Conversion

 

 

 

 

The sinful condition of men and the end awaiting them

 

The Scripture says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), therefore all men are slaves of sin because he who commits sin is a slave of it (John 8:34). And since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), men are dead in their trespasses and sins, I mean spiritually dead. Men walk according to the course of this evil world, according to the prince of the power of the air (Satan), they gratify the cravings of their sinful nature following its desires and thoughts (Ephesians 2:1-3). They walk after the flesh, they are carnally minded, and for this reason they cannot please God, who is holy (Romans 8:5-8). They are called children of disobedience for they refuse to obey God; and also children of wrath because the fierce anger of God is upon them for God hates all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5:5). Being slaves of sin, men are totally depraved, in their flesh there is no good, they are unable to do good works. God is disgusted with their conduct, as He was disgusted with men’s conduct in the days of Noah, as it is written: “God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12). His fury has come up in His face, and at the appointed time He will pour forth His fury upon this wicked world. On that day He will have no mercy on the wicked, He will break their teeth, upon the wicked He will rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this will be the portion of their cup (Psalm 11:6). Their iniquity is flattering their hearts, but in that day God will punish them for all their sins.

The torments of hell (Hades) are awaiting sinners immediately after death, in that God will cast them into hell, as it is written: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17), which is an awful place of torment located in the heart of the earth, without any order, a place of darkness where there is an unfanned fire, and where – as Jesus said – there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The story about the rich man and Lazarus, told by Jesus Christ, teaches us clearly that sinners go immediately to hell when they die and that in this place they are tormented with fire. Here is this important story: “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell [Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31). Sinners will remain in this place of torment till the day of judgement.

Then on that day they will rise again and stand before God to be judged according to their works and condemned to an endless shame and torment into the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Gehenna). This is what we read in the book of Revelation: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Hades] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell [Hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15), “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8), “and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

So, in the light of the Holy Scriptures, Gehenna differs from Hades in that Hades is a temporary place of torment, for souls only, while Gehenna is the eternal place of torment where sinners will spend eternity after the soul has been reunited with the body.

 

 

Man can be forgiven and saved

 

God is ready to forgive the sinner because He is full of compassion and merciful, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy. Man therefore has the possibility to escape judgement and divine condemnation. But in order to obtain the forgiveness of his sins, man must repent and turn to God, as it is written: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19 - NIV), and also: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

To repent means to be sorry and grieved for the evil one has done, and to turn to God means to forsake one’s evil ways and start walking the holy and righteous way, that is to say, to serve the true and living God bearing fruits worthy of repentance (works of righteousness). When the Ninivites believed Jonah, who announced to them the imminent judgement of God upon them because of their sins, they turned from their evil ways and God, seeing this, “repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10). As we can see, God had mercy on those souls because He saw that they repented and turned from their sins.

However it is important to make it clear that conversion to God implies faith in Jesus Christ. What does that mean? In other words, what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? It means that when the sinner repents and makes the decision to turn to God, in order to obtain the remission of his sins, must believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross and was raised again the third day. He must accept His death and resurrection by faith, even though he was not an eyewitness of those events in that they occurred many centuries ago. The Scripture speaks about them, and it is worthy of all acceptance whatever it states because it is given by inspiration of God, who cannot lie. So if a man believes in Jesus, he will be forgiven, as it is written: “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43 - NIV).

It is only by faith in Jesus Christ that men can obtain remission of sins. Good works cannot purify any man from sin. If good works could do that, Jesus Christ would have died in vain. It is wonderful to experience the remission of sins, it is a wonderful experience that all those who have turned to God had in the very moment they repented and turned to God. It is an experience that will remain in your mind for ever, and that you feel compelled to declare to others in the hope that they also may receive remission of sins by the grace of God.

 

 

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

 

I have just mentioned the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So let me say something else about these two events for it is only by faith in them that a man can be saved.

In the fullness of the time Jesus Christ (the Son of God, who was in the bosom of the Father before He came into the world) died “for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

As for His atoning sacrifice, it was foretold centuries before by the prophet Isaiah in these terms: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:5-12). As you can see, according to the Scripture, Jesus had to die that He might make atonement for our sins through the offering of His body. Perhaps you are wondering why His sacrifice was necessary for the atonement or remission of our sins. Well, the reason was this. Divine justice - God’s holy law - requires death as the penalty for sin. God chose to bind Himself by the principle of death for sin, thus without the shedding of blood (the giving of an innocent victim) there could be no release from this penalty and no restoration to fellowship with the Holy God. That’s why according to the law sins were atoned by the blood of animals, as it is written: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11), and those animals had to be perfect and pure in order to be accepted by God. However, those atoning sacrifices (or sin offerings) were only a shadow of the perfect atoning sacrifice of the Messiah – that’s why the blood of those animal sacrifices could not take away sins –, who was the Innocent Victim, that God foreordained before the foundation of the world. So Jesus of Nazareth, being the promised Messiah, had to shed His own blood for the atonement or remission of our sins. The death of animals was not sufficient to remit our sins, because we are much greater than they in that we were created in the image of God; neither could an ordinary person suffer the penalty in our place, for each one deserves eternal death for his own sins. Only a sinless person could atone for our sins, but there was none. So God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, who existed with Him in heaven from eternity and who was pure and innocent, in order to provide a suitable substitute. Jesus Christ was without sin for He was born without sin and lived a sinless life, and thus He could be a perfect substitute. Thus God provided a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins through the death of the sinless man Jesus Christ, as John wrote: “He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10 – NIV). Jesus was the “lamb without blemish and without spot, who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19-20) but was sacrificed in these last times for us, so that through His precious blood we might obtain the remission of our sins. His perfect sacrifice, in laying down His life for us, has fully met the holy and just requirements of God’s law. Christ suffered the penalty of sin on our behalf. God inflicted the penalty for sin on Christ, so that through His atoning death we might be forgiven and reconciled to God. He did not become a sinner, but He became the sin bearer, the sin offering, the sacrifice for our sins, as it is written: “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28 – NKJV), and again: “For He [God] made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 – NKJV). In the light of what the Scripture teaches, therefore, the death of Jesus Christ was the manifestation of the love of God toward us.

As for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it also was foretold by God centuries before it occurred, for David said concerning the Christ: “I have set the LORD always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [Hebrew: Sheol; Greek: Hades]; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:8-11). It is evident that David did not speak of himself but of the Christ, for the patriarch David died and was buried and saw corruption; but Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead, did not see corruption. David, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, he would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne; He foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. But why was the resurrection of Jesus Christ necessary to our salvation? To answer to this question I need to speak about certain things the High Priest had to do on the day of atonement with the blood of the sacrifices he offered for his own sins and for the sins of the people of Israel. Now on that particular day the High Priest had to offer some animals to make atonement (through their blood) for his own sins and for the sins of the Israelites; here is what is written in the law of Moses: “And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself: And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not: And he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastward; and before the mercy seat shall he sprinkle of the blood with his finger seven times. Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring his blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat” (Leviticus 16:11-15). Now, as you can see, the blood of both animals (the bullock and the goat) had to be brought by the High Priest within the veil, that is, into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled upon the mercy seat and before it. Those sin offerings, of course, were a shadow of the sacrifice of Christ, only a shadow, for the law has a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things (Hebrews 10:1). And in fact the blood of those sacrifices, which were offered year by year, could not take away sins from the conscience of the worshipers, while the blood of Jesus, which He offered once for all for our sins, can take away sins from the conscience of those who believe in Him. But let’s go back to the place where the blood of the sin offerings had to be brought by the High Priest after the killing of the goat of the sin offering and the bull of the sin offering on the day of atonement. The law says that the blood of those sin offerings had to be brought into the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary, which was a man-made sanctuary. Therefore, as the High Priest had to bring the blood of both the bull and the goat into the Most Holy Place, so Jesus, the High Priest of good things to come, after having offered Himself as a ransom for our sins, had to enter the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary which is in heaven (which is not man-made and of which the sanctuary on earth was only a copy), not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, to obtain eternal redemption for us. So He had to enter into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us. It is evident therefore that if Jesus after His death had to enter into heaven by means of His own blood in order to finish (or to complete) His work of redemption, He had to be raised from the dead as well. And that is what happened after three days; then after forty days He was taken up into heaven at the right hand of the Father. The Scripture says: “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12 - NKJV), and again: “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26 - NIV). That’s why the Scripture declares that the resurrection of Jesus took place “for our justification” (Romans 4:25), and also that if Christ has not been raised – as some say – our faith is vain and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Therefore Jesus Christ bore all our sins in His own body, and through His death we have been reconciled to God. The Just suffered for the unjust “that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). As Paul says to the saints of Colosse: “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:19-22). So it is very evident that if a man wants to be reconciled to God he must believe in the blood of Jesus Christ, as it is written that God has set forth Jesus Christ “to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26). There is no other way for a man to be reconciled to God, I say it again, no other way. A man can be reconciled to God only through faith in Jesus Christ, for it is only by faith that a man is justified.

 

 

Salvation is by grace and not by works

 

I have just said that a man is forgiven or justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from the good works of the law. So salvation is obtained only by the grace of God without any cooperation from man, without any human merit. That is a very important Biblical topic, I would say fundamental. There are many verses of the Scriptures which confirm it, I will mention just some of them: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9); “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7); “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of [in] Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid [Certainly not]: yea, we establish the law. What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Romans 3:21-31; 4:1-8); “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of [in] Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of [in] Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

So, as we have seen, according to the Holy Scriptures, good works cannot justify a man, only faith in Jesus can justify him. You may ask: ‘Why?’ Because the law was not given in order to justify men but to let them know sin and to make sin abound. So God, in the fullness of the time, sent His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of His Son. For we could be forgiven and reconciled to God only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the law of Moses (which was given many centuries before the coming of Jesus Christ) we have various shadows of His sacrifice. For instance the numerous sacrifices that had to be offered by the priests for their own sins and the sins of the people of Israel were a shadow (or a symbol) of the sacrifice of Christ, for through those sacrifices, offered year by year, the priests as well as the people were not purified from their sins for “in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4). This is the reason why Jesus had to come into the world and offer Himself on the cross for us, that through His precious blood our sins might be taken away. As the writer to the Hebrews says correctly: “And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:11-14). Here is the excellency of the sacrifice of Christ. For this reason His sacrifice is much better than the sacrifices prescribed by the law; because through His blood sins are taken away and the conscience is made perfect; neither of these things could be done by the blood of those imperfect sacrifices offered under the Old Testament. Blessed be His name for ever and ever. Amen.

Therefore, it is evident that since the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is perfect in that His blood takes away sins from the conscience of man, a man cannot obtain remission of sins or justification by his own merits or his own sacrifices and penances. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can take away sins from the conscience of a man. His sacrifice is sufficient for our salvation. So if a man believes on Him, he will be forgiven and reconciled to God. The just will live by his faith (and not by his works): that is the good news of the Grace of God.

 

 

The new birth

 

Saying that a person has repented and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, is the same as saying that he is born again because the new birth Jesus spoke about is experienced by a man when he repents and believes in Jesus Christ. But let us talk a bit more about the new birth. One night, Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…..Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:3,5-7). Therefore, the new birth is necessary in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Why? Because man is by nature dead in his sins and transgressions and thus is not worthy of entering the Kingdom of God (which is in heaven); he only deserves to go to hell because he is a sinner. Therefore he needs to be regenerated by God; in other words, he needs to be raised up spiritually, to be quickened by God, that he may receive spiritual life. When does the new birth take place? When a man repents of his sins and believes that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and raised from the dead for our justification. For in that very moment he is forgiven, his sins are remitted through the blood of Jesus Christ, and he becomes a person spiritually alive. He becomes a son of God, for “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12), a new person or a new creature, as it is written: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He has new wishes, a new mind and new purposes. He is indeed a new person inwardly.

And he has also eternal life, for Jesus said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47). He has the assurance that he has eternal life, so he is sure that when he dies he will go to heaven to be with Jesus, for Jesus said: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26), and also: “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:26). He has the assurance that he will not go to hell, in the fire of this horrible place in the heart of the earth where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, but to the paradise of God to be with Jesus, and thus he can say together with the apostles: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8) and also: “The Lord …. will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18 – NIV). Now, let me say something about paradise (or the heavenly kingdom). It is a wonderful place in heaven where are the throne of God and the throne of the Lamb, where there is a very great number of angels who worship day and night God and the Son of God at His right hand, and where there are all the saints of the past. In the Paradise of God there is much splendour, and so much joy and peace and comfort. This is why the born again Christian has the desire to depart from his body and be with Christ in heaven, for it is far better (Philippians 1:21-23). To God be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The new birth takes place by the power of the Word of God (in the words of Jesus to Nicodemus the Word is symbolized by the water) and of the Holy Spirit. A man is born again of the will of God, for it is written: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18), so we are born again not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

 

 

How people get converted

 

According to what the Scripture teaches, it is God who gives repentance to sinners, as it is written: “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18) and also: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25), and again: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30-31 - NKJV). Therefore, repentance is not a spiritual experience that takes place without God’s intervention, or because it is man who wants to repent apart from the will of God, but it is a spiritual experience given by God according to His own purpose. And the same thing must be said about conversion, because the Scripture teaches that God converts sinners, for when the prophet Elijah prayed to God on mount Carmel before the children of Israel, he said: “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (1 Kings 18:37 - NKJV). And if to all this we add the fact that faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), then the picture that comes out is that when a man repents, turns to the Lord, and believes in Jesus, it is because God wants and causes him to repent, turn to God and believe in Jesus. In other words, for so it seems good in His sight.

Men walk in darkness without knowing where they are going, they are under condemnation because they are guilty, they do not deserve to receive anything from God, but God decreed to save some of them by giving them repentance, by turning their hearts and by giving them faith in order to forgive and justify them. Of course, since God works all things after the counsel of His own will, not all believers are converted by Him at the same age and in the same way, therefore times, ways, and circumstances differ in the conversion of every believer.

Therefore each one of the elect has his own story. As for times, some of them turned to God when they were children, some when they were teen-agers, some in their middle-age, and some others in their old age.

As for ways and circumstances, some turned to God after they had a dream or a vision; some others after they eyewitnessed a healing or a resurrection of a dead person or they heard someone speaking in tongues (that is, speaking in their own language without understanding what he was saying). Some other people turned to God through the death of one of their relatives or friends, or in the midst of a great trouble, or just after they saw the change worked by God in the life of someone, therefore without seeing a dream, or a vision, or a healing, or a miracle or a sign. Then there are those who turned to God after reading a particular passage in the Bible, or after someone announced to them the Gospel, so even in these cases without seeing healings, miracles, signs and wonders. Others have turned to God through other ways and circumstances.

This shows that God works in man according to the counsel of His will. There is nothing new under the sun, because we can see this by reading the various conversions recorded in the Bible. Not all the believers in the days of the apostles had turned to God after eyewitnessing the resurrection of a dead person or a healing, or a sign, and not all of them had turned to God through a vision of Jesus Christ as Saul of Tarsus.

Nevertheless, the most important thing is not how God leads a person to conversion, which is anyway important because even this is a work of God, but conversion itself. Furthermore, we must say that in the eyes of God a conversion occurred through a heavenly vision is not more important than a conversion occurred simply by reading a Bible verse on a mountain or in a cave or while in prison; not at all, every conversion is precious in the sight of God, for conversion is in every case worked by the Spirit of God who, after convicting him of sin, draws him to Christ the Saviour, who forgives him of all his sins and delivers him from this wicked world.

 

 

The purpose of God according to election

 

Salvation does not depend on man’s desire or effort but on God’s mercy, so when a person comes to Jesus and is saved, that happens by the will of God and not by the will of man, for one day Jesus said to the Jews: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44) and also: “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65). This is confirmed by what Luke says in the Acts of the apostles about those Gentiles in Antioch of Pisidia who believed in the Lord, for he says: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48); as well as by these words of Paul to the saints of Colosse: “Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Colossians 1:12 - NKJV), and also by these words to the Philippians: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). So if a sinner believes in the Lord Jesus Christ it is because God, who works all things after the counsel of His own will, decreed before the foundation of the world to have mercy on him and at His appointed time He gave him repentance and faith in order to fulfil His purpose. Therefore God not only knew that person one day would believe but also worked that he might believe. Of course, the sinner doesn’t know anything about the purpose of God for him, but God with His power and wisdom draws him to Christ. (The sinner will learn about God’s purpose according to election after his conversion by reading the Scriptures or by hearing his pastor teaching on this important truth concerning salvation). That’s why Paul says to the Romans: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16). Therefore, a man is not saved because he deserves to receive something good from God, or because God knew that one day he would behave godly, not at all, but because God decreed before the foundation of the world to have mercy on him, that is to say, because He predestined him to be saved. Paul expresses this doctrine in a wonderful way when he says to the Romans: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30), but also when he says to the Ephesians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (Ephesians 1:3-8). Glory be to God for ever. Amen. Paul himself is a clear example of a man predestinated by God to obtain mercy from God, for he says to the Galatians that it pleased God, who separated him from his mother’s womb and called him through his grace, to reveal His Son in him (Galatians 1:15-16), Ananias told Paul that God chose him that he should know his will and see the Just One and hear the voice of His mouth (Acts 22:14).

That salvation depends on God’s decree and not on man’s will or man’s desire is clearly confirmed by the Scripture through the example of Esau and Jacob, for it is written: “When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:10-13). Of course, someone at this point might say that there is some unrighteousness with God, but that is not true because God said to Moses: “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (Exodus 33:19). Therefore, God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden. Do you remember the king of Egypt? God hardened his heart, didn’t He? Remember that God is the potter and has power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor. He, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to [prepared for] destruction: and willing to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, He has called and justified us. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

 

 

Some conversions recorded in the Bible

 

Let us consider now some of the conversion stories recorded in the Bible.

On the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit was poured upon the disciples, Peter preached to the Jews who had gathered together and about three thousand of them turned to the Lord. Here is the sermon of Peter and the story of their conversion: “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [Hades], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell [Hades], neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward [perverse] generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:22-41)

An Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, turned to God after he heard the Gospel from the evangelist Philip: “And the [an] angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:26-39)

Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers, turned to God as he was going to Damascus to persecute the saints, and his conversion took place through a heavenly vision in which Jesus Christ appeared to him and spoke to him. Here is the story of his conversion told by Saul himself before the Jews in Jerusalem: “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:3-16).

Cornelius, a Roman centurion, was God-fearing and was saved as the apostle Peter was preaching the Gospel to him and all his family. Here is the story of his conversion told by Luke: “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do. And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually; And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. Now while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made enquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, And called, and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them. Then Peter went down to the men which were sent unto him from Cornelius; and said, Behold, I am he whom ye seek: what is the cause wherefore ye are come? And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. Then called he them in, and lodged them. And on the morrow Peter went away with them, and certain brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and had called together his kinsmen and near friends. And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. And as he talked with him, he went in, and found many that were come together. And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. Therefore came I unto you without gainsaying, as soon as I was sent for: I ask therefore for what intent ye have sent for me? And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee. Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days” (Acts 10:1-48).

All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord after they saw a healing worked by Peter in the name of Jesus Christ: “And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda. And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy. And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole: arise, and make thy bed. And he arose immediately. And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:32-35)

Many people who lived in Joppa turned to the Lord after they heard that God had raised Tabitha to life, as it is written: “Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:36-42)

Sergius Paulus was a Roman proconsul who turned to Christ after he heard the Gospel and saw with his own eyes a terrible judgement of God upon a false prophet. Here is the biblical account of his conversion: “And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-jesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:6-12).

Lydia was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, and she turned to God in the city of Philippi through the preaching of Paul, as it is written: “Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us” (Acts 16:11-15).

The jailer in Philippi (together with his family) turned to God after a terrible earthquake sent by God, as it is written: “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16:16-34).

 

 

Water baptism

 

As we have seen, in some of the above mentioned conversion stories recorded in the book of the Acts of the apostles it is written that believers were baptized in water (I want to make it clear that the fact that in some of those stories water baptism is not mentioned, does not mean that those particular believers were not baptized in water, but it simply means that God did not inspire Luke to write that they were baptized but actually they were baptized as all the others). Why were they baptized? Because Jesus Christ, before He was received up into heaven, gave this commandment to His apostles: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus said to His disciples these words also: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). Therefore water baptism was to be ministered to those who believed in the Gospel (therefore not to infants for they were not able to believe), it was to be ministered by immersion (and not by sprinkling) and in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And this is what the apostles and the evangelist Philip did. And that’s exactly what must be done and is being done still today.

Now, it is evident that since water baptism follows faith, and the remission of sins is obtained by faith in Jesus, water baptism does not forgive sins. I express this concept with these other words: it was not by water baptism that we were saved, because when we were baptized we were already saved, it was not by water baptism that we were forgiven because when we were baptized we were already forgiven; it was not by water baptism that we were born again, because when we were baptized we were already born again.

Then, what is the meaning of water baptism? What is water baptism? We find the answer to these questions in the Bible.

Peter says that baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21 - NASB), so through it we obtained a good conscience toward God. I remember that after I was born again, I wanted to be baptized in water because I felt inside me the need to have a good conscience toward God. I was saved, I was sure to be a child a God, yet I knew that water baptism was useful and needful in order to have a good conscience before God.

Paul says to the Romans: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Therefore, according to these words, water baptism represents our death with Christ and our resurrection with Him, which took place before baptism, precisely on the very moment we believed in the name of the Son of God. Through water baptism we openly testified to the world and to Satan that we have died to sin, we have died to this world, but also that we have been raised spiritually in order to live for Jesus Christ.

 

 

The fellowship with other believers

 

 

On the day of Pentecost, after the about three thousand souls believed and were baptized by the apostles, they were added to the early disciples, “and they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved [those who were being saved]” (Acts 2:42-47).

From these words (as well as from many other words written in the New Testament) we learn that a man after his conversion must attend a Church of God which is in Jesus Christ. A Church is an assembly of people who have experienced the new birth and thus have become children of God through their faith in Jesus Christ. It is conducted by a pastor and some elders (some church have only elders), who care for the believers feeding them with the Word of God, comforting them, admonishing them, leading them in right ways, etc.

So the new born baby (he is called in this way by the Scripture) is called to attend the Church’s meetings, during which he will learn more things concerning the kingdom of God through the preaching and teaching of the word of God done with the Holy Spirit, power and much assurance by those appointed in the Lord. So he will become stronger, he will grow in faith, in the grace of God, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, the new converted person must pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with other believers (with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart). In other words he must live a holy life to the glory of God.

 

 

The pursuit of holiness

 

Inasmuch as a believer is a person who repented and turned to the Lord from his evil ways, and believed in the Gospel, he must bear fruits worthy of repentance. That means that he must live a holy, godly and right life, that is to say, He must stop serving iniquity and serve righteousness, for the apostle Paul says to Titus: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11-14), and to the Romans: “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:18-23).

So every born again person must understand that we are not free to do whatever we want. We were set free to serve righteousness and holiness. Every believer must flee the works of the flesh, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. He must no longer love and practice falsehood. Dance, movies, television, pornography and many other things belonging to this evil world must be avoided in order to please God. Women must not wear mini-skirts, trousers, and other clothes which are indecent. I could go on, but I stop here. Read my treatise on sanctification.

The pursuit of holiness is so important that the Scripture states that without holiness no man shall see God (Hebrews 12:14). Do not be deceived into thinking that you will be happy and full of peace even if you walk and live after the flesh, for the Scripture states very clearly: “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13).

 

 

The possibility of falling away

 

The Holy Scripture clearly teaches that if a believer denies His Lord and Saviour (that is, if he commits the sin unto death), he will lose his salvation and go to perdition. Several passages of the Scripture support this important teaching.

In the epistle to the Hebrews it is written: “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth [that is, if we commit the sin unto death which is a sin of which it is impossible to repent], there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31), and also: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:4-8), and again: “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (Hebrews 10:36-38 - NIV). The apostle Paul says to Timothy: “If we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12), and to the saints of Rome, who were Gentiles by birth: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Romans 11:22), and also: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:12-13). Jesus Christ, speaking about the vine (He Himself is the vine) and the branches of the vine (the believers), said: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:5-6).

The Holy Scripture not only states that believers can fall away, but also that there are some who fall away. Here are some passages of the Scripture which show this.

When Jesus explained what the seed which fell on rock is, He said these words: “They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13). As you can see, they once believed in Jesus Christ, thus they were saved in that salvation is obtained by faith as it is written: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31) and also: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9), but afterward, when persecution and tribulation came because of the Word, they fell away. They believed only for a time, not until the end.

The writer to the Hebrews, just after saying that the just will live by faith and if he draws back God will not be pleased with him, says: “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39). As you can see, the writer affirms the existence of people who draw back to perdition. It is evident that he is speaking about former believers in Jesus Christ.

The apostle Peter in his second epistle speaks about the false teachers who are in the midst of the Church and says about them: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell [tartarus], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;): The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:1-22). Please note carefully these expressions: “even denying the Lord that bought them”, “cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness”, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them”. For all these words clearly affirm somehow that these false teachers once were saved, and thus they were children of God. They had been bought by the Lord, thus they were His own property; they once chose the right way, but afterward they went astray following the way of Balaam; they had escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Jesus but afterward they were again entangled in them and overcome; they had known the way of righteousness, that is, the way of salvation, but afterward they turned from the holy commandment (“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). After death these false teachers will go to Hades, and in the day of judgement they will rise again to be judged, condemned, and cast into the lake of fire.

Therefore, stand fast in the faith, live a holy and godly life, do good to everybody especially to those of the household of faith, be patient and sober, pray without ceasing and read always the Holy Scripture and meditate upon it; fight the good fight of faith, resisting the devil, unto the end, “for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).

 

 

Some words of exhortation

 

Brother in the Lord, I exhort you to rejoice in the Lord and to praise the Lord for the conversion you have experienced by the grace of God. Proclaim it to everybody, make it known to others, because God does not want you to keep silent. Tell people how God had mercy on you. But I exhort you also to stand fast in the faith unto the end, so that you may receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.

“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward” (Hebrews 10:35), says the Scripture.

 

 

A warning

 

The Scripture tells us that in the days of the apostles there were false brethren, for the apostle Paul said that he had been “in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26) and that in Jerusalem “neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:3-5). As you can see, the false brethren tried by their craftiness to bring Paul under the power of the law, from which Christ has redeemed us. The same thing happens today through false brethren who infiltrate the Churches, for they try to lay upon the saints some precepts of the law of Moses in order to bring them into the bondage of the law.

Paul confirmed the existence of false brethren also when he spoke about the false apostles who were among the Church in Corinth. Here is what Paul said: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). As you can see, Paul calls them ‘deceitful workers’ and ‘ministers of Satan’, for their works bear witness of their nature and character. Likewise, even today there are false apostles among the Church and these people are known by their deceitful conduct for they are workers of scandals, adulterers, thieves, railers, dissolute people, bearers of false doctrines into the Church, etc.

Therefore, brethren, take heed to yourselves, and beware of false brethren. Do not yield subjection to them, nor be deceived by their flattering speeches, oppose them to their face, and refute their false doctrines publicly and privately and censure their deceitful conduct vigorously.

 

Giacinto Butindaro

 

 

 

 

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