Transformed by the sheer conviction of the Word
We must never underestimate the power of God’s Word. The very reading of the Bible, with minimal comment, can reach deeply into any heart not totally hardened by sin. The book of Hebrews tells us that the Word of God is “living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword…piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit…and all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of whom we have to do.” These “eyes” are the scriptural words that look deeply into our hearts.
The truth of this passage is seen in the second chapter of Acts. Peter quoted the Old Testament, we read that his audience was pierced in their hearts and were motivated to repent and be baptized. I have seen this happen, too. Let me share with you an experience that illustrates vividly this work of the Holy Spirit in those who hear God’s Word with a tender heart.
In 2009 I resigned my job as a public school bus driver and went immediately to apply for Social Security. As I sat down in a crowded room to wait for my turn, the elderly woman next to me talked to me about her ministry to the various homeless camps around Zephyrhills, Florida. Then she invited me to help with that project. She also told me that she had heard of another homeless camp at the intersection of I-75 and State Road 52, but she didn’t know the exact location. So I decided to have a look.
Driving up, I parked on the shoulder where I could observe a large area. Almost immediately I saw a tall man in a military camouflage jacket striding toward me and then veering off across a field to a large area of woods. I followed him in and met six people living in a cozy campsite. What should I do next? I just asked them if they would like to have a weekly Bible study. They all agreed, and we settled on Friday afternoons.
As I wondered what would be the best way to take advantage of this opportunity, I thought of my neighbor who held evening Bible studies at a Salvation Army shelter where the men were required to attend every evening. When I asked him about his approach, he told me he only used the book of Romans from beginning to end. He agreed to help me with that same method at this new camp. And so it began.
After several weeks of this reading with brief explanatory comments, I noticed that Ron, the Vietnam vet I had first met, was growing increasingly agitated. Finally, he motioned to me to come over to the side of our little circle and whispered, “I need to get saved—right now!”
“Great!” I replied. “We can pray right here.”
“Oh, no!” he responded. “We need to go into the woods.” So I followed him for about 50 feet, when to my surprise he suddenly dropped to his knees, raised his arms over his head, and cried out in a loud voice for Jesus to forgive him. And he meant it, as his life subsequently showed.
Shortly afterwards, I baptized him with several other candidates. He then dedicated his life to helping other homeless people all over the south and kept in touch with me by phone. He went back to Arkansas and called several times to tell me what he had been doing to help the homeless and to say he was coming back to Florida. He tried several times but never made it, due to his new ministry. For example, he was hitchhiking one time to come back and when evening came he walked into the woods and set up his little tent for the night. When he woke up the next morning he discovered a woman and three children in the same area. She told him her husband had been arrested on the long drive from Arkansas and she was stranded with no money and no car. He told her, “I can get you back.” And he did, escorting them all the way.
Ron died of lung cancer a year or two later, but I am sure he is in heaven. Praise the Lord!
This episode certainly illustrates the power of oral Bible reading to bring conviction and repentance even without a long sermon. And it also reminds me of the “Tribute to the Bible” that we were tasked to memorize at a Christian summer camp while I was in high school. It began like this:
This book contains
The mind of God,
The way of salvation,
The doom of sinners,
The happiness of believers.
What better way could there be to summarize the book of Romans? For example, “the way of Salvation” is Romans 10:9-10, and the “doom of sinners” is clear from Paul’s frequent mention of “the wrath of God.” Romans 1:18 tells us, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all worldliness and unrighteousness of men…” I don’t know all that pierced Ron’s heart while he was listening to this Bible reading, but his urgency implies to me that it included the fear of God, and the conviction of his sins compelled him to make such a dramatic surrender.
I thank God for the gift He gave the human race of His written Word. For all who allow these words to ignite their conscience and show them their innate spiritual poverty, God holds out His divine remedy if they choose to accept it. Praise God! It’s a truly glorious opportunity to work with God by sharing His Word with as many people as we possibly can!
–Rev. Brown is pastor emeritus at Quail Hollow Chapel where he served for many years.