Conversion

 

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Described

 

Conversion involves turning in faith to God and Jesus Christ and turning away from our sins by God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit’s enabling.

Conversion refers to a person who was heading in the direction of sin, Satan and unbelief in God turning around to the opposite direction by God’s grace and now heading in God’s direction through Jesus Christ.

 

The relevant New Testament Greek words

 

The original Greek New Testament uses three main words which relate to unbelievers turning to God from their sins. These are the words “strepho”, “epistrepho” and “epistrophe”. In English, these three words are usually translated as “turn”, “turned” or “turning”, and only as “converted” or “conversion” in Matthew 18:3, Acts 3:19 and 15:3 in the New King James Version and in Matthew 18:3, John 12:40 and Acts 15:3 in the New American Standard Bible.

Bauer says, “The word “epistrepho” means “turn someone or something to someone, turn someone from something, bring back those who have gone astray, figuratively of a change of mind or of a course of action, turn back, return to something from something”. [1] Brown defines “epistrepho” as “turn towards, turn round, return…be converted”. [2]

Forms of the word “epistrepho” are used in Luke 1:16, 22:32, Acts 3:19, 9:35, 11:21, 14:15, 15:19, 26:18, 26:20, 2 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:9, James 5:19 and 5:20 in relation to turning to God. Forms of “epistrepho” are also used in Mark 5:30, 8:33, Luke 17:4, John 21:20, Galatians 4:9 and 2 Peter 2:22 but not in relation to turning to God.

Matthew 9:22, Mark 5:30, 8:33 and John 21:20 reveal “epistrepho” relates to turning around from facing in one direction to another. For example, Mark 8:33 states: “But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples…”

2 Peter 2:22 uses the word “epistrepho” in relation to turning away from the Lord Jesus Christ and His “way of righteousness” and “the holy commandment” while at the same time turning to sin and the pollutions of the world. Here we see “epistrepho” used in the same sense of turning from one extreme to another. 2 Peter 2:22 says turning to sin and the pollutions of the world is equivalent to when Proverbs 26:11 states: “A dog returns to his own vomit…”

In 2 Peter 2:22, the word “return” is a form of the word “epistrepho” in Greek. In Proverbs 26:11, the word “return” is “shub” in Hebrew. “Shub” is used in the Old Testament to refer to turning from one extreme to another – from God to sin or from sin to God. [3]

Luke 22:32, James 5:19 and 5:20 use forms of the word “epistrepho” in the sense of turning or returning to God from our sins.

“Epistrophe”

 

A form of the Greek word “epistrophe” is used in the New Testament in Acts 15:3 in relation to turning to God. Vine says “epistrophe” means “a turning about, or round, conversion…This word implies a turning from and a turning to…” [4] This definition suggests that New Testament conversion involves both turning to God and turning from sin in general and from specific known sins. Acts 15:3 states: “…they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles…”

 

“Strepho”

 

The original Greek New Testament uses a form of the word “strepho” in relation to turning to God only in Matthew 18:3. In this verse, “strepho” means “turn, change inwardly, be converted”. [5] Matthew 18:3 states Jesus said: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus here expressed some of the elements of a sincere, living saving faith.

First, note little children are not their own boss. Particularly in the Mosaic Covenant period when Jesus spoke these words, Jewish children were expected to be totally submitted to the ruling authority of their parents. Jewish children were taught to be humbly submissive to, dependant on and obedient without question to their parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 commanded that continually stubborn rebellious sons be stoned to death.

So in Matthew 18:3, Jesus Christ was indicating that a saving faith associated with conversion to Him involved us no longer being our own boss, but beginning to be humbly surrendered to our spiritual Father’s rule over our lives.

Modern Westerners are used to seeing many rebellious disobedient children who do not submit to their parents. As a result, it is very difficult for many Western Christians to really understand Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:3. One of the temptations for all believers is to interpret the Bible according to their experiences and culture.

 

Conversion Explained

 

Conversion is our human response to the Holy Spirit’s power-laden calling on our lives. Conversion is the means by which we humbly and thankfully receive the wonderful salvation God gives through His grace and mercy. This salvation was obtained for us by Jesus’ death.

Acts 3:19-20 promises the complete blotting out of the past, present and future sins, times of spiritual refreshing and the receiving of Jesus Christ to those who turn to God. Acts 26:18-20 promises forgiveness of all sin, being transferred from Satan’s power to God’s and sanctification to those who turn to God.

Conversion is related to faith and repentance. Acts 3:19 and 26:20 link turning to God to repentance. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent therefore and be converted…” Acts 26:20 says, “should repent, turn to God…” Acts 11:21 associates conversion with faith. This verse says, “a great number believed and turned to the Lord”.

Conversion to Christ results in our receiving salvation. The below is a list of most of the New Testament verses which relate the receiving of the various aspects of salvation in Christ to faith and repentance:

 

·         Repentance – Mark 1:15, Luke 15:7, 15:10, Acts 3:19-20, 5:31, 11:18, 20:21 and 26:17-20.

·         Faith – Matthew 21:31-32, Mark 1:15, Luke 8:12, John 1:12-13, 3:15, 3:16, 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:40, 6:47, 7:39, 8:24, 11:25-26, 12:36, 16:8-9, 20:31, Acts 6:5, 8:37, 10:43, 11:16-17, 11:24, 13:38-39, 13:48, 15:9, 16:31, 20:21, 24:24-25, 26:18, Romans 1:16, 1:17, 3:22, 3:25-26, 3:27-28, 3:30, 4:3, 4:4-5, 4:9, 4:13, 4:16, 4:23-25, 5:1, 5:2, 9:30, 10:3-4, 10:6, 10:9-10, 10:13-14, 11:23, 13:11, 1 Corinthians 1:21, Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 3:5, 3:7, 3:8, 3:11, 3:14, 3:22, 3:26, 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1:18-19, 2:8-9, 3:12, 3:17, Philippians 3:9, Colossians 1:22-23, 1 Timothy 1:16, 6:12, 2 Timothy 3:15, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 4:2-3, 6:12, 10:39, 11:1, 11:6, 11:7, James 2:5, 2:20-26, 1 Peter 1:3-5, 1:9, 1 John 5:1 and 5:13.

 

Conversion also includes turning from known sins

 

The modern easy believism so-called “gospel” which is popular among many Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics in the United States and other Western countries, teaches New Testament conversion does not need to include turning from known sins. Such a “gospel” was opposed by all the great revivalists – George Whitefield, Jonathon Edwards, John Wesley, Peter Cartwright, Charles Finney, Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey, Evan Roberts and Smith Wigglesworth.

The easy believism “gospel” was not taught by the early Pentecostals and is a pathetic watered-down version of the real Gospel. This whimpish gospel is opposed by the two largest Pentecostal groups in the world – the 20 million member Brazilian A.O.G. and the even larger house church movement in China. This false gospel has produced many false “converts” – people who imagined they were converted when they were not.

The easy believism “gospel” is contrary to the New Testament teaching about conversion or turning to God. We see this in Acts 3:19 and 3:26 taken together, 14:15, 26:18 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9. All of these verses except Acts 3:26 use forms of the word “epistrepho” in relation to conversion and in context show turning to God involves also turning from known sins.

The easy believism idea that conversion always involves faith but does not need to include turning from sin can be easily shown to be false even if we wrongly assume conversion does not need to involve repentance in relation to sin. This is because the New Testament Greek words for conversion – “epistrepho” and “epistrophe” – mean turning from unbelief, sin, specific sins and self-rule to trusting dependant faith in God and Jesus Christ. “Epistrepho” and “epistrophe” refer to turning from the one extreme of sin, unbelief and darkness to the opposite direction of faith in God and Christ.

But note the turning from sin and unbelief to faith in God and Christ related to “epistrepho” and “epistrophe” must be accompanied by a change of mind and will about the same matters. People can only truly turn from sin and unbelief to faith in Christ if their mind and will changes in relation to these things. This change of heart about these matters is what the New Testament calls “repentance” or “metanoia” in Greek.

We do not need to turn perfectly in our hearts from our known sins at conversion in order to receive salvation and justification. This is just as we do not need to have a perfect faith in order to receive these two glorious gifts of God. But we do need to have a sincere living faith and real accompanying turning in our hearts from our known sins in order to receive justification and salvation. There are some types of “faith” and associated turning from known sins which are so insincere and poor, they result in those having them, remaining unsaved and eternally condemned by God.

 

Conversions at Thessalonica and Lystra

 

1 Thessalonians 1:5-9 contains an important account by Paul of how unbelievers were converted to Jesus Christ after Christ’s death and resurrection: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance…And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.”

Here Paul explains that the Thessalonians heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in words and by the power of the Holy Spirit. In verse 6, Paul shows that all the converts at Thessalonia became followers of the Lord. He did not say some of them became followers of Jesus only as Saviour but not as Lord.

Verse 8 speaks of these believers’ faith in God. Verse 9 reveals how part of all their conversions involved them turning from their idols to God. Turning from idols also involved turning from the sins associated with such idols. Examples of these sins are the various forms of sexual immorality and drunkenness associated with the worship of the pagan gods Dionysus and Serapis at Thessalonica.

Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-9 are further evidence why the easy believism so-called “gospel” is unbiblical and contrary to the real Gospel preached by the Apostles. Unbelievers cannot sincerely say they are turning to God for salvation if they are not at the same time turning away from the same sins from which they are asking to be saved.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Paul reveals the Thessalonians did not have a perfect faith: “Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith”. Here Paul showed that the Thessalonian believers did not perfectly trust God, Christ and His Word and did not perfectly surrender to Christ’s Lordship at or from conversion. True saving faith trusts in God, Christ and His Word, surrenders to His Lordship and is associated with a turning in our hearts from our idols and known sins. But such faith is not perfect. 1 Thessalonians 1:5-9 and 3:10 taken together show conversion results in real though imperfect changes in the convert’s attitudes and behaviour.

In Acts 14:15, Paul and Barnabus stressed to unconverted pagans at Lystra that part of their turning to God must involve turning from idolatry: “…We…preach to you that you should turn from these vain things to the living God…” Turning from idolatry includes turning in our hearts from all sins associated with it.

In Acts 26:17-18, Paul shows that turning to God also means turning away from darkness and Satan through Christ's power. In these verses, Jesus instructed Paul: “I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.” God is the opposite of darkness and Satan. Ephesians 6:12 associates darkness with Satanic spirits. Romans 13:12 and Ephesians 5:11 refer to specific sins as being works of darkness. So if we turn to God, we must be turning our backs on Satan, darkness and associated sins at the same time.

If we still love darkness and our known sins and refuse to turn from these in our hearts by the Holy Spirit’s power, it is impossible for us to turn to God. Because our heart will be still turned to our known sins and darkness, we will not be able to turn around in the opposite direction. Turning from our known sins to God in our hearts at conversion is one action and not two separate actions.

Contrary to Acts 3:19 and 3:26 taken together and Acts 14:15, 26:18 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9, the easy believism “gospel” teaches the ridiculous idea that conversion can involve turning to God without turning in our hearts from darkness in general, specific known sins and Satan. The easy believism “gospel” should be called the compromiser with turning from nothing.

Many who preach easy believism, often criticise the Pharisees for being hypocrites and what they term “religious”. But easy believism preaching itself produces multitudes of religious hypocrites of a different type.

 

Conversions through Peter’s ministry

 

Peter’s preaching of the Gospel in Acts 3:12-26 confirms the fact that conversion to Jesus Christ involves turning from our sins. In Acts 3:19, Peter spoke of conversion to Christ. But note in Acts 3:26, Peter explained that part of conversion to Christ involves turning from specific iniquities or sins: “…God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning from your iniquities”.

In the original Greek, the expression “turning away” in Acts 3:26 is a form of the word “apostrepho”. “Apostrepho” is from the same family of words from which “stepho”, “epistrepho” and “epistrephe” – the New Testament words for conversion – are.

The word “apostrepho” is also used in Matthew 5:42, Romans 11:26, 2 Timothy 4:4 (twice), Titus 1:14 and Hebrews 12:25. In Romans 11:26, Paul connects “apostrepho” with being saved through the Deliverer – Jesus Christ: “…as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins’.” Hebrews 12:25 uses “apostrepho” in the sense of turning away from God. So humans either turn away from sin or God.

The fact that turning from our sins is not an optional feature of conversion can be seen in Acts 3:26 when Peter said it is God Who was turning all of the new converts away from their iniquities. God inspires and empowers every convert to away from their sins.

 

 

 

Conversion involves our whole hearts

 

Acts 15:3 and 15:19 refer to the conversion of the Gentiles. In Acts 15:8-9, Peter gives some details of the conversion of the first Gentiles – Cornelius and his household. In these latter verses, Peter shows conversion is a matter of the heart. In the original Greek, the word “heart” in Acts 15:9 is “kardia”. As seen in Chapter        “Regeneration”, the word “kardia” includes our human mind, will, spirit and emotions and is not just one or two of these.

Conversion to God and Jesus Christ does not involve just our mind or only our spirit or just our emotions or will. Conversion involves our whole hearts.

 

Instantaneously

 

Conversion, initial justification, reconciliation, regeneration, coming into union with Jesus Christ, adoption as God’s children and initial sanctification all occur at the same point in time. We are not regenerated and then converted as some teach. We are not converted and then regenerated some time later as some others teach. We are converted and regenerated at exactly the same moment of time.

The Holy Spirit will continually work on us prior to conversion, convicting us of sins, our unrighteousness, Jesus’ perfect righteousness and the future judgement (see John 16:8-11). This conviction occurs prior to the point of conversion. Acts Chapters 8 and 10 record that before the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman centurion Cornelius and his friends were converted, God was working on them preparing them to receive eternal life and full salvation in Christ.

 

Grace-empowered but expressed in surrender and turning from sin

 

Receiving Jesus Christ as Lord in conjunction with receiving Him as Saviour at conversion is not a means by which we earn or merit salvation through Christ. Instead it is a Holy Spirit-inspired act of God’s grace, as 1 Corinthians 12:3 demonstrates: “…no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit”. This verse shows no one can meaningfully say Jesus is Lord except through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Without God the Holy Spirit helping the unsaved person to turn to God and from sin, the person will fail.

But note Matthew 7:21-23 reveals just saying Jesus is our Lord means nothing unless it is a sincere wholehearted expression of our surrender to His rule: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them , I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”

At the point of our conversion, none of us know the full practical implications of our reception of Jesus as Lord. Associated with this is the fact at conversion, we can only turn from our known sins. After conversion, there will be still things in our lives that are not totally under Jesus’ Lordship. These are hidden sins.

But it is wrong to say that at conversion, Jesus does not want us to surrender our lives to His Lordship in a general sense and to turn in our hearts from our known sins.

The degree of change in each new convert’s life will vary from one person to another depending partly on which sins they were aware of in their own lives at the point of conversion. But to say someone can be converted without experiencing any change in their hearts in relation to their known sins is both unbiblical and heretical.

John Wesley said: “ A man hears the word which is able to save his soul: he is well pleased with what he hears, acknowledges the truth, and is a little affected by it; yet he remains ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ senseless and unawakened. Why is this? Because he will not part with his bosom sin though he now knows it is an abomination to the Lord. He came to hear, full of lust and unholy desires; and he will not part with them”. [6]

One wrong view suggests that turning in our hearts from our sins is only ever a post-conversion fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in believers at conversion. This false view confuses the turning from sins which occurs at the point of conversion with the post-conversion fruit of this earlier turning in our heart. [7]

Both turning from sins in our hearts at conversion and the fruit of this after conversion are inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But it is a dreadful deception to tell the unsaved person considering conversion, “Do not be concerned about turning in your heart from your known sins now. The Holy Spirit will automatically change you later.”

 

God will not grant our prayer if we do not turn from our known sins

 

In Psalm 66:18, God says that He will not grant our prayers if we do not turn from our known sins: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” If we ask God to be our Lord and save us but will not turn in our heart from our known sins, God will not grant our request.

Proverbs 28:13 teaches: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”

 

Similar to a good Christian wedding

 

Conversion to God is similar to a proper Christian wedding. At the wedding ceremony, the new husband and wife surrender themselves to each other “totally” in a general sense. At that time, they also forsake any other previous boyfriends or girlfriends. But then as the years go by, the husband and wife learn to surrender to each other in deeper more practical ways.

Can you imagine going to a Christian wedding and finding that the bride and groom are talking about continuing to have affairs in future with previous boyfriends or girlfriends? Any true Christian would regard this as wicked hypocrisy. Easy believism conversions are just as hypocritical.

Can you imagine a new bridegroom saying to his new wife at the wedding ceremony, “Do not try to merit or deserve my love by giving up all your old boyfriends. If you wish, you can still keep them. I will continue to love and accept you graciously no matter what you do.” You may laugh at this, but this is exactly what easy believism followers teach about conversion. They wrongly argue that anyone who says that an essential part of conversion is turning from our sins (or forsaking our old wicked loves) and surrendering to Jesus’ Lordship, is teaching others to try to merit God’s grace and love.

Similarly, picture a non-Christian new bride on her wedding day saying to her new husband in front of the people who are present, “I love you so much I have decided to give up one of my previous boyfriends. But I hope you understand I still wish to see George regularly for a few more years. Also, you could not expect me to stop staying at Tom’s place every month or so. Oh yes and then there’s Peter. I definitely need to have a holiday away with him occasionally. But as we grow in our relationship, I hope to give these three lovers up sometime in the future.” This is similar to easy believism so-called “conversions to Christ” which involve ignoring the necessity of giving up your known sins in your heart at conversion.

This comparison to human weddings and marriages is appropriate because the New Testament describes our relationship to Him as being in marriage terms. Refer to 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:22-33. Ephesians 5:31-32 says: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

In Mark 8:35-37, Jesus showed that it is only those who surrender their lives to Him who will be saved through the Gospel: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Submitting to Jesus’ Lordship begins at and continues after conversion. It is not something which we start doing one or two or ten years after conversion.

We must grow in submission to Jesus’ Lordship after conversion. But this submission to Christ must also begin at conversion.

 

False conversions

 

Many people want to try to turn to God in ways that suit them and not in the ways He has laid down. As a result, they have “religious experiences” which do not involve real conversions. They believe their sins are forgiven and they are saved from sin, Satan and eternal condemnation, when this is untrue. They end up a part of the worldly religious type of people Paul spoke of in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

Graciously, God still works on such poor dear people. For example, one of my Bible College students years ago told me how she had been led into a merely hands-up-for-Jesus false conversion by a particular preacher. She said she did not turn from her sins nor surrender to Jesus’ Lordship at the time of this false conversion.

She said some time after, God showed her what true conversion was. So she later turned to Jesus Christ from her known sins through true faith. She knew then she was saved. She said the earlier so-called “conversion” was a false imitation of the real thing. This is even though the preacher had guaranteed her she was saved.

I heard a preacher evangelise on another occasion. Without preaching the Gospel beforehand, he asked the crowd “How many have never been in a church like this before – you are here for the first time tonight?” One person who put up her hand was then publicly asked, “Have you ever thought about asking Jesus into your life. Is that why you are here tonight? We ought to do that right now…Eh? Why don’t you come out here and we are going to…”

After the girl came to the front of the meeting, the preacher had her pray the following without him mentioning anything about faith, surrender to Jesus as Lord, repentance and turning from sin: “Dear God in heaven, I ask Jesus to come into my life right now. I ask to be born again. Cleanse me from all sin. Make me your child. I receive salvation right now. Thank you Father. Amen.” The young woman was then assured that she was born-again and saved.

Later I checked with the family who brought this young lady to the church. They said she did not surrender to the Lord, turn from her sins and begin to live a new life in Christ. She continued to live an exceptionally materialistic self-centred life. She regards travelling to church a bother. Obviously, she was deceived into thinking she was saved without having to surrender to Jesus as Lord and without turning from her known sins.

God loves people. So He still sovereignly works despite some of the insipid watered-down so-called “gospels” that are preached by some often sincere but misguided leaders. But sadly, some people who experience false conversions, then afterwards harden their hearts towards Jesus Christ more than they were before their so-called “conversion”. They say to themselves, “Christianity is not real. It did not work.” This is a tragedy.

 

Do not deceive the unsaved with false hopes

 

We should avoid comforting the unsaved with false hopes and part truths about how to be converted. We should tell the unsaved the truth about how to be converted but with great love, gentleness, kindness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15 says: “…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (NASB)

Sometimes because of misplaced sympathy and/or a fear of rejection, Christians do not tell unbelievers the complete truth about how to be converted and saved. They try to avoid hurting their feelings. But as a result, they give the unbelievers false ideas about how to turn to God. If followed, these ideas will result in the unbelievers being sent to hell.

Christians who share like this to unbelievers are being very selfish and cruel. They are like a doctor treating a patient with a gangrene arm, who says: “I cannot cut off his arm. I feel so compassionate towards him about his terrible condition.” Such a so-called “sympathetic” doctor will cause his patient to die.

 

Jesus’ Words to Matthew

 

Luke 5:27-32 records the conversion of Matthew the Apostle, also known as Levi the tax collector: “After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, ‘Follow Me’. And he left all, rose up, and followed Him. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. But their scribes and the Pharisees murmured against His disciples saying, Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’”

When Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, the Scripture records, “So He left all, rose up and followed Him.” This is a profound statement. It reveals Matthew left behind his cheating of the poor, his selfish treatment of others, his idolatry of money and anything else which prevented him from following Christ. In other words, Matthew’s new-found faith in Jesus Christ was related to his surrender to Jesus’ Lordship and resulted in the fruit of him turning from his known sins. In Luke 5:32 quoted above, Jesus shows unbelievers are called by God to repent.

Matthew’s decision to follow Jesus by leaving everything else behind did not involve Him becoming a self-punishing ascetic like Colossians 2:20-23 opposes. But Matthew’s decision did involve turning from his known sins to Jesus Christ.

Luke 5:27-32 contains one aspect of one of the paradoxes in the Bible. Salvation is totally free. We cannot earn it by obedience, discipleship, faith, prayer, fasting or anything else. But unless we give our lives to the Lord, we will not receive the free gift of eternal life. Jesus’ Words in John 12:25 relates to this: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

 

Turning back to God after backsliding

 

In James 5:19-20, we see turning to God is not only a part of conversion: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” It is also something that believers have to do if they backslide. Backsliding believers are encouraged here to turn back to God from their bondage to sin. The word “backsliding” is not used in the New Testament but the concept is. [8]

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.       What are the meanings of the three main Greek words used in the New Testament in relation to conversion – “strepho”, “epistrepho” and “epistrophe”?

2.       Is conversion related to faith and repentance? Which verses support your answer?

3.       Explain from the New Testament why conversion includes turning in our hearts from our known sins.

4.       What is wrong with the idea that someone can turn from idolatry without turning from the specific sins associated with idolatry?

5.       What does Acts 3:26 teach us about the type of real conversion to God which Peter spoke of in the same context in Acts 3:19?

6.       Explain what Matthew 7:21-23 shows us about saying Jesus is our Lord.

7.       What is wrong with the idea that God requires us to only turn in our hearts from our sins after our conversion to Jesus Christ?

8.       Compare our conversion to a good Christian wedding.

9.       Explain what we can learn from the conversion of Levi the tax collector in Luke 5:27-32.


 

[1] Bauer, page 301.

[2] Brown, page 354.

[3] The Septuagint Greek translation of Proverbs 26:11 uses a form of the word “anastrepho” for “shub”. “Anastrepho” means “turn again”. The prefix “ana” means “again”.

[4] Vine, page 128.

[5] Bauer, page 771.

[6] Edward Sugden (Editor), “Wesley’s Standard Sermons”, Volume 2, The Epworth Press, London, 1968, page 290.

[7] Refer to the next Chapter “The fruits or results of conversion” for more details.

[8] Refer to Chapter              “Security in Christ and backsliding” in Volume      for more details.


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