True Biblical Conversion
There are some vital biblical truths which are so utterly essential and important, that there is no problem in repeating them over and over again. Even though I have written on this topic often, and shared these passages often, I can never stop sharing them.
Indeed, it is incumbent upon me to do so. In Ezekiel 3 and 33 the watchman is commissioned to share biblical truth, and warn the wayward, and if he does not, then their blood will be upon his hands (see Ez. 3:16-21 and 33:1-17). Let me quote just one verse here:
“When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood” (Ez. 3:18).
And this is not just some Old Testament stuff which is not relevant to us today. Not only was Ezekiel under solemn obligation here, but so too are all God’s people. We all have a watchman role in this respect. We all have an obligation to warn sinners – and those who think they are believers but may well not be – about their fate if they do not come to true biblical conversion.
Jesus made this perfectly clear when he said one of the most frightening and sobering things found anywhere in the entire Bible. I refer to his words as recorded in Matthew 7:21-23. They are horrible words, but utterly necessary words:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
I speak to this text in much more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/19/the-most-frightening-words-in-scripture/
And another warning I have been sharing often comes from American pastor Mark Dever. He recently told an audience of 8000 pastors at a conference this: “My fellow pastors, could it be that many of our hearers each week aren’t saved, even many of our members?”
This is a very alarming possibility, if not reality. And it is not just pastors and church leaders who need to address this fact. As I already said, we all have an obligation to make sure that we ourselves are truly converted, and then make sure our colleagues in Christ are as well.
How can we perform such an evaluation on ourselves and others? The most obvious way to do this is to dig out our New Testaments, blow off the dust, get on our faces before God, and reread carefully and prayerfully the four Gospels. And no matter if you have read them hundreds of times before: ask God to speak to you plainly as if you are reading them for the very first time.
This should be your first port of call. But there are other helps available. There are godly preachers who have spoken much to this issue. Plenty of them can be mentioned here. Let me refer you to just one. American pastor Paul Washer is doing as good a job here as anyone in enunciating and explicating the true gospel message, and what true conversion is all about.
In fact, he has a series of books out called “Recovering the Gospel”. Let me refer to his 2013 volume, The Gospel Call and True Conversion. There are plenty of spiritual nuggets here worth quoting, so let me allow Washer to speak for himself. He says this in the series preface:
“One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth. The lost world is not so much gospel hardened as it is gospel ignorant because many of those who proclaim the gospel are also ignorant of its most basic truths. The essential themes that make up the core of the gospel – the justice of God, the radical depravity of man, the blood atonement, the nature of true conversion, and the biblical basis of assurance – are absent from too many pulpits. Churches reduce the gospel message to a few creedal statements, teach that conversion is a mere human decision, and pronounce assurance of salvation over anyone who prays the sinner’s prayer.”
He says the results of such “gospel reductionism has been far-reaching”: it “hardens the hearts of the unconverted”; it “deforms the church from a spiritual body of regenerated believers into a gathering of carnal men who profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him”; it “reduces evangelism and missions to little more than a humanistic endeavor driven by clever marketing strategies based upon a careful study of the latest trends in culture”; and it “brings reproach to the name of God”.
He examines in detail a number of issues such as biblical repentance, biblical faith, the new heart, and the new covenant. He then rightly says this:
“The conversion of a person is possibly the most magnificent demonstration of the power of God in the universe. Although it necessitates a decision on the part of the individual, it is primarily a work of God from beginning to end. At conversion, God regenerates and transforms a person’s heart so that he becomes a new creation. This is not mere poetry, exaggerated metaphor, or hyperbole; it is to be taken literally. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, a person is given a new nature with new and righteous affections that can no longer tolerate estrangement from God, friendship with the world, or the practice of sin.
“Although he may stray, he cannot stray for long, but is compelled by many forces within and without to return to God. His new nature will be sickened by sin and will cause him to loathe it even while the forbidden meat is still between his teeth. The Spirit who indwells him will convict him of his sin and renew his hope of finding pardon and restoration in the mercies of his God. The Son will seek him out and draw him with great reminders of Calvary’s love. The Father will employ every means of providence and stretch forth His hand in loving discipline.
“He will turn him from the path of destruction, teach him to fear the Lord, and make him a partaker of the very holiness of God. For this reason, the genuine Christian will not turn away or shrink back to destruction. He will persevere unto the end, not only in faith but also in sanctification leading to a personal righteousness. The God who began a good work in him will perfect it until the day of Christ.”
He also examines the signs or fruit of genuine conversion. Consider the believer’s relationship to the world for example: “One of the first noticeable results of true conversion is biblical separation from the world – a gradual divorce or withdrawn from all that is displeasing to God and in opposition to His will. Such a separation is not an end in itself, but rather the first and essential step to a greater end: a drawing nigh unto God, and the giving of ourselves to His purposes and will.”
He concludes by saying this: “Much of what is practiced within the evangelical community in the West regarding evangelism, conversion, and the assurance of salvation is a denial of everything that the Scriptures teach about the new covenant, the new birth, and the very nature of God and salvation.”
I have only skimmed the surface here of so many vital and neglected biblical truths found in this book. I urge you to get a copy yourself of this 188-page volume and read it carefully and repeatedly. Along with rereading the Gospels, this is one of the better things you can do concerning the most important matter every single one of us must deal with.
14 Replies to “True Biblical Conversion”
I’ve been wondering for some time just what is true conversion? It seems to me that the term is relative and can be twisted and used depending on just how “religious” you are and just how much manipulation you can put up with. Are we saved because we repent or is repentance an act of receiving the reality we are included in the completed work of Christ through his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension? I prefer the latter as we are responding out of gratitude and not some religious duty. One is life giving. The other servitude. It is for freedom that Christ HAS set us free. Not will do when we receive Jesus into our hearts as if he is not there already.
Anyway, this is the way I respond to the gospel. No one can tell me I’m lost because Jesus is not lost and I’m included vicariously in Him.
Ps writing this from Jeju airport Korea whilst waiting for our flight back to Seoul and then Sydney tonight.
Thanks Lou. But we have been through this debate too many times before. The biblical truth is quite clear: we are not in Christ until we repent, turn from our sins, and receive what he has done on our behalf by faith. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. ” (1 John 5:12).
This helpful insight is from John Stott:
“Repentance and faith are in fact the constituent elements of conversion, when viewed from the standpoint of man’s experience. For what is conversion but ‘turning’, and what is ‘to be converted’ but ‘to turn’? The Greek verb is often used in the New Testament in secular, non-theological contexts to describe someone’s action in turning round from one direction to another or turning from one place to another. When used in more technical, theological passages the verb has the same meaning. ‘You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’. ‘You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls’ (1 Thes. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:25). Conversion therefore involves a twofold turn, a turn from idols and from sin on the one hand, and a turn to the living God and to the Saviour or Shepherd of souls on the other. The ‘turn away’ the New Testament calls repentance; the ‘turn toward’ the New Testament calls faith. So repentance plus faith equals conversion, and no man dare say he is converted who had not repented as well as believed.
Let us go back to the watchman on the wall. Could it ever be that the church within the safety of the city wall is only concerned with its own personal purity and salvation, whilst an unsaved person is on the city wall sounding the alarm? Am I out of line when I say that the church is only concerned with shining the light on its own navel but is not dispensing salt in society? I am referring to the Church’s disinterest to the terrible injustices being performed in society, leaving it to all manner of faiths and non faiths to battle things like child trafficking, and the grooming of our children on an industrial scale?
David Skinner UK
Two thoughts about this: Paul Washer’s words ‘At conversion, God regenerates and transforms a person’s heart so that he becomes a new creation’ reminds me of Wesley’s words: ‘Thine eye diffused a quickening ray: I woke – the dungeon flamed with fire! My chains fell off, my heart was free…” Where he says ‘He will persevere unto the end, not only in faith but also in sanctification leading to a personal righteousness’, I liken this to the one in the Parable of the Sower who perseveres and brings forth fruit. Incidentally, I think the Parable is an excellent model for salvation.
David Skinner – well said! If Jesus is to be Lord, it must be of everything! So Church, let’s take Him there!
The Gospel Call and True Conversion (Recovering the Gospel) book is also available at Koorong and Word bookstores in Australia 🙂
Thanks for that Karen.
Have you ever sat with a friend at McDonalds and poured out your broken heart, so that he held it in his hands but never ever shredded it? Have you ever known the wise man who always cuts through issues to the root of the problem so that its solution seemed so obvious and simple? Have you ever loved a person so that being with them is always like being home? Have you ever had a friend so that it didn’t matter what you did, as long as you did it with them?
True conversion is something like all of that, and more. It is a relationship with a Father who covers every hair on my head. It is to know a saviour who was flesh and understands my stupidity and cowardice and sloth. It is to have a companion who is always there as a resource and wise friend. It is to worship a God who never loses and loves me and fixes my messes.
God gives us friends and leaders so that we can understand relationship. He wants real relationship, not some academic theoretical tick the box substitute. When Jesus says in Matthew 7 ‘I never knew you’ , He means just that. We must spend time with Him – all the time. David walked through the valley of Psalm 23 – he did it with God.
A relationship with Jesus has times when we cry or kneel, or laugh or unburden or just sit with Him and listen. His sheep hear His voice – not just read it….( but we must read it as well!)
And all the time He refines us so that as Eph 4 says – one day we will be honed / refined to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Real conversion has to cut me and change me. I have a long way to go.
Nicely spoken Rob, and timely comment Bill. If we don’t spend time with the Lord and in God’s word, we are much poorer for it, and ever more vulnerable to the world, the flesh and the devil.
I have long remembered the wise words and warnings of a Godly friend, whose surname was Grace. A missionary in New Guinea for much of his life:
1. Beware of human “pride” and being self-absorbed. As no one is up high that Satan cannot reach them, nor so low that God cannot reach them.
2. Beware when any man thinks he stands lest he fall.
I have never forgotten these wise words, and am ever mindful of God grace, and the importance of reflecting His Grace and love in my own life.
You haven’t heard good preaching until you’ve heard John Farr:
It seems to me that three factors are involved here –
1) just about the worst thing one can do in our society today is to say something which may cause offense to somebody (with the exception being that offending Christians is viewed as ‘free speech’.)
2) many a Pastor would be very disappointed if a number of people left his church;
3) the true Gospel is offensive to many people, even some churchgoers.
Putting these three factors together we find that many Pastors go ‘softly softly’ with the Gospel – so ‘softly softly’ that people who need to ‘get it’ often miss it altogether.
A true conversion in my view is when your own spirit knows that God is with us at all times and that you can talk to him naturally as your heavenly father and friend. There is a knowledge of his presence and reproach when we knowingly do something against his teachings both those we hear and those we know within our selves.
I have a pine pole outside my door supporting part of my pergola it is dead but it, for a while retains its shape to support the beam. It is still made up of atoms and the atom’s are made up of all sorts of things such as quarks electrons and protons etc. Delving deeper we may have such things as strings. Yet we along with all other living things have the unfathomable ability within our life force to assemble, arrange and maintain our physical structure of our specific design yet we neither know the effort taken nor seemingly know from whence the instructions come. The molecules of life may be controlled by our DNA helix yet even that ceases on death. Who then are we??
We are what our bible tells us a “holy” spirit living within our bodily temple and we have a choice to either choose the fleeting things of this earth or seek those waiting for us in Gods Kingdom. It is a choice and it is faith and the knowing of it is what will take us there.
Our bodies are not us nor do they come with us when we die when we will have the perfection of Resurrection Therefore to seek aggrandizement of the body in this life is really and truly a dead end.
A seed can be stored for a millennium yet when it receives Gods greatest earthly gift of water the machinations of its specific construction begin.
This whole situation proves the lie of the “theory” of evolution. The design is specific to each of us and being not descendants of bacteria/fleas/beetles/birds/ monkeys or any other being, it remains in that design until death. The living essence that once gave life and sap to my pine pole is no longer there yet the assembly of atoms still remain supporting the pergola for a while. Similarly the memory of great Godly people and their good works (for we are known by our works) remain to support and guide civilizations, without which they crumble and fall.
God may give us time to find him but it is up to us to choose that path, and until we remember that Jesus gave his life in a sacrificial way to show us Gods love and until we receive, know and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit many will remain just dangerous flotsam on the sea of life.
We must never cease to remind those we meet of his love just waiting to be chosen and the emptiness of life without him.
I feel gratified that I have challenged my church people, in love, that we need to sharpen up on the Word of God and that it should be passed on verbatim from Bible scripture and the sayings of Jesus Christ. It was an awkward moment and my mouth went a bit dry at the thought of my impertinence – but my words were welcomed by the rector et al and we are going to have a more in depth discussion soon. I feel the actual words of Jesus as reported in the bible will draw more people closer to Christian fellowship, with the realisation of the critical need to walk the narrow path to avoid God’s wrath and lost eternity and that people should leave a church gathering with the Word of God ringing in their ears, and nothing less or diluted. I stressed we must change the wishy washy image of Jesus (with thanks to yourself Bill).