This is Conversion

A few years ago, a masterful pulpiteer said, “Many very religious people confuse convulsions with conversions.” He may have been very right. From time to time I visit revivals conducted by different religious groups and have witnessed the contortions and convulsions people go through in what they call conversion. But what is conversion. Is is something that causes violent physical reactions such as jerking, trembling, shaking, or leaping and shouting in uncontrolled emotional outbursts?

Near the end of the short letter written by James, the younger brother of Jesus, you will find the following. “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). The word for “turns back” as it is translated in the New King James Version is translated “convert” in the King James Version.

The reason for that modification in the New King James Bible is that the true meaning of the original word is “turn back.” In Matthew’s gospel we read, “And Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 18:2-3). Conversion refers to the internal change required in order to have admission into the kingdom of God.

God has declared He will not accept those who are not changed, who do not turn back from Satan and sin, who are not converted. Only those who will abandon all that is wrong and wicked and turn to God through Christ can be saved. The fact that Jesus said, “Unless you are converted, you will by no means enter the kingdom” clearly establishes that conversion is indispensable to salvation. Only when one changes from the wrong way of life to the right way does that individual have God’s promise of salvation. Conversion and salvation from past sins are the same.

Conversion is a very significant term. It cannot be taken lightly. It describes a complete change in one’s innermost being. A piece of ground that once was used for farming may now be the site of a huge shopping center. The ground was converted or changed in its purpose. A field may have been changed from a corn field to a golf course. Corn may be converted into bread -- and here in our area into other things far less beneficial. Conversion means change.

The late Batsell Barrett Baxter wrote, “It is not some mere surface redecoration, or something done in a few minutes with little effect on the deeper aspects of life. Real conversion must be deep.” (So That All May Hear, page 16). Joseph Alleine stated, “Conversion is a deep work -- a heart-work. It goes throughout the man, throughout the mind, throughout the members, throughout the entire life.” And an unknown author said, “Nature forms us; sin deforms us; school informs us; but only Christ transforms us.”

Conversion is a choice every accountable person must make. It is not something done to us apart from our own volition or choice. God does not convert those who are unwilling to be converted. One of the tragedies of religion has been the Calvinistic view that affirms sinners are completely passive in salvation. An ancient theologian named Augustine laid the foundations of Calvinism. He once said, “Man is not converted because he wills to be, but he wills to be because he is ordained to election.”

Augustine’s words became what John Calvin would later crystalize into a set of doctrines. His doctrine affirmed all men are totally corrupt in sin at birth and, therefore, incapable of any active participation in salvation. This is completely false.

Acts of the Apostles could well be called The Book of Conversions. The first case is found in Acts 2. Peter declared, “‘Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.’ Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ‘For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.’ And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation’” (Acts 2:36-41).

Those who obeyed the divine commands were converted. They were converted because they personally chose to accept God’s conditions for pardon; not because they were ordained to election. As believers, under conviction of sin, they repented of their sins because they chose to turn to God. They were baptized for the remission of their sins because they chose to obey Christ. That is conversion.

Several changes occurred in their conversion. Formerly in their worship, as Jews, they offered animal sacrifices, observed certain seasonal religious festivals, and came to the great temple in Jerusalem to worship. But their animal sacrifices were replaced by the one offering of Christ, once for all, as a means of obtaining full pardon with God Almighty. The keeping of the passover gave way to the fellowship in Christ, under His cleansing blood, as members of the blood-bought church, the church of Christ. Worship in the temple gave way to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) with local groups of Christians everywhere. Meeting on the Sabbath Day gave way to meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7).

Acts 9 tells of the conversion of Saul, later known as Paul. Paul was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute the church. About noon the Lord appeared to him. Blinded by the light of the presence of Christ, he asked, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” There is a simple confession of faith in Paul’s request. Should the Lord have said, “Do nothing, Saul. There’s nothing for you to do. I have already done it all for you. You are saved”? That is the way many preach about the conversion of Saul. But it is not only misleading, it is patently not true.

This divine appearance was not to save Paul. His own testimony is, “So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.’” (Acts 26:16-18). The appearance was to qualify Paul to be a witness. It was not to save Paul from past sins. Jesus told Saul, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:7). There was something Saul had to do and until he did what the Lord said he must do Saul was not converted.

Ananias was sent to Saul to say, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Saul did this immediately and became a Christian. He was converted; he turned back to the Lord. Notice the common elements in conversion. Sinners who gave evidence of their faith in Christ repented and were baptized so their sins would be forgiven. On Pentecost they were told that baptism was “for the remission of sins.” Saul was told it was to “wash away his sins.”

Question: was baptism for the remission of sins part of what you consider to be your conversion? If not, your conversion does not match those of the New Testament.

Acts 10 records another case of conversion. A man named Cornelius, a Roman centurion on occupation duty in Palestine, was praying. He is called a devout man who gave much alms to the people. A benevolent and charitable man who prays fervently to God still needs conversion. While he was praying, an angel appeared to him. If we stopped here many would consider him either a prototype of Joseph Smith, Jr., who founded the entire Mormon religion on such an alleged visit by angels, or one who was saved at that precise moment. But neither is the case. He was not given some new revelation, nor was he converted to Christ.

The text reads: “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius!’ And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. ‘Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. ‘He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do’” (Acts 10:4-6).

A praying man was told there was something he “must do.” The angel did not tell him what he had to do. Cornelius was told to send for Peter who would tell him what he “must do.” Peter came. When he arrived he found Cornelius and his family waiting anxiously to hear what God would say through Peter. “Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God” (verse 33). Then Peter commanded. “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:47-48). So again, a man who gave evidence of his faith in Christ was told to be baptized in the name of the Lord. His conversion required baptism for remission of sins.

Acts 16 has another case of conversion. Paul and Silas are in prison and at midnight they prayed and sang praises to God. In the midst of their devotions an earthquake shook the prison so that the doors sprang open and the prisoners were free. The jailor came quickly to them, fell before them and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (verse 31).

In order for this man to know about Jesus, to have faith in Him as the Son of God, the word of the Lord had to be spoken to him. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). He and his family were baptized into Christ the same hour of the night. “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (verse 33). The common elements of conversion are faith in Christ, repentance from sin, and baptism into Christ. This is the true conversion taught in the Bible.

There is nothing in life to anyone that is more significant than conversion. It is the reception of God into one’s life. One who steps out of the sordid pathway that leads to the infernal regions of torment into the narrow way that leads to eternal life must come through conversion. It has great rewards. “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Joyous days and restful nights wait for those who turn to the Lord.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a decision must be made. Do I intend to live the way I am for whatever future God has for me? Do I ever intend to be what God wants me to be? Those questions are very real and very important to each of us. If there is in your life anything that stands between you and the Lord, change it now. Turn from it and be converted to Christ.

Is it possible, that right now, as you read this, someone may be reading who really needs to be converted to Christ? If so, this is a crucial moment in both our lives. If I have written something that misleads you I will be lost. If you refuse to accept the truth of God; if you hold back from changing from the sinner you are to the saint you could be, it will mean the loss of your soul. I am not in the least interested in either of us being lost; I am intensely interested in both of us being saved.

Please carefully consider this and today, express your faith in Christ, repent of your past, and be baptized into Christ.

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