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.
Thus far, we have shown the universal need for conversion. All mankind need to be converted...to come to saving knowledge of the one true God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God alone can do this work, and He does it by CALLING the sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, just as He called the universe into existence out of nothing. The one who is called is persuaded to repent of sin and exercise faith in Jesus Chirst.
Mere regret is not the same as repentance. A person may regret what he has done only because of the bad consequences. His heart remains hard; his attitude toward his own ways remains unchanged. When a person repents, he is convicted in his own heart of his sin. He agrees with God that his ways have been wrong and resolves not to continue in them. His heart is softened and he seeks God for forgiveness, and for the strength to change through grace.
Pharaoh is a good example of mere regret. After hardening his heart many times and suffering God's plagues because of it, he finally let the people of Israel go out of Egypt. He did not let them go because he became convinced that keeping them in bondage would be wicked. He let them go because God's plagues hit him and his nation where it hurt. He finally perished because he hardened his heart one final time and went after the people. If Pharaoh had repented, he would have agreed with God that they should be free, and not tried to get them back that final time.
Zaccheus is a good example of true repentance. His story is found in Luke 19. Zaccheus was a chief publican, one of those who collected taxes for the Romans. The publicans were known for being crooks. We see from Zaccheus' actions that God was calling him to faith in Jesus. We see his repentance because he said -
Luke 19:8 ... Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
When John the baptizer preached to command sinners to repent, he said that they should bring forth fruits in keeping with their repentance. Zaccheus did just that. He willingness to give and to restore what he had stolen shows that he had had a change of heart and mind about his ways. It is as if Pharaoh had said to Moses, "Not only am I going to gladly let your people go out of slavery, but I am giving them back four times the wages they should have earned in all their years serving me!"
King Manasseh of ancient Judah provides another good example of Biblical repentance. This Manasseh is of course not the brother of Ephraim. THAT Manasseh, and Ephraim his brother, were the two sons who were born to Joseph in Egypt, and who became tribal heads. The Manasseh who well pictures Biblical repentance for us is the son of King Hezekiah of Judah. In 2 Chronicles 33, we read the following charges against King Manasseh:
"... he did evil in the sight of the LORD according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel."
Manasseh actually brought back the wicked practices of the former inhabitants of the land of Canaan, peoples who were judged by God to be worthy of being wiped out through the conquest under Joshua.
Manasseh "...rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them."
That is, he committed idolatry, worshiping in ways not according to God's Word, and worshiping false gods. This is like those today who say they worship God in their own way, and who say that all gods are valid. The Bible says there is only one true God, and that He is to be worshiped as He commands in spirit and in truth! King Manasseh also:
"...built altars in the house of the LORD of which the LORD had said, "My name shall be in Jerusalem forever. For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD...he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God."
Manasseh even went so far as to bring his idolatry into God's own temple! This is like those today who want to bring worldly ideas and false doctrines into the Christian church, the people of God, the living temple. The Bible says we are to be separate and holy. Moreover, Manasseh:
"...made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom..."
This means that Manasseh made human sacrifices of his own children. This is comparable to those today who murder their own children through abortion, thus making human sacrifices of those children: sacrifices to the gods of immorality, convenience...self. Manasseh's rap sheet continues:
"...he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery, and dealt with mediums and spiritists."
Many today, even so called Christians, read horoscopes, deal with mediums and spiritists. In this way they deny the God they claim to worship, despising His Word which is able to provide for them all the guidance they need. We also read in 2 Kings 21:16 that:
Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD."
Manasseh was a cold blooded murderer in addition to all his other sins. Jesus says that not only those who physically commit murder, but those who are unjustly angry with their brothers are guilty of this sin. The Biblical chronicler sums up Manasseh's reign:
"He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger....Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel."
Manasseh was very, very wicked, and he led others into wickedness as well. Amazingly, because God is such a gracious God, Manasseh's story doesn't end there! If you know that you are sinful in God's sight like Manasseh was, and feel hopelessly condemned, know that there IS hope for sinners like Manasseh! Listen to what happened near the end of Manasseh's career:
"...the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains, and took him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God."
Manasseh's distress brought him to his knees before God. He repented. God, Who is gracious and kind beyond what anyone can imagine, heard Manasseh's repentance and was moved to act on his behalf, and even put him back on his throne. What a wonderfully gracious God is God!
As in the case of Zaccheus, we see the fruit of repentance in Manasseh's life. We see that he was truly converted, for we read that he:
"...removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the LORD and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city. And he set up the altar of the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel."
When Peter preached in Acts 3, this is what he said - Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord...
If, like Zaccheus, you have heard the call of God, you need to have this change of mind and heart. Even if you have been as wicked as Manasseh, you can come to this gracious God and find forgiveness. Has God been speaking to your heart today? Are you hearing his call come through to your heart by His word? The Bible says that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. You can't save yourself, and no preacher can convert you. However, God's arm is not shortened, He is able to save to the uttermost those who come by the way of Jesus the Savior.
In Luke 15:10 we read these marvelous words of the Lord Jesus, "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents".
In our next session, we will look at another gracious gift of God that comes with conversion, that is, faith. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Repentance deals with the danger we flee from, and faith deals with the blessings we run to. A truly converted person is one who continually exercises both.
Go to Session Four, True Conversion
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