Humanity Turns to God: Conversation
A boy ran away from home because he hated the responsibility his parents gave him. It was his duty to cut firewood and bring it from the woodpile into his house when needed. Gathering his clothes and few belongings together, he left home. But soon his money was gone, his clothes were dirty, and he was cold and aching from sleeping out in the open.
Finally he was so miserable that he decided to call home. He listened anxiously as his father answered the phone for some idea of his father’s feeling. Very hesitantly he asked, “Father, will you forgive me? May I come home?” His father answered, “Son, we love you dearly and we have missed you so very much. Of course we want you to come home, but when you do, come by way of the woodpile.”
A few days later the father returned to his home in the evening and found his son at the woodpile, dutifully cutting wood. But his attitude was different, for the boy was smiling as he applied himself to his job. It was easy to see that a great change had taken place. He was a changed person!
In this lesson we will consider the part that we have in our own conversion, which begins the experience of salvation. It is a dynamic experience that changes us into the image of Christ and causes us to respond with joy to His desires.
- Nature of Conversion
- Conversion in the Bible
- Experience of Conversion
When you finish this lesson you should be able to:
- Explain the relationship of repentance and faith to conversion.
- Identify the means of conversion.
- List at least five of the results of conversion.
NATURE OF CONVERSION
In our discussion of the experience of salvation, we have spoken of conversion. Perhaps you have wondered how conversion differs from salvation. Let us consider the following example. We observe that a well-known drunkard no longer gambles, gets drunk, or goes to places of sin. He hates the things he once loved, and he loves the things he once hated. Those who know him say, “He’s converted; he’s a different man.” They are simply describing what they see from the manward (outward) viewpoint. But from the Godward viewpoint we would say that God has pardoned him and made him a new creature. Conversion emphasizes the positive activity of man in the experience of salvation.
Definition of Conversion
Objective 1. Identify the basic biblical meaning of conversion and list three basic steps to conversion.
Conversion may be defined as the act by which we turn from sin to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness of sins. And, in addition, we are saved from our sins and delivered from the penalty of sin.
The word translated conversion means “to turn,” to “make a complete turnabout.” This turnabout involves more than a simple change of mind, attitude, or morals. It involves every part of a person’s being: desires, lifestyle, will, spirit, and outlook on life. Conversion is a complete spiritual change. In the act of conversion a person has, according to John 5:24, “crossed over from death to life.”
The spiritual change brought about by conversion through Christ is not the same as other kinds of conversion For example, I might be converted to a different view of politics, or religion, or morals without ever involving myself in the total commitment that is required of one who is dead to sin but alive to God (Romans 6:1-14). Paul explains this basic change of Christian conversion by noting that when “anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Consider the illustration given in the lesson introduction as you note three steps in conversion. First, one must carefully consider the error of his or her ways. This is a necessary step of preparation, for until one recognizes the need to change he or she will feel no need for conversion. Second, there must be a decisive turning to God. This is the action step. Third, there must be obedience, for conversion means a changed life.
In our introductory illustration, we saw the preparation step, the careful consideration of his ways; the action step, the decisive turn homeward, and finally, we witnessed the complete change that was evident in the boy’s life as he obediently took up his chores.
Relation to Repentance and Faith
Objective 2. Recognize the relationship of faith and repentance to conversion.
Conversion is closely related to repentance and faith. In fact, on occasion conversion is used to represent either or both, and thus represents all of the activities by which we turn from sin to God. You will recall that repentance turns us from sin and produces sorrow for it by pointing us to the cross. Repentance does not seek to excuse sin, rather it freely admits the sins committed and the attitudes held that are contrary to God’s law. Faith is the positive activity by which we turn to God. We look to God who has provided the cross as a cure for the disease of sin that infects us. And we trust our life and future destiny to Him. When we repent and believe, we are converted.
Elements of Conversion
Objective 3. Match the elements of conversion with their definitions.
As we have noted previously, a person is a whole being. Generally speaking, then, what he or she does is a result of what he or she is wholly: intellect, emotions, and will. Each of these elements involved in repentance and faith is also involved in conversion. A person can’t be converted unless that person knows what he or she is doing. Neither can the person be converted if that person does not have feelings about what he or she is doing. An individual must be inclined toward conversion. And quite obviously, the person can’t be converted unless he or she wills it to occur.
CONVERSION IN THE BIBLE
Conversion is a marvelous experience which we undergo as we begin our Christian life. Based upon our own individual experiences we might tell others what happened to us and how it happened. But the only measure for true conversion is the Word of God. It alone is the objective standard by which we judge whether conversion is genuine or not.
Use of the Word Conversion
Objective 4. Distinguish between examples of conversion which involve spiritual change and those that do not.
We have seen that the word conversion speaks of a complete turnabout or change in one’s life. The most common words used in the Bible that refer to such a change have the same ideas in the original biblical languages. Sometimes the change referred to is purely physical (Acts 9:40). At other times, it indicates a change of emphasis (Acts 13:46). However, among the various uses of the word, there is a common use that speaks about spiritual change. In 1 Samuel 10:6 we see that when Saul was changed into a different person the conversion involved a definite spiritual change. (See also Mark 4:12; Psalm 51:13; and Luke 22:32.) In Acts 3:19, when Peter challenged the people to “repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,” we again have the idea of spiritual change.
Consider the idea of turning away from God. This is called negative conversion or apostasy (Jeremiah 2:27). Another example of a change from the good life to the bad life and its effects is seen in 2 Peter 2:22 where Peter compares apostasy to dogs who return to their vomit.
While we have used a number of examples of the way the word conversion is used in the Bible, it speaks primarily of a person turning to God and of God forgiving him or her.
Examples of Conversion
Objective 5. Compare and contrast notable biblical examples of conversion.
- Spiritual change
- Nonspiritual change
Our conversion experience does not concern a religion. It does involve a person. We are not asked to acknowledge the Ten Commandments, a certain church creed, or the Sermon on the Mount in order to become Christians. But we are challenged to believe in a Person and accept Him as Lord of our lives, believing that He is risen and alive (Romans 10:9,10). At a certain young people’s meeting a young lady asked the Christian speaker about the need for a personal experience with Christ. She said, “It is hard for me to accept this. If a person believes in Fascism, is he not a Fascist? If he believes in Communism, is he not a Communist? Well, I believe in Christianity, doesn’t this make me a Christian?” The speaker replied, “Not necessarily.” Then he added, “I notice you are wearing an engagement ring. Do you believe in marriage?” “Of course,” she answered, “I’m planning to be married very soon.” He answered, “What are your reasons for believing in marriage and wanting to be married?” She replied, “Marriage provides security for a woman, also a home and a family.” The speaker turned to other young ladies and asked, “How many of you believe in marriage?” And with little exception all agreed that they did believe in marriage. The speaker continued, “Well, this is interesting. All of you ladies believe in the institution of marriage. And since I’m a licensed minister, I can perform marriages according to the laws of our government. This young lady here says that if one believes in Fascism, he is a Fascist. If he believes in Communism, he is a Communist. And if one believes in Christianity, he is a Christian. Since a number of you ladies have told me that you believe in marriage, permit me to pronounce you married.”
The audience laughed. The speaker then asked, “What is wrong with this reasoning?” Another young lady said, “Sir, you know marriage is not a philosophy like Communism or Fascism; it is a personal relationship.” The speaker said, “This is precisely my point. Christianity is not just a philosophy, for in order to be a Christian one must have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus who is a living person.” Christian conversion, then, is uniquely different from all other conversions.
One very beautiful example of conversion in all its aspects is recorded in Acts 16:13-15. On this occasion Lydia, a Gentile God-fearer, that is, one who worshipped the God of Israel without accepting all the ceremonial laws of the Jews, was attending a time of prayer. As Paul shared the good news of Jesus, she heard his message as the Lord opened her heart, and she responded gladly. She then gave evidence of her change by being baptized and by extending hospitality to Paul’s group.
In this example we see some of the wonders of God’s provision in bringing people to himself. Though Lydia was an earnest seeker, she needed further knowledge of salvation, and God met this need. As she prayed, God brought her to a place of confrontation with the gospel. Thus, prayer is an effectual means of bringing about spiritual change. Her experience shows us that even though a person is sincere and apparently religious, he or she must have a decisive spiritual change if the person is to be a truly converted Christian. Notice how the Word and the Holy Spirit work together in bringing about conversion also. Observe that both the Holy Spirit and human responsibility are involved in conversion.
The Philippian jailer is another example of Christian conversion (Acts 16:16-34). In this second case we learn that God uses various means to get a sinner’s attention: sometimes by natural disasters such as an earthquake, a windstorm, or a personal crisis or serious problem in the home. These experiences that shock sinners so much help them to see their spiritual need and help them seek for a solution. Notice that the gospel is God’s solution to the sinner’s sense of need (v. 32). It is the instrument of conversion. Observe also, that conviction of sin ends in conversion only when the sinner’s sense of guilt and sin is linked with belief in the Lord Jesus (v.31). And, once again we see that true Christian conversion produces good deeds.
A third example of conversion, that of Paul, gives still other principles of Christian conversion. Acts 9:1-31 reveals facts about Paul’s conversion, some of which are quite different from our other examples. One key consideration arises out of the miraculous events involved in Paul’s conversion: sometimes, unusual circumstances accompany a conversion experience, but usually they do not. It is wrong to assume that conversion requires an earthquake, a shining light from heaven, or some other attesting sign since the miracle involved in conversion is the greatest miracle in the entire world.
In Paul’s experience we see that even though a person may be highly trained, have great natural abilities, and be very sincere in his or her religion, that person may be totally without true spiritual life and in need of conversion. Paul’s case shows that a person may have great zeal for God that is not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2); he is sincere but wrong. Since such a person is ignorant of the gospel and deeply committed to his or her religion and tradition, he or she reacts fiercely against the gospel. However, when this person understands the truth that Jesus is Lord, this enlightened knowledge lays a solid foundation for conversion. Additionally, Paul’s conversion shows that God is not willing that people at any social, intellectual, or economic level should be lost. In the miracle of Paul we see that God’s grace can change a persecutor into a preacher.
EXPERIENCE OF CONVERSION
Means of Conversion
Objective 6. Select a statement that properly describes the means of conversion.
We should understand what is involved in conversion. Some say that God does it all; others say the individual does it all. We should recognize the biblical balance. We will consider this issue in greater depth in Lesson 5, “God’s Will in Salvation.” There we will see the importance of man’s free will in the experience of conversion; there we will also see God moving man toward Him. Balance is needed in our views, balance that does not deny a person’s free will, nor limit God’s sovereignty. Let us keep this in mind as we consider the means of conversion.
The Scriptures thus show the human and divine aspects of conversion. God always respects the will of man. When He created man and gave him personality, God made a creature that could either respond to His offer of salvation and turn wholly to Him, or reject and turn from Him. God begins the process that brings conversion through the Word and the Holy Spirit. But we must respond to the call of the Spirit through the Word and experience conversion. Remember: our willing response to God’s call through the gospel does not involve merit. God respects our will and thus calls us to turn to Him.
When we turn to God, we simply allow Him to step across the threshold and take control of our lives (Revelation 3:20). We can picture this better, perhaps, by this example. When the Lord steps into our lives, He turns us on a new course. Before He steps in, we are like untrained pilots at the controls, and we are on a dangerous collision course. But when we turn to Him, we permit Him to take the controls. In this way we see that people turn to God, and God turns people in the way of truth and righteousness. It is completely correct to pray as the Psalmist did, “Turn us, 0 God…” (Psalm 85:4, KJV), and it is just as appropriate for God to appeal to us to turn. Notice that while the Lord stands at the door and knocks, we must open the door. God never forces His way into our lives.
The instrument God uses to bring about conversion is the preaching of the gospel. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to convict us of sin and to produce faith (Romans 10:17). We thus repent, believe in the Lord Jesus, and are converted. In this process God is glorified and we are redeemed. We have neither limited God’s sovereignty nor our own free will.
The apostle Paul declared that his message was of Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). We know that he preached of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). And his message included many references to the work of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 12 and 14). But the emphasis of Paul’s gospel message was the atoning death of Jesus Christ. And he proclaimed it not with a demonstration of his own speaking ability but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The results of this message reflected not the power of mankind but the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13).
Purpose of Conversion
Objective 7. Select correct statements concerning the purpose of God in conversion.
The purpose of conversion may be viewed as two-fold: it is to turn away from our evil ways, sin, and eternal death (Ezekiel 33:11; Matthew 7:13), and it is also to turn us to the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14). God’s highest purpose is to bring us out of sin to fellowship with Him. In conversion we take the first step on the road to eternal life. We thus begin a new way of life.
Conversion enables us to live according to new principles of life based upon God’s Word. We could say that our goal at this point is to make our outward life conform to the inward transformation that has taken place. Our standing in Christ as people of God becomes a powerful testimony to others because our state (our behavior in daily living) conforms to this. Notice the way Paul describes the ongoing process of growth in Christlikeness that begins at conversion: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Yes, in conversion we make a complete turnabout. Before we were earth-bound; now that we have turned to God and are heaven-bound, we face upward so that we reflect His image to others. We thus become living letters bearing God’s message to all people (2 Corinthians 3:2).
Results of Conversion
Objective 8. List at least five results of conversion.
Having received the Son of God as Lord and Savior, we learn something of the extent of this transaction: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life” (1 John 5:11,12). One of the immediate results of conversion, then, is salvation from spiritual death (James 5:20). However, we are more than just saved sinners, as we shall see later. At the time of conversion we are considered part of God’s family: “Dear friends, now we are children of God . . . ” (1 John 3:2). Also, our sins are wiped out (Acts 3:19), not just covered over to be revealed later. In fact, the Psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Isaiah reinforces this truth: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions . . . and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
As a part of God’s family, we have new relationships. We join multitudes of others at the cross of Christ, and together as converted people we form a great fellowship. In fact, this is what we have been called unto (1 Corinthians 1:9). John says that the fellowship we have is “with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The fellowship that Adam and Eve lost when they fell has been restored through the death of Christ. Moreover, as we walk in daily fellowship with Him, there are added benefits: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin” (1 John 1:7). What a transaction! We exchange our place in the sinful world for an eternal palace in glory; we leave the poverty of the world for the riches of divine grace; we leave the broad road of destruction for the straight and narrow way, where the arms of our Heavenly Father await us. All this and heaven awaits us besides!