The topic of genuine Biblical conversion has been on my mind lately. In transparency, sometimes in moments of frustration where we see people stuck in patterns of sin, brokenness and unfruitfulness. Sometimes the reason why is because maybe they never really never truly understood and submitted to Christ, and therefore they aren’t converted, regenerated, made new.
Enter Conversion: How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence. I was excited to read this as I usually am with anything from 9Marks. I have come to value their Biblical faithfulness and clarity.
Lawrence clearly states the solid reasoning why a book like this is needed right in the introduction. “There is a problem with our theology – specifically our theology of conversion. Second, there is a problem with how we apply that theology to our church. Too often our confessional theology says one thing, while our practical theology says something else. We say that regeneration makes us new creatures in Christ, but then we teach our kids a moralism that atheists could duplicate.”  I think I’m gonna like this guy.
This problem, as I alluded to above, has then tremendous snowball effects in the body life and health of the local church.
This book targets then not the symptoms, but the underlying disease.
What do we think conversion actually looks like on the outside? It should be nothing short of complete regeneration – being made new, not just being made “nice.” This means Godly new appetites and desires, not about just becoming a better you. Lawrence makes a great point as to the tragic effect of this on our youth in the church “I fear this is why so many of my friends’ children have walked away from Christianity. They haven’t given up on being nice. They’ve simply discovered that they don’t need Jesus to be nice.”  Exactly.
This regeneration then not only is person, it is corporate – the new person is now part of the church where God’s new creation people glorify God by living how he has called them to live. This has big impacts on church membership and church leaders. Are we sure that the people we are accepting as church members and allowing to lead or worse yet…teach…are actually converted believers? This is of paramount importance.
Lawrence faithfully lays down a biblical foundation of conversion. We are saved…but saved from what and saved for what? First, we are saved from God’s wrath for sin. We need to preach and teach this hard topic because the Bible does. It’s not “come to Jesus; he’ll give you purpose and meaning. The trouble is, subjective problems can be solved through subjective solutions.”  If we are saved from God’s wrath, then we are saved by God’s grace, saved because of God’s love, saved into God’s people, and saved for God’s glory. The Christian life is not about our happiness or fulfillment, it’s about God’s glory. Otherwise when those things don’t materialize we are tempted to abandon Jesus…all the while we were believing in a different gospel.  Amen!
What then should conversion look like? It should include repentance…real repentance. “An exchanging of our idols for God. Before it’s a change in behavior, it must be a change in worship.”  It should also include faith…again real faith, not just a intellectual acceptance of a set of ideas. What faith do we teach, model, and give our people assurance of?
Contrasting pop psych-theology, the author challenges the therapeutic gospel – we need Jesus to make us OK. “We don’t just need to accept ourselves. We need God to accept us.”  Lawrence continues “Being healed then is not at all about coming to peace with ourselves. It’s about having our guild and shame and ultimately the curse removed and being restored to a right relationship with God. In other words, to be healed in Scripture is to be made holy.”  This is much needed perspective on this and again has a direct result in how we live. Going back to where I began, maybe the people we are expecting to live as Christians aren’t because they aren’t actually Christians? I underlined and highlighted this next part – “…it is not burdensome to live according to the new nature if you have it. What’s burdensome is to live according to a nature that you don’t have. In fact, its worse than burdensome. It’s impossible. Could it be that you don’t live as if you’ve been set apart because you haven’t been set apart?”  #MicDropMoment
The author then diligently turns to the church itself and how a Biblical theology of conversion affects our ecclesiology. If the church is a community of converted believers, then who are we targeting with how we “do” church? Are we seeking to make it as comfortable as possible for those seeking? I just read a great Spurgeon quote in a Challies post today – “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.” Thanks, Spurg.
This also effects how we do evangelism. It shouldn’t be a pragmatic, sales pitchy monologue. “Successful evangelism is not about getting people to respond.”  What we win them with we win them to. Is what we are saying in our witnessing reflective of a Biblically grounded conversion? How many times does our [in transparency maybe my…] evangelism get reduced to “God loves you” or “Jesus will give you purpose.” We need to communicate plainly, honestly, urgently, and confidently.
When we talk then about church membership, perhaps the most important thing we can do is diligently assess whether someone is truly converted. I’m convinced this is why so many churches are in poor health. We’ve see the implications on a personal level – how much more so on a church level!
Lawrence wraps things up with a great summary chapter on why it all matters – It matters for God, it maters for us, and it matters for the world. The doctrine of conversion is too important to be lead astray to a weaker, non-Biblical position. I’m grateful for the reminder and foundation set here.