All posts by Jon Mitchell

Lessons From The Conversions Of The Samaritans And John’s Disciples — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: May/June, 2019)

Seven men “of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” were set before the apostles by the assembly of Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. Out of the thousands of followers in the holy city, these seven were set apart to be put over the “duty” of “serving tables,” making sure that no Hellenistic widows “were being neglected in the daily distribution” of food. After prayer, the apostles “laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:1-6). Considered by many today to be during this infancy stage of the church the prototypes for the deacons who would later come, these seven men were instrumental in helping keep peace in the first church of Christ in the history of Christianity as it faced its first internal problem on scriptural record.

Two of these seven men were Stephen and Philip. Stephen would immediately be cited by Luke as the first disciple outside of the apostles who “was doing great wonders and signs among the people” (v. 8). By the end of chapter 7, he would meet a violent end at the hands of the enemies of Christ for his preaching of the gospel, including a man named Saul of Tarsus who held his murderer’s coats and went on to “ravage” the church, dragging male and female followers of Christ from their homes and throwing them into prison (Acts 8:3). Stephen’s martyrdom prompted “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 2). And yet…the gospel was not silenced. The disciples fleeing persecution still “went about preaching the word” (v. 4). Philip was among them.

He “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ” (v. 5). His preaching received great attention from the Samaritan crowds as they heard him “and saw the signs that he did,” such as the exorcism of unclean spirits and the healing of the paralyzed and lame (v. 7).

Luke then informs us of Simon, a known magician in that area whom the people likened to the power of God and had a great following due to amazing the crowds with his magic (vs. 9-11). Yet in spite of his former fame, the Samaritans “believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” and “were baptized, both men and women” (v. 12). Simon himself believed and was baptized, afterwards continuing on with Philip and being amazed as he saw “signs and great miracles performed” (v. 13).

When the apostles in Jerusalem “heard that Samaria had received the word of God,” Peter and John made the journey there and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 14-15). The reason they did this as stated by Luke was this: “For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 16). As they had done with Philip, Stephen, and the rest of the seven earlier in chapter 6, these two apostles “laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This prompted Simon the magician, upon observing that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands,” to offer them money with the plea, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (vs. 18-19). This prompted Peter to rebuke him for thinking he “could obtain the gift of God with money” (v. 20). He indicted Simon’s heart as not being “right before God,” and urged him to repent and pray that God would possibly forgive the intent of his heart (vs. 21-23). Simon in turned asked Peter to pray for him (v. 24).

There are several points worthy of note in Luke’s account of the Samaritans’ conversions. Perhaps most relevant to the Christian is Peter’s directive to Simon to repent and pray that God would forgive him of his sin (v. 22). Simon’s earlier conversion was spoken of as genuine (v. 13). Thus, we learn that a saved soul can in fact still sin in such a way as to be in danger of condemnation (cf. 1 John 1:8, 10; Heb. 10:26-31). Yet, we also learn that God’s forgiveness is still readily available to the Christian who sins if they continually repent and pray for forgiveness (v. 22; cf. 1 John 1:7-9; 2 Cor. 7:9-11).

The Samaritans’ conversions also teach us something important about miraculous gifts given by the Holy Spirit. The apostles had made the trip to Samaria after hearing of the Samaritans’ baptisms for the specific purpose of praying for them and laying their hands on them in order for them to receive the Spirit (vs. 14-17). Simon himself saw that “the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (vs. 18-19). This is significant because it teaches us how some early Christians were given miraculous spiritual gifts.

I call your attention back to Stephen, Philip, and the rest of the seven chosen from the Jerusalem church to be over the feeding of the widows (Acts 6:1-6). In order to be chosen for this work, they had to have already been “full of the Spirit” (vs. 3, 5a). This had occurred when they had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38), a promise made to all whom God would call through the gospel (Acts 2:39; 5:32; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14). Yet notice that there is no mention of them — or anyone else other than the apostles — performing any miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands upon them (v. 6). Only then do we read of disciples other than the apostles performing miracles, particularly Stephen (v. 8) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7). The rest of the New Testament teaches this also (cf. Acts 19:6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6). Interestingly, the description of the Spirit “falling” upon people as is mentioned in the case of the Samaritans (8:16) is used in Scripture only in reference to people receiving miraculous power (10:44-46; 11:15; cf. 2:1-4). Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that while the Samaritans upon their baptism had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised in Acts 2:38-39, the Spirit had not yet “fallen” upon them resulting in giving them miraculous gifts and would not do so until the apostles had laid their hands upon them (Acts 8:14-17).

This is relevant to answering the question of whether miracles take place today. Paul had prophesied that the miraculous spiritual gifts he had described to Corinth (1 Cor. 12:1-11) would cease “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10). “Perfect” (teleios) refers to that which is complete or mature and is used elsewhere to refer to the New Testament (Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:25). Historically, within a few years of the New Testament’s completion all of the apostles, as well as all those on whom they laid their hands and gave miraculous spiritual gifts, were deceased. Thus, no human being has been given miraculous power from God today. Such has been the case for almost two thousand years.

One final lesson of importance can be learned from the Samaritans’ conversion, but to fully grasp it would do us good to first examine another conversion in Acts: that of John’s twelve disciples (Acts 19:1-7). By this time Saul of Tarsus had been converted to Christianity and had become the apostle Paul. During his missionary travels, he found some disciple in Ephesus (v. 1). These disciples informed Paul that they had not heard of the Holy Spirit (v. 2), prompting him to ask about their baptism (v. 3; cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). They informed him that they had been baptized “into John’s baptism” (v. 3). Apparently they, like Apollos during this same time period (Acts 18:25), were only familiar with the baptism of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. And just as Aquila and Priscilla had taken Apollos aside and “explained to him the way of God more accurately” concerning baptism (Acts 18:26), Paul likewise taught them the difference between John’s baptism and baptism in the name of Jesus before baptizing them in Jesus’ name and bestowing upon them miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of his hands (19:4-6).

There is much this episode can teach us about baptism (literally immersion in the Greek). For one, there were similarities and yet also distinct differences between John’s immersion and the immersion in the name of Christ commanded after Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were correlated with repentance (Acts 19:4; Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 2:38). Both baptisms were done in water (John 3:23; Acts 8:36-39). Yet John’s immersion was commanded by him during the time before Christ died, whereas the immersion in the name of Christ is baptism “into His death” (Rom. 6:3), thus making John’s baptism not able to meet that spiritual goal since it was commanded before Christ died.

This brings to mind the fact that immersion in Jesus’ name — the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 — is done for more reasons than just the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Remember, John’s baptism was also for forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), yet Paul still considered it lacking and thus “re-baptized” those twelve men. Since many ask the often legitimate question of “Should I be baptized again?”, it would be good to review all the purposes given in scripture for baptism in Jesus’ name.

In addition to forgiveness of sins, the purpose of baptism in Jesus’ name (Acts 2:38) is to bring one into the possession of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A study of the Greek terminology used in Matthew 28:19 shows this to be the literal meaning of the phrase “in the name of” used in that passage. Obtaining salvation is another purpose of the one baptism (Mark 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21), one synonymous with forgiveness. Being born again, “of water and the Spirit,” is another purpose of the one baptism in Jesus’ name (John 3:3-5; cf. Acts 2:38; Tit. 3:5).   Participating in the spiritual circumcision as a sign one is part of God’s chosen people in the new covenant is another purpose of the one baptism (Col. 2:11-13; cf. Rom. 2:28-29; James 1:1; Gal. 6:16).

Alluded to earlier, being baptized into Christ and thus into His death via burial in baptism to rise to a new life, causing one to be “clothed” with Christ, is another purpose of the one baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27). Further examination must be given to what it means to be baptized “into Christ” because it gives us the next scriptural purpose of baptism, which is to be baptized into His body (1 Cor. 12:13). The church is called Christ’s body which fills Him (Eph. 1:22-23). Paul goes on to refer to that body as “one body” (Eph. 4:4) before identifying it again as the church of which Jesus is the Savior (Eph. 5:23). Thus, to be baptized “into Christ” means to be baptized “into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13)…Christ’s body, His church which fills Him, of which there is only one.

This brings us back to the Samaritans’ baptism as we read that they had first believed the “good news about the kingdom of God” before being baptized (Acts 8:12).   God’s kingdom was prophesied to come during the lifetimes of Jesus’ disciples (Dan. 2:44; Mk. 9:1). When asked about the kingdom, Christ pointed towards the establishment of His church on Pentecost (Acts 1:6-8; 2:1-47). After Pentecost, it was always spoken of as presently existing, with Christians as its inhabitants (Col. 1:13; 1 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 1:6, 9). Thus, Christ’s church — His body, the “one body” (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13) — is the kingdom of God. To be baptized into Christ is to be baptized into His body, His one church, His kingdom.

Paul’s conversion of the twelve disciples of John teaches us much about baptism in Jesus’ name. The Samaritans’ conversion also teaches us about the one baptism, as well as miraculous spiritual gifts and God’s directives on how Christians who sin can still be forgiven. It is my prayer that our study of these conversions, as well as this issue’s study of the conversions in Acts overall, has strengthened your faith and encouraged you to bring the gospel to others.

— Jon

Christianity As A New Way To Live — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

People today often think of religion as a list of requirements with things to do and other things to avoid. If we surveyed the typical person on the street, they might say that religion is concerned with a person’s behavior. If we were to travel back two thousand years, the average person would give a very different response. Religion in the ancient world focused mainly upon responsibilities involving rituals and religious observances. It had very little to say about a person’s everyday behavior. Interestingly enough, neither definition accurately describes the Christian’s faith.

Christianity represented a bold new way of life built upon the same moral precepts as Judaism. Unlike religions of the time, the teachings of Christ and his inspired apostles prescribed an ethical code normally found only in the work of philosophers. Because of this fact, some scholars believe that Christianity only loosely fits the definition of religion when considered in its first-century context. Simply put, it was a new faith with a revolutionary perspective on the meaning of living.

The Value of Human Life. Compared to those who followed pagan religions of the time, Christianity offered an elevated view of human life. Indeed, Christianity was the world’s first system of belief (or philosophy) that advocated the inherent value of human life. Thus, for the ancients, slaves would be tortured when giving evidence in a trial under the assumption that they would only tell the truth under such conditions. Orphans, slaves, prisoners of war, and anyone with a congenital disability had no claims to human rights.

An especially noteworthy concern was infant exposure. Usually caring people seem to have felt little reluctance about ridding themselves of an unwanted newborn. Around 1 BC, a Roman soldier named Hilarion sent a letter to his pregnant wife. He expresses his tender affection for her, yet also tells her to keep the child if it happened to be a boy, but “cast it out” if it happened to be a girl. It is even more striking when we consider that the fate of these discarded children was often to be picked up by those who would sell them as slaves, many of whom would be put to use as prostitutes in brothels. A few Roman writers argued against infant exposure but made no attempt to stop it. Christian and Jewish writers universally condemned the practice.

Violent Sport. Combat sports are among the earliest in the history of human civilization. Evidence from ancient Sumer indicates the popularity of wrestling in both art and literature. This continued in Greece in various games in the Olympics, where competitors fought with a brutality that would shock most moderns. Boxing matches regularly resulted in serious injury. Pankration—a particularly violent combat sport with almost no rules—ended when one of the combatants either submitted or died.

In the Roman Empire, spectators enjoyed gladiatorial combat. These contests often used slaves captured and trained to fight. Crowds packed ancient arenas to watch gladiators battle one another. While not always lethal, gladiatorial combat featured the violent death of at least some participants. Participants—many of whom were prisoners of war—did not use Roman equipment, but wore armor that signified them as foreigners. This is unsurprising when considered in light of ancient attitudes against those from foreign cultures (contra Lev. 19:33-34; Ps. 146:9; Gal. 3:14, 28).

Human sexuality. One of the most striking concerns of Christianity was an emphasis on the holiness of human sexuality and the expectation of a consistent standard for men and women (1 Cor. 7:2-4). Ancient society held wives to a strict standard of sexual behavior but permitted men in general—including husbands—a great deal of latitude. One famous example of this double standard appears in the fourth century BC Greek orator Demosthenes, in which he says that men have concubines for pleasure, female slaves for daily needs (to express it rather crudely), and wives to produce “legitimate children” and manage the home.

The apostle Paul demands that husbands treat their wives, as well as those of other men, honorably (1 Thess. 4:3-8). He makes this an essential qualification for elders. If his reference to a “man of one woman” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Tit. 1:6) is understood in light of the cultural background, then leaders in the church were forbidden to behave as their pagan neighbors, seeking sexual experiences with women other than their own wives (Gen. 1:27; Heb. 13:4). This insistence upon a single standard for sexual behavior both elevated the status of women and underscored the sanctity of the marriage relationship in a culture that gave little thought to men having extramarital sex with slaves and prostitutes. Of all the religions of the ancient world (excepting Judaism), Christianity empowered women with the right to expect fidelity from their husbands.

Christianity’s Universal Standards. Some Roman writers argued for a moral standard that resembled Christianity in many ways. We should expect this to be the case. Every person loves friends and family, admires discipline and charity, and hopes to see justice prevail when injustices occur. The important difference here, however, is that ancient writers did not argue for universal acceptance of the principles they advocated. This expectation seems to have applied to their students specifically. Christians expected everyone to be treated equally as every person, regardless of the culture in which they live, serves as an image-bearer of God.

The New Testament prescribes a life of distinction. The Christian life must be characterized by moral excellence and in a way that noticeable to others. Jesus made this clear when describing believers using the metaphors of salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). Christians should conduct themselves so that they not only reflect the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31) but so that they attract others to live the same glorious life.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX. He serves as a staff writer for Apologetics Press and the Apologia Institute, and as a professional associate for the Associates for Biblical Research.

Paul’s Converts At Athens And Corinth — Chase Green

The cities of Athens and Corinth are located on opposite ends of a small isthmus in Southern Greece. Together, they made up two of Greece’s most important commercial centers. Thus, Paul’s missionary activities in these two cities were an important stepping stone in spreading Christianity to Greece and beyond.

When Paul arrived at Athens, he found the city wholly consumed with idolatry (Acts 17:16). This must have been disconcerting, for he had just come from Berea where those noble people had readily received the Word and searched the Scriptures daily to see if they were being taught the truth (v. 11). Athens, on the other hand, would be much more difficult to influence.

Of import in verse 17 is that Paul “disputed” in the synagogue with the Jews and other devout idolaters, and daily in the marketplace. There are those among us today who claim that we must avoid confrontation at all costs, even at the expense of truth. This cannot be true because we read repeatedly in the Bible about the importance of contending for the Truth (Jude 3; Acts 9:29; Neh. 13:11, 17, 25). There is a difference between the sinful, prideful contentions (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:11) and proper contention for the sake of truth.

Thus, Paul made it a point to confront Athens’ idolatry. Paul also had to deal with the vain philosophies of men. Those of the hedonistic Epicurean and philomathic Stoic faiths confronted Paul with implied intent to humiliate him (v. 18). To their credit, though, these groups were genuinely curious about hearing “some new thing,” Christianity (vs. 19-21). Thus, Paul seized the opportunity to preach Christ.

From the middle of Mars Hill, a craggy prominence also known as the Areopagus, Paul addressed the crowd: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious (or “superstitious,” KJV); for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you” (vs. 22-23).

Of course, their understanding of the unknown God and Paul’s understanding quite differed. These men were, to their credit, highly aware of the need to worship someone, but instead of worshipping the one true God and Him alone, they worshipped anything and everything – so much so that they wanted to make sure that they didn’t accidentally leave someone out! Paul took this opportunity to point out to them that they had, in fact, left Someone out.

Paul made an interesting comment in verse 23 about this Someone “whom you ignorantly worship” (KJV). The reader does not need to confuse this “worship” of sorts with worship done in spirit and truth, the acceptable worship that we read about in John 4:24. Rather, Paul is saying that, by their altar to an unknown God, they had inadvertently acknowledged the existence of the one true God even though they didn’t know Him personally.

Then in verses 24-25, Paul gave a resounding condemnation of idolatry when he said, “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things…” In other words, the one true God is not a physical being made with men’s hands, like the idols to which the Athenians were accustomed. No, the God by whom we all are made (v. 28) is not “gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (v. 29).

In verse 30, the extent to which God overlooked some things is admittedly not understood by this author. Yet one does not have to understand this perfectly to know that now God “commands all men everywhere to repent.” Why? “Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (v. 31).

As Paul’s sermon concluded, some of these philosophers utterly dismissed Paul, mocking him because of his teaching about the resurrection (v. 32). Thankfully, however, there were others who said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” Verse 34 tells us that “some men joined him and believed.” Although baptism and the other steps in conversion are not mentioned, when taken in conjunction with the rest of the book of Acts (and the rest of the New Testament for that matter), it is implied here that “believed” is a metonymy for the entire conversion process. There is simply too much New Testament evidence for the necessity of repentance, confession, and baptism to conclude otherwise.

Moving on from Athens, Paul next visited Corinth (Acts 18:1). It is here that Paul was introduced to the Jewish converts Aquila and Priscilla, who like Paul were tent makers by trade (vs. 2-3). We learn in 1 Corinthians 16:19 that there was a congregation that met in their house. Paul referred to them as his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:3).  Evidently, Aquila and Priscilla were very knowledgeable in the Word, for they helped to explain to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (v. 26).

In Acts 18:4, we learn that Paul reasoned with and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. This is the job of every gospel preacher. Paul would later write: “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). In preaching, the stakes are high, and thus we must not take it lightly.

In verses 5-6, we find that sometimes a preacher must no longer waste his time preaching to an audience who has made up their mind to reject the truth. Paul shook his raiment, reminiscent of what Christ had told the apostles to do in Matthew 10:14. Paul would not be responsible for the fate of this rebellious group. They had judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life” (cf. Acts 13:46). Thus, Paul would turn his attention to the Gentiles.

From there, Paul lodged in the home of a man named Justus, who lived adjacent to the synagogue (v. 7). Justus was a worshipper of God, possibly already a Christian (it is difficult to tell with the information provided). In Justus’ house, Paul met a man named Crispus, who was chief ruler of the synagogue (v. 8). This man, along with his whole household, believed on the Lord. Again, the word “believed” here is indicative of the entire process of conversion, but this time we have a more in-depth description of what that entailed: “Many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed, and were baptized.

These good and honest hearts heard Paul’s preaching, responded to it by believing what he had to say, and were baptized for the remission of their sins. This is, perhaps, the best passage in the Bible for showing the progression that takes place in one’s obedience to the gospel. Sometimes, as it seems to be the case here, people hear a sermon or two and then respond in obedient faith. Other times, however, a person may hear sermons for years before finally obeying the gospel. This is where we must remember to “exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2), praying that the Lord will give such individuals enough time to obey. We must remember that we cannot force obedience on anyone, as much as we wish we could.

In verses 9 and following we find that Paul would experience some difficulties at Corinth, but the Lord was with him. The Lord reminded Paul that He had many people in this city. Paul spent a year and a half there in Corinth (v. 11), building up the congregation with the Word of God. Even when a violent Jewish insurrection occurred, Paul was kept safe (v. 12). Although the Jews tried to get Paul in trouble with Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio would have none of it. It ended up being the Jewish leader, Sosthenes, who was punished (vs. 12-17). This goes to show that the Lord indeed was with Paul, just as He had promised the other apostles in Matthew 28:20. Paul then dwelt in Corinth for a little longer, before departing into Syria (v. 18).

When examining the conversions at both Athens and Corinth, it becomes apparent that there are many different reactions to preaching. Some respond favorably in obedience to the gospel, while others are indifferent, or mock the preacher, or even threaten him. Gospel preachers must remember that this will always be the case. The gospel is polarizing. The Word is sharp, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). Thus, we must expect these various reactions, remembering that the Lord will be with us, just as He was with Paul in Athens, Corinth, and beyond.

Chase is a 2017 graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching and preaches in West Monroe, LA, alongside his wife and children.

The Conversions Of Lydia And The Jailer — Keith B. Cozort

In Acts 16 we read concerning the gospel being preached for the very first time in Europe and it will be accomplished by the Apostle Paul and his co-workers. Luke, the penman of the book of Acts, also informs us in the opening verses of the chapter that Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2), joined Paul and Silas as they traveled on Paul’s second preaching journey.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy will eventually come to the city of Troas (v. 8), on the eastern coast of the Aegean Sea, where they will be joined by Luke. We know Luke joins the group because he changes his terminology from “they” to “we” at this point in his narrative. They spend at least one night in the city of Troas and a vision will be given to Paul in the night. He sees in this vision a man from Macedonia and hears him say, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (v. 9). Paul and his entourage determine the Lord is sending them to the region of Macedonia and they immediately make preparations to sail by way of the Island of Samothracia and then to Neapolis, a port city of Macedonia. From Neapolis they will go to Philippi, “the chief city of that part of Macedonia” (v. 12). It is here they will come in contact with the households of Lydia and the jailer.

Paul and his brethren, having been in the city for several days, now go outside the city to the river on the Sabbath Day (v. 13) where women were gathered to pray. One of these women is named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, which is located in Asia (Rev. 1:11). She is a “seller of purple” (v. 14), which probably means she sold purple cloth. Many commentators conclude she was probably well off financially because generally purple cloth was considered affordable only by royalty and the very wealthy. Also, the fact that there is no husband mentioned to which she belonged, she has a household, and a house, “my house” (v. 15), it is assumed she was financially secure.

Paul will begin to teach these women the gospel of Jesus Christ. Lydia having heard and understood the teaching will, along with her household, be baptized (v. 15). To be baptized is to be immersed in water (Jn. 1:25-26; 3:23), in order to receive the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Many people attempt to justify infant baptism by reasoning that if Lydia had a household, she must have had infants in it. But the mention of her household does not demand the conclusion that there are any infants. We are aware of many households today overseen or headed up by women where there are no infants in them. Plus, what is stated concerning Lydia, as far as hearing and understanding the preaching of Paul, would also be required of her household because they were all baptized for the remission of their sins, to be saved (Mk. 16:15-16). Infants would not be able to hear, understand, and obey Paul’s teachings which includes being baptized. In addition, there is no need for infants to be baptized because they are not guilty of any sin.

After the conversion of Lydia and her household Luke will record concerning the damsel who was “possessed with a spirit of divination” (v. 16). It is not my intention to deal with the record of Paul demanding the evil spirit to come out of the damsel and the problems resulting from this action. But, needless to say, Paul’s deed will cause him and Silas to be beaten with many stripes and cast into prison. The magistrates who were responsible for this miscarriage of justice ordered the jailer to keep Paul and Silas safely (v. 23). The jailer will thrust them into the inner part of the prison and make “their feet fast in the stocks” (v. 24). It appears his intention is to make sure there would be no way that Paul and Silas could escape from the prison.

Luke says at midnight Paul and Silas are singing praises unto God (v. 25). They are singing loud enough to allow the other prisoners to be able to hear them. We should ask ourselves a question, “What would I have been doing at midnight after having been beaten unjustly with many stripes and thrust into the inner part of a prison?” It is certainly a soul searching question, is it not? How many of us complain, and sometimes strenuously, about our situation or circumstances in life even though we are not treated in nearly as cruel of a manner as Paul and Silas were at this time?

While singing these praises to God an earthquake shakes the very foundations of the prison (v. 26). The jailer is awakened from his slumber and seeing all the prison doors open he draws out his sword in order to kill himself. The reason for his action seems to be because under Roman law he would be killed or imprisoned for life if even one prisoner escaped while under his watch. The apostle Paul calls out to him, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here” (v. 28). The jailer calls for a light and finds that Paul has spoken the truth. He will then ask, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). To which Paul and Silas reply, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (v. 31). They will then teach them, the jailer and his household, the word of the Lord. Having heard and understood the teaching of Paul and Silas they will be baptized, immersed in water, in order to be saved from their sins (v. 33).

Such accounts of conversion like that of Lydia, the jailer, and their households which are recorded in Acts truly lift our hearts with thanksgiving for our Lord, His gospel, and salvation made possible through obedience of it.

Keith preaches for the Lord’s church in Mountain Grove, MO.

The Conversion of Cornelius — Bruce Ligon

During the course of our lives, you and I have become acquainted with individuals of generally good morals. These people may involve themselves in organized religion and good works. Yet we would never consider them Christians. The upstanding morals of these people and devotion to religion do not mean they are in a proper and pleasing relationship with the Lord.

The book of Acts gives us a glimpse of the preaching of the gospel by the apostles in the early days of the church.   As we come to Acts 10, approximately ten years have passed since the gospel had been preached for the first time in its fullness (Acts 2). This was a time of transition in the history of the church. Up until this time the gospel had only been taken to the Jews. Yet now a significant turning point occurs. Jesus had told the apostles, immediately before His ascension, they would also be going “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Now the time had come to extend the reach of the gospel. This change required the apostles to completely adjust their thinking.

What Kind Of Man Was Cornelius?

In Acts 10, we meet a man named Cornelius. He was a responsible and recognized leader. As verse 1 states concerning him, he was “a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort.” Of greater importance is that Cornelius recognized the importance of reverencing God.

Verse 2 summarizes the character of Cornelius: “A devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” Please notice the two revealing adverbs in this verse. First, he gave alms generously. Though he was probably a man of considerable prosperity, he realized that life was to be more than about riches. Also, Cornelius’ praying is described as continual. This emphasizes that prayer was a regular part of his life rather than reserved for special situations.

Brother H. Leo Boles presented the following comments regarding the depth of Cornelius’ devotion, “It seems that he worshiped God with all earnestness and devotion, and taught his house to do the same” (H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Acts, p. 160). Verse 4 states regarding Cornelius that he feared God with all his household. Brother Wayne Jackson cogently stated that this indicates that he had renounced the idolatry of paganism and was a true believer in God (Wayne Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome, p. 118).

The Gospel Comes To Cornelius

Since the gospel had not yet been taken to the Gentiles, Cornelius was unaware of it. This is a key point to be considered regarding his prayer being heard.

Verse 3 records that Cornelius saw clearly in a vision an angel from the Lord. Immediately, he responded, “What is it, Lord?” The Lord tells Cornelius he had heard his prayers. Then he instructs Cornelius to send men to Joppa in order that they may bring Peter back with them.

As the men sent by Cornelius made their way to Joppa, Peter receives a startling message from the Lord while he was in a trance (Acts 10:9-13). Peter’s difficulty in accepting this message is seen in that the Lord sent this message to him three times. Peter was “inwardly perplexed” and he was “pondering” regarding what the message might mean (verses 17, 19a). Any doubts Peter had went away as the Spirit tells him to go with the men who had been sent “without hesitation, for I have sent them” (vs. 19-20). When Peter inquires of the reason the men have come to him, they respond, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say” (vs. 21-22).

When Peter and the men arrive at Cornelius, the record emphasizes he had brought together his family and close friends (v. 24). When Peter entered, Cornelius wants to worship him, but Peter tells him, “Stand up, I too am a man” (v. 26). After explaining his presence is a violation of Jewish custom, he now understands that he should not call any man common or unclean (vs. 27-28). In verses 29-32, Cornelius sets forth why Peter was called. The attitude of Cornelius, now that Peter has arrived, is emphasized as he declares, “Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (v. 33).

Peter begins his sermon with a very important emphasis, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34). The sermon preached on this occasion is reminiscent of what he had earlier preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). He proclaims to them Jesus as the Christ. Peter emphasized Jesus had been anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power, he had been put to death, he had been raised from the dead, and he had been ordained by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead, and that through Him the forgiveness of sins is offered (vs. 38-40).   In verse 43, Peter announced that it is through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is offered to those who believe. In verse 48, we learn that Peter commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Following their baptism, they asked Peter and those who came with him stay to for a short period of time.

The Baptism Of The Holy Spirit

Please notice in this account the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A careful reading of the text will help sincere people to properly understand it. Acts 10:44-46 sets forth a dramatic turning point, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”

In order to grasp the significance of this occurrence, there are three points to be observed. First, as Acts 11 records, Peter defends his preaching to those gathered in Jerusalem who were disturbed over what had taken place. A crucial point in his narrative is set forth, when he stated, “I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning” (vs. 15). “At the beginning” is a clear reference to the beginning of the church and the preaching of the gospel. Second, in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, he quoted the prophecy uttered by Joel (see Acts 2:16ff). A key point in Joel’s prophecy is that God’s Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh.” “All flesh” did not mean every person. It meant the basic two divisions of people at that time: Jews and Gentiles. In light of the fact that all of the apostles were Jews, this had not yet taken place. Thus we must look for a further bestowal of the Spirit to complete the scope of Joel’s prediction. Since Cornelius was a Gentile, now Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled. Third, Wayne Jackson makes the following poignant point regarding Holy Spirit baptism, “The fact that Peter had to reach all the way back to Pentecost for an adequate example to illustrate this ‘outpouring’ of the Spirit in Caesarea, is evidence that ‘Holy Spirit baptism’ had not been a practice that occurred between these two episodes” (Wayne Jackson, The Acts of the Apostles From Jerusalem to Rome, p.134). These three points can also help us to understand that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was never meant to be a continuing element involved in people becoming Christians. Its fulfillment was limited to the first century.

Conclusion

The accounts in the book of Acts of the preaching of the gospel, including the account of Cornelius, should be viewed as more than history. You and I need to read them and be reminded of the urgency of taking the gospel to the lost. Brother J.M. McCaleb penned the following words that have been set to music, which should motivate our efforts toward the lost:

The blessed gospel is for all, The gospel is for all; Where sin has gone must go His grace: The gospel is for all.

Bruce preaches for the Bellville Church of Christ in Bellville, TX.

The Conversion of Saul — Tony Brewer

During his ministry, Paul wrote that he became all things to all men so that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). We use Paul’s ministry as a pattern for our own ministry. Likewise, we must use Paul’s conversion as a pattern for our own conversions. By looking at Paul’s conversion, we will discuss two aspects of conversion. Additionally, we will notice the similarities between his conversion and our own.

The Damascene Road Experience

Multiple times in my life, I have heard that everyone needs to have a Damascene Road experience. This generally refers to an enlightening in one’s life. An enlightening experience is exactly what happened to Paul (named Saul at the time). He literally met the resurrected Jesus, and came to the realization that Jesus wanted him to have. Leading up to his Damascene Road experience, Paul had a purpose in his life. During his Damascene Road experience, Paul had a profound realization.

Paul’s Purpose. During the first great persecution of the church and after Stephen was stoned, Saul (a.k.a. Paul) “made havoc of the church, entering into every house and hailing men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). So much was Paul convicted that his cause was just and right that he took his mission outside the walls of Jerusalem. He went to the high priest and obtained permission and credentials to travel 225 miles to Damascus from Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).

At this point in his life, Paul’s purpose did not demonstrate holiness in any way. He was well meaning, genuine, moral, but devastatingly wrong. Thus is the case with every person who does not obey the gospel of Jesus. Paul writes that those who do not know God and consequently have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus will have vengeance taken upon them with flaming fire (2 Thess. 1:8). Like Paul, many souls are in this predicament: not knowing they are headed to hell with a lofty purpose in their heart and a smile on their face. Like Paul, they need to come face to face with Jesus.

Paul’s Profound Realization. Could you imagine being enveloped in a bright light, then hearing a voice from the light, and knowing that the only way that this could be happening is that God Himself is talking to you? Paul experienced such an encounter (Acts 9:3). According to the inspired account, Paul was asked a question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The purpose of God’s question was to make Paul realize what he was doing and why he was doing it. Jesus knew why, and God never asks a question in order to obtain information. This question informed Paul that he was actually personally persecuting Jesus!

Every human being must come to an understanding of what their life of sin does to Jesus. Sin is the reason Jesus went to the cross in the first place (Rom. 5:1-21)! When we sin it is a personal affront to Jesus. Paul refers to those who have fallen away as crucifying afresh the Son of God and putting Him to open shame (Heb. 6:6). It would stand to reason that those who live in sin are doing the same thing. Many live with a seared and numb conscience through repetition of sin. Yet as we know more about Jesus and God’s Word, our consciences are pricked more and more.

When Paul came face to face with Jesus, he realized that he had been persecuting the Lord. Jesus made a declaration that speaks to every sinner from across the expanse of time: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5). Let’s think of Paul’s credentials. He was a Hebrew’s Hebrew and a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). He studied at the feet of Gamaliel, being taught according to the perfect manner of the law (Acts 22:3). Paul had to have been putting the pieces of the puzzle together of his own. This Jesus was the Messiah. How long had Paul kicked against the pricks of his conscience?

Paul’s Damascene Road experience showed who and what he was: a sinner guilty of crucifying the Christ. Every sinner must have this kind of experience before conversion can ever take place. Now that Paul was enlightened, he realized that he must do something to rectify his situation (Acts 22:10).

Calling On The Name Of The Lord

Just because we have our own Damascene Road experience does not mean we are converted. Paul experienced divine blindness on the road to Damascus that caused him to focus on himself and the actions of his lie. We must have our own blindness of a sort that causes us to be introspective and take inventory of our actions and life as well. IF all we have is a Damascene Road experience then we, like Paul, are simply blind and ignorant as to what to do to rectify our current situation (Acts 22:10-11). Paul was totally dependent upon the provision of Jesus to be converted and saved. Jesus provided the way, but Paul had to take action via the proper response.

Jesus’ Provision. Jesus gave Paul instructions to go to Damascus on Strait Street where Paul would wait for a commissioned evangelist to inform him on how to obey the gospel call (Acts 22:10). Just like the evangelist Ananias was personally commissioned by Jesus, Christians today are commissioned by Jesus to find people who are needing to be converted and tell them what they must do (Matt. 28:18-20). Now that Paul received instruction it was up to him to do it.

Paul’s Response. Paul was told to do three things immediately: arise, be baptized, and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). All three of these things are all included in the necessary act of calling on the name of the Lord. No person has ever been saved outside of calling on the name of the Lord. Paul did exactly what we must do today. Every sinner seeking salvation must get up and take action, submit to being baptized, and wash away his sins. Jesus has provided the way for us to do this. We, like Paul, must take advantage of this precious provision.

To be approved of God, our conversion must be the same as Paul’s. Paul had his Damascene Road experience and took advantage of the provision of Jesus. There is no way on earth to be converted to Jesus unless we follow in Paul’s footsteps. If we do what he did, we can have what he had: salvation.

Tony preaches at the Bay Church of Christ in Bay, AR.

The Conversion Of The Ethiopian — Cougan Collins

Philip, the evangelist, had just finished a great work in Samaria converting many to Christ, including a “sorcerer”. His next mission would be one individual (Acts 8:26). God used an angel to direct Philip to the right location to meet a man who was ready to hear the gospel. Angels are used in many ways, but they were never used to proclaim the gospel to the lost (Acts 11:13-14). He is told to go south toward the road that goes between Jerusalem and Gaza. Gaza is one of the oldest places mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 10:19).

Philip does not argue with the angel; he arose and went (vs. 27-28). The eunuch was the treasurer of Queen Candace. All the queens of Ethiopia were called Candance, similarly to how the rulers of Egypt were called Pharaoh and the rulers of Rome were called Caesar.

According to BDAG, eunuchs were “(a) castrated male person … Eunuchs served, esp. in the orient, as keepers of a harem (Esth. 2:14) and not infreq. rose to high positions in the state.” Even though this eunuch was not allowed to go into the temple, he still traveled hundreds of miles to worship God in Jerusalem, which shows his dedication. I wish more Christians had this same zeal to worship God. The eunuch was returning home on his chariot and was reading a scroll from Isaiah the prophet.

The Holy Spirit tells Philip to overtake the eunuch’s chariot (v. 29). The Holy Spirit didn’t teach the lost the gospel either. Instead, He would direct preachers like Philip to the person that needed to hear it. Today, salvation is taught by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).

Philip hears the eunuch reading from Isaiah, and he asked him a great question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v. 30). The eunuch didn’t understand what he was reading, and he needed someone to guide him (v. 31). His lack of understanding does not mean that we can’t read and understand the Scriptures on our own because we can (Acts 17:11; Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 1:3). However, a person new to reading the Bible can benefit from a person who has studied it for years. The eunuch invited Philip to join him (v. 31).

The eunuch wanted to know if the prophecy was about Isaiah or someone else (vs. 32-24; Is. 53:7-8). Philip answered his question by preaching to him about Jesus from Isaiah 53 (v. 35). Though we don’t have the details, we know he taught him the same basic message he taught the Samaritans, which included Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and what he needed to do to be saved.

The desert spoken of earlier (v. 26) was not dry sandy wasteland but was just an isolated place because there was a pool of water there (v. 36). As Philip preached to the eunuch about Jesus and what was needed to be saved, he taught him about the necessity of baptism. We can know this because when the eunuch saw the pool of water on the side of the road, he immediately wanted to know if there was anything preventing him from being baptized, which shows his eagerness to become a Christian (v. 37).

Some Bible versions don’t have verse 37 because it isn’t found in any of the earlier manuscripts. However, part of the Ethiopian’s confession of faith in Christ was quoted by Irenaeus in the second century (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 1 Against Heresies, III.xii:8), which suggests that it belongs there. Also, the answer and the response given in verse 37 fits naturally within the text. Even without this verse, it doesn’t take away from the question the eunuch asked.

Philip said that he must believe with all his heart, and the eunuch makes the confession that Jesus is the Son of God, which agrees with what Jesus said: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). A person must believe before he can be baptized. You will notice the eunuch didn’t schedule his baptism later so his family members could watch it. No, he saw the water on the side of the road and he wanted to be baptized immediately.

The eunuch commanded the chariot to stop, and they went down into the water (v. 38). Philip baptized him, and they came up out of the water. Those who teach that pouring or sprinkling is a valid way to baptize will say that they went to the edge of the water and Philip either took a cup and poured some water on him or perhaps put his fingers in the water and sprinkled him. We can know this is not true because the Greek word that has been transliterated into the word ‘baptism’ means to dip, plunge, or immerse. Besides, the text says they went ‘into’ the water and ‘came out’ of the water, which proves they did not just go to the edge of the water.

When they came out of the water, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to a new area, and the eunuch continued his journey home rejoicing because he knew he was saved (v. 39). Rejoicing was the typical response of those who had been baptized (Acts 16:34). The eunuch had a lot to rejoice about because he would no longer have to make an arduous journey to worship God outside the temple in Jerusalem. Now, he would be able to worship God in a local congregation with his brothers and sisters in Christ with no division, and we have the same privilege today. 

Cougan is the minister of the Lone Grove Church of Christ in Lone Grove, OK.