One of the greatest spiritual dangers we can face is that of being religious but actually unconverted to real Christianity. Balaam provides a good example. He is portrayed in Numbers chapter 22 as a man who had some kind of knowledge of God, God even speaks to him. Yet, he did not truly obey the LORD, but followed after his greed for profit. When the Israelites were coming out of Egypt, led and kept by the power of God, king Balak of Moab and his people were terrified. They sent for the prophet Balaam, asking him to come and curse this mighty nation that threatened them. He went forth to do it, but God stopped him, telling him that this nation was blessed. This was the command of the King of the universe. However, Balaam tried to bypass his command when mere human dignitaries greater and more numerous than those previously sent came from king Balak. Although Balaam did not curse the people, we learn from Revelation 2:14 that he still tried to circumvent God's command and cause Israel harm by teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before them, that they might eat things sacrificed to idols, and commit sexual immorality. Balaam was filled with religious knowledge...both of the true God, the God of Israel and of false, pagan religious matters, but he was unconverted.
Judas provides another example. He was numbered with the apostles, and knew Jesus Christ intimately. He heard Jesus preach and teach, and witnessed His mighty miracles. The other disciples were surprised when Jesus told them that one of them would betray Him, meaning Judas. Each one wondered if it might be him. Apparently, there was nothing about the way Judas lived and conversed that would have made the other disciples doubt that he was just like them. No doubt, he would have appeared to be a very religious man, but in the end he proved to be false...unconverted.
In this five part study, we have been 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, in this five part study, we have looked at the ruined condition of the human race...all people need to be converted. True conversion is a work only God Himself can do. God gives sinners new life and CALLS them to himself, just as He created all things by the word of His power. There is an inward and outward dimension to God's call. By the preaching of the Gospel message, the seed of new life is sown in the world. Those who hear God's call and receive it in a good and honest heart repent of their sin and come to God for salvation in all humility. Are you hearing the call of God today? Cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ! He promises to receive all who come to him in repentance and faith.
Today our series will conclude with what we might term ongoing conversion. The life of Peter, an disciple whom Jesus Christ appointed to become an apostle, provides an example. One might think that by the time Peter had known and walked Jesus for a few years, he would be converted. And indeed, he was...that is, initially. However, according to Luke's Gospel, Jesus Christ said something that indicates that even for the converted, there is a need for this "ongoing conversion".
In Luke 22, Jesus Christ and His twelve chosen disciples are eating that Passover meal which has become known as the last supper. It was at this time that the Lord Jesus instituted the ordinance we call communion, or the Lord's table. During the meal, the disciples argue about which one of themselves is to be the greatest. The Lord Jesus exhorts them that among Hisdisciples, it is not to be as it is in the world, where those in authority lord it over their underlings. Among you, He says, greatness is to be shown by willingness to serve. He also promises them a place in His kingdom where they will eat and drink at His table, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Immediately after this promise, the Lord Jesus says to Simon Peter, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." Another translation accurately reads, "when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren". In other words, Peter, who is already converted, already promised a place in the eternal kingdom of the Lord Jesus, will come to a place in his life where he will need to be converted again!
This was fulfilled without much delay in Peter's life. We know from the Gospel accounts that although Peter boldly promised to stand by Jesus in all that was about to happen, even to the point of death, that he failed to do that. Peter denied his Lord, as Jesus foretold that he would, three times - and that with cursing. Peter wept bitterly over this, but we know that Peter did return to his Lord in repentance and faith, he was converted, and then was used mightily as an apostle and preacher to strengthen his brother disciples.
This lesson from the life of Peter tells us who are believers in Christ that we may need to be converted again at different times in our lives. We should also note from Peter's life that the Lord Jesus was willing to receive him back again when he returned, when he was converted.
Proverbs 24:16 says, "For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity." Though you have fallen seven times or seventy times seven, if you truly belong to Christ you will rise again. This is because God's elect people will never finally fall away, but reach everlasting glory by God's grace. The same Peter who denied his Lord later wrote these words:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." (1 Peter 1:3-5)
What a great description of those who have been truly converted! God has begun the work, by His great mercy giving new life. God continues the work, because these born again ones, on their way to heaven, are kept not by their own power, but by the power of God! As Peter's fellow apostle wrote at Philippians 2:13, "...it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."
In the Gospel according to John chapter 1 verse 12 we read, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name". One of the most simple yet profound commands in Scripture is found at Colossians 2:6 and echoes that Gospel promise, "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him...". How did you receive Christ Jesus the Lord? How did you receive this One Whom to receive is to obtain the right to become a child of God? If you have received Him, you have received Him as the Good Shepherd who called you, His sheep, out of this world and out of your own sin. You did not merely feel regret or remorse for your sin, but repented of it: you agreed with God that it was wrong and turned away from it. Moreover, you put your confidence in the incarnate Son of God, Who came from heaven to die and rise again to earn salvation on your behalf.
The command of Colossians 2:6 means to continue in that spirit - ever listening to the Shepherd's call, willing to turn from every sin that the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God shows you. It means to be ever willing to return to your Lord like Peter did, after every defection small or great. It means to have such a faith that Peter describes in his first letter, chapter 1, verse 8 - "whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" - that is, you have a lively faith in Him.
Thus we have considered the matter of true Christian conversion. It's not changing what religious building you enter, not like changing your clothes, not like changing 2,000 copper coins into one green federal reserve note. True conversion as we have seen is the work of God in the soul. The great question before each of us is, "AM I CONVERTED"? Remember the sober and very serious words of the Lord Jesus Christ, which we have quoted several times during this study: "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
Anyone who hopes to enter heaven should learn well what conversion means. May God grant that all who hear this message be converted and made heirs of everlasting life!
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