The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). These are among the most remarkable words ever uttered by the Redeemer, and they were spoken under very peculiar circumstances. His life and labors on earth were rapidly approaching their end. The cross and the weight of the world's redemption were growing nearer day by day. His disciples, who had forsaken their homes and their callings and followed Him steadfastly, obediently, perseveringly, during His ministry, were engaged in an earnest discussion of the kingdom of heaven. They had been the objects of His special care. It was their privilege to understand, to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:11). He had spoken to them in the solitude of the mountain and in the noise of the city, and had carefully explained everything to them in the rest of the eventide, or in the stillness of the night.
Notwithstanding these superior opportunities, they were yet ignorant of the real design of His mission in the world. They were therefore disputing concerning the positions of honor that they hoped to receive in the coming kingdom (Mark 9:33‑35). They could not agree among themselves, hence their appeal to the Master: "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Astonishing weakness! Inexcusable ignorance! Yes, all of this and more. There lack of understanding is not so surprising when we consider that they had entirely misunderstood the teaching of Jesus. He meant one thing; they expected another. He told them of a kingdom that was not to come with "outward show," but they did not understand Him. As they had dreamed of the temporal restoration of Israel, they desired to escort Him into Jerusalem amidst the shouts of the multitude, place the glittering diadem of universal authority upon His brow, the scepter of peace and prosperity in His hands, and rend the very heavens with the shout of victory: “The son of David reigneth!"
Did Jesus reply to their question? Yes. How did He do it? He called a little child unto Him. Why did He call the child? In order to teach the disciples a lesson they would never forget. This is a striking picture. The disciples stand around in blank amazement. Their countenances plainly ask: What has this child to do with the kingdom of heaven or our question? They look at the child and then at Jesus. In every lineament of His face they see manifestations of love, mercy, and sympathy. His lips are motionless. He looks steadfastly into the faces of the disciples. Their astonishment increases until their hearts almost cease to beat. Their minds are fixed, and as quietly as the morning sun chases away the gloom of night, and yet with an emphasis that rings through all the years, He utters the true and startling proposition: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven!" Unexpected rebuke! Terrible message! Wonderful transformation! Inexhaustible words? Yet no truer words ever fell from the consecrated lips of love and mercy.
What is conversion? What produces conversion? How many propositions does the term conversion cover? Are men converted by a direct power from God (baptism in the Holy Ghost), or through the Gospel of Christ? Is the "mourner's bench," or “sinner’s prayer” process of conversion authorized by the word of God? If not, what will be "the end" of the men who practice and perpetuate such? Is the sinner passive or active in conversion? How can a man know that he has been converted? Does conversion bring a man into the church of Christ, or leave him out in the world? What is it to become as little children? What is the kingdom of heaven? What is the character of its citizens? Can a man be a Christian, or a child of God, outside of this kingdom? Is this kingdom divided against itself? Is there more than one way of conversion?
It is astonishing, but it is true nevertheless, that the salvation of the world depends upon the meaning of one word, the word CONVERTED; for those who have been converted are in the kingdom of Christ; and those who have never been converted are not in the kingdom. Those who are in the kingdom of Christ are saved, and those who are not are lost. You may consider this an uncharitable view, but we are in good company, for it is no more uncharitable than the plain declaration of Christ. What does the word mean? We cannot, we dare not, submit an opinion, for too much is involved, and the responsibility is therefore too great. We are willing to submit the whole question to the Bible. What did Jesus mean? This is what we must determine. Does the Bible explain the text? If not, it cannot be done. It does not matter how logical your explanation may appear, if it does not correspond with the word of God it is inconsistent, contradictory, and dangerous in the extreme.
The Bible explains or defines the word conversion, and therefore unlocks the Savior's meaning. How many times does the word, in its different forms, occur in the Bible? Do the passages in which it is found throw any light on the subject? Are you ready to hear the truth? Are you willing to abide by its decisions? "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting [restoring] the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7). “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit; then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (Ps. 51:12-13). "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32 added to 2 Timothy 2:2). "But those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled; repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:18-19). "Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Acts 28:26-27). “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). “Declaring the conversion of the Gentiles” (Acts 15:3).
Here are five words: convert, converted, converting, converteth, conversion. Convert is the primitive, or first word, and all the others grew out of it. It, therefore, controls the meaning of all the others. The word "converted" implies an action past and completed. The word "converting" implies an action in process of completion. The word "converteth" implies the agency by which the work is done. The word "conversion" describes the work when it is finished. The quotations that we have introduced bring out some important facts: (1). Conversion is equivalent to restoration. (2). Teaching or preaching invariably precedes conversion. (3). Sinners are converted from sin. (4). They are converted to the truth, to Christ, to God. (5). Converting power enters into the heart through the ears, the eyes, and the mind. (6). Men can resist the converting power, and therefore become responsible for their own destruction. (7). Men are active; that is, they can do something in order to their conversion. (8). Conversion includes the whole man - body, soul, heart, mind, and life. (9). Men are the agents by which God proposes to convert the world. (10). Conversion is that which is done in us through the truth. (11). Healing, forgiveness or pardon, is the act of God, and no part of conversion, but it immediately and inevitably follows it.
The word conversion is a very simple word. We speak of converting money into clothing, or clothing into money; or converting water into steam, or the trees of the forests into houses. What do we mean by this? Simply that we change a thing from one use to another. Does conversion, when applied to sinners, mean any more than this? If the Savior had lived in our day, what word would He have used to express the stinging rebuke to His worldly‑minded disciples? Undoubtedly the word turn. The thought is not simply "be turned," but "turn yourselves," or “turn again." The Savior did not simply tell them "be converted," but to turn from their evil thoughts. This idea brings out the personal accountability. God does not turn us. He gives us the truth and commands us to turn ourselves. You can grasp this, I am sure, for there is nothing abstruse or mysterious connected with it. Indeed, you cannot misunderstand it if you try.
APPLICATION: A man is on the broad road to destruction. He is a sinner in the sight of God. He is "dead in trespasses and in sins." The Gospel calls him; he stops, turns, obeys the Lord. Is he converted? Is he turned? Is he changed? Is he a child of God? Is he saved from his past sins? Is he a member of the church of Christ? Did he do anything toward his conversion? If these questions, without exception, cannot be answered in the affirmative, the apostles of Jesus Christ lived and died without the knowledge of the truth! Do you say this is merely an opinion? Do you ask for the proof? Proof of what? That conversion is no more nor less than turning from sin to God? Here it is. The Bible is full of it:
"Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near." How do we seek the Lord? How do we call upon Him? The next verse answers very plainly: “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 55:6-7). The prophet makes a very clear distinction between forsaking sin and pardon. The wicked man, under the power of Divine truth, must forsake his way, his thoughts, and return to the Lord. This is all he can do. Pardon or forgiveness is the work of God. He can and will "abundantly pardon."
Again, the Bible says: "Amend your ways and your doings” (Jer. 7:3). Could anything be plainer than this? Could the Lord have made our duty plainer if He had exhausted all the vocabularies of earth? "Cast away from you all of your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezek. 18:31-32). It is one thing to turn from sin, and another to do that that is lawful and right. Many are willing to turn from part of their sins, and keep part of the statutes of the Lord. Such people will never "see the kingdom of God." Are you willing to turn from all your transgressions, and keep all the requirements of the Lord? Are you willing to do your part and trust the Lord for the forgiveness of your sins?
Do you want more proof? "Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:7). This is a fair proposition. Will you accept it? If not, why not? Here is an opportunity to test the promise of the Lord. Will you do it? "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). Men have grown exceedingly wise since apostolic times. In those days men drew nigh; returned to God by believing and obeying His will. Now they reverse the order and ask God to "come down" to them. Do you deny it? You cannot because the practice is almost universal, and the custom prevails to such an extent that a man cannot be ignorant of its existence even if he desires to be.
What did Jesus mean by the phrase, "as little children?" Did He mean that we are to become little children in age and stature? Nothing could be further from His meaning. "As little children" means like little children. What are the chief characteristics of the little child? It is innocent. It neither sins nor desires to sin. It is teachable - thirsty for information, ready to receive instruction. It is trustful - ready to believe and act. It is obedient - willing and ready to respect parental authority. Jesus therefore said in fact: "Except ye turn and become innocent, teachable, trustful, and obedient as a little child ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." We cannot lay too much stress on the necessity of forsaking every sin. Too many men make the start for heaven and fall by the way. Why is this? Their conversion was not deep enough, full enough, or radical enough. If the dregs of sin remain in the heart they will soon manifest themselves in the life. You cannot reach heaven and harbor malice, guile, envy, or hypocrisy in your heart. These things are utterly incompatible with the Spirit of Christ; hence they cannot dwell together.
Are you at this moment as innocent of the desire to sin as the little child? If not, you are not a child of God. Are you teachable? Show me a man who professes to know everything about the Bible and we will show you a consummate hypocrite! Are you thirsting for information concerning the kingdom of Christ? If you cannot learn something from the humblest of the creatures of God, you are too proud to be a Christian. Do you read the Bible regularly? If you do not, it is evident that you do not believe it. Do you search the Scriptures? If not you will never find anything that will help you. Do you study the word of God? Do you meditate upon it? Is it your spiritual food? Are you trusting in Christ? Do you trust Jesus? Do you really believe the Bible? Do you believe it with all your heart? Do you obey it? Do you obey it all? Do you reject a part? Do you put your opinion in opposition to the word of God? Are you proud, envious, boastful, vain‑glorious? Will you "curse God and die?" Why not turn and live?
Conversion makes a man like a little child, and he begins the Christian life humble, submissive, ready to do right; and he never grows out of this humble disposition. He is required to grow in knowledge and grace, but the older and wiser he becomes the more he becomes like his Lord and Master. The New Testament clearly teaches that conversion makes a man a babe in Christ: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat; for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men” (1 Cor. 3:1‑3)? "Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new‑born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet. 2:1-3). "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12‑14). "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake” (1 John 2:12). "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:11‑16). "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Why were some of the brethren in apostolic times condemned for their carnality? Because there were envying, strife, and divisions among them. Why were they in this condition? Because they had not received the "sincere milk of the word" in order that they might grow out of this spiritual babyhood. Conversion makes a man a babe in Christ, and not a full‑grown, matured or developed Christian, and if he refuses to receive the sincere milk of the word and grow, he very naturally drifts back into sin, falls from his own steadfastness (2 Pet. 3:17). The supposition that when men are converted they become full‑grown members of the body of Christ is the very essence of delusion.
Why are men required to grow in knowledge and grace? Because it is impossible for an alien to learn EVERYthing before he enters into the remission of sins. Which requires the greater amount of labor, planting a crop or cultivating and gathering the matured grain? Which is the greater achievement, learning the alphabet or obtaining an education afterward? Which involves the greater amount of danger, enlistment or the subsequent perils of the war? Which involves the greater amount of labor, hearing, believing, and obeying the Gospel for the remission of sins that are past (Rom. 3:25), or steadfast continuance in well‑doing unto the end of life? The latter, most decidedly. Hence the gradual growth from childhood to maturity in Christian faith and living. The Divine order is: (1). The Gospel. (2). Preaching. (3). Hearing. (4). Believing. (5). Turning from sin. (6). Confession of Christ. (7). Baptism. (8). Admission into the kingdom of heaven or the church of Christ. (9). Spiritual childhood. (10). Growth or faithful application to duty at all times.
What part of a man is changed in conversion? Unquestionably every part that has been ALIENATED from God through sin. The conversion required by the New Testament turns the whole man to God.
This is a very important part of the subject, and as the heart is the center of our being we will begin with it. Is the heart of a wicked man corrupt? Is it the throne of God? Does he love God? "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jer. 17:9)? "An evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matt. 12:35). Paul drew this picture of the wickedness of many nations before Christ came into the world, and it is just as true of millions today: "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a mind devoid of judgment, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:28‑32).
Man is alienated from God in mind, in thought: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord; but the words of the pure are pleasant words” (Prov. 15:26).
Man is alienated from God by wicked acts: "They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good…They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:1, 3).
Man is alienated from the family of God: “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee” (Jer. 4:14)? "Make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezek. 18:31). "The thoughts of the righteous are right” (Prov. 12:5).
Conversion turns the heart; makes it new. In what way? "Purify your hearts, ye double‑minded” (James 4:8). "Purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). The sinner loves sin; he must learn to love the Lord. He fills his heart with wickedness; he must learn to "hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6), and be filled with the Spirit of Christ (Eph. 5:18). Faith changes or makes new the heart. God gives us new hearts because He gives us the means by which they are cleansed (Ezek. 36:26). We purify our own hearts because we accept Jesus, and He crowds out all impurities or sins.
Repentance is a change of mind. A change of mind is followed by a change of thought; that is, the method of thinking. A change of thought is followed by a change of life; or, to put it in stronger language, a reformation of life.
Baptism changes the state. We are baptized "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). We are baptized "into the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). We are baptized into the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3). We are baptized into the one body, church, or kingdom of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). We put on Christ by baptism (Gal. 3:27). If a man can be converted, or turned to God without baptism, he can be converted or turned to God without being "in the name" of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; without being in Christ; without being in the church; and, without obedience (Acts 10:48).
“The obedience of
faith" (Rom.1:5, 16:26) brings us into the family of God, and therefore
gives the Spirit of God: "For ye have not received the Spirit of
bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption,
whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with
our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, then
heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with
Christ” (Rom. 8:15‑17). "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth
Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6).
What is the Spirit of Christ…the Spirit of adoption, and how does it manifest itself? The prophet, when referring to the coming of Jesus into the world, said: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots; and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2). "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). You can take hold of this. You can understand and retain it. Can a man whose heart is full of corruption, whose mind is full of wicked thoughts, whose life is consecrated to selfish ends, claim the gift and presence of the Spirit of Christ? Never! Only the pure can dwell together.
What produces conversion? Here are two possible answers: (1 ). It is the result of hearing, believing, and obeying the Gospel of Christ. (2). It is the result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon sinners. Is the sinner active or passive in conversion? Again, here are two possible answers: (1). He is active. (2). He is not. These two propositions are as far apart as heaven and earth, and one or the other of them is false. If men are converted to God through the Gospel of Christ, as it is found in the New Testament, the theory of the direct work of the Spirit upon the sinner's heart is the invention of ignorant or deluded men. If the Holy Spirit, independent of the "power of the cross," turns men to God, what use have we for the Gospel of Christ? If the sinner is passive in conversion, if he cannot do anything to save himself, who will be responsible for the destruction of those who are not saved?
The advocates of the theory of direct spiritual agency declare that the sinner is helpless, and that he cannot do anything in order to his salvation. Sin has "bound him hand and foot," and he is just as helpless as a dead man! There he is! What will the Lord do with him? Save him? If so, He must save everybody (Acts 10:34)! Surely the advocates of the mourner's bench system of salvation are the most inconsistent people on the face of the earth. They proclaim to the people that they cannot do anything to save themselves, and yet they call them "to the altar," where they pray and agonize for days, weeks, months, and even years! Some profess to have "received a change," while others live and die out of Christ. The “sinner’s prayer” salvation of today is simply an outgrowth of the early 1900’s “mourner’s bench” religion.
Where does the responsibility lie? Who is to blame? ANSWER: The preachers…the so-called Reverends, Pastors, Fathers, Apostles, etc. (2 Cor. 11:15)! Woe! Woe! Woe! to the blind guides (Matt. 15:14).
The Gospel of Christ as found in the Bible (as it is), is sufficient to save the world. Will you receive it and obey it? Do you doubt it? Jesus Christ said: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man (this includes YOU) will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16-17). Are you lost? Jesus Christ came to save the lost. Are you a sinner? Jesus Christ came to call sinners to repentance. He is calling you; calling you now. Please turn, for why will you die? Will you not come to Him and enter His kingdom now? There is but one plan of salvation and one kingdom of Christ. Will you close your eyes, stop your ears, and harden your heart against the truth? The door is open now (2 Cor. 6:2). Soon it will be closed forever and your doom will be sealed. Why, why, O, why will you die?
Please read: Explanation of John 3:3-5