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?