This is an old subject and one about which there have been many books written and sermons preached. Yet even today there is an urgent need for the clear and simple teaching of God's word on the subject. Many honest people have been led to think that this is a subject above and beyond man's comprehension. Surely such cannot be the case, for it is not reasonable to think that a loving God, who desires that "all men come to repentance," would so veil and state His will regarding such vital matter. If a man cannot understand the subject upon which his eternal destiny depends, how in the name of reason can he be held accountable for doing or not doing that which he is not able to understand?
Certainly no one who claims to believe the Bible will deny the necessity of conversion. I know of no religious group that will deny it. They may differ over what it is, how accomplished, when it is done, but never over its necessity. Jesus makes the necessity of conversion too plain to be denied by any believer. In Matthew 18:3 He said: "Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Need more be said on the subject? Conversion stands, therefore, between every responsible person and the kingdom of heaven. God being no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), all must be converted.
In response to this question the answers in the religious world are many and varied. Some say that they have been converted but cannot tell you how or why, for they say that "it is better felt than told." Some think that conversion takes place in a nightmare, or in strange, distempered dreams. Others think that it is a convulsion or a conniption fit -judging by their actions. All such foolish and absurd ideas but becloud the truth. Let us forget them and turn to the Bible seeking the truth. Notice the following facts:
1. Conversion is not synonymous with pardon. In conversion the sinner is active, as we shall see more fully. In pardon the sinner is passive. God does the pardoning and that AFTER conversion. "Repent ye therefore and be converted, THAT YOUR SINS MAY BE BLOTTED OUT" (Acts 3: 19). This clearly shows that pardon follows conversion.
2. Notice the meaning of the word "convert." The ordinary meaning, as all know, is simply "to change." For example: wood is "converted" into furniture; ore is "converted" into iron; and corn is "converted" into bread - usually! This is simple and it is just as simple when applied to religion. To "be converted" is simply to "change toward or to God." Conversion is the mental or moral change in man which begins with belief of the gospel and ends with obedience to Christ. It is a synonym for the whole plan of salvation. Man has never been able to frame a system which could purify the sinner's heart, sanctify his soul, restore his character, and save the perishing race. His Creator alone could do it and did it. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting (changing, turning) the soul" (Psalm 19:7).
3. Man is to do the turning or "converting." Notice how the Revised Version renders Acts 3:19: "Repent ye therefore, and TURN AGAIN, that your sins may be blotted .... " Notice that the "ye" are to repent and the same "ye" are to "turn again." Where the King James uses the expression "be converted," the RV uses the expression "turn again." The RV gives the true idea and the King James is even misleading. It would leave the impression that man is passive in conversion, whereas he is active - man does the "converting" or turning again. Conversion, then, is not something that is DONE FOR OR TO MAN, but something that man DOES HIMSELF. This same truth is set forth in Matthew 13:15, RV.
In conversion from sin to righteousness, from Satan to God, there is really a threefold change. There must be a change of heart; a change of life; and a change of state or relationship. Let us now note how this is accomplished.
1. God has appointed faith to change the heart. Before proving this, it is first necessary to explain what the heart is; the one that needs changing. This should not be necessary, but it is in view of the great misunderstanding in the religious world. Certainly this heart is not the physical heart - the blood pump of the human body. We should not want any changes in it, for that might mean death. In Acts 16: 14, we read that the Lord "opened" Lydia's heart. Anyone should see that this could not have been the physical heart. The heart that needs changing is not the physical heart. When Jesus said: "Blessed are the pure in heart ...", He did not mean that one's physical heart must be pure - in a perfect condition. Yet in spite of such evident facts have we not all witnessed those who would pat themselves on the chest, and say: "I would not trade what I feel here in lily heart for all the Bibles in the world"?
We can learn what the Bible heart is by seeing what it does. Let us notice its functions. It thinks (Genesis 6:5); it believes (Romans 10:10); !t loves (Matthew 22:37); it trusts (Proverbs 3:5); it intends (Hebrews 4: 12); it purposes (2 Corinthians 9:7); and it obeys (Romans 6:16-17). Thus we can see that the heart is made up of man's intellect, his emotions, and his will. For the heart to be completely changed, all three parts must be changed.
How is the heart changed? Let the Bible answer: "And put no difference between us and them, and purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). Surely when one has had his heart purified it has been changed. Peter says that this done "by faith." We know that "faith comes by hearing ... the word of God" (Romans 10: 17). The sinner hears the gospel, learns its conditions, believes what he has learned and is ready to act upon them. This is the beginning of conversion.
2. Repentance has been designed to bring about a change in one's life or conduct. The primary meaning of repentance is a "change of the mind or purpose." Its result is always a change of conduct or behavior. A change of the heart is of no value unless there is the corresponding and resulting change in one's life. Repentance will destroy the practice of sin. None will be so foolish as to deny the necessity of repentance. The following passages abundantly establish its necessity: (Acts 17:30-31; Luke 13:3-5; Acts 2:38). Genuine repentance brings about a reformation of life, the quitting of sin to serve and follow the Lord.
3. It is the place of baptism in God's plan to change the state or relationship. This change is absolutely necessary. The Colossian Christians had changed states, for Paul said to them: "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and HATH TRANSLATED US INTO THE KINGDOM OF HIS DEAR SON ... " (Colossians 1: 13). They had been changed from one state, the power or kingdom of darkness, to another state or place, the "kingdom of His dear Son." They had been "translated," which shows the change. Hence, changing the state means entering into the kingdom of God. Be it remembered that belief and repentance do not change one's state, BUT THEY DO PRECEDE IT. One can both believe and repent and still remain in the kingdom of Satan, under the guilt of sin.
In Romans 6:3-4, Paul says: "Know ye not THAT SO MANY OF US AS WERE BAPTIZED INTO JESUS CHRIST were baptized into death; ... even so we also should walk in newness of life." Again, to the Galatians (3:27) he says: "For as many of you as HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST have put on Christ." There can be no question, then, with those who believe God's word as to the manner of our getting "into" Christ. So we can see that one's state or relation is changed in baptism. It is here that the transition, the translation or change, takes place. One passes from without to within Christ in this act.
Notice another passage: "Wherefore if any man be IN CHRIST, he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Observe these facts now: 1) One must be "in Christ" to be a new creature. 2) For one to be "in Christ" he must first get "into Christ." 3) The way to get "into Christ" is the baptized 'INTO" Him. 4) There is no other way "into" Christ. One cannot believe "into" Christ, for faith, as necessary as it is, cannot change man's state, except as it is culminated in baptism. Neither can repentance. This is not their purpose. God has seen fit to make this the function of baptism.
When one has had a change of heart, which is wrought by faith; a change of life that results from repentance; and a change of state which is wrought in baptism, he is then, AND NOT UNTIL THEN, converted. God has promised to forgive the sins of all who have had such experience. They can truthfully sing: "Standing on the promises of Christ, my King," knowing that pardon is theirs. People who have had such a change feel it. But it is not the feeling that produces the change; it is the change that produces the feeling. "Except ye be converted ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." - cah