Nature of a True Conversion
When Saul was converted by Christ it was called a miracle. He met the Lord on the road to Damascus as he was traveling to destroy the very church itself. Christ appeared to him and "removed his heart of stone and gave him a heart of flesh, , just as we are told in the book of Ezekiel. This is the very heart and nature of conversion. What does it profit a person to be converted yet show no outward signs of the Spirit of God that has worked the conversion? People today seem more obliged to lead a person in a “sinner’s prayer” and take it upon themselves to bestow assurance of eternal security even though no fruit has yet been borne by the person. Is this really a Biblical thing to do? Even John the Baptist himself refused to baptize those whose conversion showed no inner working:
Mt 3:7-8 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Has the church today become satisfied only with a prayer? Or do we crave to see the working of the Spirit in those whom have truly been converted? Do we call anyone a Christian who claims the Name of Christ? or do we “test the Spirits to see if they are from God?” We must test any and all Spirits to see whether they are of God for we have been commanded to do thus. The apostle Paul has given us this solemn warning:
2Tim 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that time is now here! Too many people have become convenient Christians; that is, when it profits them to be so. There may be even some among us this morning who have never been truly converted by having God by His Spirit breathe the breath of life into his [soul] and become a living being. And be certain that NO life happens until God first breathes life into it.
We must now consider what the nature of conversion is. We must see the process in which God uses to bring dead sinners to life. I will be the first to admit that God may use any means in accomplishing this task but Scripture speaks clearly that there are certain things that will take place in that process. These are the very things that I intend to focus upon. When we examine these things we can surely look within our own souls to see whether the Spirit of God has truly converted us or rather we have simply been contented to be an unconverted “good” person. There are four key things that I would like to point out about conversion using the conversion of Paul as our example.
I.An unconverted soul is an enemy of God
Note that the text states that Paul was breathing out threats and murders to the disciples. This is the condition of the natural man. He is an enemy of God and of God’s people. He may at once seem at peace with religion but the moment he is confronted with truth he becomes violent and vehemently opposed to the presenter of truth. Is it any wonder when those faithful saints of God are persecuted, tortured, and killed when they preach the gospel? Was not all fine and life good until the truth of God’s Word came down from Heaven and pricked their hearts to expose their own motives? The very fact that God’s people all over the world suffer such atrocities simply because they belong to Christ testifies to the fact that man is a natural enemy of God. And more than this, Scripture itself testifies: and you will be hated by all for my name's sake (Mt 10:22). Those who have never been truly converted by the Spirit despise the things of God. They hate being around God’s people; they view worship and praise as a chore; they perform “spiritual” duties of compulsion rather than love for the Savior. They seek God’s blessing while despising His Name. These kinds of actions can be summed up in three major areas:
A.They are dead in their sins (Eph 2:1-3).
Paul uses the very specific word to describe our unregenerate condition. This word is nekros, which means a corpse, something tht is absolutely lifeless. Of course Paul is speaking in spiritual metaphor but his comparison of a physical corpse to a spiritual corpse serves as a vivid picture of how we stand before God. We can do nothing of value in the spiritual realm until we have been made alive. Jesus himself relates this truth to His disciples: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:4). And even more than this, Paul states in this passage that lost people carry out the passions and the lusts of their flesh, whatever they may be. We are told that the reason they do this, other than being dead, is that they follow the course of the world’s evil system which is the path that Satan has marked out for them. Even so this is their natural inclinations as we are told that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. We are told by our Lord that men are evil. Never make the mistake of thinking that we are naturally good and only learn to do evil things; but be convinced that we do evil things because we ARE evil. This is expressed by the prophet Jeremiah when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”(Jer 17:9). Because we are dead we can do nothing of our own volition that would cause God to look on us with favor. Dead people stink and every thing that arises from their bodies gives off the stench of death. Spiritually, it is the same thing. Death also carries the idea of separation. This can be the only natural conclusion we can arrive at, for death has come because of sin and sin is the result of our own natural hearts. Those who are lost (spiritually dead) are separated from God. They do not naturally seek God or run to Him for forgiveness when they do wrong. Remember how Adam and Eve reacted when their eyes were opened to sin? They certainly did not seek to rectify the situation with God but ran and hid hoping that the solution they had concocted (the sewing of fig leaves for garments) would suffice them for their lifelong. This is why Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Had He left it for us to come to Him we would still be hiding and hoping that the Holy God of creation would not find us. We would certainly be in agreement with those who will experience God’s wrath: The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, "Cover us," and to the hills, "Fall on us." (Hos 10:8) It is because of our reaction to goodness and our inclination to evil that God seeks us, and for no other reason.
B.They are helpless to change themselves (Jer 13:23; Mt 12:35).
A lost person can no more change his evil actions to good anymore than a dead man can get up and walk. Go on and speak to a dead man and see if he responds; tell a man who has lived in his addictions to break off his chains and reform his ways. I tell you, it will never happen! Many mistake a person’s sin as something they fell into, but the opposite is actually true; a person sins because that is what defines his very being. He cannot help but do certain things. The actions that follow are simply the natural path of his heart. The restraint of a particular sin is only hindered until an opportune time to rear up and perform the outward action of the inward motive. To put it simply, those who are thieves did not become thieves when they stole; they stole because thievery was in their hearts. Adulterers do not become such when they commit adultery; it was already in their hearts and needed the avenue to work its way into action. The heart defines who we are and what we do. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a perfect illustration of this point. He defines what God actually means by not committing murder or adultery; it is a heart issue, not just an action issue. Jeremiah rightly states this truth in the illustration of the nature of a person’s skin and the leopard’s spots. A person does not cease being dead simply because he attends church anymore than an Ethiopian ceases to be an Ethiopian because he leaves his country. Powerless we are to convert our own natures! But the worst part of this passage is the very next verse. To those who remain in their natural state, God says, “I will scatter you like chaff driven by the wind from the desert” (v.24). The fate of chaff is never a positive thing in Scripture. It is, as the Lord tells us, burned up with unquenchable fire. It is also represented in Scripture by those who are false believers; those who simply act religious rather than entering the relationship. We are told that in the judgment many who considered themselves Christians, even did good works in the Name of Jesus will be cast into the Hellfire which burns with fire and brimstone. The scary part is that they ACTUALLY believed they were doing these things for Christ. Their surprise at their own lostness is extremely genuine. They had no idea that they remained dead and unconverted. Could this be possible among our churches today? Absolutely! For this reason we should follow promptly the apostle Peters advice: (2Pe 1:1-10). Peter exhorts his readers to do this only after listing those qualities that he describes as being part of the divine power of God. This divine power, we are told, is the result of being partakers of God’s divine nature; that is not to say that we are little gods but that His Spirit within us exhibits His qualities in our lives. If these qualities are in us then those who see our lifestyle will know that we belong to God. This is the same thing the apostle John communicates to us in his first epistle: (1Joh 3:7-10). John states this in the contrast of distinguishing between those who belong to God and those who belong to Satan, for those who belong to God have a hope that causes them to purify themselves so that they will not be ashamed at the Lord’s coming. If a person is converted there should be certain qualities that are exhibited in his life. This is the message of John and it is also the message of Peter. How can one be a partaker of the divine nature of God and not be adding to his faith all the things that he has listed. This is why Peter tells them to make CERTAIN of their salvation. The language here is very clear. The phrase in verse 9, “he has forgotten” is made up of two Greek words. The first word I would like to comment on is the word lethē. This word is where we derive our English word, lethargy. A person in a state of lethargy is ineffective in everything he does. The sluggishness cause him to lag behind but also to weigh down others. The second word is lambanō and has to do with actively receiving something. Thus, the idea in this passage is receiving forgetfulness. But this forgetfulness is not the same idea that we would forget something. It is the forgetting period of the power of the divine nature; that which pertains to life and godliness (v.3). This is to say that he has forgotten to receive the things of God that pertain to the divine nature, which is how the Greek scholar A.T. Robertson words this. And if this simply means a person who needs to be reminded of his salvation, Peter would have no cause to follow up his thought by telling his audience to ensure that they have been partakers of this faith.
C.They are not able to receive the things of God (1Co 2:14).
Paul here implies that the natural, or fleshly, or lost person cannot receive ANY Spiritual truth. The ability is not there because of his natural state. This word ‘receive’ is different than the previous word we examined. This word means to deliberately accept an offer. In other words, even if one sits under the sound of the gospel all his life and remains unconverted it is because he was not able to take the offer of his own volition because that which was spoken to him was of the Spirit. This explains why two men can make a profession of faith on the same day, in the same church, at the same time, in the same room, and one quickly falls away while the other perseveres. It is because God has brought to life one while leaving the other dead. The dead man could not receive anything of the Spirit because he could not understand it, while God has graciously quickened the other soul. Jesus’ words are here in remembrance when He says, “No man can come unto Me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” And also the apostle Paul reminds us, “So then, it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” When examining the context of 1Corinthinans 2 we see a parallel between Peter and Paul. Look at the preceding verses: Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual (1Co 2:12-13). Paul states his case in the positive (that we might understand the things freely given us by God) where as Peter states this same truth in the negative (whoever lacks these qualities has. . .forgotten).
II.Conversion takes place after a sin confrontation
No man has ever been converted who has first not been confronted f by his own wickedness. The same was true for Paul. Jesus does not bother trying to “reason” with Paul. He goes straight to the heart of the matter when He asks, “Why are you persecuting me?” Any person that claims to be converted without first coming to grips with his sin is either lying or has willfully deceived even his own self. Sin is not something that can be lightly brushed over. If the Son of God paid such an awful and dear price then we must be able to reckon that price in our minds; not to say that we must fully understand or grasp the full effects of the atonement, but none the less, we MUST understand the reason behind the atonement. If we have never realized that it was our darkest hearts that caused the Lord of Glory to be crucified, if we have never realized that we have been separated from God and He cannot look upon us because of sin, then it is not arrogant to say that we have not truly been converted. To put this in simpler terms, how can you be saved unless you know what you are being saved from? A lot of people call Jesus “Lord,” but do they understand WHY they do? Have they come to grips with their own sin? Has the Holy Sprit laid His hand upon your heart and shown you face to face why He gave His very life’s blood? It is something we should all give serious consideration to. While these thoughts are fresh in our heads there are two main reasons I would like to give of why a person cannot be converted without first being confronted with their sin:
A.Man is willfully blind to his sin (Isa 5:18)
Isaiah gives a very vivid picture of those who are actively engaging in their sin. It is a picture of beasts that draw along carts without ever being aware of the load that they are carrying. Men do the same with their evil and wicked deeds. They are like brute beasts that despite feeling the burden of the load refuse to look back and examine the cause of their slow pace. “Woe to them,” Isaiah cries! They continue to draw along sin like a cart never really giving thought to it. They have a destination and a course marked out to get there and not matter how long it takes them they will arrive. They are going in the way that seems right to them. But the Bible is very clear that those who go their own way will only find destruction! The second death and the Lake of Fire which will ascend the smoke of their torment for eternity awaits those who go their own way.
B.Man has a twisted view of his sin (Gen 11:1-4).
We need not look much further than the book of Genesis to see this truth. In this particular passage man had become so convoluted in his thinking that he actually thought in his mind that he could become as powerful as God. This is the whole idea behind the tower of Babel. We are told that because all humanity at that time shared a common ground (their language) that they thought it best to build a great city so that they should never be separated. In doing so they violated two of God’s commandments to them: First, going back to chapter 9 we see that the first thing that God commanded Noah was to fill the earth. You very well can’t fill the earth if you and all your descendents stay in one place. They knew God’s command and willfully disobeyed. Second, they had reached the pinnacle of pride. Their declaration, “Let us make a name for ourselves,” very well supports this idea. They wanted to build to the heavens so that the whole world, even God, would see how powerful they were. It is the very same lie the Serpent told Eve: You shall be like God.” How much more twisted can one’s thoughts become? But notice, too the outcome of their rebellion. God’s statement was that nothing could stop then from doing what their hearts could imagine. This is most certainly in regards to the depths of their sin. When a man crosses a certain threshold within his conscience there is no turning back for him except the grace of Christ within his soul. There have been certain boundaries that God has placed within all men, saved or lost, that must not be tempted; and if temptation is succumbed to, the consequences would be most devastating.
III.Conversion comes at the preaching of God’s Word and obedience to that Word
After hearing the Lord’s command, Paul arose from the ground and immediately went to the place he was told. It is easy to overlook this because we are so familiar with the story, but in his condition and the confusion it has to be certain that he was still confused about everything that had happened. As a matter of fact, he was in such a state of shock that he did eat or drink for three days, but rather spent that time in prayer. No doubt he had more questions than answers, but he got up from the ground and did as the Lord commanded. So too, when a person sits under the preaching of God’s Word and God comes bursting in with His light and knocks us from our horses and leaves us dazed and wondering at the marvel that just happened, can we respond to the grace set before us. The command is given to us in Scripture: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Paul was no different. There had to be a reckoning of his sin, there had to be the Word of God spoken to him, and he had to respond to that word in obedience. That is the ONLY way any of us can truly be saved. Two brief things about this section that I would like to point out:
A.Paul’s understanding was enlightened (v.11).
Scripture is not exactly clear on why Paul was praying but I believe it is because he was now beginning to understand who God was and what it was he was trying to accomplish. No doubt that scores of Old Testament passages rushed back to his memory of who the Messiah would be; and Paul may have possibly encountered Jesus at some time or at least some of His disciples even before Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead. History records for us that he was born around the same time as Christ and he studied at the feet of Gamaliel who was a man of prominence in Jerusalem. But the idea I wish to convey here is that now he has moved from unable to receive spiritual truths to being filled with them. When we are first saved it is the same for us. We tend to see everything around us with brand new eyes and a totally new perception. The Scripture describes a newly converted person as a babe in Christ. As babies grow they are fascinated with the world around them. They take in every thing they can absorb and the more they learn the more they put into practice what they have learned. Christians should be the same way. Once our minds and hearts have been opened we should be thrilled about God’s revelation to us. We should daily take in His Word and the things we learn and absorb, we are to be putting into practice. If we find that we have not truly been enlightened by God’s Word then we should be concerned that we may not be saved, for God opens the minds so that His people can understand Him. This is the method that He uses to transform us to the image of Christ.
B.Paul acted upon that enlightening (v.18).
Note, that once Paul had regained his sight he was immediately baptized. The confusion is gone and he knows precisely what he must do. Again, we sometimes overlook this piece of information. Baptism was a big deal for the early Christians. Once Paul identified himself with Christ he could no longer go back to the temple. This would be the equivalent today of a person giving up their entire career in order to follow Jesus. In those days, proclaiming the Name of Christ would actually cost you something. People lost their homes and were put into jail, as we see Paul doing at the beginning of this chapter. Despite knowing all this Paul takes the step of faith and identifies himself with the Messiah. And unless we too have acted upon the knowledge that God has given us we should not in the least think that we are in right standing with God.
IV.Conversion brings about immediate change
I hear many today state then when they were converted that it was not that miraculous or that everything continued to go on as normal. I fear when hear those things. I fear because that is not what Scripture teaches about a true conversion; and not only in this passage. Be sure that I am certainly not implying that sanctification is an immediate process for it is life long. However, it is clear that a person’s life will be radically different. Their thoughts will change; their actions will change; their very motives will be transformed and they will go from being a God hater to a God lover (2Co 5:17; Ezek 36:26-39). God has promised to make us new. He has promised to deliver us from ALL our uncleaness. How can one claim to be of God and still continue in the filth of his sin; and especially after God has promised deliverance. Is God a liar? Can He not make good on His promises? Or better yet, does He even need our cooperation to fulfill His Word? You can believe that God will act in order to glorify His Name. If you profess Christ and do no live up to that profession, God will make that clear to you. You see, when true conversion takes place everything about the inside is completely new. We have been raised from spiritual death and we cannot help but being new creatures. The new birth can be illustrated using the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus was dead. He was in the tomb and had been there for four days. By then his body had already started to decompose, and we know this because his sister told Jesus that the odor coming from the tomb was pretty foul. Now, can you imagine Jesus raising Lazarus and him coming out of the tomb with the same old rotten, decomposing flesh that he still had. It would have been absolutely pointless to raise him from the dead! Lazarus must have had brand new flesh and brand new muscles and ligaments and joints. Physically speaking, he was a brand new person. It is the exact same way with us once Christ has raised us from the dead. It does no good to leave the same person in there or else it would be a moot point to save us. As a matter of fact we are told that this is the OLY way we can submit to God’s law. When God makes a new creation out of a dead soul, then that is what precisely follows. I am under a charge to call men to repentance. And so if today you have heard the voice of God convicting you of your sin then give heed to that call. Do not be like the Israelites who continued with a stiff neck and deaf ears. As the writer of Hebrews puts it so rightly, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”