The Real Pharisees (Part 16): The Pharisees Overemphasized Making Converts

The Real Pharisees

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15).

One might wonder how it could be possible to overemphasize making converts. After all, one of the principal works that we have been given – both individually and collectively – is to try to turn people to the Lord. The New Testament places a good deal of emphasis on making converts.

  • The apostles’ mission was to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).
  • The church’s work is to be sure “the word of the Lord [is] sounded forth” (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
  • Christians are to support preachers (3 John 7-8) and teach others (1 Peter 3:15) as we have the opportunity to do so.

Seeking to convert people to Christ is important. Yet there is an overemphasis on converting others when we are willing to change the message or are unconcerned that the message has already been changed. The Pharisees had changed the law to the point that they were converting people to themselves, which did the converts no good. While their zeal was commendable – traveling “on sea and land to make one proselyte” (Matthew 23:15) – the Pharisees should have made sure they were following the law correctly so they could be converting people to the Lord’s way instead of to their way. Today, if we compromise and change the gospel message, then we will be guilty of doing the same thing.

Paul told the Corinthians, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” (1 Corinthians 1:17). This certainly does not mean that baptism is unnecessary for salvation. The Scriptures plainly teach that it is (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21). Paul’s point was that his responsibility as an apostle and preacher was to preach the truth, not to baptize (make converts). Timothy was to preach the truth without compromise, even if people were uninterested in his message (2 Timothy 4:2-5). Converting someone with a message other than the truth of the gospel means we are not converting them to Christ. If we do not use the pure, unadulterated gospel – “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) – those who are “converted” are still condemned.

We must not compromise or change the message of the gospel in order to make more converts. The churches of men have been doing this for years, but they are not converting anyone to Christ this way. Paul was not sent “to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). He wrote later in the same letter, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). We simply need to plant and water and allow God to cause the growth so that we are converting people to Christ rather than to ourselves.

So who are the real Pharisees today? They are not the ones who sit back and refuse to try and make converts. Instead, they are those who are zealous about making converts, yet they have changed the message and are not converting people to Christ.


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