Spiritual Perspectives


 

WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN

Gary W. Summers

 

     “I’m Jewish,” my neighbor would tell people when they tried to evangelize him.  Not being a Christian, he had no scruples against lying.  It was his way of telling people he was not interested in a religious discussion.  Whether people believed him or not (which was difficult to do, since he had blond hair with a kind of reddish tint), they left him alone.  Later, his attitude changed; he studied and obeyed the gospel.

 

     The first ingredient in leading a person to Christ is to find someone who is somewhat open.  Most people begin with a casual or mild interest, and that curiosity may be developed.  This article will consider a Biblical conversion of a man in the Bible.  We often approach evangelism from the aspect of it being our responsibility to reach people, which is true.  In this instance, however, we want to notice the five qualities that this particular person possessed that made it easy for him to become a Christian.

 

He possessed an interest in spiritual matters.

 

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south, along the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet (Acts 8:26-28).

 

     His interest is seen in two ways: 1) He had been to Jerusalem to worship; 2) He was reading Isaiah the prophet.  As an individual possessing great power, he could have made political intrigue his god.  Wealth might have enticed him; surely, he was in a position to enrich himself.  Yet money and control do not seem to be a priority, but knowing God is.  Nor is he merely casually interested.  The length of the journey he had traveled indicates a willingness to please God.

     Many people have zero interest today.  Their possessions, creature comforts, entertainment, and self-satisfaction are the gods before whom they kneel.  They may say anything to put off religious inquiries—even, “I’m Jewish,” but these are just “polite” ways of saying, “I’m not interested.”  This attitude does not mean that further attempts to engage in a meaningful  discussion should not be tried, but it is difficult to lead someone where he has no intention of following.  The blessings of heaven hold no interest to anyone who is satisfied in the here and now. 

 

     The queen’s treasurer knew that something greater than man existed and something better than this life.  He knew that man had a Maker and that the design exhibited in the Creation demanded a Designer.  What he did not know was that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

He possessed humility.

 

Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot. So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, un-less someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him (Acts 8:29-31).

 

.     As the treasurer of the queen, this man might have been offended that someone of his station was asked such a question.  He might have replied, “Do you know who I am?  How dare you question my knowledge?”  One must admit that meeting a total stranger in a desert region who wants to have a religious discussion is a trifle unusual.

 

     His openness is refreshing.  So many today affirm, “I have my own religion, and I don’t want to discuss it.”  Perhaps the eunuch could have legitimately said, “I’m Jewish.”  It is possible that he had been captured or even was born or sold into slavery and was serving the queen the way Daniel had served Nebuchadnezzar.     Others are quick to let someone know; “You’re not going to change my mind.”  Those who make such statements need to be confronted with, “Name one person of God who ever made such a statement.”  Christians are told to be able to defend their beliefs (1 Peter 3:15).  Paul reasoned with religious leaders publicly.  Denominational preachers and others who refuse to do so today are not following the example of Jesus or the apostles.  Those who are not following God are of the devil, and those who are not with Jesus are against Him (Matt. 12:30; John 8:44).

 

     Truth never has anything to fear; only a person teaching error or false doctrine fears exposure to the light.  Why would anyone be afraid to set forth truth in a public or private forum—unless they suspected that those things that they teach are, in fact, wrong or indefensible?  It is a privilege and an honor to be set for the defense of the faith (Phil. 1:17).

 

     The treasurer exhibits no haughtiness.  He is willing for Philip to discuss and explain the Scriptures to him.  In this reception he is humble.

 

He evaluates the message.

 

The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

 

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;

And like a lamb silent before its shearer,

So he opened not His mouth.

In his humiliation His justice was taken away.

And who shall declare His generation?

For His life is taken from the earth.”

 

So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or some other man?” (Acts 8:32-34).

 

     His willingness to discuss the Scriptures continues.  Assuredly, he is not the “natural man” Paul describes later in 1 Corinthians 2:14.  Spiritual matters are foolishness to the “natural man” because he has no interest or inclination to study them.  Also, he values Philip’s opinion because he is someone who shares a common interest in the Word of God.

 

     We should not assume, however, that the treasurer is a gullible man.  He will not likely believe anything that Philip tells him, no matter how bizarre—unlike some today who can be convinced that sickness is an illusion (Mary Baker Eddy and “Christian Science”), that a con artist named Joseph Smith translated golden plates of Reformed Egyptian through his hat—just before they disappeared forever (a theory so full of holes that it is laughable to all except those who take it seriously), or that the world is coming to an end in 1843 or 1844 or shortly after 1920 or 1969 (as several have predicted over time). 

 

     It is amazing that so many will believe just about anything but the truth.  But if a person has no love of the truth (2 Thess. 2:10), they are bound to believe a lie—even silly lies.

     How do we know that the treasurer is not gullible?  He knows the Scriptures.  He does not understand the passage from Isaiah 53, but he understands the Scriptures well enough to know if someone contrived an explanation that was totally off the wall.  Today, some come up with interpretations that ignore the text and are extreme, to say the least.  Yet awkward and forced interpretations (not to mention flakey) do not disturb them.  “After all,” they will tell you, “it’s all just a matter of interpretation anyway.”   This is the refuge of those who have been shown the truth but do not want to accept it.  Interpretation is not the problem; a lack of respect for the truth is the source of the unrest.

 

He is honest.

 

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water, And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:35-37).

 

     We do not have a record of the exact words that Philip spoke, but we have a good idea of what was said.  Philip explained that Isaiah was prophesying of the Christ, who was rejected by His own people (John 1:10-11).  Since Philip preached the gospel to the treasurer, he told him that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Cor. 15:1-4).  The eunuch must not only have faith in God, he must also have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God (John 8: 24).

 

     The eunuch must have been delighted to learn the identity of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.  The explanation made as much sense to him as Peter’s did to those on Pentecost.  The apostle had explained prophecies concerning the resurrection, and the fulfillment of them, therefore, many (3,000) were ready to accept the truth, knowing that Peter’s explanation made Scriptural sense (Acts 2:22-36).  When that multitude had asked what to do, Peter told them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38).  Those who gladly received his word did so. 

 

     The treasurer gladly received Philip’s word, also, when he explained the gospel and the way to obey it (Rom. 6:17-18).  How do we know that Philip told him the same thing that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost?  We know the message was the same because there is only one gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) and because the eunuch wanted to know what prevented him from being baptized.  No one asks that question when they hear Billy Graham preach because he obviously does not preach Jesus.  Oh, yes, he talks about Jesus, but he does not ever tell people to repent and be baptized.  Therefore, he does not preach Jesus.  If Graham or Lucado or the multitude of televangelists were preaching what Peter and Philip were, their listeners would be asking to be baptized. 

     The treasurer is honest.  He has evaluated the explanation that Philip provided, and it makes sense.  He does not say, “I was born a Jew, and I will die a Jew.”  He is responding to truth, not a mistaken application of loyalty.  If he needs to repent of sins, he will repent.  If he needs to be baptized to be forgiven of his sins, he will do so.  He does not quibble: “I don’t see what baptism has to do with salvation.”  Very likely he did know that being buried with Christ into death would result in him being raised up to walk in a new life (Rom. 6:3-5). 

 

     When people begin to argue against what the Bible teaches, one thing is certain: they are not honest.  When the Bible says, “Do not commit adultery,” sincere people do not respond by saying, “But you don’t understand my situation.”  When the Bible condemns homosexuality in every age (Patriarchal, Mosaic, Christian), honest folks do not say, “But my son/daughter has that lifestyle.  I cannot condemn it.”  When the Bible prohibits women from leadership roles in the church, sincere believers do not say, “Oh, that was just a cultural thing.” 

 

     And when the Bible teaches repentance and baptism are necessary in order to have forgiveness of sins, sincere people do not argue, “I don’t see what that has to do with it; I think you are saved by faith only.”  No, they do what those on Pentecost did—and what the eunuch did.  They are baptized.  Only first, they must truly believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, or their baptism would be invalid.

 

He is eager to obey.

 

So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:38-40).

 

     The eunuch was ready and eager to obey what Phil-ip had taught him.  He recognized the message as the truth, and there was no need to delay it.  If a person is baptized for the forgiveness of his sins, then he knows he is lost before he does so, and he knows that he is saved after he does so.  Therefore, when one comprehends the truth, it is the right time to obey.  Those on Pentecost did not wait a few months before having their sins washed away (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5).  Neither would the jailer a little while later in Acts 16.  He and his family were baptized some time after midnight!

 

     The treasurer is in the wilderness.  Perhaps he has urgent business awaiting his return.  Certainly, he was not anticipating being immersed in water when he began this journey, but he probably has a change of clothes.  Nevertheless, whatever inconvenience it might be, he is happy to be baptized immediately.  The urgency of emerging out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light requires it.  He will not delay or postpone something so fundamental as where he spends eternity.  He rejoices immediately afterwards.

     Compare this attitude with religious groups who ask all of their “converts” to be baptized a few months after they are “saved.”   Where is the urgency?  Its absence results from the difference in the two views.  Religious denominations, in general, do not think that baptism has anything to do with salvation.  Oh, it should probably be done some time, but they do not view it as something that is essential in the obtaining of salvation.  In fact, they teach that their members were saved by “faith only.”  Therefore, if they had taught those on Pentecost, or the treasurer, or the jailer, no one would have ever read a word about baptism.  They would all have preached “salvation” without it, and Acts 2:41, 8:36-38, and 16:33 would all be missing from Holy Writ!

 

     They like to tell their people: “Baptism is just an out-ward sign of an inward grace,” and none of their “converts” apparently ever thinks to ask them, “What Bible verse says that?”  The answer is, “None.”  Satan made that one up to deceive them into thinking they are all right even though their baptism is nothing like what anyone can read about in the New Testament.  Why do their people never notice the urgency recorded in the Word—but no urgency in the teaching of their religious group?  Why do they never notice that no one in the book of Acts was ever saved by faith only—that baptism was always involved?  Satan is still blinding people and snatching the Word out of their hearts.

 

Summary

 

     We ought to pray that the Lord leads us to people like the eunuch.  Surely, some have good and honest hearts today.  Some, even in denominations, must have a sense that something is not right.  If they read their Bibles, they will eventually notice contradictions in their practices, compared to New Testament doctrine.  Christians need to find them and show them the better way.  We also need to find those who are mildly interested in knowing the truth and increase their appetite.

 

    How wonderful it is to find those interested in spiritual matters, who are willing to talk about it—who are humble enough to consider what the Bible says, even if they have been taught differently—who will fairly evaluate the message we bring them and test it according to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11)—who are honest and not just trying to defend a system of religion because of family or prior commitment—and who are eager to obey.  These have good and honest hearts, and they will do the right thing.

 

     Christians must search for souls like these and not just be satisfied with “any” Bible study.  Those who insist, “I won’t change” and begin arguing from the very first point are simply not good prospects.  A change of attitude is essential for those who refuse to abide by the doctrine of Christ when it is plainly taught.  May we first pray that we ourselves have not closed our minds to Biblical truth on any subject and then pray for the Lord to lead us to those who are also sincere.  We (the church as a whole) cannot save everyone, but we can do better than we have—and we will, with God’s help.

 

 

 

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: " WHAT IT TAKES TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN (09/03/06)."

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