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.
Welcome to This New Life, a website devoted to biblical hope and radical grace. Thanks for stopping by. We’re Tim and Sonya Valentino. We live in Myerstown, PA, a small town halfway between Reading and Hershey. Both of us are into family, nature, hiking, music, art, history, museums, Christian ministry, theological education, and the Philadelphia Phillies. We’re also into coffee. The darker the better.
We’re on the journey of life with the Author of life. Let’s walk together and marvel at the scenery. As we go, let’s “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We’ve created This New Life as a resource to help with that endeavor. We also write to clarify our own thinking. And laugh at ourselves.
On this site we try to provide a balance of content creation and content curation. Creation refers to the materials we generate ourselves. Curation refers to the materials that other people publish and we repost. Our goal for This New Life is simply this: Creation + Curation = Inspiration + Formation. It’s a digital journal, of sorts, chronicling “our life in God’s light,” with others welcome to look in from time to time.
For more information on who we are—personally, vocationally, educationally, theologically, politically, and relationally—check out the About page. For the rest of this post, we’d like to share why biblical hope and radical grace are so important to us.
In some ways we’ve lived a privileged life. But in other ways we’ve slept in the emotional gutter from time to time. Life can be challenging like that. One moment things are delightful; the next they’re devastating. Today everything is beautiful; tomorrow everything is broken. Disappointment gives way to disillusionment, and rank cynicism tries to move into the attic of our minds. “Vanity, vanity,” says the Teacher. “All is vanity” (cf. Eccl 1:2).
But there’s one thing that has always kept us going—one thing that has always been an anchor for the soul in troubled times: our unshakable hope in the grace and goodness of God. Jesus is risen from the dead, and that changes everything. Hope refuses to die in a world where Christ has conquered death.
Hope refuses to die in a world where Christ has conquered death.
Ask the average Christian why Jesus came to earth, and you’ll get a variety of answers:
Jesus came to die for the sins of the world.
Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father.
Jesus came to destroy the power of death and hell.
Jesus came to heal, teach, and forgive.
These responses are all accurate. Still, there’s another color on the palette to paint with. Jesus himself answered the question this way: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s a beautiful, hope-filled statement, and it thrills the heart of anyone who’s ever been able to say, “I once was lost but now am found.”
We can say it. Jesus came to seek and to save the two of us. We revel in this good news—and the new life it brings. “Because I live,” said Jesus, “you also will live” (John 14:19).
But how did Jesus go about seeking the lost? What was his approach? Luke 7:34 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” That’s a fascinating statement. How would you have filled in the blank? The Son of Man came ____________ and ____________.
Teaching and preaching?
Healing and forgiving?
Loving and restoring?
Dying and rising?
Again, all true answers, but the text says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” Fellowship and hospitality were his modus operandi.In fact, a major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Every time we turn the page, we smell another dish from the kitchen. Markus Barth has said, “In approximately one-fifth of the sentences in Luke, meals play a conspicuous role.”
A major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. Every time we turn the page, we smell another dish from the kitchen.
But does that sound like a holy man to you—more feasting than fasting? More parties than protests? What kind of a rabbi is this? Indeed, the rap on Jesus was that he was “a drunkard and a glutton,” a man more into parties than piety, or so it seemed to the religious crowd (cf. Luke 7:34b).
A drunkard is someone who drinks too much alcohol. A glutton is someone who eats too much food. Jesus was neither of those things—the Bible says he never sinned—but apparently he gave his enemies enough ammunition to make the charge stick.
It stuck, not because he was eating and drinking per se, but because he was eating and drinking with all the wrong people—the blind, the lame, the diseased, the prostitutes, the thieves, the criminals, the tax collectors, the unfaithful, the ceremonially unclean—“sinners” who were as low as you could go on the religious food chain.
Not only that—and we may need to swallow hard on this—there’s no record that these folks ever had to “repent” before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came at all, and ate and enjoyed his welcome, apparently was repentance enough for him. Many of them changed after eating at Jesus’ table—precisely because they had had a life-transforming encounter with him.
There’s no record that these folks ever had to repent before they could come and eat at Jesus’ table. The fact that they came at all . . . was repentance enough for him.
The word for that is grace. Amazing grace. Radical grace. Scandalous grace. Even Peter—the lead disciple who had walked with Jesus for three years and received the keys to the kingdom—needed a lot of it. Over and over again.
Even after the great day of Pentecost, when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached to thousands of people, Peter blew it. Again. For example, Peter once broke fellowship with people whom God had accepted—a clear denial of the gospel—and it needed to be corrected lest the good news become ugly news (cf. Gal 2:11-21; 1:6-9).
Thankfully, Peter never gave up. Throughout his life and ministry, Peter received grace every time he needed it. Such is the ministry of reconciliation that Jesus came to bring. Religion parcels out grace in teaspoons to those it perceives to be worthy. Jesus lavishes it on those who know they need it.
Religion parcels out grace in teaspoons to those it perceives to be worthy. Jesus lavishes it on those who know they need it.
But the grace that Jesus gave to people was a little too much for the religious bureaucrats in the first century. Tim Chester has said, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.” It’s true. Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. In fact, the one led to the other. Jesus died, in part, because of grace. For some folks, his grace was a little too amazing.
Before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. In fact, the one led to the other.
Grace means that no believer can ever feel smug. Every time we take Communion, we sit at Jesus’ table, too. Do we deserve to be there? Of course not. Like Mephibosheth at King David’s palace (cf. 2 Samuel 9), we come to Jesus’ table as guests, and by invitation only. All are welcome there, and none are excluded unless they refuse to come by faith.
And that’s why the two of us are really into biblical hope and radical grace. We need it. We love it. We want to share it. It’s changing our lives, and it can change yours, too. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life” (Acts 5:20).