Intermediate Bible Studies

Intermediate Bible Studies

12b. The Conversion of the Jews and Gentiles

The Conversion of the Jews and Gentiles

It is always amazing to note how the devil invents new lies to deceive people and keep them from accepting the pure and simple gospel of Christ. And, just as amazing is the fact that so many are willing to depart from the simple truths of God for the complicated and confusing doctrines of demons. Consider II Corinthians 11:2-4 cf. Galatians 1:6-10. One such doctrine that appears to be of relatively modern invention is the theory that the Jews were offered one plan of salvation in Acts 2 and the Gentiles were offered another in Acts 10.

Ulterior Motives

As always there is an ulterior motive to all of this and it has to do with the absolute refusal of many to accept the truth of “baptism for the forgiveness” of sins! Inextricably bound up with this is the false view that water baptism has little or nothing to do with “spiritual baptism.” And so, in the minds of many, there is a “spiritual baptism” which is essential to salvation and is something that God figuratively and symbolically does when one is saved by “faith only”; and there is a “physical and literal water baptism” which has nothing to do with being saved. It’s just something you should do later, after you have “accepted Jesus into your heart.” Thus water baptism is incidental not essential to salvation and is just a symbol of what has supposedly already happened in conversion that took place when one was saved by “faith only” in the “sinner’s prayer.” (You should notice right here that what the denominations and dogmas of men do is make baptism a very difficult and complicated doctrine to understand! Approaching the Scriptures on baptism with a good and honest humble heart is [and should be] relatively simple. But, when men reject the clear teaching of the Word of God things get twisted in a hurry. You will actually hear some men say, “It may sound like baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, but that is not what the Scripture really means.” So, in other words, God does not mean what he clearly says?)

And, as can be expected, all false doctrine has its presuppositions. What are the presuppositions of this “new heresy”? Well, they are simply the “old” dogmas of the doctrines of the Reformation: First, “salvation is by grace alone through faith alone” thus we are saved by “faith only.” Second, salvation has nothing to do with being justified by any kind of works or obedience to any of the commands of God. Third, “baptism is only the outward sign of an inward grace.” These and other lies form the crux of most of the arguments men make against baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

A History of Apostasy

The evolutionary nature of false doctrine is always interesting. In the beginning of the history of the early church truth was simple. There was no conflict and confusion over the doctrine of “baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” It (i.e., God’s Word) was just too plain! But, as prophesied, the Apostasy was coming. See I Timothy 4:1-2 cf. Acts 20:28-31. In the Second Century, baptism was almost universally understood as being an immersion administered to penitent, confessing believers. It was clearly understood as being for (i.e., bringing about) the forgiveness of sins and thus necessary for salvation … except for a few fringe Gnostic heretics! (It must be noted in the Second Century that the only ones who denied the place of baptism in salvation were considered heretics.) Gradually though, over time the form of baptism was changed to allow for “clinical baptisms” (i.e., baptism for the sick and dying) and other exceptional cases. Not only was the form of baptism changed to allow for pouring and sprinkling but the nature and purpose of baptism were affected as well. As a result, by the time of the Third and following centuries baptism was not at all what it was in the New Testament. Various apostasies also included the belief that: it was the water that saved; infants should be baptized; martyrdom would bring about the forgiveness of sins in place of baptism; etc. (Sources: “Early Christians Speak” by Everett Ferguson; “Encyclopedia of Early Christianity” edited by Everett Ferguson; “Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up” by David W. Bercot; “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” edited by David W. Bercot)

In the Middle Ages, of course, the Apostasy raged on within the Roman Catholic Church. But even the Protestant Reformation did not restore the proper place and significance of “baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Instead most of the Reformers adopted the view of salvation by “faith only” apart from any act of obedience to the commands of God. Thus our Lord’s and the Apostles’ teaching about baptism has never been fully accepted by faith in the Protestant Churches that teach “faith only.” What an ironic tragedy! Let us stop right here and notice something together. Isn’t it amazing that those who put all of their emphasis on “faith” in salvation are the very ones who do not believe God and his Word on baptism? Think about it!

Now it is common for some of those in the Reformed tradition to mock and ridicule those churches that seek to be restored to the truth of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Some will even go so far as accusing them of being cult-like and legalistic, teaching salvation by law and the works of man’s righteousness. How sad when men hold to their man-made traditions rather than the clear Word of God. Consider Matthew 15:1-19; Mark 7:1-23 – Jesus said, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? […] Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ […] You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. […] You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”

In addition to all of this history, many heretics have worked overtime to devise all kinds of false doctrines and systematic theologies to “prove” that baptism is not necessary for the forgiveness of sins and for salvation. They have blasphemed not only baptism but have also perverted the Word of God in the process of denying the clear and simple teaching of Scripture. Perverse minds have sought to make God’s word not mean what it says by resorting to “the Greek” and all kinds of supposedly lexical and grammatical arguments. (For example, some say the term “for” in “for the forgiveness of sins” only means “because” your sins have already been forgiven. Nonsense! We might as well then do the same thing with Matthew 26:28. If not, why not?) Others have used all kinds of confusing and convoluted arguments in an attempt to pit baptism against faith and faith against obedience and works. Some would even make baptism a work, not of God or faith but of the law or even man’s own righteousness. Ridiculous! Then there are favorite approaches that seem to have been burned into the brains of those who would seek to know truth by those who would seek to deceive and delude. (“But what about the thief on the Cross?” they ask. The problem is, very few seem to know when the New Covenant actually began. See Hebrews 9:15-17.) But now, in more recent times, it appears that a new theory has arrived on the scene to be added to the dozens of arguments that some “believers” (?) seek to make against God and his Word on baptism.

A New Gospel?

The “latest theory and argument” has to do with the supposed differences between the conversion of the Jews on Pentecost in Acts 2 and the conversion of the Gentiles in Acts 10. The theory is that the Jews on the Day of Pentecost were told one thing and the Gentiles from Cornelius on were told something else. So, this purportedly accounts for the Jews being told to be “baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” This would include Acts 2:38 and also apply to Paul in Acts 22:16 and supposedly any other account of conversion before Acts 10. Then, according to this theory, the final word on how to be saved was given to Cornelius and the Gentiles in Acts 10 and following. (So, this would also include all of the teaching of the Epistles.) It is believed that the Jews were told one thing and the Gentiles were told another. Since there was a period of transition of about ten years between the time the Jews came into the kingdom and the Gentiles came into the kingdom, there was also allegedly a corresponding difference in what each was told they had to do in order to be saved. Thus, according to this theory, this accounts for “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” being only for the Jews and it accounts for the Gentiles supposedly being saved by "faith only" without baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

You do realize that this "theory" actually validates Acts 2:38 and baptism being for the "forgiveness of sins"! For the longest time men have fought against the truth that Acts 2:38 teaches that baptism is actually for "the forgiveness of sins." But now it appears that some are willing to concede that all the arguments to the contrary have failed. Now, rather than accepting the full truth of Acts 2:38-39 (that it applies to all!) they come up with another specious argument to pervert the Word of God.

This is a pretty ingenious theory but, it actually presents more problems than it solves! (Of course that’s what the doctrines and commandments of sinful men always do.) Questions, questions, questions … all this does is raise a plethora of questions. Why, if baptism for the Gentiles (and thus the rest of us) is “an outward sign of an inward grace” is this not so for the Jews? If any Jew ever wants to be baptized today, do they have to be “baptized for the forgiveness of sins”? If “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” for the Gentiles is a “work of law or of man’s righteousness” why would it not be so for the Jews in Acts 2? Why would Peter at the very beginning of the New Covenant and the first proclamation of the gospel forget about “grace only through faith only” if that is indeed the way of salvation? How does this theory not do violence to (i.e., compromise) New Covenant principles by proposing two separate covenant terms of salvation? Etc.

To The Heart of the Matter!

But, let’s get to the point and cut a straight line to the truth of the matter. All this nonsensical demonically inspired theory ends up demanding two plans of salvation during the time of the New Testament faith. Who can believe that? The Bible says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The Bible says that there is neither Jew nor Gentile but we are all one in Christ Jesus. See Galatians 3:26-29. The Bible says that Jesus came to make the Jew and the Gentile into one body, one church, one way. See Ephesians 2:11-3:13. There were no separate or temporary plans of salvation in Christ – one for the Jews and the other for the Gentiles. How foolish! How blasphemous! How sinful to distort and twist Scripture to such ends for such evil purposes! (Again, this theory would have never been created were it not for those who blaspheme God on baptism. They invented it solely to dispense with “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” in order to hold on to their two golden calves – the doctrine of “faith only” and the doctrine of “the sinner’s prayer.”)

What is more, a simple reading of Acts 2 tells us that, “In the last days […] everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. See Acts 2:17-21 (Joel 2:28-32). When the people asked, “What must we do to be saved?” Peter basically expounded upon what “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” means! It means, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” See Acts 2:37-38. Peter then goes on to say, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Does any of this sound at all like all of this is anything other than for both the Jews and the Gentiles together? So, Acts 2:37-38 is not just for the Jews, it is for everyone who would be saved! And again, remember, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile […] for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-29)

Now go to Acts 15 and see what else Peter says about the conversion and salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles. After the Gentiles had come into the kingdom of God and enjoyed the blessings of salvation there were those (i.e., the Judaizing teachers) who were trying to make them go back to the Law of Moses for their justification. (This is the actual background and context of the books of Galatians and Romans.) All the Apostles, including Peter, met in Jerusalem to review what had occurred in the salvation of the Jews and the Gentiles and to determine what needed to be done in the controversy that had arisen in the early church. Peter was one of the first to speak and what he said should settle and silence once and for all the theories that some have proposed regarding some supposed difference between the Jews’ salvation in Acts 2 and the Gentile’s salvation in Acts 10 and beyond. Peter said, “The Jews are saved exactly like the Gentiles.” See Acts 15:7-11! There was no “transitional” difference between Acts 2 and Acts 10 when it came to the how and the way of salvation. So, baptism for the forgiveness of sins is true for the Jews and for the Gentiles!

It is absolutely incredible that there are those who not only see two distinct and separate cases of conversion in the book of Acts, some actually try to discern four! They believe they have: (1) The Jews at Pentecost – Acts 2:38; (2) The Samaritans – Acts 8:14-17; (3) The Gentiles in the House of Cornelius – Acts 10:44-48; and (4) The Disciples of John the Baptizer at Ephesus – Acts 19:1-7. While there are differences to be sure in each of these accounts, they were all – every one of them – saved in the same essential way! It would appear that there are too many that just simply cannot discern the truth from the numerous stylistic differences that Luke uses in the book of Acts to relate the examples of conversion and non-conversion. For instance one of Luke’s accounts of conversion simply says, “a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” See Acts 6:7! This does not sound at all like “faith only,” now does it? The fact is all the accounts of conversion are virtually the same when it comes to what is essential to salvation. We need to accept Luke’s approach and the Spirit’s revealing of truth in its entirety. Luke does not literally say the same thing every time. Some accounts mention faith, some mention repentance, some mention baptism. What does it take to be saved? All of them together represent the whole counsel of God in his Word on the subject of salvation.

And Then There Are Other Problems …

One of the problems with all of the conflict and controversy in the religious world over baptism and whether or not it is for the forgiveness of sins and thus is necessary for salvation is that most cannot seem to make any sense out of the mention and work of the Holy Spirit in the cases of conversion throughout Acts. (Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit is another doctrine of faith that most in the religious world just do not seem to understand. And again, the doctrines of demons and men love to confuse and complicate the truth of God on this subject, just like they do on baptism. Should we even mention that when it comes to the subject of “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” most appear to go more than a little crazy?)

When dealing with baptism in the book of Acts we must also notice the place and presence of the Holy Spirit in many of the accounts of conversion. Some people appear to be rather confused and other individuals use the subject of the Spirit to purposely confuse those who would seek the truth. It is imperative that we use a little common sense and a whole lot of spiritual discernment when it comes to the work of the Spirit in and around baptism! First, do not assume that every time you read anything about the Holy Spirit it always means exactly the same thing. Bible study and interpretation is always about “context, context, and context.” Secondly, the “gift” of the Holy Spirit is not necessarily the same thing as the “gifts” of the Holy Spirit! Third, the “indwelling presence of the Spirit” is not the same thing as the “miraculous manifestations of the Spirit.” To put it simply, the Spirit’s “gift” of speaking in tongues (i.e., speaking in known human languages) is not a proof of either salvation or God’s indwelling presence. Many assume that just because the Holy Spirit is present in some of the accounts of conversion, his presence is proof that someone is saved before baptism. Now go through some of the examples of conversion that mention baptism and the Holy Spirit. Let’s keep it simple.

The Jews on the Day of Pentecost

On the Day of Pentecost we find that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in particular and miraculously empowered them to speak in various human languages as they proclaimed the gospel in all its fullness for the very first time. See Acts 2:1-12. When the Jews heard the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ they were convicted by the words and wonders of the Spirit. See Acts 2:22-36. The promised Holy Spirit had come! See Acts 2:17,33. Then the people asked what they had to do to be saved and Peter simply and clearly told them what to do: “‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized …” (Acts 2:38-41) In all this the Apostle told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing complicated about this answer … that is, unless you really just don’t want to believe God.

The Gentiles in the Household of Cornelius

Move forward to Acts 10 and the conversion of Cornelius. (The actual account is found in Acts 10:34-48 and Acts 11:4-18 as well as the reference in Acts 15:7-11. Read it! By the way does anyone pay attention to the fact that Peter said, “God … accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right [i.e., work righteousness]”? If salvation is by “faith only” why did Peter say we have to “work righteousness”? And no, this righteousness in not our own or of the Law, but rather the righteousness of God’s work in us! See Isaiah 26:12; John 6:28-29; Galatians 5:6; Philippians 2:12-13; Colossians 2:12 and Luke 17:7-10.) Now some go to an awful lot of trouble to purposely misunderstand the Scripture here because they just do not want to accept “baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” What do they do? They insist that because the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius he was saved! Then later he was baptized. So, there you have it (they think), one is saved before and without baptism. Hold on just one moment! Look at it again. What Cornelius and his household received was not the filling and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. What he received was one of the signifying gifts of the Spirit – “speaking in tongues” (i.e., other human languages). Even Peter recognized the amazing thing that had happened and he understood it to be a validating act of God upon the Gentiles that they too were acceptable to him. See Acts 10:44-47 and Acts 11:15-18. This “gift” was the same “gift” that had fallen on the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost at the beginning!

It is pure assumption to say that this coming of the Spirit upon Cornelius and his household meant that they were (or we are) saved by “faith only.” (It should also be noted that in Acts 11 we are told that Peter “explained everything to them [i.e., the other brethren in Jerusalem] precisely as it had happened.” See Acts 11:4. Then Peter said, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.” See Acts 11:15. Thus, it appears that Peter only started to give them the gospel and the Spirit came upon the Gentiles with the miraculous gift of speaking in other languages! Peter obviously had not finished his sermon on salvation and went on to do so. Then notice that in Acts 10:48, after realizing that the Gentiles were now approved by God to be saved, he “ordered (i.e., commanded) them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” Let me ask a simple question right here: Why was baptism “commanded” if it is not essential for the forgiveness of sins and salvation? Let me ask another question: If Cornelius had not been baptized – if he refused baptism – would he have been saved?

A Little Bit More …

Now, for a little more study to hopefully put some of this into perspective, take the time to read the conversion of the Samaritans in Acts 8:4-25. Notice that once again the Spirit came on the Samaritans in some obviously miraculous and visible way. In Acts 19:1-7  we also find another occasion when the Spirit came in some miraculous way – “speaking in tongues and prophesying.” Do not confuse these miraculous gifts and manifestations of the Spirit with the personal indwelling of the Spirit’s presence in all baptized believers. Again look at Acts 2:38-39 and note that Acts 5:32 says that, “the Holy Spirit is given by God to those who obey him.” The “gift of the Holy Spirit” is one thing. The “miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit” are something else. For more on the miraculous gifts of the Spirit study I Corinthians 12:1-13! (And see the special study, "What About Miracles?")

Summary and Conclusion

Finally there is another problem with the bizarre theory that Acts 2 and Acts 10 represent two different plans of salvation – one for the Jews and the other for the Gentiles and all the rest of us. That problem is very simply this: It totally ignores all that the Gospels and Epistles have to say about the truth and necessity of baptism into Christ and his body for the forgiveness of sins. It is shameful what men have done to the doctrine of baptism! All of the major religious thinkers in times past would never have thought of separating baptism into two separate events – a physical water baptism and a completely different spiritual saving baptism.

It never seems to occur to many that “physical water baptism” and “spiritual saving baptism” are, in fact, one and the same baptism – one baptism with two parts! This is the one baptism of “water and the Spirit” that Jesus talked about in John 3:1-21,36. This is the “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” that Paul talks about in Titus 3:3-8 cf. Acts 22:16; I Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:25-27. Why can’t all this happen at the same time? Well, friend, it does! To believe that these and all the other passages that allude to baptism do not refer to and include “water baptism” is to believe the lies of men and not the Truth of God. In fact, one passage that becomes readily clear once the Truth of God on baptism is accepted is Hebrews 10:19-31. Specifically consider these words: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our heart sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess …” How is this not a clear reference to faith, repentance and baptism in the profession (i.e., confession) of faith we make to God? What a beautiful way in which to describe conversion. May the Lord open your eyes to see all the wonders of his grace! Remember, it is all a matter of grace – even baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Most all of the religious leaders in times past would still admit that there is only “one baptism” – even if they did not fully believe baptism was essential for salvation. It is only in more modern times that men have tried to completely separate “water baptism” from “spiritual baptism.” How sad. It just gets back to the fact that no one is so blind as he who will not see! Read all the passages in the Gospels and Epistles that mention or allude to baptism and it really is easy. In fact to misunderstand, you have to go to a lot of trouble. Just remember that when someone has to go and complicate a simple truth of Scripture, it is a sure indication that it’s the work of the devil. Why don’t you just read and believe for yourself – for God? Why don’t you just accept what the Lord says and be baptized in the way and for the reasons God gives in order to receive what God promises?