Where Should You Begin?
No Scripture is more important than any other, for all are equally inspired (2 Timothy 3:16), yet most Bible students would know that you don’t make Jude your first stop if you are seeking a better understanding of the husband’s role in a marriage. Similarly, most people know that you cannot look to Galatians as your primary source of information on the life of Christ. To learn about the life of Christ you must start with Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, and to understand God’s will for husbands you begin with Ephesians 5:22-33 or some other passage that discusses marriage.
While this seems patently obvious, people often seem to forget this point when it comes to conversion. In seeking to understand how conversions are produced, what it means to be converted, when one is converted, etc. they often begin with Romans, Ephesians, Galatians or some other letter written to people whose conversion was in the past. While references are made in the epistles to how they were converted and saved from their sins, it should be obvious that the starting point is the one book that details the conversions of sinners, viz. Acts.
I don’t want to be misunderstood on this, for I believe the letters written to Christians are essential to a fuller understanding of God’s plan for the redemption of mankind, the reasons behind the cross, the nature of grace, etc., but if I want to learn how to be saved from my sins or I want to show someone else how to be saved, the place to start is Acts.
Think for a moment about the converts in Acts 2. I don’t know how much the three thousand of Acts 2:41 understood about the concept of propitiation Paul would later expound in Romans 3:21-26, and I doubt they understood on that day the vast superiority of the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9, 10), or a host of other important things that would later be dealt with in the letters written to Christians, but on that Day of Pentecost they knew they were guilty before God and asked what they needed to do (Acts 2:36, 37). Through Peter’s brief and to the point response, they learned that repentance and baptism were the responses God required of them (Acts 2:38), and that was what they did (Acts 2:41).
I am not suggesting we ignore the great themes of propitiation, grace, justification, sanctification, work of the Holy Spirit, etc. found in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews, et al, but I am affirming that the straightforward conversion accounts found in the book of Acts must be studied first and should be used to aid our understanding of these other books. Again, lest anyone misunderstand, the title of the article is Where Should You Begin, not Where Should You Stop?!
When the one book that details the conversions of Jews and Gentiles, men and women, religious and irreligious, is taken first, then I’ll understand that no conversion ever takes place without the preaching of the gospel. Even when angels, visions and the Holy Spirit Himself were involved, as they were in Acts 2, 8, 9 and 10, no one ever became a Christian without the gospel being preached to him by a human being (cf. Romans 1:16, 17).
When I make Acts, the book of conversions, my starting point I’ll understand that the salvation which is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9) takes places when a penitent sinner is baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). If I start with the historical record of Paul’s conversion before reading his epistles on conversion, I’ll know that even if a person were to see Christ in a vision and spend three days in prayer, he or she would still need to be baptized in order to be cleansed of sin (Acts 22:16; 9:1-19; 22:6-16).
We could go on with other illustrations, but I hope this is sufficient to make the point. When it comes to conversion, justification, sanctification, etc. let’s be sure we start at the beginning and work our way forward. To reverse the order of our study will inevitably lead to confusion and misunderstanding of these vital teachings.