Today, in Acts 8:26-40, we arrive at the topic of conversion, specifically being converted to Christ. To convert means to have a change in beliefs and worldview. Not surprisingly, this is a controversial term – but it doesn’t have to be.
We are wrapping up the eighth chapter of the book of Acts today. If you’re just joining us, we are making our way though this great book, verse-by-verse, examining the early Christian church and asking “What does it meant to be a Christian?” As a newly forming church that’s something we want to nail down earlier than later. Today, in Acts 8:26-40, we arrive at the topic of conversion, specifically being converted to Christ. To convert means to have a change in beliefs and worldview. Not surprisingly, this is a controversial term – but it doesn’t have to be.
Often the the usage of conversion is assigned to “religious types”, while everyone else is portrayed as freely hovering over the vast sea of humanity, completely autonomous and independent. The truth is we are all converted to a particular worldview. To be a Christian is to be converted to the worldview where Christ is at the center, as opposed to the Western secularist worldview where self is at the center. The modern day Western worldview is rooted in Enlightenment thinking and summed up in Descartes’ famous cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”. That said, therefore, we’re going to take some time to unpack this important topic in the next three chapters of Acts.
The Bible uses very vivid words to describe our spiritual state outside of saving faith in Jesus, such as “lost”, “dead”, “sheep without a shepherd”, “without hope in the world”, etc. Similarly, the Bible uses equally vivid imagery to describe our spiritual state, in Jesus, with terms such as “found”, “forgiven”, “rescued”, “redeemed”, and “saved”. Your story of how you went from the former condition to the latter condition is the story of your conversion or testimony.
It is important to point out that if you’re a Christian you will have a conversion story. Your conversion is something that happens at a specific point in time, but your experience of that conversion may vary (i.e. may be immediate or it may be a process). If you don’t have a conversion story, you probably don’t have a conversion. That seems obvious enough, but that needs to be clarified. If you don’t have a conversion story, you may have religion or a Christian upbringing, but you don’t have Christ. To be a Christian requires a conversion to Christ. You can not become a Christian while you’re sleeping. Its not something that you inherit it. You can’t catch Christianity like a cold. Your mom can’t give it to you. If it happens, you know it.
So, we’re going to ask three questions of this section:
- What is the catalyst of conversion?
- What is the context of conversion?
- What is the content of conversion?
The answers to these questions are true of every conversion experience. Mine. Yours. Hopefully many more today. My goal today is to ensure that everyone here knows that they know they’re right with God through Jesus Christ. If you know that you know, I hope you are more equipped to help others know that they know too.
First, what is the catalyst of conversion?
This is obvious, but it must be pointed out. Some of the most profound truths of the Bible are the most obvious, therefore often the easiest missed. The primary mover of conversion in this section is God. He sent the Angel. The Spirit spoke to Philip. Philip arrived just in time. The Ethiopian was at just the right place in Isaiah. Philip just finished his gospel proclamation, when they arrived at a water source (in the desert!).
God is involved in every dimension and finest detail of this story. God is the ultimate catalyst of conversion, not Philip or eunuch. But, he is writing His story through them. There is mystery here. The same is true for Downtown Cornerstone. He is working through people, spaces, trials, joys, opportunities, and more. God is our primary catalyst for mission and conversion. God goes before working, stirring, convicting, and drawing. To what ends? To all the earth! (Acts1:8)
God is the chief catalyst of the Gospel around the world. The gospel is for all people, all races and all ethnicities. The Spirit said to Philip, “Do you see that sexually altered black African – who you’d never want anything to do with – Go to him!” That’s how God operated, he always says, “Go, cross that barrier, tear down that wall…befriend them…tell them about Jesus…” If there are people here in Seattle you look down on, you’re resisting the very heart of God.
This highlights an important principles: The Spirit works just as well in one culture as another. The Spirit of God created Christianity in a Jewish culture in Jerusalem. But, now it is doing it in an African. Why is this important? Because I’ll hear people say “You don’t want to convert people…you’ll destroy their culture…” I heard this all the time at the University of Washington as I was studying international development.There is a concern that if you impose your culturally laden values on another culture, it will destroy that culture. But, what’s the assumption that people have when they say that about Christianity? Their assumption is that Christianity is a product of Western culture – that it is a cultural creation.
But, the Bible says Christianity is not product of any particular culture. Rather the Spirit recreates Christianity within each culture. In Reason for God, Tim Keller, highlights a helpful case study. (Ex. Lamin Sanneh. African Christian Scholar. Yale School of Divinity.Whose religion is Christianity?)
When you become a Christian, you’re a Christian first, then African, Anglo, Asian, Latino. Christianity is not a European religion. Christianity is not a cultural product, but a product of Holy Spirit recreated within each culture afresh. It is true that people can use anything, even Christianity, to destroy another culture. But, Christianity itself does not destroy culture.
Therefore, the catalyst of conversion is this: God’s heart to bring the gospel to the nation, through normal, ever day people.
Second, what is the context of conversion?
Again, this is so obvious that it is easy to miss. The context always involves an obedient messenger and hungry heart.
No one has ever come to Christ w/out an obedient messenger. Never. Ever. God uses ordinary people as obedient messengers of truth. Philip was an obedient messenger.
Isa 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation…”
Do you know who the Ethiopian was. He was the finance minister of Ethiopia. Powerful. He can read, which is very rare. That means he has an Incredible education. He also owned scroll. People didn’t own Isaiah scrolls. They were incredibly expensive. Here is a man who is unbelievably able: educated, wealthy, affluent, and sophisticated.
Then, here comes this guy, running along side the chariot, middle of nowhere. “Hey do you need help?” Why didn’t the Ethiopian say, “NO, I don’t…if I do, I certainly wouldn’t ask random desert guy…” But, what does he say? “I need someone.” This is telling. We never would’ve heard of him if he said, “I can handle this by myself.” He likely never would have even been converted if he hadn’t asked for help and invited him in. Instead, he asks for help. He lets him in. He admits his ignorance. He brings him into his chariot, and in so doing, bring him into his life.
Seattle is a lot like this. Seattle is very smart, sophisticated, savvy. This often results in a spirit of independence. But, for us to experience God we too need to invite others in, admit we don’t have all the answers, ask our questions. The context for conversion, is community, in relationship, person-to-person.
But, also notice that he had a hungry heart. Do you know what that is like? You’re going through life, working, doing best, trying to be a good person and you start thinking, “There has got to be more to life than this…” That’s God trying to get your attention. If you are searching, wondering, asking questions…God is stirring faith within you.
Inevitably, as your hunger is satisfied by Christ, you become a messenger for other hungry hearts in the city. That is why we’re here in the city! There are a lot of hungry hearts here.
The context of conversion is honest relationships between real people, asking honest questions. That always involves obedient messengers and hungry hearts.
Third, what is the content of conversion?
Here is guy who made it to the top. He was a minister of finance, very wealthy, educated, successful. But, he paid a price. The price of a eunuch. You might say, “Well no one does that any more.” But they do. You can’t make it to top today unless you pay a price: family, marriage, relationships. Another late night. Another business trip. Another deal to close. Even today you have to be a eunuch.
He had made it to the top, but he was spiritually empty. How can we tell? He traveled five months to worship in Jerusalem. He left his job, home, responsibilities and friends. He is in serious search mode. He’s made it to the top, but he knows it is an illusion. Then, when he got to Jerusalem he would have been told that eunuch’s can’t enter the temple because he was perpetually in an unclean state, much like a leper.
Can you imagine? Five months of travel and rejected at the place of God. Imagine how deformed and rejected he felt.
The Jewish historian, Josephus tells us this about eunuchs: “Let those that have made themselves eunuchs be held in detestation; and avoid any conversation with them…let them be driven away as if they had killed their children…” This guy was spiritually searching. He was hungry. Maybe feeling rejected and here he is scouring Isaiah. Why? I think it was his favorite book. Why? Because of this verse.
Isa 56:3-5 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
Isa 53:4-6 “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
He’s reading all these verses. A picture is forming. Who is this that is substituting himself for me? Philip walks up at right that moment and asks, “Do you need help with that?” This is a classic God story. Therefore, Philip proceeds to explain the entire Bible in light of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.
Sin is you and me substituting ourselves for God. Being our own bosses. Acting like we’re in charge. Salvation is God substituting himself for us and ultimately putting himself in the place we deserve, on the cross. This means that Jesus was cut off, so that we could be brought in. He was made unclean, so we could be made clean.
For conversion to take place, you have to not only understand gospel but it has to melt your heart. The moment that happens the gravity of your life shifts from what you haveand what you do better than others to the free, unceasing, undeserved, immeasurable grace and love of God. That’s what changes you. It is the only thing that can.
The Christian gospel is not, “Live a good life and try to be like Jesus”. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about what we have done, but all about what he has done – for us, in our place. By nature and choice, we owe a debt that we can not pay, but God has paid that debt for us. The gospel is not about self-effort, self-help, self-actualization, self-maximization, self-compassion, self-salvation.
The Christian gospel is about being converted by God, in context of community by the power of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In once sense you get converted in an instant. You do. But, in another sense, you spend the rest of your life being converted. Then, what happens? The Ethiopian rejoices and Philip continues on mission. That’s the drum beat of Jesus’ purposes in the world: mission and joy, mission and joy, mission and joy. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. There is none of this “us” and “you” and “we have it” and “you don’t”. The invitation is for all…
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourself in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” Isa 55:13