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Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Conversion of Lydia – Acts 16:13-15

In Acts 16:13-15 we find the account of the conversion of Lydia in the city of Philippi.  This is a very interesting conversion account and one that men have debated as to what actually happened.  It is a short account so let us read it and see if there is anything to debate or to cause controversy. 

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. (Act 16:13 NAS77) 

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Act 16:14 NAS77) 

And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. (Act 16:15 NAS77)”

Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as you recall, entered the city of Philippi to preach the gospel.  Their first opportunity, as far as we can tell, is to a group of women out at the riverside at a gathering place for prayer.  Lydia is one of the women assembled there. 

The first mystery to some people is found in the statement in verse 14 where it is said that "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."  Well, how did the Lord do that?  Did God take a kind of spiritual crowbar to her heart and mind and force conversion on her?  Did the Holy Spirit come upon her in some mysterious operation taking over her will and making her receptive to the gospel as Paul preached it?  Some think so.  The reality is there is no truth to such suppositions as will soon be shown. 

God opened Lydia's heart to the gospel simply by the preaching of the word.  How do I know?  That is a fair question.  If God acted miraculously on the heart of Lydia resulting in a sort of forced conversion, one of which she had no way of resisting, and God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34 KJV), shows no partiality (Rom. 2:11, Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25), and teaches us that it is a sin to show partiality (James 2:9), then God did the very thing in converting Lydia that he says, through his word, that he does not do and that he condemns in us.  None of us believe that. 

Lydia's heart was opened by God's word in the same natural way yours and mine are.  For example, all of us have read passages in the Bible that condemn us for something we have done at one time or another resulting in a pang of guilt and sorrow within us.  Is that the Holy Spirit acting miraculously on my heart or is it the power of the word of God upon a man's heart?  Yes, it is the Spirit working but working through the word, not miraculously separate and apart from the word.  We retain the free will to either believe what we read thus allowing it to touch our hearts or the free will to pass it off and reject it.  

Our hearts are left free to choose either for or against the gospel thus we can be fairly condemned for choosing to reject it.  If it was otherwise how could it be said that God was fair to all?  In conversion, God treats all the same and does not play favorites. 

But, I want to make a note here about Paul's preaching that day.  In earlier articles, I have tried to show that in first-century accounts of gospel preaching all men who preached taught the same thing with the same results among those who believed.  Whether it was Peter, Philip, or Ananias doing the preaching, and now Paul the result was that in every case where the preaching was believed the result was that believers were baptized.  When we believe the words of Peter preaching by inspiration in Acts 2:38, we readily see why that was the case. 

What did Paul preach to Lydia?  We all agree he taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith.  With Paul, as with the other evangelists of his day, that included baptism for the remission of sins.  The text says Lydia was baptized along with her household (Acts 16:15) but when did she do this and why?  The verse before, verse 14, tells us that she was responding "to the things spoken by Paul." (NAS) 

Paul preached to her the gospel.  Paul preached baptism because Lydia was baptized in response to the things spoken by Paul (verse 14).  Baptism then is a part of the gospel.  The gospel cannot be preached without baptism being preached.  We see it preached by Peter, by Philip, by Ananias, and now by Paul. 

Some might respond by saying in earlier accounts found in earlier chapters of Paul's missionary efforts accounts are given where baptism is not mentioned - passages like Acts 13:12, 13:39, 48 and Acts 14:1, 14:21.  The reader ought to realize two things regarding such passages. 

(1) They are summary statements of what happened and not detailed accounts of conversion.  For example, Acts 14:21 simply says they "made many disciples."  There is no attempt to say how that was done.  Acts 13:39 says, "Everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses." (NAS)  True, but what is not stated is what is to be believed.  In Acts 13:48 the text says "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (NAS)  Believed what?  If they believed what Paul preached then they believed, among other things, that they must be baptized.  But, the point is that such passages are just summary statements without details being provided. 

Let the reader ask himself this question.  None of these accounts mention a word about repentance nor should they given the fact they are, as has been stated, summary statements.  Do we believe that there is such a thing as salvation by faith without any repentance of sins?  Again, when it is simply stated that people believed it is a summary of what took place and not a detailed account of everything they believed and believed to the point of obedience. 

If we were studying the subject of biblical hermeneutics we would say the word "believed" when used in such passages as we have been talking about is used as a figure of speech called a "synecdoche."  A synecdoche is "a figure of speech by which we speak of the whole by a part." (Hermeneutics, by D. R. Dungan, page 300)  As Dungan says, "This is many times the case with the salvation of sinners.  The whole number of conditions are indicated by the use of one.  Generally the first one is mentioned-that of faith-because without it nothing else could follow." (page 305) 

In more detailed accounts we know what was preached and what was believed by what was done.  Lydia was baptized because the text says she was responding to what was preached and Paul was the preacher.  

(2)  Paul preached the same gospel wherever he went, not one thing in one place and something else in another.  If you can find what he preached once you know he always taught the same elsewhere.  Paul says, "But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8 NAS)  Paul did not preach different things in different places when it came to the gospel.  If he preached baptism to Lydia he preached the same wherever he went and we know he preached it to her. 

If Paul did not believe baptism for the remission of sins was essential to gospel obedience (and thus salvation) then please tell me how he could have written what he did in passages such as Rom. 6:3-4 and Gal. 3:26-27.  Tell me why when Ananias told him "now why do you delay?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16 NAS) that Paul did not object and respond to Ananias along the line of now look here Ananias, I know you have the Spirit of God but the minute I met Jesus on the road I believed and was saved and so both you and the Spirit are in error.  I need not be baptized to "wash away" any sins for they were forgiven me when Jesus appeared to me and I first believed.  Why did he not respond that way? 

It astounds me that people can claim to be saved by faith, apart from baptism, given the fact their claim to believe is fraud.  How can I believe in Jesus and yet deny what he taught?   Jesus taught both personally on the subject of baptism (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, John 3:5) and through his Holy Spirit-inspired apostles and prophets.  Believe in him, just not in what he has said, and you will be saved seems to be the idea.  What!  How does that work?  Someone needs to explain that. 

What does it mean to be faithful to God as a new convert?  Lydia says, as a new convert speaking to Paul and his party, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." (Acts 16:15 NAS)  That they did because they judged her, as she says, as one who was faithful to the Lord. 

What did she do to become faithful?  She believed what Paul preached (including baptism) and responded to it by acting upon it.  If one wants to become faithful to the Lord they need to do what she did assuming they have not already done so.  Would she have been judged faithful if she had not been baptized?  Think about that long and hard.  Paul taught it.  Let us say she refused to do it.  Would she then have been judged to be faithful? 

One final fact about Lydia's conversion that has caused trouble is that the text says "she and her household " were baptized (Acts 16:15 NAS).  The thought is that this means she and her young children maybe including infants.  It is easily seen that infants were not baptized for the simple reason that baptism is of no value to one who is not a sinner as its purpose is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) and infants have no sin.  They are safe in the arms of God as is. 

But, there is another point as well confirming there was no infant baptism or baptism of very young children.  Baptism saves only when accompanied by faith (Mark 16:16) for it is "he who has believed and has been baptized" that shall be saved.  It is not he who is too young to believe and is baptized shall be saved.

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