Saved From Within: The State of Conversion Today

The State of Conversion Today

Everywhere you turn, it appears the gospel is being spread like never before.  Churches are everywhere; in fact we even have mega-churches that meet weekly in stadiums and theatres because of their size.  You can turn on the radio or television at anytime of the day or night and hear someone preaching.  Go to the farthest reaches of the earth and you will be able to hear a message about God on a short wave radio.  In America, powerful politicians at the highest level pander to the prominent pastors of America in the hopes that their significant influence over their flocks will sway favour and votes their way.

But in all of this activity, a few questions must be asked: Is anyone being set on the path to conversion?  Is any fruit really being developed?  Some people regard “fruit” as how many people you “bring to the Lord”, but when the Apostle Paul defined fruit, he saw it this way: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…” (Gal 5:22-23).  To Paul, fruit represented more of Christ and less of me.

There was a time when the Lord Jesus was hungry from a long journey.  From a distance he spotted what looked like a bountiful fig tree and so decided to go pick some fruit from it.  The leaves were healthy, the trunk and branches strong, but as he got closer, he found it barren.  (Mark 11:13).  Something was wrong.  Jesus wanted fruit, but found none, and so cursed the fig tree which withered away almost instantly.

In the same way, today there are activities aplenty in the church, but the work of conversion – resulting in the fruit of the Spirit – has never been more scarce.  Activity is good, but activity can also serve as a diversion from dealing with the deep inner issues we all battle with.  A tree, just like a person’s character, does not mature and produce fruit overnight.  Rather, it is a process that takes time, proper nutrients, sun, and water.  But sadly, in our quick fix, instant gratification culture we don’t have time for that.  In fact, technology now allows us to grow a tree to its full height in a fraction of the time it would take naturally.

Genuine conversion will result in an outward show of godliness, but an outward show of godliness is not necessarily a reflection of conversion.  It is easier to bring your public face under control than your actual character – the essence of who you really are even when no one is around.  Character cannot be force-ripened, despite all the technology, seminars, self-help and how-to books.

Whereas the law of the Old Testament had a heavy focus on outward conformity, the teachings of Jesus deal uncompromisingly with the inside, which then radiates on the outside as well.  And that was the problem with the Pharisees, who had the outside down pat, but were “within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” (Matt 23:27).

Let’s take a look at a very revealing encounter Jesus had with a young man in the book of Matthew, chapter 19 (v 16-22).  Most preachers speak disdainfully of this young man whom they see as proud, cocky, self-made and weak.  But that is not a correct assessment.  As a young rich Jew, this man had dutifully tried to keep the commandments as he had been taught by the rabbis and yet, despite his effort and obvious obedience to them outwardly, sensed that something was missing.  Like the apostle Paul he had a terrific spiritual resume.  If Jesus were a common man interviewing for disciples this man would have made the cut from all outward appearances.  Like Paul he could say “as touching the law, blameless.”  But he felt disillusioned.  There was a felt need deep inside that gnawed at him constantly.  He might have been saying to himself, “I’ve done all of these things from since I was young, and still I find a gaping divide between myself and God.  Why?”  He just couldn’t put his finger on it.  So, even though he was dutiful, he asked the Lord, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”

He was hungry for something more tangible than keeping commandments.  His heart sought for something deeper.  When Jesus told him to keep the commandments he didn’t let up.  Instead, his quest for more of God prompted him to ask, “All these things I have kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?”  He wasn’t arrogantly challenging the Lord at all.  He proved he was light years ahead of the learned and pious leaders who couldn’t even see how far off the mark they really were.  He recognized his need.  He proved his honesty more than most of us who rest content in all the trappings of religion, never yearning for more.

Jesus must have sensed the inner turmoil this young man was facing.  In another gospel, the writer says that after he asked this question, “Jesus beholding him loved him,” and because of that then proceeded to get to root of his real problem.  (Mark 10:20).  Jesus loved him because he knew he was a soul seeking freedom from his bondage, not just another man trying to boast himself by trying to appear clever.

And Jesus gave him the prescription for His freedom – strikingly similar to what the apostle Paul had to do: take his resume, crumple it up, flush it and begin truly walking with the Lord.  Start from scratch, not being man-made but God-made.

He told the young man directly to sell all that he has, give the proceeds to the poor and then follow after Jesus as one of His disciples.  In this instance, Jesus was not concerned about the plight of the poor, but the salvation of this young man.  You can envision Jesus looking into the young man’s eyes, discerning the issue in his heart, and then speaking the words that would wrench him free from his inner struggle and on to the path of true conversion, not just reformation.  Jesus loved this young man just as He loved the blind man he healed.  And just as that blind man was bound in chains by his condition, so too this young man was bound in his heart – wanting to experience God and yet unable to tear himself away from his riches.

“But when the young man heard [what Jesus had told him he must do to lead a complete life in the sight of God, a life of more abundance], he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

The thing that kept this man bound in an external, religious way of life instead of conversion which would open the way to a truly fruitful life happened to be his riches.

But what about your life?

Ask yourself, “Am I prepared to part with the thing or things that I know are crippling my walk with God?”  We sing, we pray, we speak lofty words, we philosophize, we lift hands heavenward, we smile, we even do good deeds, but what the Lord Jesus desires is a conversion that changes the course of our life from deep within our souls, rather than just putting on an outward guise.  When Job had gone through his conversion experience he was able to say, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  [For this reason] I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6).

A lot of our inner struggles are taken care of when as we allow the conversion process to take root, but we can easily be deceived into taking the shortcut of putting them on and never developing in God – becoming man-made but never God-made.  It is not easy to part with habits, ambitions and things, just as it was not for this young man, but it often can be necessary if we are allow genuine conversion to begin in our hearts.

Television programs, rap music, ambition, religion, unresolved lusts and materialism are part of an endless list of preoccupations, diversions and distractions that can rob us of conversion.  It doesn’t mean we are to live in caves or huts, cut off from the rest of the world, but we are to war against things that separate us from God and to yield ourselves to Him.

Perhaps this is why Jesus said that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7:14).  We see here that it is a path, a process, a way of life.  How many people get to a place where they can put down the façade of the double life of sin and religion, seeing beyond this life and forsaking that old tattered garment of external show, for a life of fruitfulness?  The Devil comes to steal, rob and to kill, but Jesus came that we might have life more abundantly.  He wasn’t talking about materialism or worldly success at all, but a life that is fruitful – a life that is being converted daily from sin and lukewarm religion.

Herein lies the issue: as the so-called gospel spreads, the world is also coming into the church full force and conversion is ceasing.  Conversion, which is a process of a lifetime, begins with repentance, and includes a submission of our will to the will of the Lord.  The message that is largely promoted by mainstream Christianity caters only to the flesh – “5 Steps to What I Want”, “Living Your Best Life Now” and “God’s Wants Us All Healthy and Wealthy.”

These messages short-change us and deceive us from what matters most.  We may become religious but not holy, reformed but not converted, impressed but not saved.  The rich young man, like the apostle Paul before his conversion, kept the law blamelessly.  But what Jesus does is expose the need for salvation – not only from the world but from myself.  We must be saved from the inside.

But the key to all of this rests in this question: “Do you perceive your need?”  God will not force you to put Him first, but speak to your heart, just as our Lord spoke to the rich young ruler that day.  Then it is up to you and me to choose.

Conversion may not be a life of glamour, prestige and notoriety, but is what the Lord wants to accomplish in our lives and within our hearts.  It is not complicated, but can be painful, requires introspection, an examining of motives and intents, practicing the doctrine of Christ and a putting aside of things that block us from truly following after Him.

Don’t hide from the dark areas of your heart but ask the Lord to help you do battle and overcome them.

“For he is not a real Jew who is only one outwardly and publicly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and true circumcision is of the heart, a spiritual and not a literal matter.  His praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29, Amplified Bible).