What is Christian Conversion?
Who would have thought that GM and Ford could change so quickly and radically? Once they made cars, now in the pandemic, they are making ventilators and masks. Amazing. What a country! Conversion is change—lasting inward change of heart, mind and life. It is not self-help change but change that God alone works within the human soul. Conversion occurs as we respond to the grace of God announced in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our necessary response to this gospel is genuine repentance and a sure and certain trust in Jesus Christ. Through repentance and faith, the saving power of God is translated into our human experience.
Conversion for most people is a gradual process involving moments of insight as well as accumulating evidence. There may be several decisive moments we can point to as turning points. For others conversion happens dramatically and suddenly like a sunrise—yet even then we can usually discern the events and experiences that have prepared us for such a vivid moment. Conversion is a bit like falling in love and there are as many ways of falling in love as there are people in the world. Therefore we ought not to compare our personal experience with others, although it is greatly encouraging to share our stories with each other regardless if we feel our story is too “ordinary.”
God declared to Paul that his mission in life was to convert people to Christian faith, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:18) Note the language here, “eye opening”; “darkness to light” and “from Satan to God”. This is rhetoric of decisive change. Have your eyes been opened? Are you still living in darkness? Are you under the power of Satan and not God? As a boy I had quite a collection of G.I. Joe dolls. I loved those things but somewhere along the way I stopped playing with them. I am not sure when that happened, but I know for sure that it did. Likewise, we can’t always identify the exact moment when our eyes opened and we left Satan behind to enter into the Kingdom of God but believers can say for sure that it did.
No better description of conversion is given in the Bible than Ephesians 4:17-24:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Conversion doesn’t mean the desires and cravings of our flesh go away, it means we just don’t follow them anymore. We follow after the Holy Spirit. The temptations, habits and orientations of our bodies don’t vaporize but they are overruled by a singular and intense desire to walk in humble obedience to God. We no longer live for ourselves but for God. This is radical change. Is it in you?