Suppose a person who claimed to be a Christian said that he had decided to convert to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or popish Romanism in order to marry someone. This would expose that person's Christianity as false. Committed Christians know that in the Bible, God forbids them to be joined in marriage with unbelievers. They also know that to adopt a non-Christian religion is a betrayal of Christ and a tragedy of the worst kind.
On the other hand, suppose a follower of one of those religions didn't abandon his beliefs, but merely began attending a Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, or Presbyterian church in order to marry another person who attended there. Well, merely attending services at a Christian church does not make one a Christian, any more than entering a toy store makes one a rag doll. And one cannot be a committed Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Moslem, or papist and at the same a Biblical Christian believer.
Either way, such so called conversions as these are only superficial; cosmetic, so to speak. In them, human beings treat religions as changes of clothing. But underneath the different garments is the same old body. The Bible teaches of a powerful conversion which God Himself accomplishes.
In this five part study, we are asking and answering the question, "How Does True Conversion to Christianity Take Place?" In the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 18, the Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Therefore anyone who hopes to enter heaven should learn well what conversion means.
Before we can understand what true Christian conversion brings one INTO, we need to understand what he or she is coming OUT OF. To put it another way, why does anyone need to be converted? There is an ancient Christian creed called the Canons of Dordt which well summarizes the Bible's answer to that question. I will paraphrase this Bible teaching tool for you:
Mankind was originally formed in God's image. His understanding was beautifully filled with accurate knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole man was holy. But Man revolted from God by the instigation of the devil. By his own free will, man forfeited these excellent gifts; and in place of them there came to be blindness of mind, horrible darkness, emptiness, and a twisted perversity in making judgments. Man became wicked, rebellious, hard in heart, foolishly and stubbornly self willed, and impure in his affections.
This revolt of which the Canons of Dordt speak is called the Fall of Man. It actually happened at the dawn of human history when Adam and Eve, our literal first parents, disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve fell, all their descendants, that is the entire human race, fell with them. I continue with the paraphrase of the Canons of Dordt and its explanation of why everyone needs to be converted to the Christian faith...
After the Fall, the descendants of Adam and Eve were just like them: rebel sinners against God. A corrupt ancestor produced a corrupt offspring. Therefore all the posterity of Adam, except Jesus Christ, have derived corruption from their original parent. The ultimate reason for this is not that children imitate their parents. This corruption is due to the propagation of a vicious nature, in consequence of the just judgment of God.
Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of God's wrath. Natural man is incapable of doing anything good to save himself. He is prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage to it; and without the grace of God the Holy Spirit, Who gives new life, we are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of our nature, or to dispose ourselves to reformation. I'll end my paraphrase of the Canons of Dordt there.
We need not search the Scriptures themselves very hard to find this truth expressed. In Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet proclaims, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?"
At Ephesians 2:1 Paul the apostle writes to those who have been converted, "you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins", and at Colossians 2:13 he writes, "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses."
Now, who can raise the dead except God alone? Real conversion like the Bible teaches involves a work of God no less extraordinary than a dead person coming back to life...in fact, it's even more extraordinary.
Up until this point, we have been considering why conversion is necessary. Now we ask the question, WHO converts anyone? Some people earn a reputation for being prosletyzers. It is said of such a one, "stay away, he'll try to convert you!" Well, Christians ARE to be faithful and bold witnesses, and more often than not unbelievers will want nothing to do with them. However, we who desire to be faithful and bold witnesses for our Lord need to realize this:
In our own power, we are not able to convert even one soul! That's right, the most eloquent and fervent evangelist, unless the Holy Spirit is working through him, is utterly powerless to effect one conversion...one true conversion, that is! True Christian conversion is God's work. The answer to the question, Who converts anyone? is God Himself. The Bible often presents the beginning of God's work of conversion as a CALLING.
In Proverbs 9, the very wisdom of God is pictured as taking a stand on the high places of a city bustling with human activity and CALLING out to those without understanding.
In Romans 4:17, God is presented as the God Who "...gives life to the dead and CALLS those things which do not exist as though they did..." In other words, simply by a word of His power, God CALLED the universe into being.
In Romans 9, Paul is discussing that greatly comforting, humbling, and mysterious doctrine of Divine election. In verse 8, he writes that it is the children of Divine promise that are the true descendants of Abraham. As an example, he gives the twin brothers Jacob and Esau while they were still in their mohter Rebekah's womb. In verse 11, God's inspired apostle explains that although the children were not yet born, nor had either done any good or evil, they were the appointed by an all sovereign God to respective places in life - in order that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who CALLS.
In Galatians 5:8, the apostle is arguing against the heresy of the Judaizers, who taught that the Gentile Christians must be circumcized to partake of the fullness of salvation. He tells the Galatians that this erroneous persuasion does not come from Him who CALLS you.
Likewise in his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to this Divine CALL. He exhorts in 1Thessalonians 2:12 that the believers "...walk worthy of God who CALLS you into His own kingdom and glory." And in chapter 5, verse 12, he offers this encouragement, "He who calls you is faithful, Who also will do it."
Other instances of the Divine CALLING could be cited from the Scriptures. There are two aspects to the Divine CALL, the OUTWARD call and the INWARD call.
The outward call is like sowing seed. Some of the seed will grow and bear fruit. Other seed will fall by the wayside and never sprout. Other seed will sprout but die out because the soil is rocky, and it can't take good root. Yet other seed will sprout and take root, but eventually be choked off by weeds.
The outward call was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he proclaimed, "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Isaiah, centuries before Christ came, here wrote of the offer of the free gift of eternal life. Isaiah's invitation to all is echoed at the conclusion of the book Revelation: "And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely."
In our next session we will continue this discussion of God's CALL in effecting a true Christian conversion. To summarize what we have learned so far, we see that mankind's situation is indeed desperate...that every human being is in dire need of a conversion that is more significant than the raising of a dead person back to life. We have seen that such a work cannot be accomplished by any human power, but must be done by the God Who CALLED the universe into being, and Who CALLS the lost to Himself.
Go to Session Two, True Conversion
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