Thinking About Conversions
Recent events in my life have really had me thinking about conversions. From the nature of conversions to the importance of understanding what it means within the framework of Christian philosophy. As I write this article it is July 26th, 2019. It has been fourteen years to the day since my dad was called home to glory. At some point in his life my dad experienced conversion. My wife, my son, my mom and any other number of people that I love dearly all experienced conversions of their own.
Number amongst them my own conversion and it will be perhaps be easy for you to see what has me thinking about the nature of conversions. Yet, other conversations and disputes as of late have me in the mind to really dig into this topic.
It is my plan to lay out the argument that no one comes to Christ without a radical and fundamentally massive shift in their life and way of thinking. As I recently told someone I am close to, “It simply doesn’t matter how sincere the motivation may be, coming to God on anything other than His terms is not salvation.”
In short, conversion is coming to God the way He demands…
Conversions Defined Biblically
Jesus speaks of being converted in Matthew 18:3. However, notice the disciples’ question to Him just prior to His response. They want to know who the greatest will be in heaven. This is a radically self-centered view of heaven. The disciples were humans like us. They watched other religious leaders of their day. Consequently, they saw that those closest to key figures in any religious movement were always given positions of greater honor and recognition. That was the premise of their question.
Christ wasn’t having any of that from them. This is why He called a child to Himself and rebuked His own disciples. He wanted them to understand that there was no room for pride and self-centered view of heaven. Children were totally and utterly dependent on their parents and other adults for all they had. There was no room for bragging from children. They provided themselves nothing. It is this truth that Jesus is calling His disciples to embrace.
Jesus’s call to His disciples to become like little children to enter into heaven is a radical shift from self-centeredness and pride. He is telling them they need to drop it all and turn away from seeing themselves as important. The Greek word translated convert in verse three is stréphō. Stréphō means to turn or transition or to change directions. It is indicative of the military term “about-face”. It is an immediate and direct change in one’s course.
Conversions Include Turning and Returning
While the definition may sound much like repentance it is different in at least one way. Repentance is to have your mind changed and to turn away from a thought process. Conversion here in Matthew is a complete change in life direction going back where you were. As I was reading and researching I came across an article that indicated it was a turning away from the life of all humanity. The about-face is to take us back to the state of our first father Adam before the fall.
When you think about conversions in that sense it should be akin to a gut punch. The First Adam was created sinless and in perfect communion with God. However, as we all know, he fell and plunged all humanity into sin. It is only the perfect obedience of the Second Adam that can take us back to that perfect state of the First Adam prior to the Fall.
Therefore, conversions are when we become as God created mankind to be in the beginning.
I will just sit here and let you stew on that for a few minutes…
Why Do We Speak About Radical Conversions?
One the most oft heard descriptors when hearing stories about conversions is the word radical.
“Did you hear his testimony? Talk about a radical conversion. No one would ever believe someone like that would become a Christian”
“Man, she was a drug using hooker before God got a hold on her. Look at how radical her conversion was.”
On and on the stories will go. I have even heard these kinds of comments:
“My conversion is really boring compared to yours. I was just a normal dude until I became a Christian. No one wants to hear my testimony.”
Talk about a radically shallow view of the power of the Gospel!
I think that one of the reasons that we speak of radical conversions today is that we don’t see any “so-called” hum-drum conversion stories in the Scriptures. At least that is the perception of many. Even when we read the account of five thousand coming to faith in one day, that is pretty astounding in our eyes. Apart from mass manipulation of crowds at “religious crusades” these days most people will rarely if ever even be present for the conversion of a single soul let alone five thousand.
Furthermore, much of that is due to the fact that the majority of Christians today are not actively engaged in Gospel Advancement. So, when they do hear the stories of conversions happening they are impressed. Even folks that claim that they do all of their evangelism in the context of relationships rarely ever report the repentance and faith of their friends. Moreover, those that do, speak in subtle shifts in their friends and not in terms of “radicality”.
All of this has lent itself to the idea that there are mundane and radical conversions. When David Berkowitz (The Son of Sam killer) gets saved people call that radical.
But is it, really?
Defining Radical and Applying it to all Conversions
The standard dictionary you turn to will define radical this way:
(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
Herein we see the answer to nature of all conversions in Christianity. The fundamental nature of the human being is affected in far-reaching and thorough ways. All conversions are radical because every person born is born a radically or totally depraved sinner.
Furthermore, that sinner is incapable of doing anything at all that pleases God because they do not possess salvific faith.
Therefore, when a person is truly born again and turns to Christ in repentant faith their nature is changed thoroughly. Now, that is not to say the person is no longer going to sin. What it means is that each genuinely converted person no longer is a slave to the sin that once defined who they were at the root.
The converted person has been radically transformed from a condemned enemy of God that had the wrath of God hanging over their head constantly. Upon their conversion that wrath has effectively been removed from them and transferred to Christ at the cross.
As I stated in my opening, they have been made like the First Adam before the fall through the completed work of the Second Adam on the cross.
This is what all conversions have in common.
Are the Biblical Stories of Conversions Meant to Convey Something We are Missing Today?
In short, no!
When dealing with the New Testament we need to use caution. I mean to say that we cannot apply the encounters around the myriad of accounts of conversions to what we see today.
Consider the woman at the well in John. By today’s standards we see a “radical” conversion there. She went out to the well as an idolatrous and adulterous whore. In the short span of a few words of conversation she is converted to faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah. Her conversion- so staggering- it is recorded that she rushed back to her village telling everyone who would listen about Jesus. That encounter led to even more conversions. Her fellow villagers even confessed their faith telling the woman that her words had been used to convince them to come and see the Christ.
Consider the conversion of Saul to Paul. I mean if you want an apparent radical conversion there you have it. Headed to Damascus to murder Christians only to be converted to Christianity by Christ Himself. Talk about a fundamental change in one’s nature.
What of the Philippian jailer? Here is a man charged with keeping a prison secure. God sends an earthquake to open the doors of the prison. Expecting that the prisoners had all fled the jailer prepares to commit suicide. Paul calls out to him compelling him to turn to Christ and live and the man is saved. Conversions sweep his entire household entourage. Talk about radical.
Numerous Conversions All of Them Radical
We see this a multitude of times.
The Ethiopian Eunuch
The Roman Centurion
A drove of people on Mars Hill
These conversions are not radical because of circumstances. They are radical because by nature all conversions are radical.
Two Short Stories of Conversions (One Ain’t Mine)
Several years ago, in the summer of 2007 I met two young LDS missionaries. I saw them repeatedly in the same place every Tuesday night. Finally, after resisting the urge for several weeks, I stopped and spoke with them. This opened the door for further conversations and I was used by God to preach the Gospel to these young men.
Time passed and as is the norm for these types of conversations the interest from the LDS missionaries appeared to wane. I lost contact with them. Then, one winter in February of 2008, at particularly difficult time in my walk, I received a call while sitting at home. The voice on the other end identified himself as one of the young men I had witnessed to. He was calling to tell me that he had rejected LDS doctrine and had converted to true Christianity.
I was left dumbfounded. I had no idea this was transpiring. It hit me that no matter how fruitless our evangelistic endeavors may seem to us, God is working in them in some way. Furthermore, if I would have been prone to labeling something as a radical conversion that would have been it. This young man was previously vehement in his defense of LDS doctrine.
The Second Still Ain’t Me
More recently I was contacted by a young lady I met over a year ago. She was professing Christian but addicted to drugs and living in abject rebellion against the God she had claimed to serve from a young age in an IFB church. During one of many conversations over a period of a week or so it seems I confronted her about her profession of Christ. (I don’t remember what I said.) She messaged me to tell me that one evening my words were used by God to show her she was not truly converted.
She was apparently devastated and left trembling. Shortly after that encounter she ultimately turned to Christ for salvation and has confessed Him as Lord and Savior. She reached out to me to thank me. THANK ME!?! Are you kidding me? I had nothing to do with her conversion.
God worked in these two to draw them to Himself and provide them with the faith needed to save them. The story of these conversions is not of being radically saved but of people radically converted as all others are.
Our Conversions Are All Radical
O! My beloved reader(s?) make no mistake, your conversion is as radical as any other. God does not specialize in saving some in a radical way and still others in mundane ways. God radically saves everyone who believes.
Your story is of a radical conversion.
Furthermore, every believer you know is a story of radical conversion.
Do not think that radical conversions are only for the criminal on death row and drug addicts and rock stars. Make no mistake that hookers and pimps can be saved. God-hating societally morally upright wealthy atheists can be saved.
Similarly, well-behaved church cloths wearing upright young ladies with no outward sin or rebellion can be saved. Regularly attending church folk who are at every function and every event can be saved. Bible preaching pastors who love the people around them can be saved.
What I want us to walk away from this time with, is the realization that all conversions are radical. You do not have to have a story of radical law-breaking and immorality in the eyes of the world to be radically depraved in the eyes of God. Furthermore, when God saves you, He fundamentally changes your nature and makes you His friend.
Transformed from Enemy to Friend
As the song so wonderfully points out, “Once an enemy now seated at your table! Jesus thank-you!”
That is what it means!
All conversions are that radical!
Certainly, we will all grow in sanctification at different rates. However, at the core our nature is no longer what it once was. It is now something incredibly different. It is a return to what God intended in the Garden of Eden. That is wonderfully radical!
Soli Deo Gloria!