Subscribe to the Real Truth for FREE news and analysis.Subscribe Now
What is true conversion? Is it merely “professing Jesus as Lord and Savior”? How and when is one converted? Is it sudden—meaning, immediate? Or a gradual process, lasting a long time? So many struggle with problems, weaknesses and sins. Does God expect overcoming—and growth? And what does this mean? How is it done? What role does the Holy Spirit play? What about faith and repentance?
Many assume they must be perfect. Others judge God’s Way by the conduct of Christians. Can one sin and remain a Christian? What about forgiveness?
Millions seek answers to these and related questions. This Personal will look at the subject of Christian conversion and finally make it plain!
When is a person converted? I have known many who doubted their conversion because they had never been taught the meaning of true conversion. When under fire—under pressure—they lacked the confidence to know they could effectively address their problems. They were not sure that they had the power to overcome them.
Just what is a real Christian? Is he one who “attends church”—“professes Jesus”—“knows Christ”—has been “baptized”? Is there a single verse to which we can turn that gives the Bible definition of a real Christian—that eliminates all confusion?
The apostle Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). A Christian, then, is one who has the Holy Spirit leading him. But is having God’s Spirit absolutely essential to being a Christian? In context, Paul had already said this: “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (vs. 9)!
It is that simple! One either has the Spirit of God, and is a Christian, or one does not have it and is not a
Christian—is “none of His.” All those who are truly converted have the Holy Spirit in them.
But is receiving God’s Spirit all there is to Christianity and conversion—or is there more?
Jesus taught the apostles for 40 days after His Resurrection (Acts 1:3), instructing them to wait in Jerusalem until they would receive the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. They asked if He was about to establish His kingdom on Earth. He answered, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons…but you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (vs. 7-8). He then disappeared into a cloud.
Like the apostles waiting for power through the Holy Spirit, most people today wait for some kind of additional strength upon conversion. Tell a teenager that he will be given the keys to the family car and he will have no difficulty understanding he is about to receive real power. The first time I was handed the keys to my father’s car, I understood exactly what it meant. It is no different with a potential Christian waiting to receive God’s Spirit at repentance and baptism.
Paul wrote Timothy, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7). Since Christians have the Spirit of God, very real power has come into their lives. Of course, the verse also says that a Christian demonstrates love—or the give way of life—and that his conduct reflects a sound mind.
The fact that God’s Spirit imparts sound-mindedness is evidence that God wants Christians to understand their calling—their conversion—God’s purpose for them. He wants them to be sound in His Way. Of course, this must include understanding all the basic aspects of true conversion.
How does one actually receive God’s Spirit? And how can he know for certain that it has been given? Since this moment constitutes conversion, at what point can the would-be Christian be assured that God has given His Spirit? Since not having God’s Spirit precludes one from being a true Christian, surely God would not leave His servants in doubt as to whether they have it—or exactly when they receive it!
The book of Acts states, “Then Peter said unto them, 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 Spirit” (2:38).
Receiving the Spirit of God comes upon real repentance and a correct baptism. (To learn more about the biblical method of baptism, read What Do You Mean “Water Baptism”?) With these things also comes the remission of sin—or forgiveness. So there is a specific moment when conversion begins. There is a definite time when the Holy Spirit enters the mind and one becomes a true Christian—and God has begotten a new son.
Now we must ask, is salvation now finished in the Christian? Is he or she now “saved”? Is the newly begotten child of God suddenly perfect, unable to ever sin or go wrong, because he thinks he has already been saved?
Real Christian conversion is a gradual process of growing and overcoming—of changing and developing. But how? And at the end of the process, what does the “finished” Christian look like? And what does this have to do with the goal of a Christian—with what he is striving for as his final reward for having been a Christian?
Throughout His ministry, Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God. Hidden within this message is the understanding of the awesome, incredible human potential for the one who truly yields to God. Wherever Christ went, He spoke about the coming kingdom—or government—of God. While most of His parables were centered on this message, few that heard them understood their meaning. And when He spoke them, He always included how true Christians were qualifying to become part of that government!
Matthew 13 contains a half dozen “kingdom” parables. This chapter begins with the parable of the “sower and the seed,” and it depicts one throwing seed into various locations and kinds of soil. In some cases, the parable described how the seed grew and flourished in the person who received it. In other cases, it either died quickly after starting to grow or took no root at all. Others who received the seed grew in character “thirty, sixty or one hundred fold” on the way to the kingdom.
This is followed by the parable of the “wheat and tares.” This parable discusses “fruit” that appears in Christians’ lives prior to the time that God gathers them into His “barn.” The fruit, good or bad, represents Christian growth, or lack of growth.
The third parable depicts the kingdom beginning as a tiny “grain of mustard seed” that grows into a great tree. This is followed by the parable of leaven, depicting God’s kingdom as leaven spreading until it has permeated the dough (the Earth, or all nations) that contains it. The fifth compares the kingdom to “hidden treasure” found in a field. The finder sells all that he has to buy this field.
The sixth parable describes the kingdom as the “pearl of great price,” which a person buys after selling all that he has to raise sufficient money for the purchase. The seventh and final parable of this one chapter describes the kingdom as a “net” gathering all kinds of fish. The “good” fish are kept—the “bad” are thrown away. Jesus explains that the good fish are those who enter the kingdom. The bad represent those burned (vs. 50) and destroyed in a “furnace of fire.”
In each parable, the message is the same. Some (not all) are willing to pay the price to be a Christian. They are willing to spiritually grow and develop real Christian character so they may later inherit the eternal reward of becoming born (no longer merely begotten) sons of God—in the God Family—ruling with Him in the kingdom of God.
There are many other New Testament parables. Much of Christ’s teaching was through use of these stories about common, well-known things. They were intended to carry deep lessons about a Christian’s calling—for those whose minds have been opened by God to understand them.
Jesus stated, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him” (John 6:44, 65). You cannot understand God’s truth unless God has drawn you—called you—to it through the power of His Spirit. The process of coming to true Christian conversion begins with a calling or drawing directly by the Father.
The parables of the talents, penny, marriage supper, 10 virgins, sheep and goats, unjust judge, fig tree, lost sheep, lost coin, prodigal son, unjust steward, Lazarus and the rich man, the good Samaritan, and others, all involve or depict a Christian entering the coming kingdom.
Time could be taken to more closely examine each parable and demonstrate this. Though some are very short, and others quite long, the purpose of most of Jesus’ parables is essentially the same—for those who follow Peter’s instruction to “grow in grace, and in…knowledge” (II Pet. 3:18), rulership in the government of God under Christ is attainable.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). A Christian must always strive toward these two inseparable goals.
Notice that the first priority is seeking the kingdom of God. But one must also develop God’s righteousness—His divine character. Most of Jesus’ sermon is an emphasis on character building through obedience to God’s Law.
The apostle John recorded Christ’s words: “In My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
This bears serious examination.
First, there are many “mansions” in God’s “house.” Second, Christ is preparing people along with these mansions before He “comes again.” Third, Christians are not going where He is to be with Him—in heaven or anywhere else—because Jesus said, “I will come again.” (Heaven has never been the reward of the saved.) The Christian is offered an inheritance of rulership over the Earth. Carefully read Matthew 5:5, which Jesus quotes from Psalm 37:11—stating that “the meek shall inherit the earth.”
One chapter later in John, Jesus continued, “I am the true Vine…every branch in Me that bears not fruit He takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, He purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (15:1-2). Then He added, “Bring forth much fruit!” (vs. 5), and, “Herein is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit” (vs. 8). And, finally, “I have chosen you…that you should go and bring forth fruit” (vs. 16).
A Christian bears fruit in his life! Verse 8 goes on to explain that by doing this, “…so shall you be My disciples.” Christ identifies you as one of His disciples (and God’s begotten sons) by whether or not you bear fruit in this life!
Now we must consider some basic verses about the kingdom.
God’s pre-Flood servant Enoch (Noah’s great-grandfather) also preached about the coming kingdom of God. The book of Jude describes his message: “And Enoch also…prophesied…saying, Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all…” (vs. 14-15).
Likewise, Daniel wrote, “But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever” (7:18). Two other places in the same chapter, verses 22 and 27, reiterate this reward for true Christians.
The book of Revelation records several places where Christ, through John, offers the kingdom to those who overcome. Notice: “And he that overcomes, and keeps My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:26-27), and, “…to him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me in My throne” (3:21).
Finally, notice Revelation 20:4-6.
Speaking of the saints, it states: “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them…and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years…This is the first resurrection…they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
When coupled with Revelation 5:10, it is clear that the resurrected saints become both “kings and priests” who “reign on the earth” with Christ.
This knowledge is truly special—and precious. The world does not know about God’s coming kingdom, which Jesus Christ will set up. “The god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4)—Satan—has deceived mankind. Read Revelation 12:9 to remove all doubt.
Christians are in daily training. Therefore, it is critical that they understand their “training regimen.”
Let’s now look at faith and repentance. We have explained that God gives His Spirit at baptism, which takes place after repentance. But how is repentance achieved? Does one just declare, by simple assertion, “I have repented”? Is this all there is to it? The answer is an emphatic no! It is not that simple.
Repentance is a gift from God just as much as one’s initial calling. When speaking of gentiles coming to conversion, the Bible states, “Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18), and it speaks of circumstances where God “will give…repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Tim. 2:25). Finally, it explains that it is “God’s goodness” that leads people to repentance. No one “works up” repentance in order to require God to give them His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
People must seek God and ask for the gift of repentance. It is not automatic and should never be treated as such. But God grants repentance to all those who seek it with their whole heart, as David did in Psalm 51. (You should take a moment to read this entire psalm.)
But exactly what does one repent of? The Bible says “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23). What is sin?
I John 3:4 states that “sin is the transgression of the law.” This refers to the Law of God. The normal, fleshly or carnal mind is hostile to it (Rom. 8:7). People do not naturally obey God. Human nature disobeys—breaks—God’s Law, and does so naturally! A Christian keeps God’s Law. He does not just hear it or talk about it. Notice: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
Therefore, God will only give His Spirit to one that He has conquered—one who is willing to obey Him (Acts 5:32).
The world depicts God’s Law as harsh and burdensome. But John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3). (Also read Romans 13:10.) God’s Law is called holy, just, good and spiritual (Rom. 7:12, 14), and it is through God’s Spirit that one is able to obey God and thereby practice the love of God. Romans 5:5 states, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
A repentant mind has turned from its own way. It wants to follow God. It is yielded to God—yielded to His government, His authority in its life. Such a mind strives to copy Jesus Christ and produce the “fruits of the Spirit.” Christ talked about “bearing much fruit.”
He later inspired Paul to list the “fruits of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (self-control)—in Galatians 5:22-23. These become evident in the conduct of the Spirit-led—the converted—person.
The repentant mind has turned from the selfish “get” way of life to the way of “give.” A Christian’s entire thinking becomes transformed—changed completely—to a whole new way of looking at life.
The Christian lives by faith (Heb. 10:38; Hab. 2:4). But the faith of Christ (Rev. 14:12), not human faith, is what makes it possible for a person to obey God. Yet the person must demonstrate an initial faith that Christ has forgiven him at baptism (Acts 2:38). It is at this moment that a Christian’s prior slate of conduct has been wiped completely clean. It has become as white as snow—cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). This first human faith is then replaced by Christ’s faith in the now converted person (Rom. 1:17).
We have seen that faith is one of the fruits of God’s Spirit, which has entered into the Christian’s mind at begettal—at conversion and baptism.
Do not misunderstand! God does not owe you His Spirit because you have exercised faith and repented. We saw the Holy Spirit is a gift (Acts 2:38). So is repentance. God’s Spirit is not something that you can earn by your works, any more than salvation can be earned by works. Read Ephesians 2:8-9.
Recall that the power that comes with God’s Spirit helps a person grow and overcome. Literally, this power is Christ living His life in the Christian. Without His help, the new convert gets nowhere fast! When Jesus said to “bring forth much fruit” (John 15:5), He followed it with “for without Me you can do nothing.”
Human power—human energy—only helps a person overcome in physical areas. Spiritual problems cannot be conquered through physical, mental or emotional effort.
Remember, Christ is the Vine and we are the branches. Branches must be connected to the Vine, and this happens through God’s Spirit working in a mind.
When speaking of this, Jesus said, “…out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spoke He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him shall receive…)” (John 7:38). As it performs good works, God’s Spirit flows “out of” the Christian. Therefore, it must be replenished, or it will be depleted and disappear completely. This is why Christ said, “If you…know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” (Luke 11:13). After conversion, you must regularly ask, in prayer, for more of the Holy Spirit.
Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13), and, “My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). Jesus also said, “…with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). With God’s Spirit actively working and growing in you, this can be true of you!
Truly deep conversion does not occur overnight. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that they were “babes [babies] in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1). He described how they required “milk,” instead of “meat,” for food.
The brand new Christian is much like an infant. By analogy, he first learns to roll over, then crawl, before walking—and even then at first in an unsteady, toddling fashion. Only later does he finally learn to spiritually run.
Paul understood this. He compared conversion to running a race (I Cor. 9:24). Of course, though not right away, the runner must, at some point, develop more speed, because Paul said, “…run, that you may obtain [meaning, win].”
Such is the Christian way of life. Slow, steady growth, through daily practice, produces progress in the life of the person who is copying Christ. The new Christian sincerely strives, from the heart, to be different—to turn around and go the other way—the way of God—for the rest of his life!
But is the Christian’s path easy? Is becoming Christ-like in character the proverbial cakewalk? Definitely not!
Let’s return to the sermon on the mount for Christ’s own answer. He said: “Enter you in at the strait [difficult] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in there at: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that [are] find[ing] it” (Matt. 7:13-14). It has always been only the few, or even very few, who are willing to pay the price to live this difficult way of life.
This is only half of the story on the subject of conversion. For the rest, be sure to read the free booklet What Is True Conversion?