Seven Great Questions
(Part 4) What is Conversion?
Robert Wurtz II
So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying, ‘GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY: “HEARING YOU WILL HEAR, AND SHALL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND SEEING YOU WILL SEE, AND NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEARTS OF THIS PEOPLE HAVE GROWN DULL. THEIR EARS ARE HARD OF HEARING, AND THEIR EYES THEY HAVE CLOSED, LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, LEST THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEARTS AND TURN, SO THAT I SHOULD HEAL THEM.” ‘ (Act 28:23-27)
Paul had arrived at Rome for the last leg of his ministry upon the earth. Here he would spend roughly two years preaching the Gospel and then finally be put to death by the tyrant Roman ruler Nero. On this recorded occasion Paul had assembled the leaders of the Jews for a meeting and some teaching. They had already heard of the ‘sect’ of Christians – knowing little about it – except it was spoken against everywhere. Understanding the uphill battle that lay before him, Paul explained and testified of the kingdom of God, teaching them persuasively from Moses and the prophets from morning until evening. We may assume that this session lasted some twelve hours. Understand that these Jewish leaders were well acquainted with the scriptures and some may have been experts in the law. Nevertheless, they had not heard the truths of the Old Testament put together so as to set forth God’s plan in redeeming man and restoring them back to Himself.
Paul was obviously not in a hurry. It has been said that our generation wants the God of the microwave… while ours is the God of the crock pot. That is to say, God is not nearly in as big of hurry as man is. Paul never had the attitude that he needed to “hurry up and get these people saved” before they die in their sleep or in a tragic accident. This notion is relatively new – having its origin in the preaching of Charles G. Finney (ca. early to late 1800s) and later the great Chicago fire of the late 1800s and its effect on the ministry of Dwight L. Moody. Prior to this time people went through what is sometimes called a “struggle of faith.” Nevertheless, Paul was in no such hurry. He wanted the hearers to hear and see what was being said so that they might understand in their hearts and turn to Christ. God has to speak to a person’s heart and deal with them. When He speaks they need to respond immediately. However, even if they did not respond there is no way through human agency to speed up the process. We can compel people or beseech (bed) them to respond to God, but we dare not give them an easy out such as a repeat type prayer or something else as a substitute for responding to what God is dealing with them about. Again, this is usually a process and it cannot be rushed. There may be exceptions to this pattern, but they are few and far between. Understand that Paul was not preaching so as to secure a repeatable prayer from the people; he wanted them to hear, respond and turn to God themselves and in a way that God could believe them.
We have God’s ultimate objective in salvation in the final part of the verse where the Holy Spirit spoke these words through the prophet Isaiah, “THAT I SHOULD HEAL THEM.” This is the ultimate healing. It is healing of our Sin condition. God wants to heal all people of their hardened, wretched, sinful heart and a host of other systemic problems we all inherited from Adam as a direct result of the fall of man. God wants to heal us of the inward enmity that exists between us and God. Sin entered the human race and man is born with a propensity to rebel against and run from God. Peter reminded the Christians of what life was like before they were healed when he wrote, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
(1Pe 2:24-25) The stripes that Jesus took in the day of his passion were primarily for the healing of our Sin problem. God wanted to heal us of our propensity to go astray from God and into a life of sin. In the words of God through Hosea… ” I will heal their backsliding.” Every physical healing we have ever experienced or beheld is a witness testifying to God’s power to heal our Sin condition. Wilt thou be made whole?
As with today, so it was then, some believed and some disbelieved. There is no need to trouble ourselves with figuring out why this is the case. The scriptures tells us why. Paul simply quoted the prophet, “ ‘GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY: “HEARING YOU WILL HEAR, AND SHALL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND SEEING YOU WILL SEE, AND NOT PERCEIVE; FOR THE HEARTS OF THIS PEOPLE HAVE GROWN DULL. THEIR EARS ARE HARD OF HEARING, AND THEIR EYES THEY HAVE CLOSED, LEST THEY SHOULD SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, LEST THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEARTS AND TURN, SO THAT I SHOULD HEAL THEM.’ ” Though God stood ready and willing to do it, these people were not healed of their Sin condition. They came to the meeting bound to Sin and left bound to Sin. They came with wretched, deceitful, hardened hearts and they left with them. Why? Lets take the passage in reverse. They were not healed:
First, because they did not turn. Twelve hours of preaching and teaching and still these people would not turn. God was saying, “TURN and be healed!” But the people would not be turned. They were obstinate. They were stiff necked. The word was being sown into their hearts but it was being choked by thorns or deprived of the good earth necessary to bring forth fruit. Our Greek word for “turn” is the same that Peter used in his sermon earlier in Acts 3:19, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Repent in this context means to change your mind and don’t change it back. Be “converted” is from the same Greek word translated as “turn” in Acts 28. Change your mind so that you agree with what God has said about everything and TURN to Him. Why? So that the times of refreshing will come from receiving His Spirit. Some people claim to have turned and have done everything except turn. They have not received the Spirit because they will not agree with God’s Word about issues He has clearly spoken about. No person can walk in the Spirit until they are first will to agree with the Spirit… and the Spirit and the Word agree.
Secondly, because they did not understand. The Gospel of the kingdom – as it is Biblically – never made sense to them. In modern times, people will receive a self-serving Gospel that gets sins forgiven, physical healing and financial prosperity… but they will not receive a Gospel where we are called to forsake ourselves and follow Christ. They want what they perceive are the benefits of the cross – but do not want to take up their own cross. Resisting little truths contained in the Gospel results in a complete lack of understanding of the Gospel. Moreover, rebellion and sin effects the minds ability to reason properly about spiritual issues. The more a person desires to indulge in sin the more spiritually obtuse they will be. The heart of the person is grown fat (literally is the Greek rendering). They are indulging in the pleasures of this life and it is effecting their capacity to comprehend the Gospel of the kingdom.
Thirdly, they have closed their eyes. Figuratively, they don’t want to see the evidence. They are overlooking truths that they should be paying close attention to. They typically always want to argue about things that they don’t want to accept as truth. In fact, they are turning away from the truth and are turning to fables (falsehoods). They turn to fables because they are self-serving. Fables get God doing what man wants Him to do instead of the other way around.
Fourthly, they have closed their ears. Paul speaks of a time when people will not endure sound doctrine, but will heap to themselves teachers who tickle the ears. This has never been more possible than in the 21st century. People shop around and select what they want to hear. The Christian world is like the largest buffet in the history of mankind and people are passing by with their plates in their hands. What are they eating? Whose cooking do they prefer? Paul never preached an ear tickling message. He preached and taught what the people needed in order to set them on a path to walking in the Spirit.
The results of all these things is simple and saddening, they are no healed of their Sin problem. They are still in rebellion. They prayed a prayer and someone announced they were saved, but they were never healed. They never repented so as to be converted so that God would heal the greatest need of all. A thousand terminal doctors reports could not begin to present the gravity of our mortal Sin problem. Tens of millions of people have stood in prayer lines in churches and under tents to be healed of their physical disease, but God said, ” I will heal their backsliding.” Who will get in that healing line? Who will endure a 12 hour message if it takes that – just to get them to the place where they can comprehend what God is wanting to do? Who will agree with God, line upon line and precept upon precept, until they understand with their hearts? Who will keep their ears attentive to non-ear tickling messages long enough to have a grasp of what is being said? Who will open their eyes and see the truth as it is plainly set before them? Will thou be made whole? Hear, see, understand and turn and God stands ready to heal.