Why Shouldn’t I Be Baptized? The Holy Spirit’s Role in Conversion (Acts 8:26-39)

The account of Philip and the Ethiopian is one of the great conversion stories in the book of Acts. Luke, volume 2 records how Christianity took hold in the 1st century world—a culture that was as resistant to the gospel as ours is today. In chapter 8, we have the case of an African being converted to Christ. In chapter 9, we have the case of a Jew being converted to Christ. In chapter 10, we have the case of a European being converted to Christ. And that’s just the tip of the ethnic iceberg. These conversions show us that Christianity is transcultural. That is, the gospel is for everyone, regardless of nation, race, people, or tongue. The gospel is for everyone because everyone needs the gospel.

Philip shares this gospel, and the Ethiopian official accepts it, but neither of these figures is the hero of the story. Philip is an obedient servant, to be sure, and thank God for it. But he and the other deacons in Jerusalem aren’t sitting around figuring out where the gospel should go next. They’re not developing strategies based on logic and demographic studies. They’re not having an evangelistic thrust because of some great burden for the lost. Something else gets them moving in a missional direction. Neither is the Ethiopian official the hero of the story. He’s an interesting and sympathetic figure—a foreigner to Israel, a wealthy and educated man, a high court official back home, and a person truly hungry for God—a man who has traveled nearly 2,000 miles to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the God of the Hebrews! But he’s not the hero of the story, either.

The story doesn’t begin with Philip or the Ethiopian. This story, like every story of salvation, begins with God. Verse 26, 29, and 39 all indicate that the Lord is the causal agent of everything good that happens in this encounter. Specifically, it’s the Holy Spirit—the third Person of the divine Trinity—who’s the hero of this story. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the hero of every conversion story. The Holy Spirit is the life of God on planet earth, accomplishing the divine will. God the Father is in heaven, seated on his throne, ruling the universe. God the Son is at his right hand, serving as High Priest and Advocate for his people. God the Holy Spirit is on earth—executing the plan and purpose of heaven. 

God certainly uses his people to share the gospel with others, but it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared them to share it. And it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared people’s hearts to receive it. From beginning to end, then, it’s the Holy Spirit who orchestrates everything in a person’s conversion to Christ. That’s why churches must renew their dependence on the Holy Spirit for all that they do in seeking to fulfill the mission that God has given them. Including baptisms.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

On Behalf of a Grateful Nation (and a Thankful Pastor)

It’s always an honor to participate in a funeral for a veteran of the armed services. This morning I had the privilege of laying to rest at the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery (Lebanon County, PA) a member of the United States Air Force who served his country during the Vietnam War.

A United States flag draped his casket—the blue union field at the head end over his left shoulder—to honor the memory of his service to our country. After “Taps” was played, the Honor Guard carefully folded the flag into a triangle such that no red or white stripes were evident, leaving visible only the blue field with stars. (The flag is never lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.)

Kneeling before the next of kin, with the straight edge of the folded flag facing the recipient, one member of the Honor Guard stated solemnly, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

These words are poignant and appreciated. Nevertheless, I always get to deliver the best lines at these events. They’re the most comforting and triumphant lines one could offer at a time like this, and I’m thankful I get to speak them:

“Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, we commend to your eternal care our friend and brother, and we commit his body to the ground—earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. And now, Lord, sadly but with confidence, we let your servant depart in peace, for his eyes have seen your salvation, the glory of your covenant people. We trust that your angels have led him in paradise, that the martyrs have come to welcome him and take her to the Holy City, and that Christ, who is his life, has appeared to say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter ye into my rest.’ Amen.”

We planted a seed today. We look forward to the harvest at the end of the age.

Even so, Lord, come quickly.

Image Credits: verywellhealth.com; dying.lovetoknow.com.

Radiate, Part 2: Gospel Neighboring (Luke 10:25-37)

Those who follow in the footsteps of Christ seek to align themselves with the mission of Christ. There are two wings on this bird, and both are necessary to fly well: (1) The followers of Christ will practice gospel messaging; and (2) the followers of Christ will practice gospel neighboring. The gospel, or course, is the good news announcement that a new emperor has ascended the throne—Jesus Christ, not Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:8-14; Phil 2:9-11). It’s the declaration of what God has freely done for his people in Christ (1 Cor 15:1-10a). In his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death, and those who believe in him now have their sins forgiven, and they receive a new life—not by righteous things they have done, but because of the finished work of Christ. In other words, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, who is making all things new in the restoration of the entire cosmos. That’s the good news, and messaging that news is part of the believer’s mission.

But gospel neighboring is the other wing, and it is vitally important, too. In fact, messaging the gospel without neighboring the gospel undercuts the credibility of the gospel (Jas 2:14-17). It’s empty words and hollow bluster. We become resounding gongs and clanging symbols (1 Cor 13:1). Moreover, Jesus said that next to loving God, loving our neighbor is the greatest commandment we could keep (Matt 22:34-40). To “love” our neighbors does not necessarily mean having warm, fuzzy feelings toward them. To “love” our neighbors means to regard them as valuable and important. However wretched certain people may be—and we all have a certain amount of wretchedness in us—they are still made in the image of God. They therefore have intrinsic worth, value, significance, and dignity, whether they’re living up to their lofty status or not.

Gospel neighboring also means serving those around us, whether they believe the gospel or not (Matt 5:43-47). It’s easy to be kind to those who are like us, but Jesus doesn’t let us get away with finding loopholes in the command to love our neighbor. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) drives home the point. But how well do we actually know our neighbors? Mr. Rogers used to sing, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Do we even know? If so, how well do we know them? Gospel neighboring starts with getting to know the people who providentially surround us. But this challenge raises many questions. What if we don’t like our neighbors? What if our neighbors don’t like us? What if they’re loud, obnoxious, or annoying? What if they’re immoral, violent, or dangerous? What if I’m an introvert? What if I’m already insanely busy? We have many questions about how to do this well, and we’ll look at some of them over the course of this series. For now, we’re simply getting centered on our need to radiate the gospel.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

ICL Evangelism and Discipleship, Class Session 7

Class Resources:

Tonight: Student Testimonies, Group 1

Winsomeness Illustrated: “The Transformative Power of Classical Music” by Benjamin Zander (TED Talk Video)

Discuss: Regardless of your musical preferences, Benjamin Zander’s compelling TED Talk nearly makes people want to understand classical music better, perhaps even participate in it themselves. What could happen if Christ’s followers were this winsome when it comes to the gospel? What might it look like at a practical level?

Class video available (for 30 days) upon request.