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The Christadelphian | April 2009

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Fellowship in the Gospel: 8 – Fellowship with the Father and His Son
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Nicodemus, the Pharisee who repented” | Jonathan Cope
  • In the image of God 14 – Wives and husbands | Michael Edgecombe, Rebecca Lines, Russell Taylor
  • What's remarkable about that? | Barry Lambsdown
  • The Letter to the Philippians 4 – “Being in the form of God” (2:1-11) | Mark Allfree
  • Pause and ponder 27 – Married in the Lord, part 10: The whole family of God | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Conversion | Chris Brook
  • Acts of the Apostles 26 – Acts 24:1-27 – Paul’s defence before Felix | Paul Cresswell
  • “Publius … welcomed us” | John M. Hellawell
  • Lessons from Esther | Dudley Fifield
  • Signs of the times Christianity under attack
  • Israel and their land A time of uncertainty
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:


IT is our common experience that conversion takes time; sometimes years, often months, seldom less than a few weeks. Yet there are dramatic conversions recorded in the Acts that appear to have taken only hours – Pentecost and the Philippian jailor are but two examples. Why is this so?

Heart and mind

It is true that some, though not all, of these conversions involved people who were prepared: Jews and proselytes who had sat at the feet of the schoolmaster, learned of the one true God, heard His word, respected His laws. It is also true that they did not have the distorted beliefs of years of apostasy from which to disengage; false beliefs to discard before the purity of the Gospel could take hold of their minds. However not all were so blessed: some did not know the God of Israel and had presumably embraced a pantheon of gods and a world of spirits and demons previously. So there must be more to the answer.

First, consider the use of the word ‘heart’ in scripture. In English we use this word to mean ‘emotions and feelings’; in scripture it means ‘mind and thought’. [1] When scripture speaks of the emotions it uses the metaphor of ‘the bowels’. Because ‘matters of the heart’ is such a well rehearsed and much used concept in our world, we have to remind ourselves often of this distinction. Two verses illustrate the usage: “… transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words” (Isaiah 59:13, ESV) – that is, the evil has been fully thought out and is entirely intentional. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17, ESV) – that is the mind is fully convinced and committed. “This requirement for knowledge, understanding and belief before baptism is found throughout the Acts” (“Fellowship at the breaking of bread”, M. G. Owen, The Christadelphian, December 2008).


Next, consider the process of conversion. The word has a consistent meaning in scripture – to turn round, radically change direction. In the powerful words of the Lord Jesus: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (be converted, AV) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, ESV) – the physical impossibility of this serves to emphasise the spiritual meaning.

There appears to be two parts to conversion. First there is the understanding of the Gospel. This requires comprehension, knowledge, a grasp of the purpose and promises of God and His requirements for men and women to receive His grace, an understanding of the revelation of God in the scriptures, of the plan of salvation from sin centred in the Lord Jesus, the responsibilities of discipleship. It is in these things that the Jew and proselyte had a head start.

Secondly, there is the conviction of the Gospel; that is, coming to the absolute certainty that what is taught is right, that God has revealed Himself in His word, that the plan is in place, that it is assured by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus – and above all that it is for me, by grace that I do not deserve and cannot earn but which the Lord has promised for those who find the faith of the scriptures. This is the step of faith essential for all disciples; it fully involves the mind, but it reaches down into the emotions and feelings. It is “head and heart”, “mind and emotions”, “heart and bowels”.

How long does it take?

Step one, the understanding of the Gospel, need not take long. Given a reasonable mental facility, a basic education and the appropriate motivation and opportunity, the facts of the Gospel may be absorbed readily; the Gospel is not complicated. If there is previous knowledge (Jews and proselytes), then the task is easier still. This is not to underestimate the Gospel – the full Gospel must be understood – but to recognise that if previous misunderstandings can be discarded quickly the positive teaching of the Gospel of salvation, which is so coherent and inter-related, can be absorbed relatively quickly.

Step two, conviction, is another matter. First we need to step back and recognise that the world is full of charlatans and rogues – and not just the present world as the first century had its Elymas (Acts 13:8) and Simon (Acts 8:9-11). Such people prey upon the unwary; get-rich-quick schemes, pyramid selling schemes and similar trickery abound. Even in the religious area there are those who come to our doors offering another gospel, another ‘sacred’ writing or even another god (Ephesians 4:14). Many of those who peddle dubious financial schemes and also those who offer alternative gospels are sincere, charismatic and convincing; some may be aware of the deceit, but more are themselves deceived – and the more plausible for that. So we are wise if we delay conviction and examine carefully and over a reasonable time the claims that are made and the wares that are offered. Let the buyer beware! Should we expect – or even allow – those who hear our preaching of the true Gospel to act in a less prudent manner? Should we not encourage those who listen to consider carefully, prove for themselves, read the scriptures themselves, take time to reach conviction? (2 Timothy 3:16). A belief reached without due diligence, without genuine examination, may turn out to be seed sown on stony ground, susceptible to a new idea or another persuasive person.

So for our world today the conviction of the scriptures, the mature certainty of a settled faith, a defendable belief and an abiding commitment will take time – for some it may be weeks, others months, some even years.

So back to the question

Why do we find that some conversions in the New Testament were apparently so rapid, only a matter of hours in some cases? There is a simple, one word, answer – miracles. Consider again the two steps:

  1. Understanding and knowledge – can be achieved relatively quickly.
  2. Conviction – today takes time whilst the person becomes really convinced, learns that the person teaching him or her is really trustworthy and their word true to scripture – unless the process is cut short by miracle (Matthew 15:31; John 2:23). If miracles are performed then the truth is evident, the person proved, the conviction achieved immediately: no need now to question and prove the message or the messenger – they are self-evidently true, attested by God.

So we would expect a different timescale for those blessed days when the Lord and his apostles worked by miracles and signs; today we labour longer for conviction and conversion, though the Lord still gives the increase.

Take time

We all long for our families, our neighbours, our friends, our compatriots to accept the Truth with its wonderful blessings for today and even greater ones for the future. But conversion usually takes time and we are unwise if we try to rush things. The Lord seeks a settled conviction and a genuine conversion that will stand the test of time and the siren calls of the world. It may be that in the future miracles will speed conversions again, but for now let those to whom we teach the Gospel be given the time and opportunity to form a sound faith with deep conviction that will last, to the glory of the Father and His Son. “Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13, ESV).

Chris Brook

[1] Actually scripture uses the word “heart”, not to mean casual, vague or fleeting thoughts, but rather where the mind is fully engaged on serious issues leading to firm opinions and convictions.


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