Conversion, as the word is used in the Scriptures, means— “a turning to God.” Regeneration is a change of nature; the implanting of a new and heavenly life within. Conversion is the outward and manifest turning of the person to God, and as a consequence, from sin and Satan. In every case of genuine conversion, there is a positive and a negative side: the man is turned round to God, to Christ, to holiness; he is turned from the world, from Satan, and from sin.
The Necessity of Conversion.
The words of the Lord Jesus are “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Apostles of the Lord preached “Repent ye therefore, and be converted” (Acts 3:19). This change is necessary then as now. Man’s face is naturally turned from God. His back is toward his Creator; the path that he treads leads away from God and Heaven: it tends to death and hell. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) is a confession of the common course of men. “They have turned their back unto me, and not their face” (Jeremiah 2:27) is Jehovah’s complaint concerning His ancient people, and the charge is universally true. There are no exceptions. It is to man thus living, with his face set for death and destruction, that the voice of the Lord is heard calling, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?”
What Conversion is Not.
It is to be feared that, in the thoughts of many, conversion is little more than a change of creed. They join a new church, or become adherents of a new theology. To pass from Romanism to Protestantism, from being a Churchman to become a Dissenter, from Calvinism to Arminianism, these and others of a similar kind are frequently spoken of as being “conversions.” But they are not so in the sense in which Scripture speaks. All these may be known apart from a Divine work within, and without the man being turned to God. Nor is reformation to be confounded with conversion. A man may change his ways and leave off his sinful habits, yea, he may even assume a religious life, and do religious work, apart from true conversion to God. There may be a “new leaf turned,” a “fresh start” made, a “new vow” taken, a “good resolution” formed, and all this may, for a time, give indication of a changed life. But, sooner or later, it will come to nought if the heart has not been reached, and the springs of life turned to God. Experiences, impressions, and flushes of religious feeling are often mistaken for conversion, especially during seasons of revival and Gospel work, but these being without foundation or root, through time lapse into the former, or into a worse condition. To such the word in 2 Peter 2:22, applies— “The dog is turned (the same word as converted) to his own vomit again.”
What Conversion Is.
Conversion, as the word implies, is a turn to God. “Ye turned to God from idols” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). “Ye … are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24). The heart once closed against God’s love is now opened to receive it, as the petals of the flower turned toward the sun receive and absorb its rays. The ear once closed against God’s Voice, is now open, in the spirit of a child, to hear His Word, and to do His will. The secret springs of life, which before were supplied with motive power from sin and Satan, are now actuated by the power of grace and the Spirit of God. The man is brought “from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18) and God henceforth becomes His joy and His trust. The time of his lawlessness, his choosing of his own way is now past: he has “return” unto the Shepherd and Bishop of his soul, to own His claim as Lord, to bow beneath His rule, to be fed, and led by Him along the right way to Heaven and home. It is to be feared that in a day of counterfeit and hypocrisy such as the present is, the standard of conversion has been sadly lowered, and anyone making a slipshod “profession” has been counted as a “convert.” Sensational and pointless preaching, abounding with sentiment and senseless story, often accompanied with music and non-Gospel singing, and destitute of ploughshare and hammer to break up the fallow conscience and strike hard the stony heart, can hardly be expected to produce conviction or result in conversion according to God. Man’s conversion may be manufactured by man’s methods, in man’s own power, but the real article — that which bears the heavenly brand — is, as of old, the Word of God alone.
How Conversion Is Produced.
It is not in man’s nature to turn to God. His thoughts and his desires are all against God. Religion cannot change the current of his inner life; the most it can do is to dress up in another fashion that which is without. In order to have new fruit, there must be a new tree, for “a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.”
This new nature is implanted at regeneration. There is a new creation. The regenerated man stands up in the power of a new life, and in that life he turns to God and serves Him.
An illustration may help us here. There are certain creatures, such as the gad-fly, whose early existence is in the mud of stagnant pools. They are able to move from place to place in the mud, but not to rise above it. They feed on that which is on their level; they cannot reach to anything higher. Presently a new force is developed within them, and immediately then they rise to the surface of the water, above and beyond the region of mud. Then wings are given them, and soon they rise up into the air, to bask in the warm rays of the sun, to find their food, and to spend their brief life in other spheres, never more to return to the muddy pool, or to find their subsistence there. Thus it was with some at Thessalonica of ancient days. They were idolaters, absorbed and engrossed with earthly things. They had no desire for things beyond, nor had they power or will to rise to better spheres.
By-and-bye the Gospel reached them. They heard the word of life, in power and much assurance, from men who walked with God, and held the Gospel as a sacred trust from Him. They received the message, they believed the truth. The immediate result is recorded in the glowing words, “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from Heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
The power of idols was broken by the power of God. The Living Christ, believed and received, expelled the enemy. They were able to say, like one of old —”I have heard Him, and observed Him: what have I to do any more with idols?” (Hosea 14:8).
The testimony is the same throughout. The Grecians who heard from the men of Cyprus and Cyrene of the Lord Jesus, “believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:21). Believing on the Son of God gives life, (see John 3:36), and that life is at once made manifest by the possessor of it turning to, or being converted unto the Lord. Such were the conversions of early days, and such are God’s conversions still. Christ received in the heart changes the whole current of the life. Old things pass away: former habits drop off like leaves in autumn: the new man stands forth in a new character, with new aspirations and new hopes filling his mind and spirit; His feet tread in new paths, and his hands are filled with new employments. The old lose their charm and their power, and are left behind. “The explusive power of a new affection,” as one named it, has accomplished this transformation: this “new affection” is the love of Christ now indwelling the heart, and nothing short of this can affect it.
Hindrances to Conversion.
We need not wonder if the craft and power of Satan are combined to hinder this Divine work of conversion from taking place. He blinds the mind, he closes the eye, he seals the ear, lest men “should be converted” (Acts 28:27). He fears the Gospel of God, and so he sends his emissaries with “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9) in its stead, which has no Divine power behind it, and no Divine conversion resulting from it. Let those who know the Gospel of God, and have confidence in its efficacy, sound it forth, in all its simplicity, freshness, and power, and God will own it in the conversion of souls to Himself.
As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses of old, and sought to hinder the deliverance of Israel, by imitating the work of God, so we are told shall the servants of Satan seek to turn away the ears of those who would hear the truth and be converted by it, into “fables.” These “fables” now abound on every side. The world’s religion is permeated by them, as leaven hid in the meal leavened the whole mass in which it worked. Need we wonder that gospels of evolution, non-atoning death of Christ, non-eternal punishment, denial of Christ’s Divinity and man’s ruin, produce no genuine conversions followed by holy, Christ-like lives. It would be a greater wonder if they did. God’s Gospel preached in God’s power, by God’s servants, will bear its fruit, and that fruit will remain.
Copied from Foundation Truths of the Gospel by John Ritchie. 2nd ed. Kilmarnock: Office of “The Believer’s Magazine,” .