Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Conversion, Part 2.

Last time, we established that conversion is our willing response to the gospel. In conversion, we sincerely repent of our sin and place our trust in Christ for salvation. Today, we'll look at repentance and faith in a little more detail. 

Throughout the New Testament, sinners are urged to respond to the gospel- they are urged to repent and to believe. Some passages only give one of the commands, but it is clear from the whole of scripture that one can never be separated from the other. In other words, there is no saving faith that does not include repentance – and there is no true turning from sin apart from faith in Christ. The two go hand in hand. As Greg Gilbert writes in his book What Is The Gospel?, faith and repentance are two sides of a single coin.

Repentance is turning away from sin. One way to understand or observe repentance is to see a person begin to love what God loves, and hate what God hates. Another description is to be given a new heart - new desires - a new “wanter,” in which a person's desires begin to conform into the desires of God.

The words "belief" and "faith" are sometimes used interchangeably. But faith that can save a person is best understood as trust. What you are trusting is what you are relying on. Some evangelistic tools use an illustration of a person considering sitting down in a chair: A person can believe the chair will hold him or her up from across the room. To truly trust the chair, that person will have to sit on it.

Here’s a brief survey of some of the commands to repent and believe:

When Jesus began his ministry, he went out into Galilee, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mar 1:15)

To the Philippian Jailer, they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Act 16:31)

When Paul addressed the Ephesian Elders, he reminded them of how he taught them in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Act 20:20-21)

As Paul presented his gospel to the Romans, he wrote to them: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
(Rom 10:9)

So conversion is the response to the call of the Gospel. It is the coin. And the two, inseparable sides of the coin are faith and repentance.
It is important to note that in every one of these passages, the hearers are simply charged with the necessity of responding to the call. "Repent!" "Believe!" Of course God has to give the hearer the ability to respond- but the person must engage in the response. No one gets to say, “I’d really love to respond to the gospel, but I’m waiting for God to allow me to believe.” And Paul doesn’t say, “One day God might grant you repentance, and then you’ll be able to be right with Him.” The biblical water isn’t muddy. The burden is left squarely on the hearer. Command imperative: You must repent; You must believe.

That can be such a practical help in evangelism. Urging sinners to repent is thoroughly biblical. Just this week, I got a message from someone who is always seems to be in trouble. He is always away from church, never interested in the things of God. As a believer, I have the responsibility of meeting a person in their point of need. But it is also my responsibility to boldly say, "You know what you really need to do? You need to repent of your sin, and come hear the gospel, and follow hard after Christ- or none of this is ever going to change." I know God has to do a work in him to bring that change about- but the necessity of response is still the same: Repent. Believe. Come. Follow.

We've seen the biblical mandate for responding to the Gospel. We've also defined that response as conversion, which consists of faith and repentance. But is it possible to know whether a person has truly responded to to the gospel in this way? Next time, we will look at the evidence of conversion.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Conversion, Part 1.

Conversion can be defined as our willing response to the gospel call, in which we sincerely repent of sins and place our trust in Christ for salvation. To think about conversion carefully, we’ll look at the necessity, nature, and evidence of conversion over the next few posts.

The Necessity of Conversion
Previously, we observed that regeneration is something that God does. We are passive in that part of salvation, and God alone does the action.

Sometimes, we refer to salvation- as a whole- by referencing one of the parts. In the course of an ordinary conversation, we may say that someone was converted, when what we mean is that he was saved. We may say that someone is regenerate, and we mean that that person is saved. But in this series, we are talking about the specific parts of salvation. So, when I write "chosen" or "called" or "regenerate" or "converted," I mean something about that specific part only. When I say regeneration is something God does, and that man has no part in it- I do not mean that there is no response from man in salvation as a whole. I mean that there is no response from man in God’s work of regenerating: granting new life to a person.

You may say, "Well, wait- isn’t one as good as the other? If God grants new life, isn’t the person saved?"  And here lies the difficulty. We are talking about the Ordo Salutis. It is the logical order of salvation- not the chronological order. Some of these individual parts may happen at the same time, or perhaps even at an unknowable time. Making the distinction between logical and chronological is mentally challenging, but it’s the price of admission to see the components of salvation in greater detail. Believe me, the show is worth the price!

So God must regenerate, and man has no power to participate in that part at all. And yet- regeneration is required in salvation! Do you remember Jesus’ statements from John 3? "You must be born again." Let that sink in. There are requirements for salvation -for entrance into the Kingdom- that you cannot possibly accomplish apart from God. In our way of thinking, that isn’t fair. It seems like a dirty trick. But there are lots of things that work this way. If you don't have the ability to pay your taxes, they are still required. If you can find no food, you have not the ability to eat. But eating is still necessary.

Moreover, when God commands us to do what we cannot do, it doesn’t detract from His goodness. In fact, it magnifies it. What does Jesus say to the paralytic in Mark 2? "Get up, take up your mat, and go home." Or to the invalid at the pool of Bethesda? "Get up, take your bed, and walk." If you and I had told a disabled person to get up and walk, it would be cruel. But when God tells them, they (and everyone around them) are forced to see that it is impossible! Then, God does it for them. There are more examples of this in the Scripture, as well. How about John 11? Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come forth!” How is it that the dead man obeys? He cannot do it on his own, yet the command is given all the same.

Conversion is really a two-part response to the gospel. Like with regeneration, these two parts are also things we cannot do on our own, apart from God. But unlike regeneration, we must willingly participate in conversion once God has enabled us to do so. Those parts are faith and repentance. We must place our trust (or faith) in Christ alone, and we must repent of our sin. These two things together make up the response to the gospel that is called conversion.

In Matthew 18, When the disciples asked Jesus who would be greatest in the Kingdom, he replied: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn (be converted) and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

In Acts 3, When Peter speaks to the people in Solomon’s Portico, he urges the people, “Repent (turn away from sin) therefore, and turn back (return, be converted), that your sins may be blotted out.”
So turning -conversion- is the required response to the gospel. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The reverse, then, must also be true- if any man is not a new creation, he is not in Christ. If the old is still alive and well, he is not in Christ. There is a spiritual transformation at hand. It does not happen all at once, as the new creation grows and the old begins to die.

Next time, we will look at the nature of conversion in greater detail. Until then, consider your own conversion carefully. Are you trusting completely in Christ alone to save you? Are you turning from every sin as God gives grace to do so?