Thomas Allen Robertson
In Matthew 18:3 Christ said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Peter said, “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 3:19). From these two passages one can plainly see that conversion is necessary if one is to be saved. But there is much confusion in the religious world as to what constitutes conversion. Various denominations have so clouded the question of conversion that many believe that they have been converted who have not truly submitted unto the will of God. But regardless of the confusion, the plain fact that one must be converted cannot be denied. So we turn to the word of God to see how men were converted to Christ in the Bible. Whatever it took to turn men to God in the New Testament is still necessary to turn men to God today.
Steps of Conversion
As we turn to the New Testament we find that certain things are stated as being necessary to a man’s salvation. These things were commanded by Christ and also by the apostles after they began to preach the gospel under the great commission.
1. The first basic step in conversion is that one must hear the gospel. Christ said,
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me (John 6:44-45).
In this passage Christ states the impossibility of coming to him until drawn of the Father; then goes on to state that the drawing is done through hearing and learning. The apostle Paul makes the same point when he writes, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17) Thus the first step in conversion is hearing the gospel, because the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every creature that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16)
2. The next logical step is that one must have faith in Christ as the Son of God. As Christ reasoned with the unbelieving Jews He told them that they would die in their sins and then He told them why in these words: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). As the disciples went forth preaching the gospel of Christ they also emphasized the necessity of faith in Christ and in God. The Hebrews writer said, “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6). And when the Ethiopian eunuch expressed his desire to be baptized into Christ by saying, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized” (Acts 8:36). Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest” (Acts 8:37). So we see that faith in God and in Christ as His Son is the second specifically commanded step in the salvation of man.
3. The third step on the road to obedience to God is that one must repent of past sins. Once one has heard the gospel of Christ and has come to believe that Christ is the Son of God he then is ready to repent, to change his mind regarding sin, to resolve in his heart to no longer walk in sin but to walk in the way of God. This Christ commanded as He preached among men when He told the Jews, “I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). In this passage Christ takes a physical incident and uses it to apply the spiritual fact that one must repent or perish. As the Apostle Paul stood in the midst of the heathenism and idolatry of the men of Athens he was stirred by their religious ignorance and declared,
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
And in 2 Peter 3:9 Peter said that God is, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
4. The fourth step in conversion as commanded by Christ and repeated by the apostles is confession of faith in Christ as the Son of God. Christ said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33). And the Apostle Paul said, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).
5. The fifth step in conversion and the one that, in connection with the others, finally puts one into Christ where he has the forgiveness of sins, is baptism. Christ commanded, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). On the day of Pentecost when for the first time,repentance and remission of sins was preached in the name of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Peter told those who desired to be saved to, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Then in Galatians 3:26-27 Paul said, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” And Peter said, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).
Thus we have seen that each of the steps in conversion—hearing, faith, repentance, confession, and baptism were specifically commanded by Christ, and repeated by the apostles when they went out to preach the gospel under the great commission.