterate that not one example shows a conversion in the manner such as was noted in the opening paragraph and which is commonly taught today in churches across this country and around the world. Shouldn’t that tell us something, when a preacher or religious leader outlines a plan for a man being saved that is not to be found within the boundary of the Scriptures?
Today, let’s take a brief look at just one of those examples of conversion — the Ethiopian eunuch — to see what must actually take place for one to be converted from a sinner to a child of God. In considering that example, we will see some basic principles of conversion that clearly refute this popular but erroneous doctrine about how a man is saved.
Seeking the Truth. In the example of the Ethiopian eunuch, we find him traveling on a return trip to Ethiopia after having been in Jerusalem (Acts 8:27, 28). The fact that he had traveled all the way to Jerusalem from Ethiopia [a distance of approximately 1300 miles] just to worship tells us this man had a great interest in knowing what God’s word said. When Philip met him, he was “reading Isaiah the prophet,” further demonstrating his interest in God’s word. Maybe he had heard something while in Jerusalem that had sparked further interest, and he was trying to learn more about what he had heard? We don’t know, but we do know that he was interested; he was seeking the truth.
This is indeed the first factor that must be a part of anyone’s conversion: a desire for the truth. It is a given if one does not want to hear the truth of their condition, or has no desire to hear about sin, salvation, the Judgment, and eternity, he will never be converted. The truth is, God is not going to save anyone who does not want to be saved. There is no example within Scripture of anyone being saved without them desiring to be saved.
Hearing/Reading and Understanding the Truth. God’s word plainly tells us, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17); while many claim faith comes by a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures do not teach such, and there is not a single example of a conversion where that happened, either — just as we would expect.
For this Ethiopian eunuch, his reading of the Scriptures was necessary, but it was also necessary that he understand what he was reading. When Philip came to him, he asked the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30); the eunuch did not pretend understanding, and neither did he send Philip on his way while he awaited that miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit so many teach would happen. It didn’t happen. What happened was, when the eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31) and asked Philip to come up and sit with him in the chariot, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:32-35).
This merely illustrates the reality of what Jesus expected when He sent the apostles out into the world to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15); He expected some would hear the gospel and would be convicted by that message, for He then said that, after hearing the gospel “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). But anyone who desires salvation must first hear [or read] the gospel plan conceived by God, and he must understand it.
Jesus Must Be Preached. As noted already, when Philip came to the Ethiopian eunuch and found him reading Isaiah, but not understanding of whom the prophet spoke, Philip began at the passage he was reading and “preached Jesus to him.” I cannot emphasize it enough that without the preaching of Jesus, no one can be saved! Jesus is the central message of the gospel!
When Paul reminded the brethren at Corinth that it was by that gospel preached to them “you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you” (1 Cor. 15:1, 2), and then briefly outlined the gospel message as the basic truths we probably all know: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” and that there were over 500 witnesses to His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8).
It should be noted at this point, and especially when considering this example of conversion, that somewhere in the preaching of Jesus was the subject of baptism and the necessity of one being baptized in order to obtain that precious salvation.
Belief and Baptism. We know this, for this is the logical and necessary conclusion that must be made after hearing that Philip “preached Jesus to him,” and when they came to some water, the eunuch said to Philip, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). Why else would the eunuch ask that question after Philip “preached Jesus to him”?
Philip answered, “If you believe with all your heart, you may” (Acts 8:37). I realize some early manuscripts do not have this verse, but the same is taught in other passages (Mark 16:16, Acts 16:31-34), so any debate is essentially irrelevant. No one really argues about the necessity of belief in Jesus as the Christ (Rom. 10:9, 10). But we must also note that, upon the confession of faith by the eunuch, “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:38).
In almost every example of conversion in the New Testament we find, at minimum, the preaching of the gospel, belief in the gospel, and obedience to the gospel message in baptism. It is in the act of baptism, Paul wrote, that we are “raised with Him through faith in the working of God…And you, being dead in your trespasses…He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:12, 13). That is, if, in the act of being baptized, you have faith that God will do what He promised, He will raise you up with Christ and He will do the work of forgiving you of your sins.
Have you been converted? — Steven Harper