The Bible talks about conversion, but what does it mean? Do you really know? It's crucial that you accurately understand what the Bible teaches!
Have you ever asked yourself, "How can God love me? I do so many things wrong. I try, but I'm just so inadequate."
Some people point to the obvious gap between biblical teachings and many professing Christians' conduct to claim that religion is irrelevant or hypocritical. Why is there sometimes such disparity between who we want to be and who we are?
Back to the beginning
When we turn to the Bible as God's revealed knowledge for humanity, we find in Genesis 1:26-27 that mankind is created in the likeness of God. Human beings were created to have a relationship with their Creator.
The Bible also tells us in Genesis 2:7 that the first man, Adam, became "a living soul" (King James Version)—referring to a physical being. Both the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel and the New Testament apostle Paul tell us that "the soul who sins shall die" and that "the wages of sin is death" (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23, emphasis added throughout). Decay and death are the natural results of living differently from the way directed by our Creator.
When Adam and Eve sinned against God in Eden, they came under the influence of the fallen angel Satan. From that point onward all humankind has been under Satan's manipulation (Revelation 12:9), and human nature has developed contrary to God's nature. Mankind has literally become the enemy of God. Paul writes in Romans 8:7 that the natural human mind is "enmity against God" and "not subject to the law of God."
If you really want to know how to turn your life around, this information is absolutely necessary! It's not just "old-time religion." We're talking about the reality of the Creator of the universe and your relationship with Him!
Cut off from God, subject to the influence of a powerful and evil being who wants to destroy us, and condemned to death because our very nature is corrupted by sin, every human being is in a real sense lost and hopeless.
What do we do? Where do we turn? How do we start to turn this situation around?
God's solution to human weakness
If you have any kind of Christian background you've heard that God sent His Son to save human beings from eternal punishment. This is true, but Christ does more than that. God wants to heal the sickness in your nature, your thoughts, your desires, your emotions, your values. He wants to change you to reflect His nature. This process is known as conversion.
Read what Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 18:1-3: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'
"Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.'"
Contrary to some popular teachings, the Bible reveals that Christian conversion is more than an intellectual acceptance of God's existence. It's more than simply believing in Jesus as Savior. It's more than proclaiming a certain set of religious teachings. Conversion takes place when individuals, of their own free will, repent of their nature and submit to the bonding of God's Holy Spirit to their mind, thereby becoming partakers of God's nature.
Does this sound a little far-fetched? Can a human being actually share the thoughts, love and life-changing power of the Creator?
The apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 that a real relationship with God's Spirit produces genuine life change, not just a one-time emotional experience of "giving your heart to the Lord."
Paul writes: "But as it is written: 'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.' But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except [by] the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God.
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [that] is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
You see, human beings are an incomplete life form. God isn't finished with our development, and as astounding as it may seem, unless we receive a "Spirit" from God we can never become completed creations.
The conversion process
Conversion is a process comparable to the metamorphosis of some insects. One of the most fascinating examples is how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.
Did you know that a caterpillar's skin can't stretch except when new? As it consumes food, its skin quickly stretches to the limit. The only reason it can grow larger is that a new, soft skin forms under the old one. After a while the old skin bursts open and is discarded.
The caterpillar continues this process until it is as large as it can get. Then the process gets really interesting. The caterpillar attaches itself to a twig, sheds its skin and creates a chrysalis. It now appears as a totally different insect. This strange creature is called a pupa.
The caterpillar may spend weeks as a pupa, but inside that enclosing case something marvelous is taking place. What was once a caterpillar is transforming into a new creature. When completely developed, an exquisite butterfly emerges.
Conversion is the divinely directed metamorphosis of our minds, emotions, motivations, desires and actions from the way of the natural person, which guarantees death, to the spiritual character of God. God isn't interested in just remodeling our character. He wants to replace it with His nature. God wants to change us from mud crawlers into creatures who can fly!
This process of conversion isn't easy. It involves a struggle between our own selfish nature and the new nature being created by God's Holy Spirit. True conversion isn't a simple matter of accepting certain religious teachings or doing good deeds. True conversion is the sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating commitment to the struggle of allowing God to create in us a totally new person.
Do converted people sin?
How then do we explain the fact that Christians sin?
Understand that since conversion is a process, Christians are in various stages of the spiritual metamorphosis of having their human nature changed to a godly nature. All Christians, even with God's Spirit, wrestle with sin. All Christians from time to time return to or give in to selfish ways.
The apostle John writes about this subject starting in 1 John 1:8. He writes: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
Will God give up on me?
It's common for human beings, faced with inadequacies, to fall into the trap of thinking, "What can God see in me?" We see that real change and overcoming come so slowly that we wonder if God is going to someday just give up on us.
It's true that God doesn't condone sin, and unrepentant sinners will receive eternal punishment. So how does God look at a Christian who has received His Spirit, yet is struggling with sin and sometimes loses a battle with his or her old nature or Satan?
The conversion process can be illustrated by this story.
In September 1924 a stout, robust 60-year-old man was spending many hours hiking the rugged area around the Harney Range of South Dakota. He was searching the crest of every mountain peak looking for something. Some thought this man's dream was unrealistic. There was doubt about how the project was to be funded.
But this man was driven by a dream that filled him with one purpose. Where other people saw rugged crags and inhospitable rocks, this man saw faces.
His son, Lincoln Borglum, wrote in Mount Rushmore: The Story Behind the Scenery about what it was like when his father found and chose a remote mountain as the place to complete his dream:
"This was the monolith my father had been searching for: a gigantic mountain of solid granite, towering above the surrounding peaks and well separated from them. Most important, the major face of the rock was to the southwest, an aspect essential for maximum sunlight during the daylight hours. As he talked in that positive, mesmerizing way of his, I began to see in the great peak the colossal mountain sculpture he could create there."
Where other people saw rocks, sculptor Gutzon Borglum saw the faces of America's greatest presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
It took years of hard, sometimes seemingly impossible work to complete the project. Dynamite was used to sculpt the peak into general shapes. Hundreds of men, sweating in the summer heat and freezing in winter, driven by the will of one man, shaped Mount Rushmore into one of the greatest feats of sculpture accomplished in history.
God's creation is also driven by one dream—the return of Jesus Christ and the resurrection or spiritual transformation of His children. At that time God will change the saints into spirit and they will finally see God face to face. This is the promise to all who wish to submit to God's creative conversion process!
When Christians look into the spiritual mirror, sometimes all we can see are the rocks, the unsightly cracks and outcroppings that make us so imperfect. What God sees is the emerging faces of His children. GN