Conversion: The Great Change
Scripture: 2 Cor. 5:17
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away;
be hold, all things are become new”
Within Wesleyan circles, it is sometimes said that the key to victory over willful sin and the power to live a consistent Christian life are found only in the experience of entire sanctification. It is almost implied that, whereas conversion provides forgiveness of sins and membership into God’s family, real spiritual stability is found only by those who are entirely sanctified.
It is the intent of this message to seek an answer to the question: “What kind of change takes place when a sinner repents, opens his heart to Jesus as Lord and Savior, and is converted?”
As one examines the New Testament data, one finds that the change in conversion is indeed great.
In fact, it appears to be the greatest spiritual change a person can experience prior to glorification.
Let’s look together at the biblical data.
Mankind’s Inability: The Need for Conversion
The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 5:12-21 that the defilement of Adam has passed to all his descendants. This is what some theologians call the “imputation” of Adam’s sin to humanity.
As a consequence of Adam’s sin, every descendant of Adam comes into this world self-centered, seeking his or her own way. This self-centered condition is given various names: inherited depravity, carnality, radical corruption, pervasive depravity, total inability.
The simplest meaning of these terms is that every human (apart from Jesus) is born with a bent toward evil and a natural aversion to God (Psa. 51:5; 58:3). We are born “sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). It is “natural” for us to rebel against God and His law (Rom. 8:7). Isaiah tells us that apart from God’s gracious intervention in our lives, we all go astray like sheep because we want our own way (Isa. 53:6; cf Rom. 3:23).
Apart from God’s restraining grace, Paul tells us that in our sinful condition we are disinclined to good and inclined to evil. It is not “in us” to pursue God and turn to Christ in faith (Rom 3:10-18).
Our problem is not that we lack the right faculties of the soul or the necessary intellect to understand right from wrong, but our problem is that “sin reigns” (Rom. 6:14). Our minds are set upon the flesh and we are slaves to sin and self-centeredness (Rom. 7:14).
Sin is so ingrained in our disposition that it has distorted our judgment and desires. We are free to do as we will, but what we “will”—what we desire—is sin, not God. And, as evangelical theologians for centuries have stated it, apart from the intervention of God’s grace, mankind in its fallen condition is unable to refrain from sin. Thus, humanly considered, apart from Divine intervention, salvation is “impossible.” But, thanks be to God, that which is impossible for man is possible for God (Mark 10:27)!
Thus, humanly considered, apart from Divine intervention, salvation is “impossible.” But, thanks be to God, that which is impossible for man is possible for God (Mark 10:27)!
God’s Intervention and Rescue: Salvation Through Conversion
It is only against the dark backdrop described above that we can better appreciate our salvation as a gift of divine grace. God planned for mankind’s salvation before He created Adam (1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 2 Tim. 1:9).
He initiated His gracious program of intervention and rescue in the garden of Eden, immediately after Adam’s sin, when He promised He would provide the human family a Victor who would triumph over the Devil (Gen. 3:15).
Salvation is initiated and provided for us by the Lord’s love and mercy (Eph. 2:4) and His gracious enablement (Phil. 2:13).
God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). Jesus provided redemption from the slavery of sin for all mankind when He propitiated the righteous wrath of a holy God by offering Himself as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of His blood.
And although the gracious gift of salvation is of God (Jonah 2:9), God requires and enables fallen mankind to receive it by “faith” (Eph. 2:8-9; 6:23; Phil. 1:29; 2 Pet. 1:1). How can a sinner who is the enemy of God (Rom. 5:10), spiritually dead and enslaved by sin, respond to God’s offer of salvation?
The enablement is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the love of God (Rom. 5:8) and brings grace to those who are lost (Titus 2:11). Grace brings with it the desire and power to do God’s will (1 Cor. 15:10).
The Holy Spirit works with the sinner, convicting of sin (John 16:8). It is the Holy Spirit who opens the heart (Acts 16:14) and mind (Luke 24:45) of the sinner, thus drawing the sinner to Christ (John 6:44; 12:32), and the sinner is thus enabled to respond to the gospel message.
If the sinner does not resist God’s grace (Heb. 12:15; Gal. 2:21) and puts his faith in the finished work of Christ, the Holy Spirit brings regeneration and renewal to humans who were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We are delivered from the domain of darkness and brought into Christ’s kingdom (Col. 1:13).
The Holy Spirit also awakens us to spiritual realities to which we were previously blind and indifferent (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Cor. 2:14). All that God provides us in salvation is rescue in every sense—not only rescue from the guilt and punishment of sin, but rescue from its enslaving corruption also.
What was impossible to man, apart from divine intervention (Mark 10:27), is now possible with God. When the convicted sinner responds to God’s gracious drawing and repents of his sins, God unites such a one with His own Son (Rom. 6:5).
Because of God’s grace, we are no longer slaves to sin and sin no longer reigns over us (Rom. 6:14)—its power is broken and we are free to serve God (Rom. 6:7). The saving work of Christ rescues us not only from the guilt and the brokenness of sin, but also from its power.
This is the reason Paul can affirm that when Christ died for sinners, those who put their faith in the saving work of Christ not only died with Him and were buried with Him (Rom. 6:3-4), but also rose with Him and thus are enabled to live a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4). And the new life we live is a life not lived for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:15).
Salvation involves a radical and complete transformation of the soul (Eph. 4:23).
Renewal and the Great Change
This great change of conversion is experienced by every believer upon entering the Christian life. God “renews,” “begets,” “regenerates,” and “creates,” and man consequently exercises obedient faith.
God recreates the governing “disposition” of the soul and the believer is renewed in the spirit of his mind and is now a new man in Christ Jesus. He is also renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him (Eph. 4:23; Col. 3:10). It is the fulfillment of God’s new covenant promise (Jer. 31:33; 32:39; Ezek. 36:26; 37:14).
The Holy Spirit gives the believer a “new heart” which manifests itself in inward and outward holiness. In addition, the Spirit of adoption makes us a member of God’s family, making Jesus our elder brother, and God our Father in the truest sense of the term (Rom. 8:15).
The great change of conversion is described figuratively in the New Testament as a change of clothing (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:9-10). The old person we were before conversion is laid aside like dirty clothes, and the new man is put on like a clean garment. In reference to Jesus, the source of our conversion, the new life is described as the “living” or “forming” of Christ in us (Gal. 2:20; 4:19).
Further, we are now led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18) and are seated together with Christ in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Eph. 2:6; 1:20-21).
The Apostle John tells us that after conversion, as we walk in the light that God gives us (1 John 1:7), we come more and more to act like our Father who is best revealed in Jesus. Sonship implies likeness, and we demonstrate by measurable attitudes and obedient actions that we have truly been converted and are God’s children.
All of God’s children give evidence, by their godly obedience, of their sonship. This is how we know God’s holy seed has been implanted in us: it shows itself in holy living.
The greatest spiritual change a person can experience prior to glorification is conversion. It is at the moment of the new birth that one receives the precious gift of a personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. This gift is spoken of as the gift of eternal life (John 17:3; Rom. 6:23; 1 John 5:12).
And with this gift comes the power to live victoriously over willful sin. As the believer walks in the light and continues to learn God’s Word, sooner or later he will encounter God’s teaching about what is variously called “the Spirit-filled life” (Eph. 5:18-21), “the fully surrendered Christian life” (Rom. 12:1-2), or “the entirely sanctified life” (1 Thes. 5:23-24).
The expected response of an obedient Christian is simply to do what these Scriptures tell the Christian to do and thus experience a strengthening and a further purifying of the relationship one already enjoys with his Savior.
Afterwards, the Christian continues to walk in all the light God gives him and continues to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Dr. Allan P. Brown teaches such courses as Christian Beliefs, Doctrine of Holiness, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew, Preaching Holiness, Romans and Galatians, and Letters to the Hebrews.
He has been on faculty at GBSC since 1996 and is the author of several books and articles.
Dr. Brown also speaks at churches, camp meetings, revivals and more.