Thursday, December 08, 2011

ALMOST PERSUADED

The most remarkable conversion to Christianity ever experienced was the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Once a zealot for the Jewish religion and persecutor of the followers of Jesus, Saul had a supernatural encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). This meeting with Jesus changed the course of Saul’s life. Shortly after Saul’s conversion, Jesus spoke to a disciple named Ananias and told him that Saul was His chosen vessel to take the gospel to the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:10-16). In addition, Jesus told Ananias, “I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake” (Acts 9:16).

The book of Acts goes on to record the fulfillment of this prophecy in the life of Saul, who became the great Apostle Paul. Paul did indeed bear much suffering and persecution for the gospel of Christ at the hands of his countrymen and the Gentiles. He also bore witness of Christ to earthly kings. One king was a man named Agrippa, the great grandson of Herod the Great, who met Saul while he was a prisoner at Caesarea. In his defense before Agrippa, Paul gave a personal account of his life-changing Damascus road experience with Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 26). Near the conclusion of Paul’s testimony to Agrippa, Paul said, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” (Acts 26:27). The king’s reply is significant: “Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (v.28). The New International Version translates Agrippa’s reply cynically: “Then Agrippa said to Paul, 'Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Either way, this earthly ruler rejected the words of life Paul shared with him. One of the older commentators stated, “Perhaps we cannot be absolutely sure whether these words were a sneer or whether they were meant to hide conviction. No matter; it was Agrippa's one great opportunity for salvation—and he threw it away!” On the other hand, Paul was not intimidated or silenced by this earthly ruler who refused the words of life he offered him. His response reveals his passion as one ordained to boldly speak the truth of the gospel without respect of persons: “And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (v.29). These words in the Authorized Version seem to validate the fact that Agrippa was “almost persuaded.” Sadly, after this meeting with Paul, Agrippa disappeared from Scripture and died without Christ.

In my many years of Christian ministry I have had my own encounters with the Agrippas of this world. After hearing the good news of the death of Christ in place of sinners and the offer of forgiveness, they were “almost persuaded” but walked away in unbelief. Where they are today, if they are still living, only God knows. Did they eventually turn to Jesus? I do not know. But there is one thing I am certain of: If they never did repent of their sin of unbelief, they will be separated from God forever, and they will bear the punishment for their sins. How sad it is to think they came close to the truth that sets men free (John 8:32). They reached the door but did not enter. They sat at a table of the finest of foods but would not eat. The water of life was set before their dry and parched mouths, but they would not drink. They would not take the final step, having loved this present world more than God.

Maybe there is someone who will read this article who has been “almost persuaded” but remains unconvinced that Jesus was God’s only begotten Son Who came into this world to save him or her from eternal condemnation through His death on the cross, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

On a personal level, I freely admit that my life has been no different then that of any other man. I made many decisions I now regret, and I have failed to make certain decisions I now wish I would have made. Life, however, doesn’t always give us second chances to change our decisions. Neither does God! No one who hears the gospel and casts it aside can ever be certain he will have another opportunity to receive Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Jesus said, “For if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

I often tell the young people at church to think carefully before they act because the decisions they make have consequences that may last the course of a lifetime. To be almost persuaded to receive Jesus is to deny that He was the way into the presence of God and the glory of heaven. To be almost persuaded about Jesus is a decision that has eternal consequences. He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

I conclude with the words of the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon: “To have been almost persuaded and yet not to be a Christian will lead to endless regrets for will not this thought bubble up in the seething soul amidst its torments forever—‘I was almost persuaded to repent. Why did I go on in my sin? I was almost persuaded to put my trust in Jesus. Why did I cling, still, to my self-righteousness and vain ceremonies? I was almost persuaded to forsake my evil companions and to become a servant of God—but I am now cast away forever—where no more persuasions can melt my heart. Oh, my cursed sin! Alas, that I should have been fascinated by its temporary sweetness and for the sake of it should have incurred this never-ending bitterness! Oh, my madness! Oh, my insanity, that I should have chosen the lies which did but mock me and suffered my Savior and His salvation to pass me by!’ …. The grave is appointed for some of you within a few weeks or months. You shall not trifle with God long. O, I pray you, I beseech you! If you have any concern for yourselves and have any sound reason left, seek that your peace may be made with God through the precious blood of Christ! Seek that you may be ready to stand before your Maker’s bar, for stand there you must and will, before many days are past. If you should live another 30 or 40 years, how short that time is and how soon will it pass! Consider your ways now.”

Pastor Tom



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