Stan Cox


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Editorial

What Is Conversion?


In the May 12, 2001 Faith & Inspiration section of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, staff writer Patrick McGee had an article entitled "New Believers, True Believers." The article sought to answer the question, "...what brings people to the decision to change religions?"

The article serves to illustrate just how far away modern day religion has drifted from the holy scriptures.

For example, note the following quote from McGee:

    "Clergy of a variety of faiths say some of their congregations' most devout members are people who did not grow up in the faith - the converts."

Of course, biblical conversion has reference to salvation from sins, not leaving one denomination to join another. Though the term can be used accommodatively in this way, the fact that an entire article is written on the subject of conversion without salvation from sin even being mentioned is an indication that the entire concept has been distorted in modern denominations.

Concerning such sectarian mindsets, Jesus pronounced the process not conversion, but proselytizing. He said to the scribes and Pharisees, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." While there is no inherent evil in the term proselyte, (it means an acceder or convert to Judaism), note that there is condemnation in Jesus' words. The scribes and Pharisees were not interested in the salvation of souls. Rather, they were interested in adherents to their ways and traditions. Thus, "...you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." This same attitude is expressed in the article aforementioned.

Notice the following quotes from the article:

    "Anybody that chooses an expression of faith, rather than simply inheriting a faith given to them, is more intentional about it and brings a greater commitment." (Rev. Paul Thompson, pastor of Emanuel Presbyterian Church in Bedford).

    "Most converts are lured to their new faith by someone they are close to." (Flavil Yeakley, professor at Harding University in Searcy Arkansas).

    "Conversion is not just an intellectual matter, it happens in the context of interpersonal relationships." (Flavil Yeakley).

And, a final quote, from a convert to Islam. Here is the entire quote from the article.

    "Shaheed said being raised a Christian and becoming a Muslim gave him 'the best of both worlds.'

    "'It makes you sensitive to humanity in general,' he said. 'It just makes you appreciate all faiths and realize that this is God's will." (Muhsin H. Shaheed, convert from Baptist faith to Islam 27 years ago).

There are several things disturbing about these quotes. First, Flavil Yeakley is ostensibly a member of the Lord's church. And yet his treatment of the concept of conversion is sociological rather than scriptural.

Second is the disposition so many have toward faith in God. Too many today are persuaded that you can believe as you wish; that what is important is devotion to a faith rather than devotion to the faith. While Shaheed believes that all faiths are to be appreciated, and "this is God's will", in reality the Bible states something far different.

Jesus said, "...I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Further, the New Testament says we are to contend for "the faith" rather than be tolerant of many different faiths (cf. Jude 3).

Islams, Jews, and other groups who do not accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, have faiths that are inferior, and incapable of saving. Those who claim to be Christians, who preach another gospel (cf. Galatians 1:6-9), also forfeit their claim to heaven.

So, What Is Conversion?

With the above in mind, we might ask, "What is the biblical concept of conversion, and how may we accomplish it ourselves?" After all, what men say is unimportant. What matters is God's concept of the matter.

There are three passages in the New Testament where the word conversion (or converted) is used.

  • Matthew 18:3, "...Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

  • Acts 3:19, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."

  • Acts 15:3, "So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren."

The greek term literally indicates a turning. When it is used of spiritual matters, as seen in the verses above, it refers a turn away from sin, and to God. It has reference to the salvation of man.

In contrast to the concept developed in the article we mentioned, true conversion does not happen in the context of "interpersonal relations." It is an intellectual response to the preaching of the gospel of Christ.

Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Paul also wrote, "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21). It is the gospel that is the power of God to save (cf. Romans 1:16).

A man is converted when he responds in faith to the preaching of the Gospel. There are many examples of this in the book of Acts. The first is the Jews on the day of Pentecost. When they heard the gospel preached, they believed. "...they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). In response, they asked, "...Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (vs. 37). Peter answered them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (vs. 38).

In order to be converted, any individual must 1) Hear the gospel preached (cf. Romans 10:17); 2) Believe what he has heard (cf Romans 10:9-10); 3) Turn away from his sins (Repent) (cf. Acts 2:28); 4) Be willing to Confess that Jesus is the Son of God (cf. Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:36); and 5) Be baptized for the remission of his sins. (cf. Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3-4).

What is the Gospel?

The gospel, simply put, is the good news about the Messiah of God. Every man is guilty of sin, (cf. Romans 3:23), and as such all of us are in need of salvation. In response to our need, God sent his son.

John 3:16, "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."

In his gospel sermon, Peter covered the important facts of that gift of Grace (Acts 2:22-24):

    "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know; Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it."

First, Jesus was sent by the Father, and God attested to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah by the signs and wonders that accompanied his ministry. The final and ultimate attestation to this was Christ's resurrection from the dead.

Second, Jesus died a sacrificial death, as the sinless one. His shed blood is given for the remission of sins. He was the perfect, vicarious sacrifice for sins.

Third, Jesus was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven. He was alive, then dead, and is alive forevermore. As such, he had become the firstfruits from the dead, and enables us to have hope beyond the grave.

Certainly this is the "gospel" (good news). And just as certainly, a perverted gospel can not save! "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7).

The entire sectarian mindset is invalid. The idea that I can embrace any of many different "faiths" and please God is ludicrous. The belief that "one church is as good as another", and it is God's will that there be "many faiths", is without merit. It is simply indicative of man's desire to do as he wills, and to follow his own path. But, Jeremiah wrote, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Instead, we should heed God's word, and obey Him.

What We Must Do!

Unfortunately these false concepts are epidemic in our time. Just about every Christian has family and friends who are caught in doctrinal error, and have not grasped the unique nature of the gospel of Christ. So, they persist in their error, and rest easy in the false belief that God is pleased. Their souls are in danger! What are we to do?!

The answer is simple. Preach the word! Paul wrote to Timothy, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." (2 Timothy 4:2).

We are to preach because the gospel is the sole means of converting men! We may become friends with them, but that will not convert them to Christ. They may be members of our family, but that lineage has nothing to do with their salvation. Conversion only comes in response to the word of God.

Paul understood this, and wrote, "...I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Romans 1:16). The only power we have to save men is in the gospel of Christ.

Conclusion

The religious world has it wrong. The entire concept of "converting from one faith to another" is foreign to scripture, and too often such scripture is completely foreign to their concept of faith!

Our tool in fighting such ignorance is the patient teaching of God's word. God appointed us as His children to preach the gospel to the lost. May each of us as Christians take Paul's exhortation to Timothy, and make it our own! "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season..." (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2a).