Articles – Conversion


The city of Corinth was dominated by superstition, immorality, and idolatry. It had a population of some 700,000 in Paul’s day; it also served as the seat of government for the province of Achaia. The lasciviousness of the city was deified in worship to Venus and Aphrodite. Religious harlots provided a steady source of income, as they plied their trade. Corinth was a wealthy, luxurious city, filled with Jewish peddlers, foreign traders, sailors, soldiers, and athletes who came there to train. It would be no compliment for someone to say you were acting “ just like a Corinthian.”

How would you go about trying to convince such a culture that baptism is by immersion in water and that it is essential to salvation? This was Paul’s task when he came to the city in 52/53 A.D. He came with the gospel, but what did He find? The story isn’t completely negative, for soon after arriving, Paul found a man by the name of Aquila, who had recently traveled from Rome to Corinth. He was there with his wife, Priscilla (Acts 18:2). Being tentmakers, Paul and Aquila made a natural team. They joined forces in working with their hands, and working for the Lord. Paul used the synagogue as a beginning place for his preaching (Acts 18:4). This was his pulpit.

The arrival of Silas and Timothy brought additional workers. Paul had separated from his companions in Beroea and then traveled on to Athens. Evidently, Silas and Timothy never caught up with Paul in Athens, but they reunited in Corinth (cf. Acts 17: 13-15). It is rightly said that there is “strength in numbers,” and Paul was encouraged to continue his preaching about Jesus. Opposition arose from the Jews, as they blasphemed against Paul and the words he spoke. The Jews would not accept Jesus as the Messiah. The lesson is clear. While God wants all men to be saved, He will not force anyone to come to Him. Paul has no choice but to leave these Jews to their own spiritual destruction; he now concentrates on the Gentiles (Acts 18:6).

Paul preached that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 18:5). True gospel preaching always honors Christ. Paul’s desire was to preach only Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2.  To preach about Christ is to preach the basic principles of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Preaching has no significance apart from who Jesus is. Preaching has no merit apart from the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. While we sometimes (and it is good to do this) emphasize the commands of the gospel, namely, hear, believe, repent, and be baptized, these commands have no power apart from Christ. Obedience to the Lord is more than just being able to memorize a few verses about baptism. True conversion involves all that Christ is and all that He did for us. What were the results of Paul’s preaching? Acts 18:8 says: “And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” Their hearts were receptive. Later, when Paul wrote to this church, he spoke of the great change that had taken place in the lives and hearts of so many in this city. Read about this great change in I Corinthians 6:9-11. The Lord told Paul to continue his work without fear, as there were many people in Corinth that would listen with a view toward salvation (Acts 18:9-10). Paul stayed there 18 months in blessed and favorable circumstances.

This is one of the most exciting stories in the book of Acts because it is filled with success! Yet, if we were given the job of going to this corrupt city would we have preached as Paul did? Would we have said: “No one is interested, the people are too mean, and the obstacles are too many”? Or, would we have said: “The city is full of sinners who need the gospel”? Could it be that God has “much people in this city”? Could it be that it is our responsibility to find them? Think about it?  –  Randy Harshbarger 



All who earnestly desire to know and understand God’s word can do so. Nowhere is this more evident than in the accounts of conversion found in the book of Acts. No honest mind could read these simple, straightforward lessons and not get the point. Consider, for example, the conversion of the eunuch from Ethiopia.

This account of conversion could appropriately be called: THE WORK OF THE FOUR. This alerts us to the fact that four agents were involved in the process of conversion found in Acts 8:26-40. First of all, we read about the angel of the Lord telling Philip the evangelist to travel south to Gaza (v.26). Angels are extremely popular in our relativistic society, as people are always looking for ways to validate their “better felt than told feelings.'” The recent movie Michael portrayed angels in a less than favorable light (I am told). Please note in this case that the angel exerted no direct influence on the eunuch. The eunuch didn’t need the angel in order to be saved. The angel was sent to instruct Philip, and that is all the angel did. The angel simply pointed the preacher in the direction of the person who needed to be converted. Do you find it interesting that Philip never gave his “testimony” about seeing an angel?

Then consider the work of the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:29 says: “And the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” The Holy Spirit helped or guided Philip in his work; the Holy Spirit didn’t need to work on the eunuch directly in order to bring about salvation. There was no miraculous communication needed between the Holy Spirit and eunuch. Does the Holy Spirit work in the matter of conversion today? No one who knows anything at all about the Bible would deny otherwise. The Holy Spirit guided inspired men “unto all truth” (John 16: 13). The Holy Spirit worked in the matter of revealing and confirming the Word of God (Mark 16:20). Yes, the Holy Spirit works today. He works through the medium of the Word to effect change in the hearts of men and women who will listen to His words.

Now consider the work of Philip. This preacher asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading (v.30). Note the emphasis on what the word of God said. Philip didn’t ask the eunuch to recite his own personal feelings, or to tell some story, or to relate some emotional experience. Philip simply began at the place from which the eunuch was reading (Isa. 53) and began to preach Jesus unto him. Conversion always starts with God’s word; there is no substitute for it.

Last, consider the role of the eunuch in this matter. He was an important government man, and he was a religious man (v.27). What more did he need? He needed the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was interested in being further instructed about Jesus Christ (v.31). There are many things Philip could have said to this man, especially when we consider the portion of scripture they were studying from (Isa. 53). The point is, the eunuch got the point! After coming to a certain body of water, the eunuch wanted to know what would keep him from obeying the Lord in baptism. He had heard the word of God. He obviously believed the words that were preached to him. He understood that his life was incomplete without the Lord and so, by faith, he yielded to heaven’s demands and was baptized for the remission of his sins. God didn’t make him do this. Philip didn’t make him do this. Neither the angel nor the Holy Spirit made him do this. He did it because he was convicted that he needed to obey the Lord. If you haven’t joined the eunuch in obedience to the Lord, you need to do so NOW!  ~  Randy Harshbarger 



Arguably, your conversion to Jesus Christ is the most important conversion that has ever taken place. From a personal standpoint this would certainly be true. Allow me though, to say that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus to his Lord and Savior is, likewise, one of the most significant conversions in all of human history. The man who would later be known as the Apostle Paul occupies such an important role in the early history of New Testament Christianity, that we can ill afford to overlook a study of his life. Too, since much of the New Testament was written by him, we must consider the many contributions he made to the faith of God’s people.

References to Paul’s early life can be found in Acts 21:39, Acts 22:3, and Philippians 3:5. Read these passages carefully. Paul was born in Tarsus, an important city in the province of Cilicia. Tarsus became the capital of the Roman province in 67 B.C. and was a free city, meaning it did not have to pay any import taxes. Tarsus could easily rival Athens and Alexandria in being the center for Greek culture. Its geographical location made it a city of great commerce and wealth. The linen industry was a major source of commercialism. The Cydnus River ran close by, providing a convenient waterway for transport. There was a statue honoring the goddess Aphrodite in Tarsus, marking it as a center for idolatry. The ancient historian Strabo said that Tarsus was a city of luxury, levity, and insolence.

Saul spent his early days in the city of Jerusalem, being schooled at the feet of Gamaliel. This is a probable indication that Saul’s father was wealthy, since he was able to send his son away to school. Gamaliel was the grandson of the famous Jewish teacher Hillel. Both of these men were Pharisees. It is said that Gamaliel was recognized as one of the seven greatest teachers in all of Judaism. When Paul tells us that he studied under Gamaliel, he is saying that he received a first-rate education. Was Paul a good student? Listen to his own words. And 1 advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceeding zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14). He learned his lessons well! Saul was not a Hellenist, i.e., a Jew that had adopted the Greek way of life. Saul was the name of Israel’s first king. Rather than being just an Israelite, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He was a descendant of father Abraham. Concerning the Law of Moses he was a Pharisee, the straightest of the straight. Saul of Tarsus had some early contact with the Lord’s church in the city of Jerusalem. We first encounter him in Acts chapter seven, when Stephen was stoned by the bloodthirsty mob. Stephen was charged with teaching against the Law of Moses, and any respectable Jew would heartily agree that justice was served with Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1). Saul increased his opposition against God’s people, doing everything within his power to obliterate those of the Way from off the earth. With all of the zeal and energy he could muster, he was unquestionably dedicated .to the persecution of Christians. He would later say: “For ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it ” (Gal. 1:13).

Saul of Tarsus was an important, wealthy, powerful, influential man. Yet, he was lost and he needed to hear about Jesus. Would the good news of salvation effect change in this champion of Judaism? Would the simple, yet compelling story of a lowly carpenter from Nazareth wrest the shackles of prejudice from the heart of this man? Would the drawing power of the cross be enough to turn the persecutor into one who was persecuted? Such a story and such a change can only come from the Lord!  ~  Randy Harshbarger



All responsible people are guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23). Sin has a payday; and when people persist in sin, they ultimately face the wrath of God (Rom. 6:23). Ij is equally clear, that the only way men can be saved from sin is by the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8-9). The fact that this is clearly taught in the Bible doesn’t mean that men readily accept this truth. The fact that men have concocted many ways (according to them) by which they can be saved is proof that they resist what God says. We ask the question: At what point in man’s response to God is he saved by the blood of Christ? What does the Bible say about this matter?

Some insist that God will save everyone. That is, everyone will go to heaven, and no one will go to hell. That is a rather convenient and comforting teaching, but is it true? Jesus spoke of two ways, one broad and the other narrow. The broad way leads to destruction, while the narrow way leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). Jesus certainly didn’t have the idea that everyone was’ going to be saved, even though that is His desire. Then, some say that a person is saved at the precise moment he or she believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This is another way of saying that men are “justified by faith alone.” Some add that justification is by faith alone “without works of any kind.” Others speak of being “ordained to. eternal life.” The end result is that a person is not baptized to be saved, but because he had already been saved. This says that faith is the only condition of salvation, and that baptism has nothing to do with being saved.

There are a number of passages that show other important considerations in the matter of salvation. For example, Acts 2:38 speaks about baptism; but it also speaks about repentance. So, is salvation by faith alone, or is it by faith plus

repentance? Jari1es 2:24ff talks about the faith of Abraham and says that faith without works is dead and that man is not justified by faith alone. Whom shall we believe, God or man? Jesus spoke about believing, which all admit is necessary to salvation; but He also said you must be baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:15-16). Does the Lord know as much about this as man knows? Baptism stands between the sinner and being saved. Who is saved? He that believes and is not baptized, or he that believes and is baptized? Who is right, Jesus or man? Baptism stands between the sinner and the remission of sins. That is what Peter said on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). Remember, Peter and the other apostles were simply preaching what Jesus told them to preach (Luke 24:44). The people on Pentecost asked the question: What must we do to be saved? Peter said: “Repent and be baptized.” It is clear that those folks believed; otherwise, why would they ask what they needed to do?

Baptism stands between the sinner and becoming a son of God. This is what Paul taught in Galatians 3:26-27. The believer has the right or opportunity to become a child of God (John 1: 12). Yet, if he became a son of God when he believed, he wouldn’t have to become one, would he? Ifhe believed, as some say, he would already be a child of God. Paul says that men are baptized into Christ. Baptism also stands between the sinner and having his sins washed away. Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul) was told to be baptized in order to have his sins washed away (Acts 22: 16). It is clear that he believed in who Jesus was. Yet, this didn’t mean that he was saved. If he was already saved at the point of faith, then there wasn’t anything to wash away. The New Testament also teaches that baptism stands between the sinner and getting into Christ. The only way to get into Christ is to be baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4). If you can be saved without being baptized, then you can be saved without Christ. Who would be so foolish as to say that a person can be saved without Christ?

When is the penitent believer saved from past or alien sins? He is saved when he is baptized into Jesus Christ. Have you obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why not?  ~  Randy Harshbarger


“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision.  “Ananias.”.  And he said, “Here I am, Lord” (Acts 9:10).  While we recognize Saul’s intense hatred for the followers of Jesus, his complete devotion to what he believed was right, and his evident sincerity and good conscience, still he lacked what the Lord was offering — salvation through the blood of Christ.  Fasting and praying might indicate a change of direction, but still, Saul needed to come in contact with the Lord’s will for his life.

The book of Acts indicates that when someone needed to hear gospel, the gospel was presented to that person by a “preacher.” The  gospel is communicated by a messenger.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15).  Ananias is summoned.  Ananias, at first, was reluctant to go to Saul.  “Brother Saul,” a common greeting, was not a statement about Saul’s spiritual condition, yea or nay.  Saul could not see; maybe Ananias wanted to convey warmth and good will to this blind persecutor.  This meeting resulted in the scales falling from Saul’s eyes and his baptism (presumably by Ananias). Only then did Saul eat some food.

“Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.  Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.  Then all who heard were amazed and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”  (Acts 9:19-21).  While the Christians in Damascus were naturally skeptical about the change in Saul, it is clear that he was soon accepted into the fellowship of believers.

When Saul obeyed the gospel, he was added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47.)  His relationship to Christ changed.  No longer was Saul a persecutor; now as he preached Christ, he was often persecuted for this radical change.  Saul immediately began doing what the Lord wanted him to do; he preached that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Christ of God.  He argued about who Jesus was; he appealed to the OT in support of his preaching; he increased in strength and courage.  Imagine the surprise of the authorities in the synagogues – those who had granted him approval to kill Christians – as Saul now worked with the followers of Christ.

Following Jesus always comes with a price.  “But their plot became known to Saul.  And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.  Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket” (Acts 9:24-25).  Saul openly traveled the road to Damascus, pursuing Jesus’ disciples.  Now, he leaves Damascus under the cover of night in order to escape with his life.  Paul wrote to Timothy: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”  (2 Timothy  3:12).  Paul wrote to the Philippians:  “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).  Are you on the Damascus R0ad?  – Randy Harshbarger, Sunday, June 7, 2015