October 26, 2003


Mark 7:24-30 tells us that Jesus "arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden. For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, 'Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs.' And she answered and said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children's crumbs.' Then He said to her, 'For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.' And when she had cone to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter laying on the bed."

Matthew's account records several facts Mark does not mention. This Gentile woman clearly recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Matt. 15:22. At first, Jesus made no response to her request. His disciples even urged Him to send her away, vs. 23. 

On the other hand, it is only Mark that mentions the fact that she had diligently sought out Jesus while He was seeking privacy, and that "He could not be hidden."

There are several facts we will call attention to in this study. First, bear in mind that Jesus' earthly ministry had been directed to the nation of Israel. It was to them that John the Baptist had been sent. It was to them that Jesus had preached. It was to them that He had sent out His disciples two by two. It was through their lineage that He came -- to bless all nations.

Though He had come to minister to the lost Israelites and lead them back to God, He also reached out to others. His ministry had extended to Samaritans, John chapter 4. And this is not the first time He has ministered to Gentiles. He had earlier worked a notable miracle in the land of the Gergesenes, Mark 5:1-20.

Why then did He answer the woman as He did when she requested help for her daughter? We suggest the answer is probably two-fold. First, remember that His disciples had assumed that the woman was a bother to Jesus as she almost certainly was to them. After all, Jews had no dealings with Gentiles, Acts 10:28, unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps Jesus approached this situation as He did so that the contrast between what His disciples expected to see and what they actually saw might make an indelible impression on them.

But, perhaps primarily, Jesus behaved as He did in order that this Gentile woman would have opportunity to manifest her great faith and her willingness to humble herself before the one she correctly identified as the Messiah, the Son of David.

Thank God that Jesus could not be hidden.

--Clarence R. Johnson


The elementary meaning of conversion is to change a thing or person into something else. Corn is converted into bread - sometimes! Rags are converted into paper, and paper into books. Biblically, conversion is the mental or moral change in man which begins with belief of the gospel and ends in obedience. It is a synonym for the whole plan of salvation. Man has never been able to frame a system which could purify the sinner's heart, sanctify his soul, restore his character, and save the perishing race. His Creator alone could to it - and did it. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul..." (Psa. 19:7).

Conversion stands between the sinner and the kingdom of God. "...Except ye be converted, and become as little children [in character], ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 18:3). It is the important and supreme work of the church. "...He who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." (Jas. 5:20).

Conversion, then, is simply the gospel process of turning men to God. It is not a convulsion, and does not take place in a nightmare. Nor is it the operation of the Spirit in strange, distempered dreams. It is accomplished through obedience to the truth - the agent, or vital power, through which the Holy Spirit effects conversion. There is no necessity for any other power than the truth in effecting this change. In fact, any other would be an infringement upon man's freedom of will. Man is either willing or unwilling to receive the truth. If he is willing, no other means of conversion is necessary. If he is unwilling, any other means would be coercion rather than conversion. The motive power of conversion is, therefore, the truth - and it is an immense power. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation..." (Rom. 1:16).

Certain theological theories of conversion have their setting in two fallacies - in fact, three - that we style "theological triplets." First, is the doctrine of inherent human depravity; second, direct converting power; third, the impossibility of apostasy. Assuming man's hereditary total depravity, it follows that he is unable to do anything at all to be saved. He is a passive recipient and not an active agent. Therefore, in this helpless, hopeless state the Holy Spirit must exert a direct influence upon his heart to enable him to obey God, after which the divine nature so completely destroys the depraved nature that thereafter and forever he can no more fall from grace!

So false is the theory that it stands self-refuted. And so abundant are the scriptural arguments against it that the task is not one of finding the arguments, but of selecting the ones to cite. Jesus represents the seed (God's word) as falling into the "honest and good heart" in order to produce conversion and its effects (Lk. 8:4-15). But if man is hereditarily totally depraved, his heart is neither honest nor good, and could not receive the word, nor even understand it if he received it, nor obey it if he understood it. The parable of the sower alone rejects the theory in all of its points. It shows that the sinner may have an honest heart (not totally depraved); that when one hears the word, the devil seeks to steal it away lest he "should believe and be saved" (showing that faith is produced by the word and not a direct operation of the Holy Spirit); and that some who "receive the word with joy" in time of temptation "fall away" (showing the possibility of apostasy).

In the very nature of things - everything - redemption involves the understanding. "Understandest thou what thou readest?" inquired Philip, an inspired preacher, of the eunuch, an average gospel subject (Acts 8:30). But if conversion is the direct work of the Holy Spirit - a direct operation - it can neither be explained nor understood. If the Holy Spirit converts, or begets, without the word of God, what seed does He plant to produce it? If a different seed, then the gospel falls to the ground; and if it does not depend upon preaching, the gospel falls to the ground. Furthermore, if conversion is wrought by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, independent of the word and gospel conditions, why are not all people converted? Man can resist arguments, appeals, and exhortations, but not Omnipotence! If it is without the word, and obedience to it, and the sinner cannot act until the divine influence comes, who is responsible?

The sinner cannot act until the power acts, and he cannot do anything to cause the power to act! Yet if the Spirit does not come, he cannot be saved, and there he is - a man with neither volition nor ability, helpless and passive, his salvation or damnation a matter of naked Omnipotence! What becomes of the conditions of the gospel, the law that declares that men must hear, believe, repent, and be baptized in order to be saved? A mere theory, mingled with the cobwebs of tradition, would set the law aside.

The apostle James ascribes conversion to the truth alone. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth..." (Jas. 1:18). It is as much the law of God that conversion is effected by "the word of truth" as that an oak shall spring from an acorn. No man has any more right to imagine that the Holy Spirit is absent from this law of conversion than he has to suppose that the Creator is absent from the law of reproduction. The fact that in no land or age has conversion ever been effected without this "word of truth" is corroborative evidence that James meant that statement in all of its import - "by the word of truth" alone. He did not say the word of truth and something else, but only the word of truth. Then whatever the word of truth requires or commands is what the sinner must do to be saved.

But the peerless apostle Paul corroborates James. "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel." (1 Cor. 4:15). This statement provides for the word only as the cause of conversion. It allows for nothing distinct from it, above it, or without it, but simply the gospel itself as the unaided cause of conversion. There were many instructors and many influences among the Corinthians, but only one cause of their conversion - the gospel preached by Paul. Everything said to be a condition of salvation is produced by the word of God. Faith is produced by the word (Rom. 10:17). The new birth is produced by the word (1 Pet. 1:23). Salvation itself is produced by the word (Jas. 1:21). How mighty is the gospel! How availing is the word!

Finally, all of the conversions in Acts of Apostles - the book of Conversions - were produced by the word. Begin in Acts 2 with the conversion of the 3,000 and go through it until the last chapter, where Paul "expounded the matter" to the chief Jews, and some believed and some believed not. There is nothing else on record. Anyone who thinks otherwise is at liberty to find a case, and we promise to examine it with all candor.

Once we know that the process of conversion is plainly that of obeying "the word of truth", the rest is simple and easy. Jesus, the Lawgiver, said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mk. 16:15-16). Fulfilling this commission on Pentecost, Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38). On the occasion of his second recorded sermon, Peter said, "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." (Acts 3:19).

So the command to "be baptized" in Acts 2:38 is put as "be converted" in Acts 3:19. They are equal to each other. Both passages say "repent". In place of "be baptized" in the first we have "be converted" in the second. In place of "remission of sins" in the first, we have "sins blotted out" in the second.

If baptism, along with faith and repentance, is not a condition of salvation, or conversion, can anyone tell us why we have Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38 and a dozen other such passages? Deny that these passages teach that baptism is essential to conversion, and the passages are robbed of their sense and essence. May we all "receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls"(Jas. 1:21).

--Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Gospel Preceptor, Vol. 2 # 10



Oct. 24-26, 2003

Susquehanna, PA

Dale Smelser

Nov. 10-14, 2003

Annandale, VA

Various Speakers

Nov. 14-16, 2003

Bethlehem, PA

Doug Focht


Clarence R. Johnson
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