Posts

Can We Learn from Paul’s Conversion Assessment?

The conversion and commissioning of Paul the apostle is one that showcases God’s power to save and provides valuable lessons for new believers and their “next steps.”

As a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, Paul was zealous for his traditions and outpacing all of his contemporaries in knowledge (Gal. 1:14). No one was better suited for a life of Law than “Saul.” Then, God intervened and (literally) knocked him off his high horse. His life was transformed by the power of the gospel! Jesus Christ commissioned him to go from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth. Paul’s journey of conversion is not just a “wow!” moment in which we see the transformative work of the gospel in the life of an apostle, it’s also a helpful model for us today. But how, if we aren’t apostles?

In particular, what happened after his conversion can show us a better way to serve and guide new believers. In days gone by, many simply walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and were sent on their merry way with a ticket to heaven. After a generation of leaning primarily on altar calls to affirm salvation, it’s obvious that we have holes in our evangelical armor. To say that many churches experienced 30 years of biblically illiterate professing evangelicals and numerous false converts would be putting it lightly. If bloated member rolls and empty seats taught us one thing, it’s this: regenerate church membership matters. If regenerate membership matters, then the next steps for the seemingly converted matter. After a profession of faith, the journey is just getting started. It starts with follow up to assess the profession of faith, baptism to testify of faith, and a life marked by transformative faith.

When looking for a better way to serve new believers than failed methods from the past, Paul’s conversion and follow up process are a good place to start.

Sin is Mourned and Christ Becomes Master

The grace of God did not become a license that Paul (Saul) used to sin, it became the mechanism through which he mourned his sin and surrendered to Christ. When Jesus showed up, Paul was brought low. After being blinded he didn’t eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9). The mighty and zealous crusader against the church had to be helped along to Damascus like an invalid (Acts 9:8). This picture of Paul is exactly what we are when we come face to face with our sin and Christ as Savior and Lord. Our way doesn’t work! His way does! Our sin is death! His commands are life! His love transforms us and suddenly Jesus becomes the Master and we joyfully submit. This is what happened to Paul and still happens to everyone who truly believer today. Understanding that benchmark of conversion is critical for new believers.

Be Baptized and Proclaim Christ

Right after Paul (Saul) comes face to face with the reality of Christ (Acts 9:4-6) and is chosen as an instrument to bear Christ’s name to Gentiles and Jews (9:15), he is baptized (9:18) and immediately began “to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (9:20). People were amazed (9:21) because he went from being a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth! Paul’s conversion models something that new believers should always be encouraged to do: Be baptized in obedience and proclaim what Christ has done and who He is.

Be Open to Conversion Assessment

Conversion “diagnostics” can be helpful for those who profess Christ. Like a doctor identifying evidence to confirm a diagnosis, converts should be able to convey what a difference Christ has made in their way of thinking and living. There’s no need for a mandated theological exam with big words (though that’s not a negative thing), but a change in desires and actions should be evident. This new way of thinking should include a love for Jesus and a hatred for sin. Paul experienced the same thing. He was vetted, confirmed, and tested. People were making sure the guy who was ravaging churches was really saved! It was obvious once they assessed him. After staying with Peter for 15 days he would no doubt have been affirmed as a true convert. Then, he visited the apostles and “submitted to them the gospel” that he was preaching and they added nothing to what he was preaching (Galatians 2:1-2, 6). Diagnosing conversions should be handled with sensitivity and care with the goal being to help ensure a professing believer has a genuine assurance of faith.

Love Accountability

In the church today, you can’t put a price on accountability. For Paul, Barnabas was right by his side to take him to see the apostles when they were too scared to believe that the “persecutor” was now a preacher. Acts 9:26-28 records a scene in which Barnabas knew Paul’s story, came alongside him and brought him personally to the other apostles. Acts 9, Galatians 1, and 2 all paint a picture of Paul’s accountability to others. He didn’t loathe their involvement in his conversion follow up — he understood it. He was meeting disciples in various regions, preaching faithfully, partnering with the apostles, and eventually given the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). Too many Christians make professions of faith only to slip into the back of the crowd and turn into little more than a number because the church challenges them to be accountable. They don’t get connected and nobody gets connected with them. Accountability helps new believers get rooted in faith and community.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot that churches can learn from the conversion and commissioning of Paul. In a day and age where some will complain that due process for new believers is legalistic and cumbersome, we do well to look at how vetted Paul was and how that energized both his ministry and the churches he served. There is something special about trust that is built between believers. Even the man with a personal commission from Jesus and the privilege of writing half the New Testament was proven to be a faithful follower of Christ.

The Holy Spirit: Triumph or Tragedy?

There is a member of the Holy Trinity that is most neglected, misunderstood, and misrepresented, yet, He is an integral and equal part of the Godhead. Many of His works go unnoticed, while many foolish and outlandish practices are credited to Him. The feeble attempts to “reveal” Him by well-meaning believers, or preying “prophets”, do nothing to thwart the powerful truth that He is God – the Holy Spirit.

You must know Him intimately, you must understand Him accurately, and you must have Him assuredly. The world’s response to Him, and how believer’s know and treat Christ and the Father’s equal, can mean triumph or tragedy.

So how do you sift through the YouTube madness, the gold-plated TBN version of the so-called Holy Spirit, and come to truly know Him and His role in your life? Study the Scriptures for yourself and refuse to be spoon-fed by cheap imitation and misinterpretation. God has given you the ability to go to His word concerning everything.

Here’s some biblical starting lines to put you in the race of truth for the Holy Spirit:

1. The Holy Spirit is a Person

He’s not an “it”, a mystical blue mist, a white-sheet covered ghost, or like “the force” from Star Wars. Read John 16:5-15 and circle the masculine pronouns used to describe the Holy Spirit. If you’ve counted 13, you’ve now done your own study on the fact that He is a person!

2. The Holy Spirit Gives Believers the Advantage

unnamedJesus Himself said to His disciples, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). That alone should perk your ears up. Isn’t Christ the ultimate? Why would He say there was an advantage to Him leaving His disciples to go back to the Father? Many say this is because we now will have power to do signs, wonders, and live in total victory over our health, finances, and relationships…Really? That’s the best we can do with this verse? Three truths prove the Holy Spirit’s advantages will point us to Christ more than ever, and have nothing to do with exalting ourselves:

a. The Advantage of Regeneration

Regeneration happens when a sinner turns into a saint in the eyes of God! They receive a new nature that begins to take over their life. The desire to sin turns, their heart turns to God, real change occurs and it lasts! (2 Corinthians 5:17). You can fake being saved by saying all the right things, but a truly regenerated person will prove to be truly saved by bearing fruit. When the Holy Spirit hits the lights, you’ll know it because darkness dies, sin begins to decay, and the new you begins to live (Titus 3:5).

b. The Advantage of Sanctification

Sanctification is the transformation process that begins and continues after a person is regenerated (saved). Have you ever heard someone say, “God accepts you just the way you are, but loves you too much to leave you the same?” That just means that a follower of Christ is always growing – even if times are tough (James 1:2). The Holy Spirit causes your moral and spiritual character to do a 180, and your life’s trajectory is a slow, upward growth pattern. This isn’t perfectionism, it’s continual progression. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and ask yourself, “Have a changed from a care-free habitual sinner, to a saint who cares deeply about dealing with sin?” If you’re answer is yes, you’ve been enjoying the Holy Spirit’s residence in your life.

c. The Advantage of Illumination

Illumination is when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the believer to the truth of Scripture. Some falsely assume that this process is like a Holy-Spirit jump drive that He automatically downloaded into your brain because you’re a Christian. No, but He’s right there with you when you put on your Bible work-boots and work diligently to study the Scriptures. Like a loving parent, He rewards His children who exercise discipline in study and keeps the desire for truth burning brightly inside of their hearts. If you’re not experiencing a deep love for the Scriptures, pray a prayer like Paul for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:17-18.

3. The Holy Spirit Gives Sinners the Truth

The triumphant and tragic results stemming from the Holy Spirit’s ministry mainly relate to Jesus’ explanation of the primaries concerning the Holy Spirit’s role (of course, not limited to only these things), in John 16:8-11. Christ said, “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgement” (16:8). We could easily boil this down to three statements that are either accepted or rejected:

a. You’re a Sinner!

“…because they do not believe in Me” – John 16:9

He convicts the world concerning sin because it’s a sin not to believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:18). Unbelief rejected Christ, unbelief crucified Christ, therefore unbelief is sin against Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts sinners of their guilt saying, “You crucified Him!” The realization of our sin leads to triumph through repentance, yet the rejection of the Holy Spirit’s conviction is tragedy for those who refuse to admit their sin. This is the basic foundation of the Gospel. Do you admit your sin accepting “guilty” as the verdict on your life without Christ?

b. Christ is Righteous! 

“…because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me” – John 16:10

He convicts the world concerning righteousness saying, “This man you condemned and crucified as a villain will be welcomed to the right hand of the Father!” How can anyone enter the presence of a holy God unless they are perfect and holy? The Holy Spirit’s arrival declares triumphantly that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because He was, and is, righteous. Tragic for those who refuse to confess sin, and to accept His righteousness by faith (1 John 1:9).

c. Satan is Condemned!

“…because the ruler of this world has been judged” – John 16:11

The Holy Spirit’s arrival confirms that Satan is the one who stands judged and condemned, and He pleads with sinful men declaring, “The accuser of the brethren has been found guilty!” This is triumph for believers who are victorious over death, and tragedy for those who choose the fleeting pleasures and ways of this world (Revelation 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

4. The Holy Spirit Gives Christ the Glory

Perhaps the most important fact concerning the Holy Spirit is that His primary role is tounnamed (1) glorify Christ. His work points to Christ, His conviction is on behalf of Christ, and He is most evident when believers exalt Christ! Jesus said, “He shall glorify Me…” (John 16:14a). Christ didn’t say He would elevate men, be a slave to the believer’s beckon call, or be an entertaining sensationalist. That which does not glorify Christ is not the work of the Holy Spirit.

It is important to note that even though the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available only to believers, they are bi-products of His primary work of applying the saving work of Christ to our hearts. One would never assess their salvation by whether or not they have a spiritual gift, but rather, whether or not they are regenerate, being sanctified, and illuminated to Scripture. Therefore, gifts need to be held in their proper place of importance as a wonderful outworking of the Holy Spirit in our lives for the common good, and the edification of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7). Christ’s description of the Holy Spirit holds salvation, and His (Christ’s) glory above all else.

Ask yourself these 7 questions and spend some time praying and analyzing your current habits, lifestyle, and core beliefs.

  1. Am I experiencing the biblical advantages that come from being indwell by the Holy Spirit? Am I evidently saved, changing/growing (old sins dying slowly but surely), and does Scripture make more sense the more I read it?
  2. Do I joyfully affirm that I am a sinner, made righteous by Christ, and do I believe the patterns of this world to be fleeting, flawed, and false?
  3. If married, do I and my spouse affirm that there is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work through improving patterns of love, conflict resolution, fidelity, and mutual submission?
  4. Do I enjoy being held accountable and understand my need to consistently confess sin?
  5. Do I find myself responding to biblical preaching with a hunger for truth like those who responded to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:37-42 saying, “What must I do?”
  6. Is my view of the Holy Spirit based on teachings that I have never weighed against Scripture?
  7. Am I more interested in the gifts of the Holy Spirit than Christ? Do I have a relationship with God based only on what I can get from Him?

May you experience the great triumph of mourning sin, receiving Christ’s righteousness by faith, and trading satanic sorrow for eternal victory through the power of the Holy Spirit!