Conversion

Preaching and Worship Resources about Conversion

Conversion is a wholesale amendment of life consisting of forsaking sin, cleaving to Jesus Christ and the gospel, and adopting a Christian practice of justice and love. In other words, conversion includes repentance, faith, and resulting good works. Conversion may be sudden or gradual. God enables conversion, but human beings enact it. Conversion sometimes includes a dramatic first and decisive episode, but is nonetheless a lifelong process.

In Scripture

"Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7).

"Return to your God, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God" (Hos. 12:6).

"Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" (Joel 2:13).

"Bear fruit worthy of repentance" (Matt. 3:8).

"Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

"Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, `The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'" (Mark 1:14 - 15).

"Each tree is known by its own fruit" (Luke 6:44).

"They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them" (John 14:21).

"He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' He asked, `Who are you, Lord?' The reply came, `I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.' The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one" (Acts 9:4 - 7).

"Then he brought them outside and said, `Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' They answered, `Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household'" (Acts 16:30 - 31).

"No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness" (Rom. 6:13).

"Thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:10 - 11).

"Remember that you were . . . aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:12 - 13).

"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col. 3:12 - 14).

"Someone will say, `You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith" (James 2:18).

Points to Ponder

A wholesale amendment of life: Conversion is a wholesale amendment of life. The convert abandons an old life centered outside the gospel, perhaps centered on the self and its pleasures, or on a group identity ("I'm white," "I'm American," "I'm an Ivy Leaguer"), or on inherited advantages ("I'm intelligent," "I'm rich"), or on achievements ("I've built an amazing medical practice"). The convert abandons an old life that featured lying, cheating, boasting, and lusting. Now the convert confesses sins, confesses his need for a Savior, and begins to trust Jesus Christ for salvation. He becomes a person who depends on his Savior and who, in turn, becomes dependable. He rings true wherever you tap him. He keeps his promises. His word is now good. He weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice. When his faith in Christ slips, he retains enough faith to believe that the Spirit of God will one day secure his faith again.

The convert repents. Like the prodigal son, the convert turns away from the phony attractions of the "far country" and turns toward home, toward the father he had insulted but who is waiting for him in unfailing love. He feels genuine remorse for his transgressions and shortcomings, and genuine enthusiasm for his bright new life of faith. His old self dies. After all, to say with conviction "what I've been doing is wrong and I'm really sorry about it" requires a death within our old, proud, stubborn selves. Then a new self rises like Jesus walking out of his tomb. This new self is under new management and thus possesses new loyalties and goals. The convert is now loyal to the kingdom of God and is bent on contributing all he has to its coming.

The convert clings to Christ and to the gospel. She now possesses a quiet confidence in Christ and in the mercies that radiate from his self-giving work. She knows that God is good; she feels assurance now that God is good to her. Her faith secures her against the ceaseless oscillations between pride and despair familiar to every human being who has depended on her own strength to prevail. Because faith fastens on God's benevolence, it yields gratitude, which in turn sponsors risk-taking in the service of others. Grateful people want to let themselves go; faithful people dare to do it. People tethered to Jesus Christ by faith dare to let themselves go because they know they will get themselves back, and that the self they get back will be better than it was before.

The convert adopts a Christian "practice." He clothes himself "with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." He disciplines himself with prayer, meditation, confession, worship, and reflective walks through cemeteries. He walks over the graves of well-dressed skeletons and reflects on the fact that he will join them, but that his Lord, who once lay down beside the dead, will be his Lord in death as well as in life. He practices his faith. He visits boring persons and tries to take an interest in them. He ponders the lives of saints and compares them to his own. He spends time and money on just and charitable causes. He longs for God and the beauty of God, for Christ and Christlikeness, for the dynamite of the Holy Spirit and spiritual maturity. And every day he strives to live toward his longing, deeply aware that his failures are a blessed opportunity to renew his dependence on his Savior.

Sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual: Some conversions, such as that of St. Paul, are sudden. Others, such as that of C. S. Lewis, are step by step. Some people can name a date and a time when they were seized by the outstretched arm of God. Others would have to describe a period of change that took weeks, months, years. Neither is a template for all. God has different speeds for different people.

Dependence on the Holy Spirit: Repentance, faith, and Christian practice are dependent upon the once-for-all regeneration of the human heart by the Holy Spirit, a mighty miracle. So conversion can happen only if the Spirit of God is at work in a person. But the actual process, continuing for a lifetime, depends on faithful practice. Nobody can assess the comparative degrees of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in this mix. So faithful converts simply practice their faith day to day, confident that even when they fail a faithful God has them well in hand.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.