By David Dann
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2). In the above passage of Scripture, the apostle Paul is discussing true conversion. That is, the necessity of turning completely away from the world and turning entirely to
We live in an age in which a person’s conversion to Christ is often based upon some sort of a religious experience that has supposedly oc- curred in that individual’s life. We live in an age in which emotions are often appealed to as the foremost authority concerning whether or not one has been converted to Christ.
We live during a time when many act as though there is no absolute truth, or standard by which to judge our standing with the Lord. All of these conditions create a great need for us to examine the Scriptures in order to come to an understanding of how one is truly converted to Christ.
What is Conversion?
The dictionary simply de- fines the term “conversion” as, “a turning or change from one state to another.” Please notice that conversion is not merely a change in belief, or a change in practice; rather, it is a complete change from one state of being to another. Jesus defines true conversion in Luke 9 in the following terms: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Self- denial refers to the change of heart that is required by the Lord as a man changes his outlook on life and exchanges the desire to please himself with the desire to please God. The idea that a man must “take up his cross” shows the change that is to take place in his life, in which the old sinful practices are exchanged for a life of service to God that resembles the life of Christ. Finally, the words “follow me” give us the conversion in its complete form. The heart has been turned to the Lord, the life has been turned to the Lord, and now the entire state of the individual is turned to the Lord in a new relationship with him. Let’s examine each item in greater detail.
A Change of Heart
The term “heart” is often used in Scripture to refer to the intellect and desire of a person (see Gen. 6:5; Matt. 6:21; Acts 5:4). Therefore, a change of heart is brought about through faith, that is, through becoming convicted based upon information that is learned. A man’s faith is inspired by his response to the gospel message (Rom. 10:17). A true change of heart is much more than a mere acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God. In reality it is a change that destroys the love of sin and establishes the love of God in the sinner’s heart. We might say that it causes one to hate what he once loved and love what he once hated. A true change of heart produced by faith in God’s word is what caused the Jews on Pentecost to cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Certainly, there can be no conversion without a change of heart.
A Change of Conduct
Since mere belief in God does not constitute conver- sion (Jas. 2:19), we can conclude that a change of heart will amount to nothing if it is not followed by a change of conduct. The change of conduct that is required by the Lord is brought about through repentance. It is quite evident from the New Testament that God demands repentance (see Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19). True repentance is more than feeling sorry for the sins that we have committed. True re- pentance is a complete change in the direction of one’s life, as defined by the prophet Isaiah: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7). When a man truly repents, he turns from desiring to sin, to hungering and thirsting after righteousness. There can be no conversion to the Lord without repentance.
A Change of Relationship to God
Although a change of heart and a change of conduct are required by God, we cannot acceptably follow Jesus until our relationship to God is also changed. Many in the reli- gious world today change their hearts and lives completely, only to fall short of true conversion, simply because their relationship to God remains in its same dreadful state of disrepair. In Acts 3:19 Peter said, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted,” showing us plainly that conversion is not completed upon repentance. The truth is that the change in our relationship to God is brought about through water baptism. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). Scriptural baptism takes a man from a state of being outside of Christ and liter- ally brings him “into Christ.” Baptism will never change a man’s heart or conduct, but it will change his relationship to God. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark
16:16). It is plain to see that baptism is not something we do because we have been converted, it is what we must do in order to be converted (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Conclusion It is only after these three changes have taken place that the Scriptures recognize a person as having been converted to Christ. But we are involved in more than just a mental exercise in examining the what God’s word has to say on the subject of conversion. This message of true, Biblical conversion is a message that is sorely needed among the millions around us who are lost and dying in sin. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Will you spread the word?