Rules of Conversion
O. C, Birdwell, Jr.
Under the general heading Conversion, attention is now called to specific rules of conversion as set forth in the New Testament.
In a day of rebellion against all authority and rule of law, we stand to lose the prejudiced reader in the very beginning of the article because the word "rules" is in our Subject. The word, however, is a good one since there are clear-cut rules for being converted. That the reader might understand more clearly the subject now under consideration we offer the following definitions for the words used.
The word "rule", according to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, means, "1. A prescribed guide for conduct, action, usage (as of words), etc.; a regulation; precept."
The noun "conversion" (Gr. epistrophe) is found only one time in the New Testament hey therefore being brought on their way by the church passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles" (Acts 15:3). The word as used here, according to Vine, means "a turning about, or round" (Expository Dictionary). Of the verb form as used in Matthew 18:3, the same author has this to say, "Strepho, to turn, is translated 'be converted' in Matt. 18:3, A. V. See Turn." Concerning these verb forms the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia says, "The words commonly used in the Eng. Bible as equivalent with the Heb. and Gr. terms are turn, return, turn back, turn again." Thus, the same writer goes on to say, "convert is synonymous with 'turn' and 'conversion' with 'turning" (I S. B. E., Vol. II, p. 706).
We can now readily see that our subject has to do with the prescribed guide or regulation, given by God, by which man turns to God. These rules of conversion are obviously not all specifically set forth in any one Bible passage. All that is required of man in turning to God constitutes the total rules of conversion. One cannot exclude any requirement in this plan of conversion and be converted to Him.
God's Part in Conversion
God's part in man's turning back unto Him is in supplying the way of conversion. Jeremiah said, "O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). Because of this need for direction, God spoke in times past to ''the fathers in the prophets by diver portions and in diver manners." He directs us today by speaking "unto us in his Son" (Heb. 1:1 2). Need for guidance, which we have in the written word and its place in our conversion and salvation is seen in the following.
God has done his part well in providing reconciliation and salvation. Man would do well through faith and obedience to accept this "word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19).
Man's Part -- Conversion
The old Calvinistic doctrine of total hereditary depravity, and the direct operation the Holy Spirit upon the heart of man, if true, would pretty well leave the conversion of man wholly in the hands of God. If man were totally depraved and that from birth there would be little or nothing he could do. He would have to wait until God operated, apart from any will of his own, upon his heart. But Jesus said, "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven'' (Matt. 18:3). This shows that the converting, the turning, is man's part, not God's. Other scripture statements enforcing this truth are: "He that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). "Today if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb. 3:7). "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Some, in teaching on conversion, would leave the impression that the preacher is ready, and the sinner is ready, but God has to be persuaded or waited on. They read Jesus' charge to man to turn and then proceed to teach that man can do nothing but wait for the Spirit to act. Such teaching blames God for a lack of conversion.
Changes in Conversion
Let us now notice the changes to be made in man and the means by which these changes are brought about.
A. There must be a change of heart -- This change is not a "better felt than told" process. The changed heart is not the fleshly heart, but the part of man which thinks (Matt. 9:4), reasons (Mk. 2:6), and believes (Rom. 10:10). Involved in this change are the following:
Closely connected with one's belief that Jesus is the Christ is a confession with the mouth of that faith held in the heart. Paul said, "With the mouth confession is made unto salvation'' (Rom. 10:10). What this confession is and the fact that it should be made is shown in Paul's epistle to Timothy. "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on the life eternal whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I charge thee in the sight of God who giveth life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession" (1 Tim. 6:11-13).
If you believe, confess it with the mouth. Belief is essential to a change in relationship, but one cannot know you believe unless you say so.
B. There must be a change of life -- This change involves a change of attitude and action in regard to sin. Having heard and believed the gospel, one is led by the goodness of God to repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-10). An example of repentance is found in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). This son, alienated from his father, feeding swine for a "citizen" of a foreign country, came to himself. He believed that his father had "bread enough and to spare" even for the hired servants. He became aware of his sorry lot and his starved condition. Had the man stopped here he would never have been reconciled to his father. He went beyond belief, however; he repented. He changed his attitude and action. He said, "I will arise and go to my father" (v7 18), and then acted on his resolution (v. 20). Repentance is a change of mind that motivates a change of action or a change of life. Too many, it is feared claim to have turned to God when they have only believed that Jesus is the Christ and have resolved to change their life. They go right on living in sin. Such people have not been converted to God.
C. There must be a change of state or relationship - Reconciliation to God is in the body of Christ (Eph. 2:16). To get into this body one must get out from under the "power of darkness" and into the "kingdom of the Son of his Love" (Col. 1:13). This body, or kingdom, is the church (Matt. 16: 18, 19; Eph. 1:22, 23). Notice the necessary act of baptism in bringing about this change of state or relationship.
We must conclude from these and other New Testament passages that baptism is the boundary-line between the church and the world. Baptism is the final act in conversion and is the water of the new birth (John 3: 4, 5). From baptism one is raised a new creature in Christ (Rom. 6:3, 4; 2 Cor. 5:17). While at one time he was alienated from God through sin and iniquity, he is now a child of God through his faith in Christ Jesus.
We have seen that our conversion to God depends upon our hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized, that our change must be of heart, life, and relationship. Men may, and often do, present other rules of conversion, but may we be reminded that if such are not from God they will not reconcile man to God. What seems to be good may not be acceptable. "There is a way which seemeth right unto man; but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12). Providing the rules of conversion is God's part. Let us be content with accepting, obeying, and teaching these rules that man everywhere might know how to turn to God.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIII: 1, pp. 16-18