The Present Obligation to Be Converted
April 17th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
THE PRESENT OBLIGATION TO BE CONVERTED
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
4-17-77 8:15 a.m.
A thousand times over again, welcome all of you who are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas over radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Present Obligation to be Converted. And it is an exegesis, it is a setting forth of the exact words and their meaning of the inspired preacher, as he takes advantage of one of the most unusual situations that mind could conjure up, and preaches the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 3, which begins with Peter and John going up together into the temple at the ninth hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, the time of the evening sacrifice [Acts 3:1]. And there at the Beautiful Gate of the temple is a man lame from his mother’s womb, crippled all of his life, who had never stood up, never walked, begging [Acts 3:2]. And Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” [Acts 3:6]. And he took him by the right hand, the hand extended expecting a small coin, and raised him up. And the man was miraculously, marvelously, instantly healed [Acts 3:7]. And holding on to Peter and John with either hand, he began to praise God for the wondrous thing that had happened to him [Acts 3:8].
Now, there is a vast area on the eastern side of the temple called Solomon’s Porch; beautifully arcaded, Corinthian columns, white marble. And the people ran together into that area in amazement at what had happened to this man so familiar to them [Acts 3:9-11]. And so Simon Peter, taking advantage of that marvelous occasion, speaks to the people. And as he says, “You are not to look upon us as though we had done that in our strength and in our name; it was done by the Lord God in heaven through the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” [Acts 3:12-13, 16]. Then he speaks to them about the Lord who was foretold by all of the prophets, that He should suffer for our sins, be raised for our justification [Acts 3:18]. Now the text for the message, beginning at verse 19, his appeal:
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 heavensmust receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.
Now Simon Peter uses words in that appeal that you’ll find in no place else in the Bible. One of them is this word anapsuxis. That’s an unusual word, anapsuxis, translated here “refreshing.” No other place will you find that in the Bible. “There is coming a time,” says Simon Peter, “when the presence of the Lord,” the actual appearing and personal coming of the Lord, “there is coming a time when in the presence of the Lord there will be an anapsuxis” [Acts 3:19]. That’s an unusual word, just the sound of it is unusual; and the word is unusual itself describing how it’s going to be in the presence of the Lord. The word actually means “a cooling after a fierce heat, a refreshing breeze blowing after a torrid heat.” And you can well imagine all of us certainly who live here in this town of Dallas, after a fierce heat wave, if a cool breeze blows, how it feels. That’s the exact word that he used here. How it’s going to be when in the presence of the Lord there is a marvelous refreshing [Acts 3:19].
Then he uses another word about when the Lord comes. “After the Lord sends Jesus Christ . . . whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things” [Acts 3:20-21]. There’s another word used nowhere else in the Bible; it’s a double compound word, apokatastaseōs, apokatastaseōs. Well what does that mean? Translated here “restitution,” apokatastaseōs—kind of a word like Germans, you know, build them together—way length. Well, let me give you an instance, several instances of how that word is used. It’s the only time here in the Bible, but when you get outside of the Bible in Greek literature, you find it frequently. Here’s one: it’s a technical, medical term; it’s used by the physician, and it refers to one who is restored to full health. He’s been sick, and now he’s restored completely; he’s well again, apokatastaseōs. It refers in an instance of a medical use, a technical use of the term, to the relocation of a joint that has been dislocated; it’s placed back in the way that God meant for it to be used. Here’s another instance of that word, referring to the repairing and the rebuilding of a temple; the word is used to the repairing of a temple. Here’s another use of the word: Philo—the Greek philosopher of Alexandria; the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria— Philo uses the word to refer to the restitution of all of the inheritances of the people that had been lost in the Year of Jubilee. And you’re familiar with that: every fiftieth year, all the property went back to the family, who in poverty and need had lost it [Leviticus 25:10, 13]. And that is apokatastaseōs, Philo used it to refer to that return of the inheritance to the people to whom it originally belonged. Now Josephus uses the word in his history of the Jews. He uses the word to refer to the return of the people from the captivity; they were restored to their lands. Now in the apocalyptic Jewish literature it referred to the restoration of this heaven and earth to its Edenic glory, such as we read in the Bible in the twenty-first chapter of the Apocalypse [Revelation 21:1-2]. Apokatastaseōs, the restoration of all things.
Now the apostle avows, and we avow because the Bible promises it, that there is coming a time when the Lord will personally be present, and there’ll be a refreshing in His presence; it will be a beautiful thing, a wondrous thing [Acts 3:19]. And at that time, in the consummation of the age, there will be a restoration of everything that God has wrought and that sin has marred: a complete Edenic glory that we lost in sin [Revelation 21-22]. Now in view of those things he makes this appeal, and that’s the subject of the sermon, the present obligation, the present obligation, the “now” obligation to be converted.
In view of that, what God is preparing to do, he says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” [Acts 3:19]; when we move toward that great, glorious, final consummation of the refreshing and the presence of the Lord, and the restitution of all things, the creation of a new heaven and a new earth [Acts 3:20-21]. Now both of those verbs are in the imperative, both of them are first aorist, active, imperative. “Repent” [Acts 3:19], metanoēsate from metanoeō —change your purpose, change your mind, change your way of thinking—always translated in the Bible “repent,” actually, “change your mind,” how you think, your purpose, your vision. And the other, “And be converted” [Acts 3:19]; epistrepsate actually means “to turn around, to turn back.” The difference between metanoeō “to change your mind”; and epistrephō “to change your direction,” refers to the way you think, metanoeō, and the way you do, change your life. We’d say “change your lifestyle,” epistrephō. Both of them are alike: they are first aorist, active, imperatives. They are obligations, they are mandates, they are demands of God of us.
Could I pause here to say, I would think that Simon Peter using that word epistrephō here, that is the exact verb, in the exact voice, in the exact imperative, in the exact word when the Lord said to Simon Peter:
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, strengthen thy brethren—
when you come back, when you turn around, epistrephō—
I can just, oh! think of a thousand things that press upon the heart of Simon Peter when he uses that word. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted” [Acts 3:19]. This is an obligation God places upon all of us. I am to repent. I am to turn around. I am to be converted. It is a mandate of heaven. It is an obligation I have before God. I am to repent, I am to be converted [Acts 3:19].
This thing of the demands of our Lord are universally presented in the Bible. You listen to this from Ezekiel, the last verses of the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel: “Repent, and turn,” there’s both of those words:
Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord: wherefore turn yourselves, and live.
This is something God obligates us to do. Now God has a wondrous thing that He does for us: He blots out our sins [Acts 3:19], He regenerates our souls [Titus 3:5], He keeps His promise that He will save us forever [John 10:28; Romans 10:13], but before there is any blotting out of our sins, before any writing of our names in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15], before there’s any regeneration of our hearts, first there is something God demands of me: I am mandated under heaven to do it. In Acts 2:38, in the previous chapter here in the Book of Acts, he said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ eis—because of—the remission of your sins.” Or look again, in Acts 17:30, speaking before those Athenian philosophers on the Areopagus, on the Hill of Mars before the Supreme Court, he said, “The times of this past ignorance God hath agnoeō, He has overlooked; but now, but now He commands men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30]. I am obligated to repent [Ezekiel 18:30; Acts 3:19]. It is not optional with me.
There are many things that are optional. It’s optional when you buy a shirt. Shall I buy one that is off-white, or buy one that is colored green, or red, or just—doesn’t matter—whatever color shirt you buy doesn’t matter at all, it’s optional. Same way about eating, “I’m going to eat at this joint here, or I’m going to this expensive restaurant there,” it’s just whether you have the money or not; it doesn’t make any difference, it’s just optional. There are ten thousand optional things in our lives that we live through every day. But this is not optional! This is fundamental, it is imperative, both of those verbs are in that mood [Acts 3:19].
I’ve read many, many times, many, many times, I have read of the tragedy that overwhelmed Galveston in 1900, the first year of this new century. And in reading it I used to think, “Well, why in the world didn’t those people get out of the way of the storm?” Then as I continue to read, I learned that the federal government, the Bureau of Weather of the federal government, sent word to Galveston, saying, “There is a terrific storm that is moving toward your island. Get out, flee to the mainland.” At that time, there was no causeway such as you see down there now; there was just a long, long iron bridge that connected the island to the mainland. And the federal government sent them word, “There’s a terrible storm that is coming. Flee for your lives.” Well, a tram left, a train left, a wagon left, a buggy left, but practically all the people went outside and looked up at the sky: not a cloud. Wind blowing beautifully, like a soft summer breeze; and they paid no heed. And the government sent them warning, and warning, and warning, “Flee for your lives!” And the people looked at the sky, perfectly blue, and the ocean perfectly quiet. And another train left, and another tram left, and another wagon left, and a footman left. But most of the people stayed. And one night, early 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. Would you check on all of the windows?” He checked on all of the windows. And the rain began to be a downpour. And the great velocity of that wind began to hammer on the city. And it was not long until great tidal waves, and waves, and waves went over the island. That little old iron bridge was taken out and destroyed—like you’d have a bunch of matchsticks stuck together—and the loss of life in that city was indescribable. For weeks they were gathering up bodies. There are some things that are just not optional. Some things are, but others are not; and this is not optional.
Well, you say, “My life is not built in the path of a storm.” My brother, you don’t think, and you don’t realize. Do you remember how the Lord ended the greatest sermon in all the world, the Sermon on the Mount? [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. He says there was a man who built his house upon the sand. And the rains came, and the winds blew, and the floods rose, and they beat against that house; and it fell because it was built on the sand. Then He said there was a man who built his house upon the rock. And the rains came, and the winds blew, and the floods rose and beat on that house; and it fell not: because it was built upon a rock [Matthew 7:24-27]. Well, immediately you’d have a right to say, “Well, why does a man build his house, whether on the sand or on the rock, why does he build it in the path of a storm? Why does he build it in the path of a flood?” Or could I say it like this: why would a man build his house in a riverbed when he knows the flood is coming? Now, that’s why I think every man ought to consider there is no man that has any option about where he builds his house. He builds his house in a river bed, he builds his house in a flood stream; there’s no other place to build it. The storm is coming, and the floods are rising, and they’re going to beat against that house.
You may be in the finest health of anyone that walks through the streets of the city of Dallas, but there’s a day coming when you will be—if you live old enough—senile and decrepit, and finally die. And if you don’t live to be that age of senility, then you’ll die in strength and in health. But you shall certainly die. And as surely as you die, there is a judgment to face [Hebrews 9:27]. You don’t have any option about where you build your house: you build it before the presence of a rising flood and a coming storm. You’re going to die; it’s just a matter of when. And we shall face the judgment of Almighty God [2 Timothy 4:1]. These things are not optional. And I have an obligation before that rising storm; I have an obligation to make my peace with God [Acts 3:19]. I must, I must.
Now this obligation, this present obligation to be converted [Acts 3:19], reaches down to little children. Whenever a child comes to the place, to the age of accountability—that is, the child is spiritually sensitive, then the child has a sense of sin, and of being lost—and it is an obligation that the child ask God to forgive the sins of his heart, and to accept Jesus as his Savior [Acts 3:19]. That is the obligation that lies upon even a child, when we reach that age of accountability, of sensitivity to sin. “I know that I am a sinner [Romans 3:23], and I am lost because I have sinned” [Acts 3:19], that comes sometimes early in the life of a child. Dear Lord, the responsibility we have!
That comes to young people. Young people are as morally responsible before God as adults. And they must ask God to forgive their sins, and to save their souls [Acts 3:19]. “But pastor, you don’t understand! In this day and generation it is difficult; it is hard for a young person to give his heart to Christ; it’s hard.” Let me ask you: Daniel lived a long, long time ago. Do you think it was easy for Daniel to give his heart to God? He was a teenager, he was a teenager; he was no older than this chapel choir, into whose faces you’re looking now. Daniel was a teenager when he was carried a captive into the king’s court into Babylon [Daniel 1:3-6], but as a teenager he resolved in his heart that he would be true to God [Daniel 1:8]. You think it was easy for him? [Daniel 1:1-3:30]. Was it easy for those three friends of his, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, who were thrown into the fiery furnace? [Daniel 3:19-23]. They were teenagers, they were young people. Do you think it was easy for the rich young ruler? He had a great inheritance and a great place; he was born into it apparently. Think of the tragic choice that he made [Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23]—two thousand years to regret it—it is an obligation God places upon us to be converted. “I must be converted, I must repent. I must ask God to forgive me my sins. I must ask Jesus to stand by me in the great day of that judgment to come” [Acts 3:19].
And then how much more is that obligation pressed upon the hearts and the souls of men and women? We are obligated to repent and to ask God to forgive our sins and to ask the Lord to save us before death and the judgment [Acts 3:19]. Last week, I was preaching in Chickasha, Oklahoma, the first pastorate to which I was called out of the seminary. And as I walked through the streets of—I had gone up there to preach a dedicatory sermon for a new church building; they have a beautiful new church house there, and that’s why I was there last week—and as I walked through the streets of the city, I lived through a thousand memories, and this is one.
The ministerial association of the little town, it has about seventeen thousand people in it, the ministerial association announced that on a Saturday we were going to have a tremendous convocation, a religious convocation on the street by the courthouse; going to rope it off and we’re going to have a great convocation on Saturday. Being a county seat town, why, the farmers came in on Saturday for miles around. So that Saturday came, and they had a tremendous throng there—just a, oh, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people! They were there—beautiful Saturday afternoon—and they built a platform and put bunting around it on all the pulpit stand like this.
And so the president of the ministerial association presiding over the meeting had a song, and then they had a prayer. Then all of the pastors of the county seat town were on the platform. And the emcee called each one of them up there, and each preacher came up there and told the people who he was, what was his name, and what church he pastored, and then he invited the people to come to his services, to his church the next day, on Sunday. And then after each one of them had done that, why, the man who was presiding over it announced that we’ll have the benediction. Well I was seated on the platform, and when he announced that I went up there by his side, and I said, “You mean that you’re just going to have a benediction and dismiss this great throng of people?”
“Yes,” he said.
Well, I said, “These people need preaching to. Somebody needs to preach to them.” Well, he was astonished and dumbfounded that I’d have the temerity to do such a thing as that. So he looked around and said, “Anybody here want to preach?” It was a screwy thing, a crazy thing. Well, he looked around, and nobody said, “I want to preach.” So I was the nearest to him, standing there, well, I said, “If nobody is ready to preach, then I will preach to them.” Well, he said, “Fine, Brother Criswell.” So I stood up there and I preached to those people the best I could. I’d been accustomed to it anyway; I preached on the curb at that courthouse for three years while I was there. You know I’d do that in Dallas if I had enough strength; I’d get this Bible and open it, and stand down there on any curb where the police would let me stand, and I’d preach the gospel to anybody that pass by. I did it for three years. Well, I preached the best I could to that great throng of people, telling them how to be saved, and how God calls us to faith in His only begotten Son and our hope and Savior [John 3:16]. But when I got through, the Camelite [Church of Christ] preacher stood up, and he went up there to the podium, and in a loud voice he said, “Let me tell you how to be saved: you go home and read your Bibles, and there you’ll learn how to be saved.”
Now, I want to say something about that. The test of what a man says in how to be saved is this, “If I do that, will I be saved?” A man can go home and read his Bible forever and not be saved. A man can go to church all of his life and not be saved. A man can pray prayers, say prayers, and not be saved. A man can sing songs about Jesus and not be saved. A man can write books about the Lord and not be saved. A man can do penance and not be saved. I tell you what he can’t do and not be saved: he can’t call on the name of the Lord and not be saved, for Romans 10:13 says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” A man can’t repent and accept Jesus as his Savior and not be saved [Acts 3:19]. That’s the test, “If I do this, will I be saved?” By the Word and authority of God, as a minister of the grace of the Lord, this is the truth of the gospel message: you ask God to forgive your sins, and you ask Jesus to come into your heart, you call upon the name of the Lord, and you will be saved; you will be saved [Romans 9:13]. Something will happen to you. God is there to do it. That’s His promise, and He doesn’t mislead us. And that’s the obligation that He places upon us [Acts 3:19]. We are under a divine mandate, under a divine command, to ask for the forgiveness of our sins, to turn from them, and to face toward God [Acts 3:19].
“Lord, Lord, save me now [Romans 10:13]. Write my name in the Book of Life, now [Luke 10:20; Revelation 17:8; 20:12, 15].” And when I do that, God does something: I am saved [Acts 16:31]. And that’s the appeal we press upon your heart this morning. Have you done that? Have you asked God to forgive your sins? Have you asked the Lord to come into your heart? Have you called upon the name of the Lord? [Romans 10:13]. If you never have, do it now. Do it now. And trust God to regenerate your spirit, give you a new heart and a new life, a new love and a new vision, a new hope, a new prayer, a new tomorrow [Ezekiel 36:26-27]. He will do it, and it will be a new day: a day of salvation for you [Romans 10:13].
Then of course, always this prayerful invitation; a family you, to come and put your life with us in this dear church, to pray with us, to grow in grace with us, to worship God with us, come and welcome, a couple you, or just one somebody you [Romans 10:9-13]. In the throng in this balcony round, the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I’ve made that decision, and I am coming.” If the Lord has spoken to you, if there is an appeal to your heart from Him, would you answer with your life? On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.