Bible Topics
in the Christian Library
ONESIMUS : A Sketch of Conversion

Misc. Texts in Philemon

John L. Kachelman, Jr. 


I. We discuss a topic that is marvelous in design, eternal in scope, and centuries in practice ­ conversion! Of all possible definitions of conversion, perhaps this one will provide the best understanding. "Conversion is no repairing of the old building; but it takes all down and erects a new structure. It is not the putting in a patch, or sewing on a list of holiness; but, with the true convert, holiness is woven into all his powers, principles, and practice. The sincere Christian is quite a new fabric ­ from the foundation to the top, all new! He is a new man, a new creature. All things have become new. Conversion is a deep work, a heart work; it turns all up-side down and makes a man be in a new world. It goes throughout the mind, throughout the members, throughout the motions of the whole life. 

II. Spanning the existence and civilization of mortals, the overwhelming desire of God was to provide for man's conversion (Ep 1:4-7). There is no insight in the loving character of God that is more revealing than His desire for the conversion of His creation. 

III. The runaway slave, Onesimus, provided us with an excellent lesson on this marvelous topic. In this vagabond Phrygian slave we are able to see a sketch of conversion. 


I. Conversion SOUGHT. 

A. The whole of Scripture is devoted to unfolding the divine drama of conversion. 

1. From the beginning God desire companionship with the souls He had created (Ep 1:4-7). In the beauty of Eden's bliss the purity of fellowship between God and mortals was found. But that fellowship was too quickly lost to sin's ransom. 

2. Throughout man's history God sought to reveal His desire for the lost fellowship to be restored. He prepared the means for man's conversion and the restoration of fellowship. 

B. A survey of Scriptures impresses the reader with the earnest desire of God for the conversion of erring mankind. 

1. The prophets spoke of the conversion that God longed for ­ Is 1:16,17; 42:16; Jere 3l:31-34; Ez 18:23,31; 36:26,27; etc. 

2. The "Forerunner" boldly announced the conversion sought by God ­ Mt 3:1-12. 

3. The conversion so urgently sought by God moved Him to sacrifice Jesus Christ (Jn 3:16). The Son of God came to earth and revealed for all the divine compassion (Lk 14:23). 

4. It was the dark day of Calvary that provided the means by which God's desire for converting wayward man was achieved (Hb 9:11,12; 2 Co 5:15,19). 

C. These facts are crystal clear ­ God SOUGHT a way in which man could be converted. He was not obligated or forced to do so. He had created all things "good" and man had botched it up. God could have washed His hands of the whole mess ­ the frustrations of being patient with mortals dedicated to Self; the exasperation of constantly repeating basic commands; the deep pain of heartbreak of an unrequited love. God did not have to seek the conversion of man ­ but He did! (Jn 3:16). 

II. Conversion SIGHTED 

A. Onesimus provides an excellent look at the conversion that God has graciously provided. 

1. He is the picture of degradation ­ a fleeing slave whose wanderings had brought him to the vile streets of Rome. He had sacrificed his position as Phlm's slave and found himself in the lowest depths of humanity. 

2. He is the picture of hopelessness ­ what lay ahead for him? He had chosen for himself a path that led only to greater trouble and turmoil. No inner-peace, no haven of shelter, no hope (Ep 2:12). 

3. But things changed for Onesimus in a dramatic manner. Simply stated, Onesimus was converted! (Phlm 10). And when this transpired all things changed! (Is 42:16; Jere 33:6). 

4. The one who had gone to the Imperial City to escape his past found no escape! He who had left in prospect of promise found nothing of substance! In the teeming multitudes of Rome, Onesimus was all alone. Life was dark and hopeless until he heard the gospel preached by Paul! 

B. What message would Paul have spoken to Onesimus to cause the slave to be "begotten"? Perhaps it was similar to Ep 2 which was written at the same time. This chapter is a great message to those struggling with the hopelessness of sin. 

1. 2:1-10 : There is the unbelievably "good news" of the gospel. God's grace is found through obedient faith. 

2. 2:11-18: Those who respond and are converted by the gospel are objects of God's great love. 

3. 2:19-22: Those converted become significant, they are important, they have value! "So then ye are no more ..." 

C. This glorious message would have been eagerly received by Onesimus. How do you think he felt? If he had asked, "How can I share in this great salvation?" What would Paul have said? Probably he would have brought focus upon the brief phrase, "in Christ" (13) for that is the factor distinguishing between the "before" and the "after" of conversion. Until one is "in Christ" he/she is not really converted. It is not hard to understand. 

1. One would hear abt the glorious gospel. 

2. One would believe in that message and Christ. 

3. One would desire to follow God's way (repent). 

4. One would want to obey the command of baptism for it is what places one "in Christ" and enable one to be "born into" or "begotten" by God (cf. Jn 3:5; 2 Co 5:17; Ac 22:16). 


Onesimus reveals to sincere seekers the basic facts abt biblical conversion. 


1. He was transformed into a brother in Christ and an earnest helper of Paul's (Phlm 11,13,16). 

2. He was transformed into a son of God's. Now he could join with Paul and claim that "God is our Father." 

3. His whole life changed ­ dramatically! He was transformed in his conversion. 

4. Any today who profess salvation with o a similar transformation are deceived. There must be a drastic change! (Ep 5:7-11). 


1. He was willing to go back and face the uncertain reaction of Phlm. He could expect any kind of punishment. But he was willing to return because it was the just thing to do (Lk 19:8; EZ 33:14-16). Sincerity was shown in his Restitution of wrong. 

2. Any today who are not sincere in seeing that their conversion has transformed all aspects of their lives are deceived abt salvation (Philip 1:10,11). 

C. It is SUDDEN.

1. How long did it take for Onesimus to be converted? We do not know. But we can be sure it was not too long. Paul's imprisonment is usually thought of as no longer than 2 yrs and it seems that Onesimus was converted soon after Paul reached Rome. 

2. How long would it take for a runaway slave with o any hope and with out peace and with out God to seize all those things when they were offered? An Indian and a white man, at worship together, were both stirred to obey the gospel. The Indian was shortly after led to rejoice in God's pardon. The white man, for a long time, was under distress of mind and at times ready to despair; but he finally came to understand God's forgiveness of his past. Some time after, meeting his red brother he asked, "How is it that I struggled so long with accepting that all sin was washed away, and you found comfort so soon?" The Indian explained in this manner, "There comes along a rich prince. He purposes to give you a new coat. You look at your coat and say, 'I don't know, my coat looks pretty good. I think I'll wear it a little longer.' He then offers me a new coat. I look at my old blanket and quickly throw it away to accept the beautiful garment. In the same way bother, you try to cover up your sins and try to find a solution for them yourself, but I, a poor Indian cannot do that: therefore I gladly accept the forgiveness of God and trust in His Word for my salvation." 

3. Anyone who is aware of their souls need should suddenly obey God (2 Co 6:2). 


1. Can you imagine the reaction of his old friends when they heard? ­ "Why him!? Wow! Who would have ever imagined that thief and rogue would be saved!" 

2. The genuine beauty of conversion is its surprise - one you would never dream of obeys the gospel and transforms completely! Amazing! 

3. Jesus Christ has the power to change lives (Ro 1:16,17). How sad that so few realize this great power in their lives! (Lk 15:1,2). 

4. Onesimus shows us that conversion of even the most rebellious is possible. Christ's power is able to change the hearts and minds of the stoutest rebel and bring him/her to serve God with an unselfish devotion. 

5. May we guard against rejection of this power! (Ac 26:15). 


I. The definition of "conversion" is generally misunderstood. An old soldier said, "When I was a young fellow in the army, we used to receive the command, 'About face!' And when I became a soldier of the cross, this is the same command that my Captain gave. He called me to 'About face!' From where I was before; and I love to obey that call." In general it is "About face!" that conversion is all about, but the specifics of conversion are illustrated so well by Onesimus. 

1. Hear the gracious gospel message and by faith be baptized into Christ. 

2. Begin to allow God's Word to transform every aspect of your life as you sincerely serve Him. 

II. Do no delay in obeying God's gospel. Become a child of His and begin to transform your life according to His will (Col 3:10).

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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