THE PRESENT OBLIGATION TO BE CONVERTED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-17-77 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you, a thousand times over again, who are sharing this service with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Present Obligation to be Converted, to be saved. It is an exegetical message. It is based upon words that are inspired and used in a sermon by the apostle Peter in the third chapter of the Book of Acts. In our preaching through this wonderful Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, the Acts of Salvation, the Acts of the Apostles, we are in the third chapter that begins with Peter and John going up at three o’clock in the afternoon, the time of the evening sacrifice, for prayer.
And as they go into the temple, at the Beautiful Gate, there is a beggar who for all of his life—the Bible says he was forty years of age—all of his life had been a cripple. He was born lame, and they laid him every day at that Beautiful Gate to beg. And seeing Peter and John, well, he held out his hand hoping to receive a small coin from them. Instead of giving him a piece of money, which they could not do, Peter and John said, “We have nothing, but what we do have”—and that is going to be the sermon tonight: The Matchless Ministry, the matchless gift, the matchless service—“but what we do have, gladly we share: In the name of Christ rise up and walk. And Simon Peter took him by the right hand” —and with a great exhibition of power, strength, that one man just lifted him up—“raised him to his feet” [Acts 3:6-7]. And when he did so, that man who all of his life had been lame and never walked [Acts 3:2], suddenly found his feet and ankle bones strengthened, whole and well [Acts 3:7]. And he began to leap and to praise God for the wonderful thing that had happened to him [Acts 3:8]. Now the man held Peter with one hand and John with the other [Acts 3:11]. And in the beautiful area called Solomon’s Porch, an arcaded area covered over and adorned with rows of white marble Corinthian columns, being in that place which is just in front of the Beautiful Gate of the temple, why, Simon Peter began to preach the gospel of the Son of God. And after declaring that it was the power of God in His Son Christ Jesus, whom they had crucified, whom God raised from the dead, and that in that name not only do we have healing, but forgiveness of sins [Acts 3:12-18], then he concludes his sermon with the appeal, and that gave rise to the title of the message: Our Present Obligation To Be Converted.
Then Simon Peter says:
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord:
And He shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached unto you:
Whom the heaven must receive until the times of the restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all of His holy prophets since the world began.
He says things in there that are just wonderful. And he uses words that are no where else used in the New Testament. He says that there is coming a great renovation of this whole universe—heaven and earth. And he says that in view of that, he makes this appeal for repentance and conversion. Now, what he says about what is going to come, this marvelous thing that lies ahead—when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord [Acts 3:19]; when Jesus, who is now in heaven and must stay there until this age of consummation, He says that when the Lord comes in His presence there is to be a great “refreshing,” anapsuxis; one of the funniest words, anapsuxis. Anapsuxis refers to a refreshing breeze after a torrid heat wave. And all of us in Dallas would know how that feels. After a hot, insufferably hot, summer day, then there comes a cool refreshing breeze. Anapsuxismeans just that. So he says that when the Lord comes, in the presence of the Lord there is to be a marvelous refreshing [Acts 3:19]. It will be an exuberant and felicitous hour.
Then he says that when that happens, when the Lord comes, there will be the times of “restitution” of all things [Acts 3:21]. That is a double compound word apokatastasis, apokatastasis. It means the remaking of a thing as it originally was; the restoration of a thing to its former state. The only time in the Bible those two words are used are these instances here that I have just spoken of. But outside of the New Testament, you will find the words frequently.
Let’s take this, an apokatastasis, let’s take that one [Acts 3:21]. That will be used as a technical medical term. It will refer to someone who is completely restored to health. It will refer to the healing of a joint that is dislocated, apokatastasis. It will be found in inscriptions and in the papyri referring to the restoration of a temple that has fallen into ruins. Philo, the Jewish philosopher and theologian of Alexandria, used the word to refer to the coming of the Jewish people back to their homeland from the Babylonian captivity. They are restored home.
Josephus uses it to refer to the inheritance that is given back to those who are, because of poverty, have been forced to sell their possessions. And in the Year of Jubilee, all of their properties come back to them. They are restored to them [Leviticus 25:10,13]. In Jewish apocalyptic literature, the word is used to refer to the restoration in its primeval beauty and glory, all the heavens and all the earth, such a thing as you find in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation; the restoration of all things, when it comes back to its Edenic beauty and purity—its pristine glory [Revelation 21:10-27].
Now the apostle says that there is coming a time when in the presence of the Lord, there will be this wonderful anapsuxis, this glorious refreshing [Acts 3:19]. And then he says there is coming a time in the presence of the Lord when there will be this apokatastasis. There will be a restitution of all things in heaven and in earth [Acts 3:20-21]. Now, in view of that, before that, because of that, he uses two imperatives here. One, metanoeō, the first aorist active imperative of that; that is the word always translated “repentance” in the New Testament. It means a change of mind; metanoeō literally means to change your mind, repent [Acts 3:19]. That is in the imperative. And the second word is almost like it, epistrephō. And he uses the same form of it, a first aorist active imperative of epistrephō, translated here, “converted” [Acts 3:19]. It literally means to turn back; to turn again.
I can imagine memories in the mind and heart of Simon Peter when he used that word. That is the exact word in the exact form that the Lord Jesus said to him when the Lord said, “Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted”—the exact form of epistrephō—“when thou art converted,” when you come back, when you turn again, “strengthen thy brethren.” [Luke 22:31-32] Now, those are imperatives. They are in the imperative mood. Imperative, metanoeō, “Change your mind!” Epistrephō, “Turn back!” One refers to how you think of a thing; it refers to purpose and will. The other refers to conduct; change your life, you would say, your style of living, your way of living [Acts 3:19].
Now, that gives rise to the title of the message, The Present Obligation to Be Converted. I am called upon, I am mandated, I am commanded from heaven to repent of my sins and to be converted; to turn back to God [Acts 3:19]. It is not optional. I am commanded of God to do it. I must do it. The Lord has a wonderful work for us. He will blot out our sins [Acts 3:19]. He will regenerate our hearts [Titus 3:5]. He will write our names in the Lamb’s Book of life [Luke 10:20;Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. He will save us now and forever [John 10:28; Romans 10:9-13], but first, I must metanoeō; I must repent! I must epistrephō;I must turn back to God! [Acts 3:19]. It is not optional. The Lord has delivered that word through all of the ages. Listen to this from Ezekiel, chapter 18, the last verses, and you will see the same identical and exact words. Listen—“Repent, and turn”—there are those two words together again. “Repent, and turn yourselves from all of your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Cast away from you all of your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart,” you, “and make you a new spirit,” you! There is something we must do, “for why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves,” there is that word again, “and live” [Ezekiel 18:30-32];the obligation mandated to us from heaven that I turn, that I confess my sins, that I ask God to forgive me and that I be converted [Acts 3:19].
There are many things in our lives that are very optional. Whether you do them, whether you do not, it is just up to you. It makes no difference at all. When you go to the store and you buy a shirt, well, there it is: shall I buy an off-colored white one, or shall I buy a solid white one, or shall I buy a pink one, or a purple one, or a yellow one? What shirt should I buy? It makes no difference at all what shirt you buy. Just pick out whatever you would like. It is just perfectly optional.
Same way about you going out to eat. “Well, shall I eat at this joint or shall I eat at that joint? Or shall I eat at this dump or shall I eat at that dump? Or shall I eat at one of these high-powered restaurants?” It is just optional. It makes no difference what dump you eat at. Just choose just whatever you’d like. So life is filled with a thousand daily optionals; doesn’t make any particular difference whether it is this one or that one. But there are some things that are not optional. And one of them is this mandate from heaven that I turn, that I repent, that I confess my sins and ask God to save me, that I be converted [Ezekiel 18:30-32, Acts 3:19]. That is not optional with me.
I have read, in history books and in places round and everywhere, I have read of the great disaster, the flood that destroyed Galveston in 1900—the first year of this twentieth century. What happened down there was this. The federal government sent word of warning to Galveston saying that a great storm is coming. “Flee for your lives. Find refuge to the mainland. Leave.” At that time, instead of the causeway as you see it now down there, there was a long, long, long iron bridge connecting the city with the mainland. The federal government sent that warning to the city; and a train left, and a tram left, and a buggy left, and a wagon left, and a man went over on foot. But the great majority of the city went out and looked up in the sky. There wasn’t a cloud in it. They looked out on the bosom of that great ocean, the Gulf. It was calm and serene. They went back to work, and they just went about their business. And the federal government sent them notice and warning from the weather bureau, not once nor twice, but time and again, “There is a great storm coming! Flee for your lives!” And they went out and looked at the sky—blue as ever; looked at the great bosom of the ocean—it was calm and peaceful like the Pacific. And early in the morning, in the wee hours of the morning, a woman awakened her husband and said, “Husband, the wind is beginning to blow and the rain is beginning to fall. Check all of the windows.” And he got up and checked all of the windows. And the rain became a deluge, and that wind became a hurricane. And great tidal waves went over that island, and over that island, and over that island! And for months, they were picking up dead bodies. And the entire city was destroyed.
There are some things that are not optional. This is exactly like that! There is coming a time of vast judgment upon this world! [Acts 17:31]. Not forever is death to reign in the earth [Revelation 21:4]. And not forever is sin to be present in the sight of God [Revelation 21:27]. And not forever is there to be age, and sickness, and disease, and darkness, and violence, and terror, and iniquity, and transgression, and murder, and blood! [Revelation 21:4] There is a time when God will purge this earth and the heavens too of all that hurt and destroy and offend. And God is going to create new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness [2 Peter 3:10-13].
And that is what the apostle is preaching in view of that; in view of that, in view of the purging of this earth and the great judgment day of Almighty God [2 Peter 3:10-13], and in view of the great consummation of the age, and the restoration of all things; in view of that, we must repent, and we must turn, and we must be converted [Acts 3:19-21]. It is not optional. I have no choice in that. I face death. I face age. I face senility, if I live long enough. I face the grave. I face the judgment bar of Almighty God [1 Peter 4:5]. It is not optional.
Do you remember how the greatest sermon that was ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]—do you remember how that sermon ends? It ends like this. There was a man who built his house upon the sand: and the rains fell, and the winds beat, and the floods rose, and that house was destroyed [Matthew 7:26-27]. Then, the next one: and there was a man who built his house upon the rock: and the same rains fell, and the same floods rose, and the same winds blew; but that house stood: because it was built upon a rock [Matthew 7:24-25]. Now isn’t this a legitimate question? Why in the earth build your house in the path of a flood and of a storm? Whether the man built on the sand or whether he had built on the rock, both of them built their house on a river bed. They built in the face of a flood. Now, it would be legitimate to say, “Why build your house in the path of a storm and of a flood?” Because there is no other way to build your house!
All of us build our house, live our lives in the path of a storm, in the path of a flood before the judgment day of Almighty God [Acts 10:42]. And I have no choice in it. This is where my life is lived. It is down here in this earth that is nothing but a vast cemetery; it is a place to be buried in. I live in this world that is nothing other than ridden with disease and age and death! I don’t have any choice. It is an obligation that I face, I must prepare for death and dying. I must prepare for the grave and burial. And I must prepare for the great assize when I stand before God. That’s why the imperatives: metanoeō; “change your mind! Epistrephō; “come back to God, be converted” [Acts 3:19].
Now that reaches down to little children, small children. What a responsibility, these little children! Every time I come to the auditorium—our minister’s room is in the back of this Truett Building, educational building, where our little children are. I just go through that hallway and look to the right and to the left; those little children, Oh, dear God, what a responsibility! The day comes when they become sensitive to sin. They will be saying that they need the Savior. God made us that way. We are morally sensitive. We call that the age of accountability. And little children coming to that age need to be taught about Jesus and that He is our Savior [Matthew 18:1-10]. He died for us, that we might have forgiveness of sins in Him [Ephesians 1:7]. And we are to trust the Lord as our Savior [Acts 16:31]. When that child reaches the age of accountability, to know the difference between right and wrong, and to have a consciousness of having done wrong, that I am lost, the child must be brought to Jesus. It is imperative. It is not optional.
It is thus with our young people. Our young people are as morally accountable to God as our adult men and women. They also have that moral sensitivity in their souls. And they must repent and they must be converted [Acts 3:19]. It is not optional. They must! These young people would say, “Oh, but pastor, this is a difficult age in which we live. This is a hard time in which to be a Christian. It is most difficult.” It was hard in the days of Daniel. He was a teenager when he was taken into captivity, into the king’s court in Babylon. He was a teenager. It was difficult in the days of Daniel! [Daniel 1:3-8]. It was difficult in the days of his three friends: Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego. They finally were thrown into the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:12-23]. It was difficult for them. They also were teenagers. They were young people [Daniel 1:3, 6]. It has never been easy to follow God; never! The world, the flesh, and the devil are against us. It is never easy, but God commands us just the same—that we repent of our sins and turn facing the Lord and be converted [Acts 3:19].
I think of that rich young ruler. It was difficult for him. I presume, being so young, that he inherited his fortune and his place of preeminence in the community. He was a rich young ruler. But, but—facing a tremendous decision, it was hard for him. And he lost it [Luke 18:18-23]. Two thousand years now—think of the regret, having chosen the world and its blandishments and its empty, sterile rewards, instead of eternal life in Christ Jesus [John 3:16-17,10:27-30]. It always has been hard. It’s hard for you. It’s hard now. But our mandate remains. Yesterday, and today, and until the consummation, I am to repent of my sins, I am to turn facing God, and I am to be converted [Acts 3:19]. And if that is true of children, and if it is true of young people, how much more is it true of us who are grown men and women?
We are commanded, we are demanded of, we are under authority; we are mandated to repent of our sins, to confess them to God, to ask God to forgive us, to turn back to God and to be converted [Acts 3:19]. We are, the present obligation to be converted now; now!
This last week, for the first time in thirty-nine years, I went back to my first pastorate out of the seminary in Chickasha, Oklahoma. They have built a new beautiful church house there. And I went back to preach a dedicatory sermon. And as I walked through the streets, a thousand memories came to my heart. And one of them was this. In those days—Chickasha is a town now of about seventeen thousand people. In those days, the ministerial alliance, composed of all of the preachers of the town—in those days they set a Saturday in which the city fathers allowed them to rope off a whole street. And because the farmers came in from all around in Grady County, of which Chickasha is the county seat, why, they were going to have a tremendous religious service on Saturday afternoon. Well, they had it. They roped off the street. The people were there from the ends of the earth. It was a vast throng. And they built a platform and covered it around with bunting and put a pulpit stand out in the midst of it, and big PA systems. And it was all set, and the day came.
So the president of the ministerial alliance opened the service, and they sang a song, and they had a prayer. And then all of the pastors in the city were up on that platform, seated. And they were called forward one by one. And each one of the pastors said who he was, what church he was pastor of, and then a little word of invitation, inviting them to come to the services in his church the next day. Well, after they had done all of that, well, the man who was presiding over the meeting said, “We will now have the benediction.”
Well, maybe I had more gall, or ineptitude, or lack of courtesy, or graciousness, or amenity or whatever it is; but anyway, I stood up and walked up there to the pulpit by his side. And I said: “Sir, are you dismissing these people now?” He said, “Yes, we are going to have a benediction.”
“Well,” I said, “these people need preaching to. Somebody ought to preach to them. We ought not to have the benediction. They ought to hear a message from God. Somebody ought to preach to them!”
Well, he turned around and said, “Anybody want to preach?” Nobody said he wanted to preach. So, I being the closest to him standing there, I said, “Well, if nobody will preach to them, I shall.”
“Well,” he said, “go ahead and preach.”
That was second nature to me. I had been preaching on the curb at that courthouse every Saturday. I did that for three years. Every Saturday in the afternoon, when those farmers came to town, I took my Bible and stood on the street curb and preached every Saturday at Chickasha. I would do that here in the city of Dallas, wherever a policeman would let me stand on a street curb. I would do it here in Dallas, if I had the physical strength to do it. I did it there every Saturday—preaching. Some of the most marvelous conversions I have ever seen in life came out of my preaching on the street.
Well, it was second nature to me to do it. So I stood up there with an open Bible, and I preached to those people how to be saved. Just thundering away, you could hear me clear to Oklahoma City. Well, when I got through preaching, why, the Campbellite preacher stood up, and he came up there on the platform. And he said to them—you see, these are fellows that believe that water washes your sins away—he said to the people, “You go home and read your Bible, then you will know how to be saved.”
Well, there’s a test that you can always make when somebody tells you how to be saved. If I do that, will I be saved? If I do that, will I be saved? My brother and my sister, you can read your Bible forever and not be saved. You can even preach and not be saved. You can sing about the Lord and not be saved. You can say prayers and not be saved. You can do penance and not be saved. You can write books about the Christian faith and not be saved. But you cannot call upon the name of the Lord and not be saved. [Romans 10:13] avows, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” You cannot repent of your sins and ask Jesus to come into your heart and not be saved [Mark 1:14-15; Acts 3:19]. You cannot look to heaven and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:13-14] and not be saved. You cannot ask God to come into your soul and not be saved [Revelation 3:20].
When you do, there’s a marvelous thing that happens to you. That’s God’s work. That’s what God does. And when I call upon His name [Isaiah 55:6-7], when I repent of my sins [Acts 2:38], when I confess my sins, when I ask God to come into my heart [Revelation 3:20], something happens; I’m saved. And I’m saved right then; that moment, right now [Acts 16:31]. When I offer my life to the Lord, He does the rest. He writes that name of mine in the Book of Life in heaven [Luke 10:20;Revelation 17:8, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. He puts a new spirit and a new heart in this body [Ezekiel 36:26-27]. He changes me. When I turn to Him, He turns to me. When I repent, God repents. When I turn, He turns. When I ask Him, He saves me [Romans 10:9-10]. That’s the most marvelous thing in the world, what can happen to a man immediately when he turns to God. “Lord, save me, here I am,” and God does it [Romans 10:9].
And that’s the appeal we make to your heart today: to turn, and be saved; to believe, and be converted; to come forward, and receive Christ as your Savior; to confess your sins, and they are blotted out [Acts 3:19]; to face every tomorrow, and the inevitable end of life, and the judgment that is to come in triumph, in victory, gladly. Lord, what shall tomorrow be? It’s going to be great because He is with me. What shall it be in the hour of my death? The greatest hour I’ve ever lived through; that’s the coronation. What shall it be to stand in the presence of God? My great Mediator, and Advocate, and lawyer, and pleader will stand by my side [1 Timothy 2:5]. Think what it is to have the Son of God representing you in the great high court in heaven. And think what it is in the refreshing and the restitution of all things [Acts 3:21]. My brother, this is the work of heaven. This is God’s gift to us [John 3:16]. And it is ours if I’ll just turn, if I’ll just repent [Acts 3:19], if I’ll just trust, if I’ll just confess [Romans 10:9-10]. “Lord, I’m ready and willing, and here I am.”
In a moment, we shall stand and sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, you, this day to give your heart to Christ: “I’m turning, pastor. I’m facing God-ward, heavenward, Christ-ward. I’m coming.” And these who already have found in Christ a wonderful Savior: “I want to put my life in the circle, and circumference, and fellowship, and communion of this wonderful church; I want to pray with you, and worship God with you, and listen to the preaching of the Word with you. I want to be numbered among God’s redeemed. I’m coming.” A family, a couple, or just you—there’s a throng of you in the balcony round; there are stairways at the front and the back and on either side, and there’s time and to spare; come. And the throng and press of people on this lower floor, into an aisle and down to the front: “I’m on the way. I’m on the way.” Son, are you coming down here? Great, just don’t even wait for somebody to sing a song. Just come. Amen. That’s just marvelous. That’s just the Lord. Just precious: “Don’t want to wait until you get through. I want to do it now.” That’s what he says; the present obligation to be saved [Acts 3:19-21]. Come. If God has spoken, come just now. “I am on the way, preacher, and here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.