For tonight we’re going to be looking together at the doctrine of conversion, what the Bible has to say about being converted, about being transformed. And I just want to draw you to very familiar words, to begin with, 2 Corinthians chapter 5 – 2 Corinthians chapter 5. I’m not trying to be obscure. I’m not trying to be minute in these particular studies of Christian doctrine. I’m just trying to be very foundational, trying to help you understand the basics that are important for us to understand, these great Christian doctrines. And I know there is a decidedly growing disinterest in doctrine. It is a rapid, accelerating movement that has a great indifference to sound doctrine. In fact, there are many books being written today that attack the idea of conviction about a truth, that attack the idea of clarity about a truth, that attack sound doctrine as if it is some kind of carnality, some kind of pride, as if it is an intrusion into spirituality. Books like that are just coming at a pandemic level into the church.
And recent surveys done by supposed experts indicate that there is a fast-growing interest in this kind of spiritual experience that knows very little of the church, very little about doctrine, very little about biblical interpretation. In fact, the latest kind of approach to this is that people don’t want to go to church; they want to be the church. They don’t want to hear doctrine; they just want to live it out. Well, it’s pretty hard to live out something you don’t understand. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth and so we have to go back in to our understanding of everything to the Word of God and we have to be clear about precisely what it says. The trend today is to give people an experience without truth. But the Bible is crystal clear that we need to have information, but as Cornelius Van Til, the great theologian, said many years ago, “We need not just information but interpretation.”
We must understand the things that the Bible affirms. And one of the things that the Bible affirms is that when a person is saved, when a person comes in to the knowledge of God through faith in Jesus Christ, there is a conversion. And 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 17 sums it up. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” That’s regeneration. We’ve been talking about that the last number of weeks. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” That is regeneration. But immediately upon that comes this idea of conversion, “The old things passed away. Behold, new things have come.” New, not in time but new in character, new in quality, not in sequence but in essence. This is conversion. When you are in Christ, you experience a regeneration. That is a passive thing as far as we’re concerned. That’s what God does to us. But coupled with that regeneration is a conversion in which we are experiencing a new kind of life in which the old things are gone and everything is new.
In Ephesians chapter 4 we find another reference to this. We have learned Christ, says verse 20 of Ephesians 4. We have come, says verse 21, to Him, heard Him, been taught in Him concerning the truth. As a result, “With reference,” verse 22, “to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lust of deceit,” and put on what is essentially the renewing of the spirit of your mind, the new self. There is a putting off of the old self and a putting on of the new self. It is renewed, the mind is changed, the new self being renewed in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness connected to the truth.
So it is important to know that salvation is two sides of one great divine miracle. The side in which we are passive is regeneration; the side in which we are active is conversion. We experience the power of the truth that changes us, so that all the old things pass away, as indicated in 2 Corinthians, summed up in the identity of the old self, and all the new things come summed up in the new self. The characteristic of the old self – lust, corruption deceit. The characteristic of the new self – righteousness, holiness, and truth. That is a conversion. That is a spiritual transformation.
If you would think with me on this in another passage, Colossians chapter 3. This too directs our attention to this same reality. Colossians chapter 3 verse 9, very practical statement, “Don’t lie to one another.” Then also saying, “to put aside anger, wrath, malice or evil slander, abusive speech ... Don’t lie to one another since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” In other words, the new self is characteristically Godlike, Christlike, righteous, holy, and conformed to the truth, to a true knowledge of God. The biblical way to describe this is conversion.
Now there is not to be understood some chronological order here in the sense that you can be regenerated and it might be months or years until you’re finally converted. There have been some in the past that taught that a person could be regenerated and, not knowing that regeneration had actually taken place, lived for a period of time before a conversion. The Bible does not teach that. It does not teach that there’s a time sequence here, though there is a logical order. We cannot be converted, we cannot actively put off the old and put on the new through repentance and faith until we’ve been regenerated. But I don’t see anything in the Scripture that provides there a gap in terms of chronology. Regeneration comes first in the order of the work of God, but immediately upon regeneration comes conversion. Conversion is turning from sin toward God. Another text that defines this is in Acts chapter 20 and verse 21. And this is perhaps familiar to most of you where the apostle Paul says that he was testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, turning from sin toward God and expressing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Conversion then is this turning. It is the sinner’s response to the regeneration which God works in him. Regeneration is God’s work. It is by God’s power, by God’s will, and we do not participate. Conversion is God’s work by His power and His will, and we do participate. Regeneration gives us life so that we can respond to God and turn from sin from the old self to the new life.
Now when we think about conversion and look at the Bible, we find the word only one time. If you will, look at Acts 15. Here is the one time where the word conversion – epistrophē, in a noun sense – actually appears, Acts 15:3. Paul and Barnabas, of course, at the Jerusalem Council here, reporting on their ministry to the Gentiles, in verse 3 describe into the verse in detail the conversion of the Gentiles. And here we see the word conversion. It is the word that means a turning around, a turning about, going the other direction, going the opposite way. The verb form, however – the noun only appears here. The verb form is used in the New Testament nearly forty times – epistrephō. Any Greek student knows that verb. It’s a very familiar verb. Strephō itself means to turn; epistrephō emphasizes the emphatic pronoun at the front, a total turning, a reversal of directions. It is the normal word, by the way, for turning around to go the other way. In fact a number of times in the gospel, such as Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:30 and Mark 8:33, it refers to Jesus turning around. It is a simple word that means to turn from one to another point.
But it also appears a number of times, not just in reference to a physical turning but to a spiritual turning. It is used that way in, for example, Matthew 13:15, “For the heart of this people has become dull” – quoting from Isaiah – “and with their ears they scarcely hear. They have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn.” And here again you have the Lord saying this is a recalcitrant, rebellious, stubborn people. They will not hear. They will not see. They will not understand, and they will not turn. It is referring to an unwillingness to turn from sin to God. It is used again in that same way quoting basically the same text of Isaiah 6 in Mark 4:12, speaking of these people, “While seeing they may see and not perceive and while hearing they may hear and not understand lest they turn and be forgiven.”
Now we find in Luke chapter 1 verses 16 and 17 that when John the Baptist comes, “He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink no wine or liquor and be filled with the Holy Spirit while in his mother’s womb.” And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. So this word is used both of a physical turning and metaphorically of a spiritual turning, a reversal, an about face, to go the opposite direction. In fact in John 12:40, again, the passage from Isaiah is quoted, from Isaiah 6, “He has blinded their eyes, hardened their hearts lest they see with their eyes, perceive with their heart” – and here it says – “be converted” – be converted. So when we talk about conversion, we are talking about someone turning, turning from sin to God, turning from the old habits to new ones, turning from the old self to the new self. And this, of course, we understand to be the work of the Spirit of God.
This word is used also in 2 Corinthians 3:16, “Whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Confusion, misunderstanding, darkness is dissipated in the light of the truth whenever a man turns to the Lord. The language of turning is familiar in Scripture. In fact, 1 Peter 2:25, “You were continually straying like sheep, but now you have” – literally – “turned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” It is stopping, as it were, immediately and reversing your direction, turning to a completely new way. Listen to what it says in Acts 3. Here Peter preaches, “Repent therefore and turn” – literally, repent and turn around – “that your sins may be wiped away.” It is used repeatedly – and I won’t go through all of them – Acts 9:35; 11:21; 14:15; 15:19; and then again in Acts 26:18 to 20, it calls for a turning as an expression of true repentance and faith.
Listen to the end of James, James 5:19 and 20, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” Evangelism is viewed there as turning sinners back, and so we understand conversion then is a turning. And what it dramatically illustrates is a complete change in the course of your life. To become a Christian is not just to change what you believe about Jesus, it’s not just that you now go to church and you have nice thoughts about Him. Conversion means you stop going the direction you were going, which was motivated and directed by lusts and ignorance and darkness and deception, and you begin to walk fully into the light of the truth and in the direction of righteousness and holiness.
Now let me draw you to a text that we’ll use as kind of a platform, 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 – 1 Thessalonians chapter 1. There’s a lot that can be said about this, but we have to have a good starting point, and this is as good as any. First Thessalonians, this is a great chapter. In fact, it’s a model church that is being greeted in this chapter, and I just want you to get the feel of it. Verse 2, “We give thanks to God always for all of you.” That’s pretty unusual, because Paul was often thankful for churches but not everybody in the church. There were usually some exceptions to his gratitude. But in this case this is a church that he is thankful for in total. “For all of you, I make mention of you in my prayers and in our prayers” – collectively, referring to Silvanus and Timothy identified in verse 1. So he says we all mention you in our prayers. And what is it that we are mindful of? “Bearing in mind your work of faith and your labor of love and your steadfastness of hope.”
Now this is wonderful. You are just model believers. You have a faith that works. You have a love that labors. You have a hope that endures. And you are in our Lord Jesus Christ. You are, as it were, anchored in Him, in the very presence of our God and Father. And, beloved, we look at you, he says, and we see this, that you are beloved by God and we know that you are elect. His election of you, verse 4. And we are reminded, therefore, verse 5, “that our gospel didn’t come to you in word only but it came in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” And it changed you. In verse 6, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord and you received the Word though in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit.” And you became an example. Verse 8, “The Word of the Lord sounded out from you… everywhere,” so that in all places your faith has gone forward and everybody knows your faith in God and we don’t have any need to say anything about you.
Now this is an incredible group. He says, I see your faith exhibited in your work. I see your love exhibited in your labor. I see your hope exhibited in your endurance. I therefore know you are truly in Christ, anchored in the very presence of God, beloved of God, elect of God. Therefore I know the gospel came in power. I see that you have become imitators of us and of the Lord. You received the Word with joy. You are an example. Your testimony goes everywhere.
And he sums it up in verse 9. Everybody “reports” – everybody reports – “what kind of a reception we had with you” – here it is – “and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The key phrase, “You turned to God.” There was a real turning. You turned away from idols, from dead idols. You turned away from your idolatry, your false religion. You turned away from your sin and you turned to God. This is absolutely what happens when a person believes.
Over in chapter 2 verse 13 he says, “We constantly thank God that when you received from us” – the Word of God’s message – “you accepted it not as the word of men but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also” – energeō – “energizes its work in you who believe.” We saw what happened, the Word went to work and it changed you and you turned. Now obviously this is not apart from the grace of God. It’s not apart from the power of God, not apart from the hand of the Lord. It is, of course, that the hand of the Lord, the power of God, and the grace of God is at work in the human will. But nonetheless there is a true turning. This is standard stuff for true conversion.
Listen to Acts 11:21, “And the hand of the Lord was with them and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Not apart from the hand of the Lord but by the hand of the Lord, a large number believed and turned. They stopped going the direction they were going, and they turned to go in the very opposite direction. They stopped running from God, they stopped living the old way and started coming toward God living in newness of life.
So the Scripture then speaks of salvation. It speaks of salvation not only as God’s regenerating power to give life to the dead sinner through the word of truth, as we saw last time, but it speaks of the sinner then being given life, awaking as it were, responding in repentance and faith and turning from sin and turning from idols and turning from the world to God, to the living God, and to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. So what do we say then, when a person becomes a Christian they have a whole new direction in life. And if that direction isn’t there, then there’s no reason to assume that person was converted. And nobody is regenerated who is not converted. Everything is new, everything changes.
Now let me help you to see some of the elements of this in just a brief time tonight. First of all – and I’ll give you maybe a handful of things to think about. First of all, this turning begins with being turned from error to truth – being turned from error to truth. The whole matter really starts here. When regeneration takes place, it takes place by the power of God apart from anything we do but it takes place in the context of the Word of truth being given. We learned that last time, that we are begotten again by the Word of truth. That’s foundational. So the first thing to say then about conversion or turning is one’s understanding changes dramatically. You move from being deceived and being involved and engulfed in what is false to embracing what is true. And the whole matter really begins at that point. There is no conversion without an embracing of the truth. They can’t believe until they hear the truth. That’s why somebody has to preach, somebody has to be sent.
Now I want you to think this through a little bit with me. If you look at Colossians, for example, chapter 1 – let’s look at Colossians chapter 1 for a minute. Familiar words in verses 12 and 13, and here we’re talking about the gift of salvation for which we are thankful, “Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” We have an inheritance in light. Light represents the life that comes from the truth. The Word is a light. The Word is a lamp. In fact, in Acts 26:18 it says that the apostle Paul’s ministry was to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light. Psalm 119:130, “The entrance of Your Word gives light.” Your Word is a lamp to my path, a light to my feet. The truth is synonymous with salvation, with the kingdom, with Christ and His gospel.
So the first thing that happens to one who is regenerate is, they immediately are exposed to the truth which they wholeheartedly embrace. And there is an immediate turning from believing Satan’s lies, from living in the darkness described in 2 Corinthians 4 as the god of this world blinding their minds – there is an immediate turning from the darkness to the light, an immediate embracing of the glorious truth of the gospel. In fact, they’re synonymous. First Timothy 2:4, “To be saved,” writes Paul, “and” – or even – “to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That’s one and the same thing. To be saved is to come to the knowledge of the truth. To be saved necessarily involves believing a message. And that is to say believing truth, believing doctrine, not just having warm and fuzzy feelings about Jesus. In fact the first mark of the infant church, the first of the marks of the infant church, Acts 2:42, “They continued in the apostle’s doctrine.” There was a hunger, there was an attraction for the truth.
What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to be converted? It means to stop being deceived and living in darkness, turn and go exactly in the opposite direction into the full light of truth. Look at John chapter 3 – John chapter 3, and we mentioned this a little bit last week, but I want to come back to it for a moment. God sent His Son into the world as light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, whoever believes in Me will not walk in darkness.” But here we find the same idea, verse 19, “This is the judgment, the light has come into the world, and men [naturally] loved darkness rather than light for their deeds were evil.” The sinful man has no interest in the light. He’s blind to the light until the light of the glorious gospel is made by God to shine into his heart in the same way that God who created light initiated it – ex nihilo. He initiates it ex nihilo in the heart of the blind.
But until the light comes, the men in the world, and women, love darkness rather than light, for it’s the place of comfort for their evil deeds. “Everyone who does evil hates the light and doesn’t come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed, but he” – listen to this – “who practices the truth comes to the light that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought by God.” There’s a dramatic transformation. The unconverted person, the natural man, the blind, the one in the darkness plunges deeper and deeper into the comfort zone of his darkness, but when converted, there’s a total transformation out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, and you come rushing toward the flooding light of the truth, the truth incarnate and the truth revealed in Scripture. So the first thing that happens in conversion is that one turns from darkness to light, from deception to truth, from the things that are part of the darkness – sin, corruption, evil desire – to those things that are part of the light – righteousness, holiness, and worship. Conversion then captures the soul for sure but it also captures the mind and there comes into the mind this hunger for the light and it’s expressed over and over again in Scripture. The apostle Paul in Romans says that in his heart he delights in the law of God. The psalmist in Psalm 119 says it 176 ways, “O how I love Thy law.” Can’t get enough of it.
A Christian is someone who runs rapidly toward the light, because he wants the light of God to shine brightly on his life. He wants to see the things, as John quoted Jesus saying, that are wrought by God. This is another way of saying the Christian has a new nature. This is another way of saying that a Christian is a transformed individual. It says in 1 John 5:10 that he who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself. And part of that witness – if you really have the Son of God, part of that witness is that drawing, that attraction to the truth. Paul said to the Ephesians in Ephesians 5:8, “You were once darkness, now you’re light.” That’s the first element of conversion. You moved from deception to truth. And you can’t get enough of the truth. You can’t get enough.
And I don’t know about you but my desire for the truth is to not just get a general idea of the truth, I want to know every tiny bit that I can grasp. I don’t know if you’re all like me. I have been told that I am an inordinately curious person. But I don’t know if that’s totally true. I’m not curious about a lot of things. In fact, there are most things in this world I don’t care about at all. I really don’t. I don’t care to know a lot of those things. I stopped long ago getting newspapers because I don’t really care. I only have so many beats to this ticker here, and I only have so much time and so much energy. And the more I know about the Bible, the more I know I don’t know, and I cannot get enough. The rest of the stuff, I don’t really care about. I just want to go further and further and further into the light and I want to know it as best I can. I want it to be clear. I’m not content with some mucked up muddy confused idea. Those things frankly drive me pretty batty. If I don’t understand something, I hammer at it until I do, at least the best I can. I’m not content with the general sense.
I don’t want to just meander through my “Christian life” bouncing from experience to experience and then trying to define what’s going on in some nebulous way. I want to know precisely what the truth is. And you are – and you can judge for yourselves, you are either the beneficiaries or the victims of this curiosity. And there’s probably some of you on both sides of that. And if you wonder why I go so slowly through the book, it is because I’m so compelled by the truth. I just want to know the truth, and I want to know it the best I possibly can know it. And I have to believe that in my heart of hearts this is part of what it means to be moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
I got a letter from a lady one time who wrote me and she said this, “God doesn’t care what you believe as long as you’re sincere.” That is the most ridiculous statement ever. But that’s the new kind of liberalism that we’re getting in the emerging church and other places. God does care what you believe. Not only that, He’s illuminated the truth in the Scriptures by the working of the Holy Spirit as the author of Scripture and by the residing work of the Spirit as your own truth teacher. He does expect you to know the truth. There’s no virtue in ignorance. There’s no virtue in tolerating every view. It does matter what you believe, and it does matter that you know the truth, and if you have genuinely been converted, that is a passion. I know there are a lot of Christians who have been genuinely converted, and they’ve never heard the kind of teaching and preaching that feeds them the truth, that takes them into the brighter and brighter light. I think once people get a taste of that, they understand the richness of it. We can all fall into carnal times and we can turn away and have a diminished hunger for that. And I think therein the Spirit of God pushes and prods and prompts us toward the truth.
And it isn’t that I want to know the truth so I can fix all the people who don’t know the truth and correct everybody. It isn’t that I want to know the truth so that I can tell you. It’s that I want to know the truth, because I want to know what is true about the God I love and worship, because I want to worship Him in spirit and – what? – and truth. The true Christian is a person who has been converted from plunging deeper and deeper into the darkness where his sin finds its comfort, even if his sin is religious hypocrisy, into the blazing light of divine truth, and he runs in the direction of the light. He can’t get enough of the light, the light of truth that produces righteousness, holiness, and a pure kind of worship.
Look at Romans 6 for a moment. And I think pretty soon I’m going to take you through Romans 6 and 7, because when we talk about the doctrine of sanctification, this is kind of where we need to go. But in Romans 6, I want you to see something here in verse 17. Well, we ought to probably look at verse 16 first. “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you’re slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death or obedience resulting in righteousness? But” – here’s the key verse – “thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin” – you were – “you became obedient from the heart to that form of doctrine to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin you became slaves of righteous.” That’s another way to say the same thing. You were converted from being a slave of sin to a slave of righteousness. And what converted you, what turned you from being a slave of sin to being obedient to the heart was the teaching to which you were committed, the Word of truth.
The language here, paradidōmi – the word committed at the end of verse 17, paradidōmi, means to hand over. You were picked up out of one environment and then handed over to another one. You were delivered into a new paradigm, the paradigm of the truth, teaching, a system of teaching revealed by God which is viewed as the light. So when you talk about being converted, you’re talking about moving from error to truth. So a footnote that should be obvious to you, no one is converted who hasn’t made that transition. Okay? People say, well what about the people over in this religion, that religion, the other religion? You aren’t converted until you’ve moved from error to truth, until you’ve moved from darkness to light. Until you’ve moved from idols to the living God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, you aren’t converted.
There’s a second thing that we might mention. Conversion involves – let me look at my watch. Is it 7:15? Because this clock doesn’t work. Okay, that’s what I thought. I’m looking at this thinking, “Wow, this is good.” Second thing, we are turned – we turned from error to truth. This is the work of the Word as we’ve been saying. We also at the same time – and we’ve hinted at this, but I want to focus on it particularly. We turn from sin to righteousness – we turn from sin to righteousness. You cannot get away from this and that’s – stay right where you are, back in Romans chapter 6. There is no way around it. We used to, verse 16, present ourselves as slaves of sin resulting in death. Now we present ourselves as servants of obedience to God resulting in righteousness. We were slaves to sin; we now have become obedient from the heart to the revealed truth of the gospel to which we are now committed. And we, having been freed from sin, have become servants or slaves of righteousness. Verse 19 adds, “You used to present your members as slaves to impurity, lawlessness which resulted in even further lawlessness and now you present your members as slaves to righteousness resulting in sanctification.” He says it again, when you were slaves of sin you were free with regard to righteousness. You had no righteousness at all. You were free from righteousness. And the outcome, verse 21, was death. “Now you’ve been set free from sin and you’ve become a slave to God ... resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” You see here, there again, conversion from being a slave of sin to being a servant of righteousness. This is monumental. You’ve gone from error to truth and sin to righteousness.
We’re not just talking here about the doctrine of justification. That’s a different matter where God declares you righteous and imputes the righteousness of Christ to your account as if it were your own. In other words, God credits Christ’s perfect righteousness to you because of your trust in Him. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about God actually transforming you, so that you cease to be a bond slave of sin and you become a bondservant of righteousness. When Christ saves, He takes you out from under the penalty of sin and the power of sin. Go back to verse 14, Romans 6. “Sin shall not be master over you.” Sin shall not be master over you. There’s no need for that. It’s mastery has been shattered. Your new master is righteousness. And even though you sin and you fail, you have the attitude of Paul who said, “The things I want to do I don’t do. The things I don’t want to do I do. I see this wretchedness still in me but it’s not the pure longing of my redeemed soul.”
Jesus came to save sinners from their sin. In fact, Romans 11:26, “The deliverer will come from Zion.” This is borrowed, by the way, from Isaiah 59. “The deliverer will come from Zion. He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.” Salvation is taking away our sins. Sanctification is God changing us so that our turning is from bondage to sin to bondage to righteousness. Our new master is righteousness. We have holy aspirations and holy longings and holy desires. Now the Scripture is full of this. “We are created in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 2:10, “unto good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” That’s how we live our lives, and that’s back to what we saw in Ephesians 4 again. We’ve put on the new self which is created in righteousness and holiness in relation to the truth.
If a person has truly been saved, they have been converted. That is, they fully embrace the truth, they go deeper into the truth. They find their delight in the truth. And they find their joy and delight in the righteousness that goes along with the truth. They pursue righteousness and holiness that they know honors God. This is part of having a new heart. This is part of having a new spirit, as Ezekiel 36 describes it. This is what Paul experienced and he gives his testimony in Philippians chapter 3, he says, “We are the true circumcision who worship in the spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” He says, my life has totally changed. I now worship God in the spirit. I now glory in Christ Jesus. I now turn my back on the flesh. This is part of being a new creation.
Now the true Christian then is one who has made a turn from sin. I can draw you to one text that will just affirm this, and then I’ll give you a couple more points and we’ll be done. First John 3, just about the whole epistle here would cover the ground, but well maybe we should look at 2 first of all. As I said, it’s hard not to go through the whole thing. First John 2:3, verse 3 of chapter 2, “We know we’ve come to know Him if we keep His commandments.” Okay, there’s the evidence. How do you know you’ve been truly saved? You’ve been converted from being disobedient to being obedient. We know we’ve come to know Him if we keep His commandments. “The one who says,” verse 4, “‘I’ve come to know Him,’ doesn’t keep His commandments, that person is a liar and the truth is not in him.” There’s no real conversion there. There’s no turning to go the other direction. “But whoever keeps or obeys His Word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected and by this we know that we are in Him.” It’s just that simple. If you know Him, you love righteousness and holiness and obedience to the glorious truth that you’ve come to embrace.
Now look at chapter 3, it’s the same thing. “Everyone who practices sin” – verse 4. “Everyone who practices sin practices lawlessness and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He appeared in order to take away sin.” That’s why He came, to transform us, not just to justify us but to convert us. So verse 6 says, “No one who abides in Him sins.” And what does he mean by that? He simply means it’s an outrage. There’s a sense in which he is speaking almost in hyperbole. He is not intending to say that we never commit a sin, because in chapter 2 he said if any of us sin we have an advocate and we have Christ to take care of our sin. But what he is doing here is speaking the language of outrage. No one who abides in Him sins. We don’t court that. We don’t condone that. It’s just not done. We don’t do that. We don’t behave that way. And no one who sins, who just goes on and lives his life according to sin, no one who does that has seen Him or knows Him.
Rather, verse 7, “Little children, let no one deceive you, the one who practices righteousness is righteous just as He is righteous.” Verse 8, “The one who practices sin is of the devil. Don’t you know the Son of God appeared for this purpose that He might destroy the works of the devil.” So if you look at your life and you don’t see the destruction of those devilish works and the desire to do what is right and what is holy and a pattern of righteousness and holiness, then you haven’t been converted. You see, verse 9 says, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because his seed abides in him. He cannot sin, because he’s born of God.” Again he says this is an outrage. He’s not saying absolutely no Christian ever commits a sin. He is saying Christians do not ever condone sins. That’s just – we don’t condone that. We don’t act that way. We don’t live that way. We see sin for what it really is. It is reprehensible. It is distasteful. We reject it because we’ve been born of God. We have been converted. We’ve moved from the darkness to the light. We once loved sin and plunged deeper into the darkness. Now as we move into the light, we hate sin.
So he sums it up in verse 10. “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious. Anyone who doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God and the one who doesn’t love his brother.” It’s pretty simple. If you have been converted and you’ve turned to go the other direction, you’ve made an about face, your life is going to be a constant pursuit of truth and holiness – and holiness. Why? Because, “The Son of God,” verse 8, “appeared for the purpose of destroying the works of the devil which are evil.” Verse 5, “He appeared in order to take away sin.” This idea today that you can call yourself a Christian and has absolutely no effect on how you live is not a biblical understanding. It is just another sad deception.
You know, there are some other things to think about with regard to this, as well. If you have been converted, you have not just turned from error to truth and sin to righteousness, but let me suggest this, you have turned from fear to hope. You have turned from fear to hope. There’s a misery in living in the darkness. People without salvation, without the knowledge of God live and court fear their whole life – fear, afraid of what is coming. Larry King has asked me several times if I’m afraid of death. I said, “No, I’m not afraid of death. Death will, you know, be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, because it will usher me into the presence of God.” And he said, “Well I don’t have that kind of faith. I wish I did.” That is a nagging reality in people’s lives, the fear of death and what comes next. We’ve turned in our fear for hope. Haven’t we? Completely turned in our fear for hope. And that takes us back to where we started in 1 Thessalonians 1 verse 10. We “turn to God,” verse 9, “from idols, serve the living and true God, and wait for His Son from heaven.” Why? Because when He comes He will deliver us from what? From the wrath to come. We have been delivered from the wrath to come. Chapter 5 of 1 Thessalonians verse 9, “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We don’t live with fear. We have been delivered. As Romans 5:9 says, “Much more having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath to come through Him.” We’re going to be rescued from divine wrath, so we don’t live with fear. We live with hope. We don’t live with anxiety and dread and doubt. We live with joy, anticipation.
There’s another element of being converted. We have turned from loving the world to loving the church. This too is laid out for us in Scripture. We have been delivered, says the apostle Paul, from this present evil age, Galatians 1:4. We were a part of the world. We loved the world, the things that are in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, 1 John 2:15 to 17, all that is in the world. We loved all that stuff. We loved everything that was a part of that. We love the people of the world. And then when we were converted, we turned and all of a sudden we began to love the people we had no interest in. We began to love the people in some cases we despised and hated. I mean, isn’t that amazing? You walk into a church as a brand new believer, you don’t know anybody, and in a matter of moments you begin to love the people you’ve met, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. And John again, back to 1 John, says how do you tell a true believer? You tell them by their love of the brethren. John 13, “By this shall all men know you’re My disciples, you have love one for another.” We don’t love the world anymore. If any man love the world, the love of the Father’s not in him. We love the church. We don’t love the kingdom of Satan. We love the kingdom of God. Everything is different, top to bottom. That’s what it means to be converted.
Well if I had time I could take you through a lot more but I think you get the point. We’ve moved from error to truth, from sin to righteousness. We’ve moved from the world to the church. We have been totally converted. We have been rescued from living a life of fear and dread and doubt to living a life of hope and anticipation and joy. So when you’re looking to find out if someone’s a Christian, you could never tell if all there was was regeneration, because that’s an invisible work of God. But regeneration never takes place without conversion because, listen to this, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” That’s regeneration. “And behold, old things have passed away and all things have become new.” Never regeneration without conversion. Never conversion without regeneration. Two sides of the great divine miracle.
Father, thank You for helping us to understand this a little bit tonight. Such a vast far-reaching glorious reality. We are stunned really by the majesty of these truths that You would reach down in the midst of our deadness, give us life, and that You would turn us around, that You would convert us. This is so marvelous. That You would awaken our hearts upon the hearing of the truth, give us life so that we could repent and believe the truth and turn us completely the other direction. We thank You that we have been converted, and that we don’t have to wonder about a mysterious operation that we cannot perceive, but rather we know old things have passed away, everything is new. The old self is gone, the new self has come. The things we used to love we now hate. The things we used to hate we now love. This is conversion.
Thank You God, for this spiritual transformation that has changed us, and we’ll never again be the same. We thank You that it is forever, that it is lasting, that it is irreversible, that new life is truly eternal. And the new spirit and the new heart, the heart that longs to obey, the spirit that seeks righteousness is indeed that which we will possess forever, someday unrestrained and unhindered by our fallenness, when we leave this world to enter Your glorious presence and are perfected in holiness. We thank You for this great miracle that You have wrought in our lives and we pray that You would be gracious to others who are perhaps with us tonight who have not come to this glorious reality. May You move in their hearts to awaken them to the truth of the gospel that they might embrace it in penitent faith and truly be converted. We love You, we thank You for the clarity with which Your Word speaks to us. May we be equally clear in proclaiming it to those around us. What a privilege to know the truth and to proclaim it. We thank You in Your Son’s name. Amen.
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