|Vol. 13 No. 7 July 2011||
Owen D. Olbricht
A struggle many of us might have is, “Who needs to be converted?” We find many people who seem more dedicated or of better character than those in some of the Lord’s churches. Do these good people need to be converted?
When I lived in Lamar, Missouri, I made friends with the husband of a lady who began attending where I preached. He was one of the nicest, most modest and unassuming men I have been around, being both helpful and considerate. A person could not ask for a more polite companion. He had been a math instructor in a university and later became the highly respected brains for an engineering company. His only responsibility was to sit in the office and solve the problems that arose in the company’s operations.
The few years I knew him, when we fished and hiked together, I never heard him say an unkind word or use profanity. He came to church to hear me preach. As a fellow human being, I have not been around a more enjoyable person. However, he was an atheist, an unbeliever, which I could not get to obey the Gospel of Christ. Did he need salvation that is in Christ?
Worlds of Good People
Outside and inside of religious and church circles are many respectable people that have excellent reputations and community standings. Christians have parents, children, relatives and friends who are some of the top crust of the world, and in many cases more upstanding in character than some members of the church. Do these people need to be converted?
Sinful People with Jesus
Jesus chose sinful people as leaders in His service to His Father. The first and maybe the most prominent apostle He chose admitted that he was a sinful man (Luke 5:8). Jesus ate with prostitutes and the detested tax-gathers (Matthew 9:10-13). When the pious and self-righteous leaders among the Jews criticized Him for His association with such sinners, He responded, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). The problem with His critics was that they did not recognize their own condition. Jesus later said to them that the tax-gathers and prostitutes would go into the kingdom of God before they would (Matthew 21:31).
Was the majority of the crowd that followed Jesus the worst of sinners? Absolutely not, for the multitudes that followed Jesus were common, religious people who gladly listened to Him proclaim the Word of God (Mark 12:37). Most people would say the recognized sinners needed forgiveness, but did the common people need to be converted?
The recorded conversions in the New Testament were of dedicated religious people. On the day of Pentecost, the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem were devout Jews from nations in the Roman Empire (Acts 2:5). Peter did not hesitate to tell them, “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Those who gladly received his words were baptized (Acts 2:41). They were very religious people. Some of them had traveled from Rome to Jerusalem to observe the Jewish Pentecost Feast.
A eunuch from Ethiopia journeyed hundreds of miles, perhaps a month’s round trip, to worship God. While returning home, he showed his interest in God’s Word by reading from Isaiah as he traveled (Acts 8:27-30). When told about Jesus, he believed and was baptized (Acts 8:37, 38).
A more highly acclaimed religious man than Cornelius would be hard to find. He was devout, God-fearing with all his household, gave generously to the poor and prayed to God continually (Acts 10:2), but he was lost. In order to learn what to do to be saved, he was instructed to send for Peter who would tell him what to do (Acts 11:14).
Lydia was a worshipper of God. Paul found her outside the city of Philippi by the riverside where women were gathered for prayer.
The highly motivated and conscientious Saul, also called Paul (Acts 13:9), was more dedicated than his equals in the Jewish religion and “exceedingly zealous of the traditions” of his fathers (Galatians 1:14). He lived blamelessly according to the Law that God had given to Moses (Philippians 3:6). Did all of these need to be converted?
What did these all have in common? They were the cream of the crop of dedicated religious people, which most religious groups would gladly accept and receive as being right in the sight of God. The problem was not that they were not religious, but that they were sinners who were not religiously right.
They all had to submit to the same requirements in order to be converted. Even though not stated, but by implication, the conclusion can be drawn that they all needed to believe (Act 10:43), repent (Acts 3:19) and confess (Rom. 1:10) in order to be saved, but that is not all. No guesswork is needed to learn that they all were baptized (Acts 2:41; 8:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15). The stated purpose was “forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:28) and to “wash away” their sins (Acts 22:16).
Many very respectable religious people of today who are satisfied with their condition need to obey Jesus in order to be saved (Hebrews 5:9). Acceptance by a religious group or membership in a church does not mean that a person is saved.
“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Because we do not have personal righteousness, we are saved by grace and not by our works. Before his conversion, Paul had relied on his own righteousness according to the Law, but he left that approach in order to obtain the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus (Philippians 3:9). Jesus took Paul’s and our sins so that we could be made righteous in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The majority of the converts as recorded in the Book of Acts were sincere religious people. Paul wrote of some who were base sinners (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Regardless of their religious or non-religious condition, all people are sinners and need to be converted to Christ.
The world is full of dedicated religious people and morally orientated non-believers. They need Christ, and we should seek to convert them; “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23). The Gospel is the only means of salvation (Romans 1:16). Jesus is going to take vengeance on those who do not obey it (2 Thessalonians 1:8). This is why all people need to hear “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). Jesus made the Gospel known so that we can obey it and live by it. He told His followers: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16 NASB).