Perusal* – Winter 2009, Understanding Conversion

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

Acts 15:3

So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren.

Jesus Christ told Nicodemus in John 3, you must be born again. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, a rabbi of great renown, but something was missing. And Jesus clearly chastised him for not knowing the scriptures. “Are you a leader in Israel and you do not know these things?” If this man needing a spiritual rebirth, where does that leave you and I?

There must be a work of God in our lives that changes us from a God hating, rebellious, “I'll do it my way” sinner, to a child of God. The good news of Jesus Christ becoming the incarnate Son of God to save people from their sins, is more than just a fanciful focus for “do-gooders”. His death declared to a lost world that we, not God, need to change. And the Bible refers to that change within us as conversion. It is what takes place when we do realize how dreadful our sin is to a loving, holy God, repent of our sin and exercise faith in the Lord Jesus.

Conversion today conjures up images of radicalism, of Jihad and forceful, even violent terrorism. Especially anything that smacks of religious conversion. After all the Western culture has enjoyed freedom of and freedom from religion for hundreds of years. Why do we need a change? And why is it important?

Conversion indicates change. All of us are resistant to change especially if the change impacts our own self-assessment. Our culture has emphasized the acceptance of everyone – we are encouraged to embrace everyone's faults and foibles even in the face of needed reformation. Political correctness has supposedly freed us for self-fulfillment and worth. As a result our perception of self is based upon acceptance and tolerance. In fact, tolerance has become the clarion call for acceptance. We are not only expected to tolerate others behavior and they my behavior, but we are to embrace each others behavior.

The Bible is the world's source for true spiritual instruction. Our assessment of needs is most often incompatible with what the Bible declares about our needs. In fact, many that profess Jesus as Lord presume upon His good graces with an attitude similar to the French philosopher Voltaire's exclamation - “God will forgive me...that is His job!” But God's word clearly teaches that every person requires deep, personal, heart change. It emphasizes that ... you were dead in your trespasses and sins ... and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph 2:1, 3).

No one has escaped the stain of sin and no protocol of personal fulfillment will changes us spiritually. There may be short term developmental gains, but the true nature of our rebellion against a holy God will not be understood unless we are exposed to Jesus Christ as taught by the New Testament. Our spiritual condition is too grievous for us to change on our own. Jesus Christ is necessary for spiritual renewal.

Man is made in God's image and one of the characteristics of God's image is love. Mankind has this capacity although it is marred by our sin. But there is good news! God's love can be applied to our hearts when we are born again, when we repent of our sins and entrust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Louis Berkhof speaks of conversion as "a change of thoughts and opinions, of desires and volitions, which involves the conviction that the former direction of life was unwise and wrong and alters the entire course of life".

The Bible presents conversion as God giving us the desire to repent and believe. Biblical conversion does involve our repentance and belief. But it is God who is behind the scenes working in our hearts to produce that repentance and belief in us.

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; [why?] for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

Conversion must be God's work because we are unable to produce repentance and belief on our own. In preaching the gospel, the Bible tells us that the preacher is really preaching to a bunch of lifeless corpses. (Ezek 37:1-14; Eph 2:1-3) Therefore, whether we stand in the pulpit or sit in the pew, we are dependent on God to produce this repentance and belief in us. God calls people with preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, enabling them to hear and respond to the good news. He gifts persons with the free gifts of repentance and faith, we believe and are saved.

The understanding of biblical conversion is essential to the life and health of any church. This understanding must begin with a clear acceptance of the Bible's teaching about our sinfulness and our Lord's willingness to forgive. God receives the glory for it is God who is at work to bring glory to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. We receive the promise of being born from above. Nicodemus learned this. My prayer is that you will as well.

Sola Deo Gloria,

Pastor Carey