Let's suppose you have a large jar of pennies in your house. Over several years, you have been dropping pennies in...a few on this day, a couple on that day. Now you determine that it's time to convert those pennies into some greenbacks that you can put in your wallet or purse and spend as you will.
After you've made the conversion, has there really been any change of monetary value? First you had 2,000 copper coins, and now you have a new, crisp federal reserve note. Either way, you have the buying power of $20.00.
Now had you taken 2,000 aluminum can pop-tops to the bank and received $20.00, then something truly remarkable would have taken place!
So it is with religious conversions. Some ultimately result in no substantial personal change. Perhaps this has been your experience: you've tried Eastern religions, you've tried various philosophies, you've tried to go your own way with do-it-yourself religion, and have been unfulfilled. You may have adopted a new set of rituals, perhaps even adopted an entire new culture - but you know deep down in your own heart that you are the same old person, yearning for more. There is however, a truly remarkable and real conversion.
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.
In our first session, we saw that all people, being dead in trespasses and sins, are in need of conversion. We also saw that conversion to Biblical Christianity is a work that can only be done by the God Who raises the dead. Just as the Lord Jesus, Who is God come in the flesh, called dead Lazarus out of the tomb, so God calls to those dead in trespasses and sins to come and partake freely of the gift of salvation. This Divine call has two aspects, the outward and inward call.
The Lord Jesus spoke of the general, outward call in John chapter 3 when He compared Himself to the bronze serpent Moses had made in the wilderness. When God sent a plague of fiery serpents among the people on account of their rebellion, Moses interceded for them. God told Moses to make a bronze replica of the fiery serpents. God said that whoever had been bitten by a fiery serpent, if he would look at the bronze serpent lifted up high on a pole, that one would live. Jesus said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
Later, at John 12:32, Jesus explained what He meant by His being lifted up. He said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." John the Gospel writer adds, "This He said, signifying what death He should die." Jesus, crucified on the cross, the perfect sacrifice for sin, is lifted up to the eyes of lost sinners when the Gospel is faithfully preached.
Paul sends forth the outward call when he cries out at 2 Corinthians 5:20, "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God."
However, there is also an inward call, as we read at Matthew 22:14, "...many are called, but few are chosen." Many hear the outward call, but few hear the INWARD call. When Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, there were probably other dead persons at that burial ground. The physical sound of Jesus' voice came upon those bodies, as well as upon the body of Lazarus. However, in Lazarus' case a mighty miracle accompanied the sound of Jesus' voice. Lazarus' body was filled with life again...his heart started beating, his blood flowing, his breath and consciousness returned: he was miraculously enabled to hear Jesus' command, "Lazarus, Come forth!"
Christ's voice was directed specifically at Lazarus; Jesus called Lazarus by name. So it is with the inward, spiritual call to conversion. God must give new life inwardly in order for the person to respond to His call. This is what the Bible means when it speaks of being born from above or born again. It is the supernatural work of God alone. Lazarus did not cooperate with Jesus to rise from the dead; Jesus raised Lazarus by His own Divine power. Likewise, there is no human cooperation involved when someone is born again. This is a great comfort to God's people, because it clearly teaches that their salvation does not rest on their own efforts.
In John 6:44 Jesus said "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." Jesus said this in the context of a discourse in which He asserted that men must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life. Shortly after this, we are told in John's Gospel that many of His disciples withdrew and did not follow Jesus Christ any longer. These were people who heard the outward call of Jesus, in the form of all His teachings and parables. However, they never heard the inward call which would have made them stay with Jesus.
The inward call of God is in view when Jesus proclaims Himself the Good Shepherd. He says that His sheep hear His voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
We briefly looked at Christ's parable of the sower, which might also be called the parable of the soils, in our first session. The outward call is the general sowing of the seed, some of which does not yield any crop: it lands by the wayside, or in the rocky soil where it cannot take root, or among weeds that choke it off in time. The effective, inward call is what makes a heart which receives the seed of the word of God like productive soil. It changes the heart into a "good and honest heart", which yields fruit for the glory of God.
This inward call does not treat men and women as though they were blocks of wood, but rational creatures. Persuasion enters into God's work of calling. An example of this is found in Acts 17. In the first part of that chapter, Paul comes to Thessalonica and reasons from the Scriptures with the Jews there. Verse 4 says that "...some of them were PERSUADED; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. Later in the chapter, we find Paul reasoning with the philosophers on Mars hill in the ancient Greek city of Athens. Similarly, persuasion was at work in the conversion of some who heard Paul. We read at Acts 17:34 that "...some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
As God's servant argued fervently and powerfully with both the religious but unconverted Jews, and then again with the pagan and uncoverted Gentiles, cherished core beliefs were exposed as unworthy of confidence. Long held but false assumptions were successfully challenged and dethroned from the mind. Proud strongholds of self righteousness and complacency were thrown down.
The description of persuasion which the Holy Spirit later inspired Paul to write at 2 Corinthians 10:5 was illustrated in that apostle's own examples: "...casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ..."
Have you heard the CALL of God to follow Christ? Perhaps you are uncertain. Keep listening, keep seeking God. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. The word of God, the preaching of the Gospel message, is the seed of the new birth. Through it, God gives that new life which enables the dead to hear His call and rise to follow.
In our next session, we will continue to look at genuine Christian conversion and discuss repentance. Included in our discussion will be the case of a Biblical king who was a murderer, idolater, and man who led others into sin, a man who continued in manyterrible sins for many years. Yet, God granted to him to repent of his sin and find salvation! It is not King David, can you identify this wicked king who found mercy and grace from God?
Christ's forerunner, John the baptizer, went before Jesus saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus Himself followed with the same message: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The message is valid for us today. There is a heaven to which only those who have been truly converted will attain. The only alternative to repentance is damnation.
The word repent means to have a change of mind and heart. Repentance is foundational to conversion, as we read in Hebrews 6:1 "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God" Keep listening!
Go to Session Three, True Conversion
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