Conversion

Part 2 of a series of 4
on
Conversion

by Richard Nichols

Originally published in
the Informer
June, 1997

PAUL WRITES:  "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation"  (Romans 10:9,10).

It is perfectly clear that the Scriptures (2 Samuel 15; Ecclesiastes 7:4; Matthew 6:20,21; Colossians 3:1,2; - see previous article) use the term heart to mean the affections of a man's mind, but the word is also used to indicate a man's judgment and understanding.  In the passage above, the apostle means understanding.  John says, "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things" (1 John 3:20).  Here the heart means judgment.  If our own judgments, enlightened by the word of God, condemn us, we should certainly expect to be condemned by Him who knows all things.

From these Scriptures we can now understand what is meant by a change of heart.  Where a man's judgment is distorted, and his affections are all set on sinful objects and wicked pursuits, it is said that his heart is "fully set in him to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11).  Where his affections are unmoved by the goodness of God, it is said that his heart is "hard and impenitent."  And just as long as his judgment, affections and sympathies remain in this state, he will continue to rebel against God, and thus will he "treasure up to himself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:4,5).

NOT ABLE TO SIN?

In gospel conversion, however, a change in the judgment and in all the affections and desires of the mind is expected.  Old faculties or capabilities are not to be destroyed, and new ones imparted.  The man loved and hated before he was converted, and he loves and hates after he is converted.  The same faculties are employed in both cases.  But these affections are turned in a different direction.  He can now say from the heart, the things which I once loved I now hate, and the things I once hated now I love.  And this is no small matter.  For a man to have his judgment corrected, and all his desires and affections thus turned to God and set on heavenly and divine objects, it is of immeasurable importance and therefore should be earnestly sought by man.

In gospel conversion there is a change of character and life.  All who have studied the Scriptures with any degree of attention have recognized that such a change is taught.  The Lord told Israel, when in a great state of apostasy, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well..." (Isaiah 1:16,17).  "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7).  This implies an entire change of life, or practice; and, as a man's character is made up of his practice, it also implies a change of character.

A MAN'S CHOICE

This same change is plainly taught in the New Testament.  The apostle Peter says to the man that would love life and enjoy good days, "let him eschew [or turn away from] evil, and do good" (1 Peter 3:11).  Wherever it is said that a person believed and turned to the Lord, conversion of life is meant.  Indeed this is the leading idea in the doctrine of repentance from sin.  Therefore, Paul says, "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation..." (2 Corinthians 7:10).  The Greek word that is here translated repentance is metanoia, which is defined, "repentance, i.e. a change of mind and purpose; a change of one's mode of thinking, feeling and acting; reformation of life."

A DIFFERENT MAN

Now, we often speak of a man who is thus converted, as being a different man.  See that man who has long been in the practice of cursing and swearing -- indulging in drunkenness and all of its kindred vices.  He believes the gospel, repents of his sins, confesses Jesus Christ before men, is baptized for the remission of his sins, and becomes a new man, a new creature.  He is now forgiven of his past sins, and in this process, his repentance makes him a pious, upright and temperate man.  Everybody says, "What a different man he is!"  We do not mean by this that he is physically different, although there may even be some change in his physical appearance.  But this is not what we mean.  We mean that he is a different man in character -- that his life and practice is changed.  Well, this change is always implied in the conversion taught in the gospel; it is a part of the great work referred to by Jesus: "That they might be converted and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15).  Let no one suppose that he can ever obtain God's forgiveness of his sins without such a change.  It matters not what a man professes about being changed in heart, there is no salvation without a corresponding change of life, of character, of practice.

A NEW STATE

Simply a change of heart and practice is not salvation, however.  All that the Scriptures teach on the great subject of conversion has not been accomplished simply by doing differently.  The New Testament also teaches that there must be a conversion of state, or relationship.  The word of God says, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Cor. 6:16,17).  Is not this a conversion of relationship?  The Lord says: "I will be a Father unto you," which suggests that He was not always such, but that, on the conditions set forth, their relationship would change, so that he would be the Father, and they would be his sons and daughters.

THE PEOPLE OF GOD

Peter teaches the same doctrine: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God..." (1 Peter 2:9,10).  Here are individuals who, at one time, were not a people, but who have been converted in their relationship to God, so that they have become His people.  The Lord, by the mouth of his Old Testament prophet, taught the same doctrine, saying: "I will say to them that were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God" (Hosea 2:23).

We call your attention to Acts 3:19 in which a conversion is named, which we must apply to the state or relationship.  It reads: "Repent 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."  Now, the conversion here enjoined must have reference to a change of state or relationship.  It cannot apply to the heart or life.  All that is meant by a change of life is fully embraced in the word repent, as we have already seen.  Since no one will repent, according to the gospel, whose heart is not converted or changed, it follows that the conversion here referred to by Peter is a change of state.  Over and above, or beyond, a change of heart, and a change or conversion of life, they are commanded to be converted.

COMPARING THE SCRIPTURES

There is a similar injunction found in the second chapter of Acts, which, placed by the side of this, may throw some light upon it.  That passage reads: "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38).  Now let us compare the two, and we shall possibly better understand both.

Before doing this let us give an illustration.  Suppose you hear an evangelist preach a gospel sermon to a congregation of people in the city of Los Angeles.  Some of those who hear him become very interested in his message, and ask him what to do to be saved.  The preacher tells them certain things to do, and promises them salvation of sins if they obey.  Suppose now that the same preacher boards an airplane the next day and flies to Cincinnati.  That evening he preaches a gospel sermon.  Again, some of the listeners ask what they must do to be saved, but this time he gives different commands from those told the people on the previous night.  Now, what would you think of such a preacher?  Would you claim confidence in his preaching?  Why, no!  You would probably say he tries to preach what each crowd wants to hear.

THE SAME STEPS

Now, shall we charge the apostle Peter with being as inconsistent as that modern preacher?  As we look at the two sermons in the beginning pages of the book of Acts, we must realized that they were preached just two days apart in the same city, by the same preacher, inspired by the same Holy Spirit, to men and women occupying the same sinful condition, and in need of God's forgiveness of sins.  Can we then conclude that Peter's two sermons were in agreement?  Can we say with confidence that the Holy Spirit was consistent in his demands of the people on both occasions, and that Peter was faithful in delivering God's message each time?  Or, did the apostle tell the crowd gathered on Pentecost day one way to gain the remission of sins, and a different means of obtaining salvation to those who heard him by the beautiful gate of the Temple.  All honest souls must agree that there is no inconsistency in the two messages delivered by Peter.  Any confusion may be the result of our inability to understand what was said.

With these thoughts in mind, let us compare the four requirements of salvation demanded of those who believed on both occasions.  From the first sermon, they are: 1) repent; 2) be baptized; 3) the remission of sins; 4) the gift of the Holy Spirit.  From the second sermon we have: 1)repent; 2) be converted; 3) that your sins may be blotted out; 4) when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.  Now let us compare the items and see if they agree.  The first item of the first sermon is "REPENT"; the first item of the second sermon is "REPENT".  Now does repentance in the first sermon mean the same thing as it does in the second sermon?  Why, certainly so!  Well, the third item in the first sermon is "FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS"; the third item in the second sermon is "THAT YOUR SINS MAY BE BLOTTED OUT."  Do "REMISSION OF SINS" and "SINS...BLOTTED OUT" mean the same thing?  They do!  To blot out sin and to pardon sins are two Scriptural terms which express the very same act.  Let us then proceed.  The fourth item in the first sermon is "AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT"; the fourth item in the second sermon is "WHEN THE TIMES OF REFRESHING SHALL COME FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD."

Now, do these items agree?  They do.  The Holy Spirit, as a comforter, was to revive their broken spirits, and strengthen them in the inner man, thereby they had a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.  From our comparisons the first, third, and fourth items in each sermon are in perfect agreement.

ARE "BE BAPTIZED" AND "BE CONVERTED" THE SAME?

Let us now try the second item in each sermon.  We passed over this comparison intentionally, but now let us look at it.  In the first sermon, the second item is "BE BAPTIZED"; the second item in the second sermon is "BE CONVERTED."  Now, do these agree?  Who will claim they do not?  No one, we hope.  Then, if these items agree, what is the doctrine taught?  The plain truth is that in these passages, BAPTISM and CONVERSION are convertible terms in a particular sense.  The word CONVERSION, according to Acts 3:19, and BAPTISM in Acts 2:38 refer to a dividing line -- AT BAPTISM PERSONS ARE CONVERTED!.

WHAT DOES BAPTISM DO?

Hear us out before you decide the case!  We have already seen that a change of heart leading to a reformation of life is necessary to be saved.  But the reference here is to a change of state or relationship.  Baptism cannot change the heart -- it was never designed to do that.  Baptism cannot change a man's character -- this is what repentance was designed to do.  Although baptism cannot change the heart or the life of a person, it is at the point of baptism that a person's state or relationship to God is changed.  Before baptism is no remission of sins (Acts 2:38), or salvation (1 Peter 3:21), or washing away of sins (Acts 22:16).  When one obeys the gospel from the heart, forgiveness of sins is what God grants.  But furthermore, at baptism, one is baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3); at baptism one rises to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4); in baptism, one dead in sins is made alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13).  At this point, by the Lord himself, one is put into the body of believers, which is "the saved" (Acts 2:47).  In Galatians 3:26,27 Paul says, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ."  Can anyone not see it!?  At the point of baptism a man's relationship to God is changed -- he becomes a child of God-- HE IS CONVERTED FROM A SINNER TO A SAINT.

[We started this series of articles with Wilt Thou Be Made Whole?  Jesus has promised to heal those who are sin-sick.  Our last lesson, Lord willing, will be on the fulfillment of Jesus' promise.  --R.N.]

See next article on Conversion.


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