The Priority of the Gospel (Part 2)

To be a disciple of Christ is to be converted by God. No one can convert himself, and no one can convert another. To be converted is a radical change, from spiritually dead to spiritually alive. It is a change that radically alters a person’s life forever. Dever explains, “Scripture presents us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, and our spirit give life. We can do none of this for ourselves (and for others). The change each human needs, regardless of how we may outwardly appear, is so radical, so near our roots, that only God can bring it about. We need God to converts us”.[1] 

Are You Converted by God?

If God has converted you, there will be signs of conversion. Some signs will be immediate; and others will appear over time. If you examine yourself for signs that God has converted you as commanded by Paul, you should see signs “unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”. Are there signs “that Jesus Christ is in you” (2Co 13:5)?

In the last articles, two signs of conversion were listed. The first sign of change is the willingness to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This means sincerely praying to receive him into your life. The second is the realization that you are never good enough before God and that you need to totally depend on Christ for acceptance before God. There are few more signs to look for in your life.

            The third sign of conversion is that we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ who for our sake died and was raised (2Co 5:14-15). This demand is equivalent to what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-25. Everyone who wants to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him. He also said that “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mat 10:38). Such demand does not make sense for the spiritual dead, who will not follow. Those who have been converted by God will eventually through an ongoing process of conversion deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him. Dever explains, “We need to resign our claim to be the final judges and governors of our own lives, and acknowledge that that role belongs to God alone” (110).

            The fourth sign is the determination “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age” (Tit 2:12-13). Those who are not converted by God, being spiritual dead, will have no desire to renounce ungodliness and to live godly lives. They will see God’s instruction as impractical or outdated. Those who are not converted by God will not “inherit the kingdom of God” even though they may be “members” of the local Christian community (1Co 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5-6).

            On the other hand, those whom God converted may not immediate recognize all their sinful behaviours. At the beginning, they may recognize some sins but will over time begin to recognize more sins. They will initially think like the spiritual dead but will over time through the studying of Scripture begin to be transformed by God through the renewing of their minds (Rom 12:1-2). They will train themselves to discern what is right and wrong according to Scripture over time (2Ti 3:16-17; Heb 5:14). They will obey the teaching even though there is a struggle (cf. Joh 14:23-24).

Dever writes, “[T]he Bible says the great change we need involves much more: it involves turning from our sins and to God. It involves repenting of our sins and following God.” This change is an ongoing process of renouncing ungodliness and worldly passion, and living self-controlled, upright and godly lives.

The fifth sign is a growing faith in God. Dever explains, “Conversion includes both the change of the heart toward God that is repentance, and the belief and trust in Christ and his Word that is faith” (111). Those who are converted will grow in their faith in God. When they listen or study the Scripture, God’s Word will stir up the faith of the converted to believe in him (Rom 10:17). They will trust him more and worry less. They will be more peaceful and be less anxious (Phi 4:6-7).

The above five signs of change are not exhaustive. They give a broad overview of signs of being converted by God. The Bible has listed other signs of change such as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and loving one another as Jesus loved us (Joh 13:34-35, 1Jo 2:7-11). All who have been converted will radically change the way they live. 

Dever summing up writes, “Real Christianity is never simply an addition to or cultivation of something that has always been in one’s life. Rather, it is a radical about-face, a turning around. All Christians make this about-face as we come to rely on Christ’s finished work on the cross. To say that you trust, without living as though you do, is not a biblical trust. We change the way we act, but only because we change what we believe. Such change is the work of God’s Spirit” (101). Such changes are the results of being converted by God. Have you been converted by God?


            Two Errors but One more Dangerous

            In answering the question above, people may err in two different ways. The first is doubt. Dever explains, “[T]here is the problem of people who don’t think that they’re converted when they really are. They know that the Scriptures teach that Christians will not be given over to sin, and so whenever they sin, they feel the accusation of the Devil and they tend to agree with him that perhaps they are not truly Christians” (111). While we should seriously deal with sins in our lives by seeking help from a few mature Christians, our acceptance by God is based on Christ, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Co 1:30). We are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s work and not our ability to stop sinning. God is faithful to forgive us whenever we confess and repent (cf. 1Jo 1:5-10).

            The second error, which is more dangerous, is presumption. Dever explains, “The second problem, I have to confess, worries me even more: some people think they are converted when really they are not” (112). Jesus has already warned believers about this problem in the parable of the wheats and weeds (Mat 13:24-30). In every local community, not matter how well we tried to ensure that only those converted by God are baptised as members, there will be some who are not converted by God. While part of the problem is due to our human inability to see inside the human hearts, another part of the problem is our wrong practices in doing evangelism.

            One wrong practice is that we try to manipulate people into saying the sinners’ prayer when they are not ready. Whatever may be our motivation to manipulate, the outcome may not be a person converted by God’s Spirit but by psychological pressure (149). Could this be a reason that in many churches “people who have been psychologically pressured in such a manner” are not keen to make progress in their faith because there is no new life in them (cf. 2Pe 1:3-12)?

            Biblical Evangelism

            On the other hand, if we focus on doing evangelism in a biblical manner, we will avoid making converts by “psychological pressure”. First, the goal of evangelism is not result but faithfulness in our proclamation. Dever explains, “As Christians we should know that even if we are faithful in telling the gospel, people still may not respond” (135). Paul preached one message, Christ, but he got two results, one is death and the other is life. The two results depend on the response of the hearers (2Co 2:15-16). Dever elaborate, “We don’t fail in our evangelism if we faithfully present the gospel and yet the person is not converted; we fail only if we don’t faithfully present the gospel at all” (136).

Second, “we must be accurate in what we say, not holding back any important parts of the message out of fear that those parts will be too awkward or difficult to explain” (143). While we should begin with God’s love, we should not avoid telling people that we are all sinners before God. We should ask them to agree with God that they are sinners, even though they feel that they are generally good people by human standard, and repent as sinners by inviting Jesus Christ into their lives as Saving Lord. We should ask them to make a commitment to obey Jesus Christ from that moment onward.

Third, while we continue to prayerfully water on what we sowed, we leave the converting to God. “The one who converts ultimately is God himself” (118).

[1] Mark Dever, 2013, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church 3rd edition (Crossway), 120-121. The words in bracket is mine.

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