Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by George C. Clark, Sr. and John David Clark, Sr.
"When you are converted, strengthen your brethren."
These words, spoken by Jesus at the last supper, indicate that Simon Peter was not yet converted. In fact, it was impossible for anyone to be converted during Jesus' earthly ministry, for conversion into God's kingdom means to receive the Spirit, and as long as Jesus was still among us, the Spirit was not yet given (Jn. 7:39). Those who followed Christ prior to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2) were considered faithful Jews, not born-again people. They were under the Old Covenant and stayed under it until Jesus brought in a New Covenant by his death, resurrection, and ascension to offer himself to the Father for our sins (Heb. 9:24-26). "For a testament [covenant] is in force after men are dead; it is of no strength at all while the testator is living" (Heb. 9:17).
Peter received the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, along with Jesus' other disciples. And since Paul told us that we become God's children only when we receive His Spirit (Rom. 8:9), we know that Pentecost was the day when Jesus' disciples were born again.
Paul told the saints in Colossae that God "has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:13-14). This translation into the kingdom of God, this redemption and forgiveness, is conversion.
Obviously, no one could be converted, or translated into the kingdom of God, before the Spirit came to convert men into that kingdom. It is astounding that so many believe that the disciples were converted, or born again, before Jesus died, when his sacrificial death is what made the new birth possible. My friend, the baptism of the holy Spirit places us into the kingdom of God, just as it placed the disciples into God's kingdom on Pentecost morning. There is no other way to be converted except by that baptism. This is why Peter taught that baptism saves us (1Pet. 3:21).
Jesus' disciples were not the only ones who were waiting to be converted into God's mysterious kingdom. Among others, "Joseph of Arimathea, an honorable counselor, also waited for the kingdom of God" (Mk. 15:43). Watching the Master ride triumphantly into Jerusalem, and thinking that his kingdom would be an earthly one, Jesus' excited disciples "thought that the kingdom of God should appear immediately" (Lk. 19:11). Even after his resurrection, as Jesus instructed them to tarry in Jerusalem for the Spirit, they were expecting an earthly kingdom. They inquired, "Lord, will you now restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). They didn't know that by speaking of the Spirit, Jesus was already telling them of his kingdom. Only when Pentecost came did they finally begin to understand Jesus' words, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lk. 12:32).
Spiritually or naturally, the seed being sown is what begins the process that leads to birth. Jesus compared the preaching of the Word to the Seed of God being sown into human hearts (Lk. 8:11). So, even in the case of spiritual birth, the conception must come first. And just as in nature, just a few of the many seeds sown will produce fruit, so only a few who hear the Word of God will be changed by it and receive the new birth. Many ministers confuse the conception with the birth; in other words, they confuse conviction with conversion. The Apostle Paul, for example, was convicted on the Damascus road, not converted. He was converted three days later, when he received the Spirit (Acts 22:16). Being convicted of sin is not being born again, though it will lead to it if the repentant soul continues to follow after righteousness.
Moreover, just as in nature, some who are conceived (convicted of sin) will never come to the birth. Many were truly conceived by the Word during Jesus' ministry, but only about 120 continued in his Word to be born again in Acts 2. Jesus knew that many would not love the truth he taught them, and he warned his disciples that they must continue in his word to really be his disciples (Jn. 8:31).
Many have been convicted of sin by the Spirit but have not continued in that conviction. They were conceived when they heard the Word, just as a baby is conceived in its mother's womb, but they have not grown in the womb and come out to be a part of God's family. They never received the baptism of the Spirit. They do not understand that when Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again", he was only saying, "You must receive the Spirit of God."
The Lord warned his disciples, "Unless you be converted and become as little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven." This godly counsel should stir every heart which has been conceived by the Word, but who has not yet received the Spirit, to renew his zeal for the righteousness of God.