Subject Two: Conversion

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Questions by C. A. Miller; answers by H. P. Barker.
Every householder in this city claims the right to say who shall enter his house and who shall not. Now the right that we claim for ourselves we must surely allow to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 18:33And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3), He distinctly tells us that some shall not enter His kingdom. Unless a man is converted, it is useless for him to expect it. We read, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
This shows the immense importance of conversion. Apart from conversion, there can be no blessing, no lasting joy, no heaven for anyone.
Will You Please Explain What Is Meant by Conversion?
We cannot do better than to turn to Scripture for an answer. Look first at 1 Corinthians 6. After mentioning many awful vices prevalent among the heathen, the Apostle says in verse 11, “Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.” That is a lovely definition of conversion. Turn now to Ephesians 2:1313But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13): “Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” That is how the Apostle puts it to the believers at Ephesus. Then look at 1 Peter 2:2525For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25): “Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” All these passages show very clearly what conversion is, but I do not know any that puts it more beautifully than another verse in that same chapter in 1 Peter, verse 9: “Called ... out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
These scriptures make it very plain that conversion is a vital and radical change affecting the soul — a transference from darkness, danger and distance to light, salvation and nearness to God.
The other evening I had occasion to go into my bedroom to change my coat. It was dark, but knowing where my other coat hung, the change was easily effected without a light. An outward change was thus brought about. I had laid aside an old coat for a better one, but all the time I remained in the dark! A similar thing often takes place in the history of men. They become religiously impressed, they forsake their evil companions, sinful habits are dropped and efforts are made to live a better life. Instead of frequenting the tavern, they attend a place of worship and become sober and respectable citizens. All this and much more is true of them, yet all the while they remain in darkness. No heavenly light, revealing a Saviour full of love and power, dawns upon their souls. An outward change, desirable in every way, has taken place, but their souls have not been brought from danger to safety and from darkness to light. We cannot be too emphatic in saying that such reformation is not conversion. Turning over a new leaf is not the same thing as being made near to God by the blood of Christ.
Some people seem to think that if they have had remarkable dreams or exhilarating experiences and religious feelings, it amounts to conversion. But conversion is a far deeper reality than anything of this kind; it is nothing short of passing “from death unto life” (John 5:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:24)).
Do Those Who Have Been Baptized and Never Committed Any Gross Sin Need to Be Converted?
There is no sin that is not gross sin in God’s sight. Men are accustomed to regard some sins as serious and some as trivial, but every sin is abhorrent to God. The slightest sin as effectually bars heaven’s gate against the one who commits it as the sin of murder, and it calls as loudly for atonement by the blood of Christ.
But it is not only because of what we have done that conversion is such a necessity, but because of what we are. And in this respect there is no difference; all are sinners, all must plead guilty, all are exposed to judgment. Scripture declares most decidedly that “there is no difference.” The baptized, educated, refined, amiable, religiously-inclined lady must be converted if she wishes to go to heaven, just as truly as the swearer, the drunkard and the thief.
Can We Be Converted Just When We Please?
God never gives a sinner the choice of times; His time is always the present. “Now is the day of salvation,” and, “Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” If a man puts the matter off, he does so at his own most terrible risk. He may never have another chance. I do not say he will not, for God’s long-suffering is great, and His grace lingers over many, but it would be safer to play with forked lightning than to trifle with His mercy or the pleadings of His Spirit.
How Long Does It Take to Get Converted?
Last Friday evening we read a note from a young friend, who says that in less than a minute she received the blessing which, as a guilty sinner, she sought. Her story could be echoed by many. How long did it take the dying thief to get converted? How long did it take for Paul, the bitter persecutor on the Damascus road, to be stricken down and the cry of “Lord!” to be wrung from his lips? How long was it before the hard-hearted, gospel-hating jailer at Philippi, when awakened by the earthquake, got an answer to his question, “What must I do to be saved?”
No doubt there are often many exercises of soul that accompany conversion, and these may be spread over weeks or years. But I believe there is a definite moment when the exercises reach their climax, when the soul puts its confidence, once for all, in the Saviour and His precious blood and is pardoned and cleansed. It is not a long process; it is the act of a moment.
If Any Converted Person Falls Into Sin, Does He Need to Be Converted Over Again?
That is a question asked, in one form or another, by thousands. I venture to say, however, that the question would never occur if we really understood that when a sinner is converted, he is also justified from all things, becomes a child of God, and by the gift of the Spirit is made a member of Christ’s body. If all this needs to be repeated whenever a believer falls into sin, then it needs to be repeated twenty times a day in the case of many! But one passage of Scripture will put such a notion to flight. We read, “Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever” (Eccl. 3:1414I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)). When a soul is saved, it is God who saves it, and “it shall be forever.” When a sinner is justified through faith in Christ, “it is God that justifieth,” and “it shall be forever.”
No earthly parent can sever the relationship that exists between himself and his child. So is it with the heavenly and eternal relationship formed between God and the believing soul. If one of His children falls into sin, He may chastise him and subject him to various kinds of discipline, but disown him? Never! Such a one needs to be restored to communion and to the right path, but he cannot be converted over again.
In saying this, I do not forget Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32). Peter was a truly converted man ever since that memorable scene when he owned himself a sinful man, yet clung to the Saviour’s feet, if not before. But he fell grievously and denied his Lord with curses. The Lord, however, tells him that He has prayed for him and even before his fall looks on to his restoration. “When thou art converted,” He says, “strengthen thy brethren.” It would be better translated, “When thou art restored,” for it refers not to the conversion of a godless sinner, but the restoration of a backsliding saint.
Let me give you an illustration. A man enlists as a soldier. After a time, he grows weary of a soldier’s life, and, seizing an opportunity, he runs away. He is now a deserter and lives in constant fear of detection. By and by he resolves to return to the army. His regiment has been ordered to the front, and he would like to rejoin it. How is he to get into its ranks again? He cannot reenlist as if he had never worn the army uniform. Not as a recruit but as a deserter he must return. His proper course is to report himself to his colonel and submit to any penalties that the latter may see fit to impose.
So a child of God who has sinned must return as a wanderer, not to seek acquittal by a judge, but pardon from a Father. Let such remember that God’s restoring grace is as great as His saving grace. If the guilty sinner is welcomed, so the wandering child will be, but it is as a child he must return, needing not conversion, but restoration, and he will assuredly obtain it through the advocacy of Christ.
Is Conversion All That Is Needed to Make One a Christian?
If it were, there would have been no need for Jesus to come down from heaven and die on the cross. That mighty work was necessary before anyone could become a Christian. But perhaps someone is thinking of a notion that is current in certain quarters that no one can properly call himself a Christian until, at the end of life’s journey, he prepares to pass from earth to heaven. Ask one who believes thus, “Are you a Christian?” and the reply will be, “I am trying to be one.”
Now, no amount of trying has ever made anyone a Christian. A man does not become a soldier by trying to behave like one, but by enlisting. The moment he enlists he is as much a soldier in the army as the commander-in-chief. The one has never set foot on a battlefield and the other may be the veteran of a hundred fights, but both are soldiers in the army.
What Are the Marks of a Converted Person?
1. They had turned to God. This is the first mark of a converted person. Instead of fearing God, he is at peace with God; instead of hiding from Him, he says, “Thou art my hiding-place”; instead of regarding God as a stern taskmaster or severe judge, he knows Him as his loving Father.
2. They had turned from idols. Others among us, besides heathen who worship wood and stone, have idols. Anything that is allowed to usurp God’s place in the soul is an idol; anything of self that one bases a hope of future bliss upon is an idol. Are you hoping for God’s favor because of your moral living or your praying or your vows? Then these things are your idols. They stand between you and God’s blessing. A mark of a converted person is that he has flung to the winds all that he previously built his hopes upon —his own efforts and resolutions, everything that stood between him and God.
3. They were now serving the living and true God. An unconverted man serves self and Satan; a converted man seeks to serve God in all the details of his life. Everything under his control becomes converted too, as it were. If he is selling fabric, he is careful to give thirty-six inches to the yard; if a grocer, he sees to it that his milk is milk, and not milk and water. Everything about him bears witness that he is now a servant of God.
4. They were waiting for God’s Son from heaven. Popularity, fame, success and wealth are not objects of ambition to the really converted man. He knows Jesus as his Deliverer from wrath to come, and his hopes are fixed upon that bright world where God’s Son is the Center of all. He looks for Him, and his dearest wish will be gratified when he finds himself in His presence forever. Oh that these four marks might be more visible in each of us!
Can Every Converted Person Tell for Certain the Exact Date of His Conversion?
A great many can. They can point their finger at a certain day and say, “That is my spiritual birthday.” But all cannot do that, and I don’t think any should be troubled on that account. If you are sure that you are converted, that you have been brought out of the shadowland of sin into the sunshine of grace and liberty, it is enough. There is no need to be anxious because you cannot tell the precise moment of your conversion.
Is Conversion Always Accompanied by Deep Sorrow for Sin?
I am exceedingly doubtful of any conversion in which there is not a measure of self-judgment and sorrow for sin. It is no pleasing sight to see a person “receive the word with joy,” as did those of whom we read in Luke 8:1313They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13). The next thing recorded of them is that they “have no root,” only believe “for a while,” and soon “fall away.” I have seen people profess conversion and immediately get down on their knees and pray for their friends, for the preachers of the gospel, for the soldiers at war, for those exposed to danger by sea, for the Jews, and I know not what else. They seem to have no sense of the seriousness of their sins, which needed such a sacrifice as that of Christ to atone for them. There is no deep plowing up of their consciences, no distress over their hardness of heart. For my own part, I love to see tears of contrition on the cheeks of a repentant sinner and to hear the heartbroken cries of the prodigal as he turns to the Father. I think God values it too.
God loves to hear the contrite cry;
He loves to see the tearful eye,
To read the spirit’s deep-felt sigh.
But it is a true saying that “still waters run deep.” Often those who feel most are the slowest to give expression to their feelings. But one looks that there should be some indication of a broken and contrite state of soul and some realization of the seriousness and awfulness of sin.
Why Do We See so Few Conversions Nowadays, Compared With What We Read of in Bygone Times?
It may be traced to more causes than one. Perhaps it is due, in no small measure, to the fact that in many quarters conversion is no longer looked on as a necessity. Sermons are delivered without mentioning it in any way. People are exhorted to “follow Christ” and “walk in His steps” without being told that in order to do so they must begin by being converted.
No doubt another cause is the lamentable coldness and indifference among us evangelical Christians who do believe in the necessity of conversion.
When David wandered from the Lord, he ceased to have any influence for good over others. In Psalm 51, we see him penitent. Listen to his words: “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.” While David’s heart was cold, there was a dearth of conversions. The restoration of his joy would be the means of blessing to others besides himself. Sinners would be converted. Brethren, we should not have to mourn over the fewness of conversions if only our hearts were warmer and more responsive to God’s mighty love.
If a Man Says, “I Want to Be Converted, but I Don’t Know How to Go About It,” How Would You Advise Him?
I would turn him to Acts 3:1919Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; (Acts 3:19): “Repent ... and be converted.” I would urge him, in true repentance, to turn to the Saviour. I would also read Acts 16:3131And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (Acts 16:31) to him: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” A repentant sinner, who truly believes in Jesus and trusts Him for salvation, is converted. He has turned to the Lord from his sins.
Are You Converted?
This is a question for you to answer. You need a personal interview with the Saviour. Acknowledge your guilt. Make no excuses. Keep nothing back. Then put your trust in Him. He will save you and bless you. Then you will be able to say, “Thank God, I am converted.”