By Cecil Willis
We hear a great deal of talk about “conversion,” and frequently this talk is not Scriptural talk, for it does not agree with what the Bible teaches on “conversion.” Conversion is definitely a Bible subject. In Acts 3:19, as the apostle Peter preached to a group of Jews in Jerusalem, he commanded them to “repent ye and be converted” (K.J.V.) or “repent ye and turn again” (A.S.V.). So conversion is plainly a Bible subject. In fact, the Greek word that is translated conversion occurs about forty-eight times in the New Testament, so “conversion” is a subject upon which the Bible has a lot to say.
Most people are religious people. Many people profess religions that the Bible does not endorse, but virtually everyone thinks that he has been converted. But Bible conversion is quite different from what some people believe conversion to be. Bible conversion is the process by which one ceases to be a sinner guilty of his sin, and by which, having received the forgiveness of sins, is added to the church., Conversion is necessary to goto heaven. One who is not converted in the way the Bible teaches one is to be converted is not converted at all., So we should be vitally concerned about what conversion, as taught in the Bible, is.
Already we have hinted that conversion is the process by which one receives the remission of sins, becomes a child of God, and has t1he blessings of God. It stands between one and heaven. In Acts 3:19, Peter said, “Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” And a statement teaching the same thing is recorded in Acts 2:38, when Peter, the same spokesman, commanded another group of Jews to “repent ye, and be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So we see that Bible conversion consists of obedience to certain commandments, and this conversion is essential to one’s receiving the promised spiritual blessings.
Strictly speaking, conversion is a change. But one may be changed and not be changed in the way that the Bible commands that we be changed. So we want to study this change.
One commandment that an individual must obey in order to receive the remission of sins, or one commandment with which one must comply to be converted, is the commandment to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Many, many passages in the New Testament emphasize the necessity of one’s being a believer. Almost everyone believes that one must be a believer in order to be converted. In Jn. 8:24, Jesus said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” The apostle John, when stating his purpose in writing the Gospel that bears his name, said that belief is, necessary to eternal life. He said, “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book; but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:30, 31).
Belief, therefore, is an essential commandment in one’s conversion. One cannot be changed in harmony with the Scriptures unless he is a believer. But earlier, we defined conversion as a change. Belief is a commandment related to this change, and so how is belief related to one’s conversion? Belief changes, or converts the heart. Or, belief changes the affections. The believer and the unbeliever have entirely two different goals in life. The unbeliever may have as his goal the complete satisfaction of his desires. Pleasure may be his own intention in living. But the believer in God should not have such a standard. The believer should have his affections changed. One should desire different things after he becomes a believer than he did prior to his faith, or he has not profited any by being a believer. The believer who goes on with the goals that he has chosen while in a state of unbelief is in no better condition after conversion than before. Belief is to change or convert the affections. Belief changes the heart.
But a change of heart is not enough. There are other commandments that stand between the unbeliever and salvation. One is not converted, in the Biblical sense of the term, when he only becomes a believer. It is not enough to change only the affections of the heart. Another change is logically implied, and divinely commanded following one’s belief (in which his affections are changed).
One is also commanded to repent of his sins. In Luke 13:3, Jesus said, “I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all in like manner perish.” With Jesus, it is a matter of repent or perish. In a passage that we cited earlier, Peter commanded a group believing Jews, present on the day of Pentecost, to “repent ye and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, unto the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Repentance was a commandment with which they had to comply in order to receive the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus Himself connected repentance and the remission of sins in what we have come to call the “Great Commission.” Just before His ascension back to the Father, Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:46, 47). This series of passages shows that repentance is also a commandment that one must obey in order to be converted according to Biblical teaching. But we have defined conversion as a change, so what is changed by repentance?
Faith changes the affections of the heart. Repentance changes the conduct of the life. Repentance is the decision which one makes to quit sinning and to begin living righteously. This usage of the word repentance is found in Matt. 21. The passage reads as follows: “A man had two sons: and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work in the vineyard. And he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented himself, and went” (Matt. 21:28-29). We see in this instance the meaning, usage, and effect of repentance. Repentance is a change of mind that is preceded by godly sorrow, and is followed by a reformation or a change of life. Here we see that the son told the father that he would not go into the vineyard, but he repented, and went. He changed his mind concerning his previous decision, and the change of mind led him to change his life.
Repentance is not the change of life, but repentance produces the change of life. When a man of the world repents, it means that he has decided to change his life, because he has changed his affections. Then comes the actual change in conduct. So repentance plays a vital part in one’s conversion for it brings a change of conduct, or a change of life, without which one could never be converted in harmony with the Scriptural use of the word “convert.” And without repentance and the change of life coming from repentance, one can not enter heaven.
After one repents, the Bible reveals that there is another commandment with which he must comply. One must confess with his mouth that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In Matt. 10, Jesus commanded that one confess Him: “Everyone therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32, 33). In Rom. 10:9, 10, Paul taught that one should make confession of his faith in Christ prior to his baptism, and Paul tells us that this confession is for the same purpose as repentance, faith or baptism. It is “unto,” or “for” the remission of sins, or to put it in the exact words of Paul, confession is “unto salvation.” The passage reads as follows: “Because if thou shalt confess with they mouth Jesus as Lord, and shall believe in the heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9, 10). When the Ethiopian eunuch had been taught by Philip, and came to a certain water wanting to be baptized, he asked Philip what hindered him from being baptized. Philip replied, “if thou believest thou mayest,” and “he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:36, 37). He confessed his faith in Christ. This is a commandment to be obeyed after one believes, repents and prior to one’s baptism into Christ for the remission of sins.
There remains yet another commandment to be obeyed before one is converted in the Scriptural usage of the term. One must be baptized for the remission of his sins. There is also a very definite purpose in one’s conversion that is served by obedience to the commandment of baptism. Baptism changes one’s state. One may believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, thus having his heart’s affections changed, but he is still a sinner, for God has not stated that by believe alone one’s sins are forgiven. One may repent of his sins, change his mind about living a sinful life, and change his life or conduct. But a change of conduct does not forgive sin. It is in the act of baptism that. Christ forgives one’s sins. Baptism changes the state, for in baptism, the sins are taken away, and by obedience to this commandment, conjoined with the grace of God, and the blood of Christ, ones sins are blotted out. Sins are “washed away” by one’s baptism into Christ. Baptism then changes one’s state from a sinner to a saint.
Some people seek to abuse and misrepresent what the Bible teaches, and they seek to convince others that those who believe that baptism takes away one’s sin are saying that the water is that which takes away the sin. No, friends, it is the obedience that takes away the sins, and one’s sins are not forgiven until he does obey. One of the commandments that God has seen fit to command man to obey is that of baptism in water. So forgiveness does not proceed baptism.
By being baptized, one is transformed from a state of guilt to a state of justification. Peter said, “repent ye and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Here Peter stated that baptism changes one from a state in which he is guilty of sin to a state in which his sins are forgiven. It may be that some do not believe what Peter said concerning baptism to be true, but those individuals at least understand what he said. He said baptism is “for the remission of sins,” so these people deny that Peter said, not because they do not understand it, but because they do not believe.
It is the act of baptism that changes one’s state from being outside of Christ to a state of being in Christ. Notice Paul’s teaching: “Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3). What did Paul say? He declared that we are baptized into Christ. If this is true, then those that are not baptized remain outside Christ.
So baptism changes one’s state. It takes away one’s sins by putting him into Christ.
Conversion is therefore accomplished by having one’s affections changed by believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; by repenting by which one’s conduct is changed; confessing his faith in Christ, and by being baptized for the remission of sin, by which one is changed. If you have not done these things, regardless of how you may feel, and what you may think of your spiritual condition, the Bible and Christ teach that you are unconverted, and thus lost. Be converted today!
Guardian of Truth XX: 27, pp. 419-421
July 8, 1976