By Nelson Thomas Mumbai

Conversion is a word that we often come across in various contexts. In most situations, conversion signifies growth and development. For example, land conversion for city expansion and rail conversion from meter gauge to broad gauge are all evidences of progress. Conversion of currency is very much essential for travellers. Digital conversion, especially tools to convert computer files makes life easy.

Successful businessmen are those who convert their contacts into customers and time into money. Similarly, victorious politicians know how to convert their good works into votes. The latest trend in India is to convert dysfunctional rail coaches into restaurants on wheels. In all these situations, conversion is not only desirable but also seen as the basic necessity for advancement.

Religious conversion
However, when it comes to religious conversion, the issue is complicated. An impression is created in the mind of many, that with conversion something bad has been taken place. Many in their confusion and perplexity prefer to maintain a stoic silence on this lest they be misinterpreted.

Yes, there is a valid reason for the negative connotation created in the mind of the general public. There have been numerous occasions when people have been forced to convert from one religion to another. Many poor and helpless were compelled to embrace a different faith just for the sake of their survival. Whether by force or fraudulent methods such religious conversions leave deep rooted pain and animosity in the hearts of various people groups.

Anyone with the slightest sense of justice will know for sure, forcing someone to abandon their conviction to follow another belief system is an attack against their basic human rights and freedom. The irony is that many who make a hue and cry on human rights and even of animals fail to seriously consider the freedom of man to follow his faith and conscience. As a result, when it comes to religious conviction any change is considered questionable.

Double standards
There are some others who take a double standard; while commending conversion to their own community, they forbid the same if it is from their faith to another. In the backdrop of such misperception over conversion, let us consider briefly what the Bible says about conversion and its various aspects.

As a matter of fact, the term conversion occurs only once in the whole Bible. Apostle Paul used this word while referring to the response of the Gentiles to the gospel of Christ during his first missionary journey. (Acts 15:3) And the related word ‘convert’ also finds very few occurrences only. Yet, the idea of conversion is found throughout the scripture and it is part of the fundamental teaching of the New Testament about salvation.

The meaning
To begin with, let us consider the meaning of the word. According to the Webster dictionary, conversion means, “the act or process of changing from one form, state, etc., to another”. This change may also include from faith, religion, political party, etc.
According to W. E. Vine, the Greek the word used for conversion in Acts 15:3 implies "a turning from and a turning to". That is exactly what happens when a person responds to the gospel of Christ. He returns to God forsaking the evil way of life. Hence, conversion refers to the whole process of this transformation, wherein man turns away from all that which God hates and turns to Him by faith.

The most repeated and equivalent term for conversion in the Bible is repentance, which means, ‘to have another mind’ or ‘to change the mind’. (Acts 2:38; 20:21) So, in order to understand the biblical idea behind conversion we have to consider the teachings related to repentance and its significance in a believer’s life.

A careful study of repentance in the New Testament reveals that conversion is basically a change of heart, not a change of name or religion. This happens as a result God’s gracious work in the heart of a penitent sinner, on the basis of the finished work of Christ on the cross.
No one can forcefully or deceptively bring about such internal transformation or conversion in another person. God Himself does it as one yields to Him. Of course, one may hypocritically claim to be anything; but born again fellow believers with the gift of discernment will expose the genuineness sooner or later. (Acts 8:13, 21b – 23)

Though God never compels anyone to return to Him, in His love and mercy He wants everyone to know for sure that God saves all those who repent and return to Him. (Acts 17:30; 26:20)

Six Things about Repentance

1. It’s an universal divine directive, Acts 17:3

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
The call for repentance is God’s instruction for everyone worldwide. That’s why from John the Baptist to the apostles all of them emphasized the need for repentance in the course of their sermons. (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Acts 2:38, etc.). They realized, without repentance people live in sin and bear the consequences and perish. (Ezek. 18:31) The Lord Jesus even referred to the prayers of the souls in hell for the repentance of their loved ones on earth. (Luke 16:30) Notice how much imperative repentance is!

2. It’s an evidence of God’s grace and mercy for the fallen ones.

God’s decree to repent is actually an evidence of His longsuffering and compassion toward sinful, rebellious people. He does not want anyone to perish bearing the consequences of their sins, but to enjoy forgiveness and new life. (1Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 18: 30 - 32)
The entire mission of Christ was to call sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) One of the major works of the Holy Spirit today is to convict man of his sin, God’s righteousness and judgment. (John 16: 8) Apostle Peter writes that even the Lord is patient, giving man more time to repent. (2Peter 3:9; Reve. 2:21) Such divine concern and intervention should not be overlooked. (Acts 5:31; Rom. 2:5)

3. True repentance is visible and evident

Repentance is not just a doctrine but a practical experience of every true born again believer. This is basic to be saved. It involves three things

a. Change of mind - The Intellectual aspect

Job says about his repentance in Job 42:5, 6. We can notice his enlightened understanding about God and himself. Similarly, David’s repentance also shows that he got a fresh knowledge of sin and God. (Psa. 51: 4)

b. Change of heart - The Emotional aspect

Deep sorrow over sin is the outcome of conviction of one’s sins. Paul calls it ‘godly sorrow that leads to repentance’. (2Cor 7:10) Without having such a genuine grief on account of their terrible sinful state, no one can be saved. Consider any genuine conversion; one of the essential features is that they mourn at their spiritual bankruptcy. (Luke 18:13; 22:61: Matt. 5: 3, 4; Psa. 51: 17)

c. Change of will - The Volitional aspect

An enlightened view of self and sin not only breaks the heart of an awakened sinner, it also helps them change their path, returning to God’s way. (Acts 26:20) Being convicted of their true state, with all humility they seek the salvation God prepared for them through His Son. Gospel and the salvation it offers are relevant only for those who acknowledge their sin, not for the self-righteous ones. (Luke 5:32)

Remember, in genuine repentance, all these three should go together. In the story of the prodigal son this is very clear. He understood his folly, arose and returned to his father confessing his fault, and was no more with the swine. (Luke 15: 17, 18, 21)

There are some who regret over their mistakes only when they are caught. They are only worried about their reputation and the consequences. Some others are ready to pay the penalty or any other form of punishment, yet they return to the same evil path after sometime. Such temporary remorse is not true biblical repentance or conversion.

True repentance is always noticeable and results in internal transformation which will have an effect on their outward lifestyle. (1Thess. 1:9)

4. Evidence of true repentance is an on-going experience of repentance.

Many think only unbelievers need repentance. But a true born again child of God, as he progresses in his Christian life not only grows in the knowledge of the things of God, he will also develop an increased sensitivity to evil. Thus, he begins to see his inadequacy and the abiding sin nature more and more. That in turn makes him more humble and submissive to Christ for cleaning and strength. (1John 1: 7, 9 – 2:2)

That’s why the word of God exhorts God’s people to repent repeatedly. (2Cor. 12: 21; Rev. 2:5, 16, 22, etc.) A truly converted saint constantly examines his life in the light of God’s word and makes the needed amendments in life. (Rom. 12:2)

5. Absence of genuine repentance is tantamount to rebellion.

Remember, whether in the Old Testament or New Testament, God does not appreciate nominal external religious services. The Lord always calls upon the people for a change of heart, an internal transformation, not an outward show with certain gestures or rituals. (cf. Isa. 29:13; Eze. 33: 31 – 33; Matt. 15:7 – 9) God always abhorred the heartless, hypocritical empty ritualism of the Jewish religion of the so-called ‘His own people’. (Isa 1: 11ff).
Similarly, in the New Testament, John the Baptist vehemently reprimanded the Jews for their hypocritical effort to show external piety without having any internal change. (Luke 3:7). The Lord Jesus often warned of the fraudulent followers. (Matt. 7: 21 – 23; John 2: 23 – 25; 8:31, 32) Apostle Peter strongly rebuked one Simon who professed faith and joined the congregation of Philip with a hidden agenda. (Acts 8:13) Notice Peter’s reaction,
“Your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." (Acts 8:21b – 23)

If deceitful conversions took place in the early days of the church, how much more careful we ought to be today! It does not matter if one is baptized and part of a zealous evangelical local congregation; if the evidence of genuine repentance is missing, it’s only a profession.

One may have respect and occupy an important position among the followers of Christ, but continually rejecting the opportunity to repent exposes the reality. God may give them some more time to repent, but the scripture also reveals that a time may come when it will be impossible for them to repent. (Rev. 2:21; 22:11; Heb. 6: 4 - 6)

6. True repentance leads to divine favor and blessings.

Basically, repentance is an individual’s response to God’s word. But the moment one repents and returns to God, He graciously begins to work for the penitent sinner. (Acts 5:31; 11:18) Along with forgiveness and restoration we begin to enjoy all other blessings, even the ever abiding presence of God. (Psa. 107: 10 – 13; Eph. 1: 3 - 14) The moment Zacchaeus confessed his sins and repented, the Lord Jesus responded, "Today salvation has come to this house.” (Luke 19: 8, 9)

Apart from that, our repentance and renewed life also gives joy to heaven as well as the servants of God. (Luke 15:7; 2Cor. 7: 7c, 9) Even the society will benefit from the life and activities of a genuinely transformed Christian. On the contrary, an unrepentant rebellious lifestyle gives sorrow to the heart of God and hurts many around them.

Dear reader, be honest, is true repentance part of your life? When was the last you mourned in the presence of God? If not now, when are you going to repent and lead a genuine, true life?

Related topic: Eleven Things about Salvation / 'Be saved' - St.Peter's Passionate call / Now you can be saved!




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