In the Book of Acts, the word “conversion” (Gr. epistrephei) and its verb form “to turn” (Gr. epistrepho) appears nine times in connection with the salvation process (3.19, 9.35, 11.21, 14.15, 15.3 [noun], 19, 16.18, 26.18, 20, 28.27). In fact, when an analysis of each of these verses is complete, there are many factors which accompany the conversion process.
Defining Conversion in Acts
It has been said before by competent Bible students that no one single passage contains within it everything that the biblical record says upon any given subject. Instead, as is often the case, we must assemble a number of relevant passages and take the “sum” in order to understand the biblical teaching on the subject (Psa. 119.160).
Below are five factors associated with the conversion process. (1) We find that repenting and turning are essential actions on the part of the penitent, actions made so “that” sins “may be blotted out” (3.19; 14.15; 26.20). (2) We find that belief leads people to “turn to the Lord” (11.21). (3) We find that the terms turning and conversion have a more general use, often to abbreviate the final state of the penitent seeking redemption (9.35; 15.3, 19; 26.18; 28.27). (4) We find that turning to God results in forgiveness of sins and being sanctified “by faith” in Christ (26.18). These are descriptive of the final state of the penitent. (5) We find that turning to God results in healing (28.27).
Conversion is, therefore, a process where belief is induced through contact with the Gospel, so much so that repentance follows. This change of mind leads to a turning from a previous lifestyle and a turning to God; resulting, therefore, in the blotting out of sins, the forgiveness of sins, the sanctification by faith, and healing from God. And as a convert, a new life is embarked upon performing deeds in keeping with repentance.
Detailed Examples of Conversion in Acts
Examples are important things, and in many ways are stubborn things. Biblical examples are no exception, for they are the facts and evidence upon which our faith and relationship with the Lord is built on. If this were not the case, then the Hebrew writer was foolish to enlist examples of “faith” to highlight the “how” of faithfulness to God (cf. Heb. 11.1-12.2). Likewise, the Apostle Paul would have been unwise in his appeal to examples to teach the Corinthians regarding obedience to God (1 Cor. 10.1-6; Rom. 15.4).
In the narrative of the Book of Acts, there are many cases of conversion set forth as Luke details the history of the establishment and expansion of Christianity. Some of these cases are abbreviated (9.35; 15.3, 19; 26.18; 28.27). There are, however, cases of conversion which provide in greater detail how individuals from the apostolic period became converts, in a single word: saved.
There are eleven cases of conversion which are narrated in significant detail. They are enumerated as follows: (1) the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), (2) the Samaritan converts (Acts 8), (3) the conversion of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8), (4) the conversion of the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8), (5) the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9, 22, 26), (6) the conversion of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10-11), (7) the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16), (8) the conversion of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16), (9) the Athenian converts (Acts 17), (10) the Corinthian converts (Acts 18), and (11) the Ephesian converts (Acts 19).
The Case of the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2)
Ten days after the ascension of Jesus, the twelve apostles were endowed with the Holy Spirit as promised by the Lord (Acts 1.5; John 14.1-31, 15.18-16.24). They spoke in the languages of the Jews visiting Jerusalem for Pentecost, and preached the loving Gospel of the resurrected Christ for the first time (2.14-36).
The message deeply troubled the Jews in the city (2.37). They responded with a question on how they could be saved from God’s wrath for their sins – including the rejection and execution of Jesus. Luke records Peter’s response and then adds commentary to the response that follows by those who believed.
And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Acts 2.38-40 ESV emphasis mine)
There are a number of elements to consider here. (1) Peter answers their question as how to respond to God so that they can be saved. They must repent and they must be baptized. (2) He then explains the outcome if they should repent and be baptized; they will obtain the forgiveness of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (3) In this way, they will be able to save themselves.
Luke goes on to narrate that there were some three thousand souls that responded (2.41)! Notice:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2.41 emphasis mine)
Three thousand souls received Peter’s word to save themselves from the wrath to come, repented, and were baptized for the forgiveness of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through this response to the Gospel, they were added to the group of the saved – the church (2.47). This is how they turned to God. Should we expect God to change His mind? Hardly, He is not so capricious.