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Saturday, January 27, 2007

What was your conversion; Counterfeit or Christian? Part II

What was your conversion; Counterfeit or Christian? Part II
There is only one conversion that may properly be called "Christian." The trouble with a doctrinal or emotional or moral conversion is the same in each case. In each case I am left with the same sinful self. I may have a new set of ideas, a good feeling, or a new set of ideals, but my person is basically the same. My inner life and character remain unchanged. Such a person cannot understand the real nature of spiritual life. He does not know that a real birth, “birth from above,” the term Jesus used, has occurred. “Except a person is born from above (gennetha anothen), he cannot see the kingdom of God,” said Jesus. Just as a person is born physically to get into the human family, so he must be born spiritually to get into the family of God. The only answer to the problem of my old sinful self is Christian conversion!
Two questions arise with regard to Christian conversion: First, “What is the meaning of conversion?” and secondly, “What are the means by which it occurs?”
First, what is the meaning of Christian conversion? The word "conversion" is not an exclusively Christian word. In fact, conversion is a quite common word with universal usage. We speak of converting fuel to energy; we speak of converting a factory from one kind of manufacturing to another; we speak of converting a check to cash. In the distinctively Christian sense, conversion means that the direction of one's life is changed; that one's mind is changed; that his inner character is radically and absolutely revolutionized and transformed, and something completely new and different (indeed, Someone) is now at the center of his life. Author George Grant wrote, “According to the Bible, conversion is not simply an ethical or philosophical revision. It is a transformation of the very soul. It affects every detail of life. A converted individual is altogether different than he was before. He has new motivations, new standards, and new objectives. He has a new outlook, a new way of thinking, and a new way of living. He is born anew (see II Corinthians 5:17).” The simplicity of this will confound some, but a Christian conversion is simply conversion to Jesus Christ.
Robert Munger wrote, "During my college days, there was a boy whose room down the hall from me was a continual mess. It always looked as if a tornado had just recently torn through it. When a room is branded `messy' by college students, it's really messy. One evening we were endeavoring to crowd into this room, and he said somewhat apologetically, `I guess that what I need is a little system.' `Oh, no,' one of his friends quickly said, `what you need is not a little system. What you need is a little wife to live in this room and take care of it.' Even so, every sinner needs a new relationship, a new Resident, to live in his messy heart to forever cleanse it and change it.
The word "convert" simply means "to turn." In fact, the word "conversion" has in it several significant different shades of meaning. It simply means "to turn around," or to do a 180 degree turn. But it also has several accessory ideas in it. It means "to turn toward" a certain object. The difference is that between a wheel turning on its axis and a flower turning toward the sun. In Christian conversion, the human heart is attracted toward Jesus by the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, just as that flower was attracted to the sun by the warmth of its radiance. It means also "to turn from one object to another", and the two objects are seen to be in direct opposition to each other. So Christian conversion is the turning of the sinner from sin and selfishness to Christ. It means "to turn back to a point from which it had been turned away." This introduces another dimension of Christian conversion. Conversion involves a great miraculous crisis that fixes the heart forever on Christ, but it also involves the process of overcoming all of those seductions of Satan, sin, and the world which would attempt to distract us from Christ. Someone has correctly said that there are two types of Christian conversion. One could be called “revolutionary”; this type is sudden and dramatic and powerful. The other could be called “evolutionary”; this type also involves a moment of transformation, but the preparation for it occurs through slow development and is much less dramatic. The process that always follows the moment of transformation is what Sam Shoemaker called "continuing conversion". A magnetic needle may be mechanically forced to point to the south, but as soon as it is freed from the mechanical pressure it will turn automatically again toward the north. Even so, a truly converted person may be temporarily and artificially distracted by the world, the flesh and the devil, but his heart will always finally overcome the artificial distraction and return to its “polar north,” the Person of Jesus Christ.
In short, conversion is the establishing of right relations with a living Lord and Savior. Christian conversion means that your life has been brought under the management of Jesus Christ. Robert Munger said it like this: "During the Second World War, thousands of bombing planes were sent on missions of destruction. After the war a few of them were taken over for commercial service. They are called `converted bombers.' A converted bomber is the same plane that once carried a lethal load of destruction. It has the same wings and fuselage, the same type motors, the same cockpit and instrument panel. But there are several differences. The bomb racks are gone. The gun turret is gone. The plane now has a new owner. It carries new cargo. It has a new pilot. This is true conversion." Even so, if you have been truly converted to Christ, you have a new owner and a new pilot, and you carry a new cargo. An almighty and loving God now owns your life; its pilot is Jesus Christ, who guides and controls you through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and you now have a new direction, new ambitions, new dynamic, and new resources for the living of an abundant life in Christ. This is why Dr. E. Y. Mullins called conversion "the Christian life in germ form." In it is concentrated all of the elements of the Christian life which follows. So conversion installs into the believer the “DNA”, all the spiritual “genes and chromosomes” of the Christian life.
The other crucial question is, what are the means by which conversion occurs? The way is simple, but it produces an absolutely revolutionary change in life and living. First, you must repent of your sins. In fact, the Bible specifies that it is "repentance toward God" (the One against whom I have sinned). Repentance is sometimes defined as being sorry for our sins. But repentance means far more than that. Repentance means to adopt God's way of looking at things: God's way of seeing yourself and your self-centeredness (S-I-N, Self-Ish-Ness), God's way of seeing the solution of your sinproblem, God's way of seeing life and its responsibilities, God's way of looking at the world. To repent is to renounce the past and to turn your back on what you are, what you did, and how you viewed things. When you do this, you do not lose your identity, you gain your true destiny! When you truly repent, the mind of God becomes your point of reference for everything! Then, the other step is faith. Again, the Bible specifies that it is "faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." This involves complete surrender and total commitment to Jesus Christ. The faith that converts is the faith that shifts the center of gravity in a sinner’s life from self to Jesus Christ.
An American preacher told of this beautiful incident which occurred at an all night prayer chain in his church. Different church members had signed up for 30minute segments to form an allnight prayer chain. He had volunteered to pray at 2:30 in the morning. When he arrived at the church and entered the sanctuary, the woman who had taken the 30minute segment before him was still kneeling in prayer at the prayer altar. He waited at the door, but it became apparent that she was struggling with something in her life that was unsurrendered to God. Her prayer increased in fervency as the minutes passed. Finally, when she had prayed fifteen minutes overtime, the preacher walked down the aisle of the church from behind her and said gently, "I'll take over now." There was a moment of silence, then the praying woman looked up at him and with a radiant smile, she said, "Everything is all right. The Lord Jesus just told me that He would take over now." She had been so intense in her prayer that she had unknowingly transferred his words to Christ. What a beautiful illustration of the meaning of Christian conversion. Conversion is never Christian until Jesus Christ has taken over our entire lives. When Christ becomes central in everything, you are converted.
Our real trouble is that He (Jesus) has been on the margin of our lives, and our lives have been dominated by something else entirely, usually self! If Jesus Christ is not central in your life, you have not been converted to Him, or you had a counterfeit conversion.
Charles Simeon, the great Cambridge pastor, was asked about the process of conversion. He wrote, "Conversion is contrary to the course of nature, and can only be brought about by God's almighty power. Before conversion, the person's heart and mind flow steadily downward—away from his Creator, by a natural tendency—toward destruction. After conversion, all its tendencies are changed, and it flows upwards from destruction, back again toward its Creator. Is this due to mere human agency? Certainly not! All the resources, all the capabilities, all the efforts of all the inhabitants of the globe could not do it. It is done by the invisible, infinite, miraculous power of God. Tell the worldling (who knows nothing of this power) these truths, and he will not only ridicule the whole idea, he will ridicule you for entertaining it."
Many years ago, a well-known Harvard psychologist named William James wrote a well-known book entitled Varieties of Religious Experience, in which he attempted to describe conversion. He calls conversion "the harmonizing of the divided self." He quotes many instances from Christian biographies. Professor James wrote, "To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy, in consequence of its firm hold upon religious realities."
Friends, that description is like trying to explain sunshine without referring to the sun! Christian conversion is inseparable from Christ and impossible without Christ. If the divided self is ever to be harmonized, it must be through the forgiveness of sin, the cleansing of the heart, the shifting of the inner center of gravity from self to Christ, and all that is bound up in the phrase "eternal life".
Conversion (of some kind) is common to all religions, but Christian conversion stands alone. It is not an end in itself but a means. It may be approached from a thousand points along different avenues, but ultimately it resolves itself into union with Christ through faith. Christian conversion is the supreme fact of human experience, and it is the biggest experience known to man. It is the determinative factor of the Christian and of the Christian church, allowing the fellowship of the Christian church to become a veritable river of Divine life. Otherwise, it would be a stagnant pool.
Charles Spurgeon, the great London pastor, said, "I have seen hundreds and thousands who have given their hearts to Jesus, but I never did see one who said he was disappointed with Him. I never met one who said Jesus Christ was less than He was declared to be. When first my own eyes beheld Him, when the burden slipped from my heavy-laden shoulders, and I was freed from condemnation, I thought that all the preachers I had ever heard had not half preached the truth of it, they had not told half the beauty of my Lord and Master, so good, so generous, so gracious, so willing to forgive; it seemed to me as if they had slighted Him with small words, that they had almost slandered Him; they painted His likeness, doubtless, as well as they could, but it was a mere smudge compared with the matchless beauties of His face. All who have ever truly known Him will say the same." As a deeply “satisfied customer,” I whole-heartedly concur with Mr. Spurgeon’s words, lamenting only the poverty of language to define and describe Christian conversion.
In his autobiography, Eighty Adventurous Years, Sherwood Eddy told how he was a selfish and cynical student at Yale until he went to hear evangelist Dwight L. Moody preach. He wrote, "Before Mr. Moody has finished, I saw myself as I was. I also saw Moody as he was, an uneducated man using bad grammar, but under God shaking the continent of America as he had moved the colleges and cities of Great Britain. A great thirst suddenly sprang up in my heart. Oh for a man to arise in me, that the man I was might cease to be! That night I forgot about my `good time', my good life, my good works. I went out into the field and by a big rock I wrestled with my own selfishness and sin. That night marked the turning point in my life. Jesus Christ came to dwell in me, and God became forever real to me."
Remember the words of our text: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God." We sometimes think that a child needs an adult's understanding to be saved, but actually, every adult needs a child's heart to be saved.
Dear friend, what about you? Have you been converted—by Christ, to Christ, into Christ? If you have never been converted to Christ, let the testimony of the scriptures lead you to Christ. Jesus said, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out."


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