Church of God, New World Ministries

The Incredible Human Potential - Part 10

Just What Do You Mean - Conversion?

How many times have you heard non-Christians, judging one who professes Christ, say in disgust: “Well if that’s Christianity, I don’t want any part of it!”

How many judge God by the way professing Christians live? How many assume that one must live a perfect life, before he can become a Christian? How many say: “If I could give up smoking, or drinking alcohol, I’d become a Christian.”

How many think a Christian is supposed to be perfect, never doing anything wrong? Suppose you do see or hear about a Christian doing something wrong. Does that mean he is a hypocrite that he is not really a Christian, after all?

Is it possible for one to actually sin, while he is a Christian, and still remain a truly converted Christian?

The startling truth is that few know just what a Christian is. Few know how one is converted, whether suddenly, all at once, or gradually. Does conversion happen immediately, or is it a process? It’s high time we understand what constitutes real conversion.

Do Christians ever sin? If one does, is he “lost”?

First let us ask – and answer the question “What is true Christian conversion?” “What is a real Christian in the sight of God?” Does joining a church make one a Christian? Does saying, “I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior” make one a Christian?

Let’s get the Bible definition. In Romans 8:6-9 you will read: “For to be carnally minded is death: but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind (fleshly mind) is enmity (hostile) against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man (or woman) have not the Spirit of Christ, he (or she) is none of his.”

A Christian, then, is one who has received, and in whose mind dwells the Holy Spirit of God. Otherwise he or she is not Christ’s – not a Christian.

There is a sense in which true conversion does take place at a definite time- all at once. But it is also true that in another sense conversion is worked out gradually – a process of development and growth.

Now notice carefully!

When does one really become a Christian? It is when he receives God’s Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:9, we read that unless we have the Holy Spirit, we are not Christ’s – not a Christian.

There is a definite time when God’s Spirit enters into one. At the very moment he receives the Holy Spirit, he is, in this first sense, converted. Yes, all at once!  If he has Christ’s Spirit, he is Christ’s – he is a Christian! The very Life of God has entered into (impregnated) him. He has been begotten as a child of God.

But does that mean his salvation is complete? Is he now fully and finally “saved”? Is that all there is to it? Is he now, suddenly, perfect? Is it now impossible for him to do wrong?

No! Far from it! But why? What’s the answer? Why do many misunderstand? Why does almost nobody understand the very purpose of the Christian life?

Why do people not understand the very gospel Jesus Christ taught? He taught the Kingdom of God. So did the apostles, including Paul. Jesus spoke mostly in parables. Take a quick look at one or two. Notice what Jesus revealed. Notice the awe-inspiring tremendous potential that is ours.

Take the parable of the nobleman going to a far country, later to return. It is in Luke 19:11-27. Jesus is the nobleman. He was going to a far country – to the heaven of God’s throne, seat of the government of the entire universe. He spoke this parable because His disciples thought the Kingdom of God should appear immediately. So far more than 1900 years have gone by, and the Kingdom of God has not yet appeared.

So He called, in the parable, his ten servants, and He gave them ten pounds – a pound each, using, in our English language translation, the English unit of money. This is symbolic of one until of spiritual value with which each was started out. In other words, representative of the portion of God’s Holy Spirit which was given to each on initial conversion.

But His citizens hated Him. They rejected Him as their Ruler. They said, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” The Kingdom of God is a Ruling Government. They, as of then, received no conversion – no “pounds.” (They shall yet find conversion, as many, many passages of Scripture affirm.)

Now the reason for His going to heaven was to “receive for himself a Kingdom and to return.” That is, He was going to the throne of the government of the entire universe where God Almighty, the Father, sits, to have conferred on Him the Rulership of the world. The coronation ceremony will take place in heaven, at the throne of universe rule. When He returns He will be crowned with many crowns (Rev. 19:12). He is coming to rule all nations with almighty divine power (v. 15).

Back to Luke 19. On his return, his servants, to whom he had given the money – that is, the beginning unit of God’s Spirit at conversion – are to be called to an accounting, “that he might know how much each man has gained” while he was gone. This means each Christian is expected to grow spiritually – in spiritual knowledge and grace (II Peter 3:18). The Christian life is a life of spiritual going to school – of training for a positon in God’s Kingdom-- when and after we shall be changed from mortal to immortal – when we shall be no longer flesh-and –blood humans, but composed of spirit, with eternal life inherent.

In the parable, the first came to report he had multiplied what he had been given ten times. You see, the receiving of God’s Spirit is God’s gift – that is what God does – it comes by grace, as a gift. We can’t earn it. But all through the New Testament it is made plain we shall be rewarded according to our works. Not saved by works we have done. This man had, by his own application, multiplied his spiritual gift ten times – his one pound was now ten pounds. He received a greater reward than the one who gained five pounds.

The nobleman (Christ) said to him, ‘Well thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in very little, have thou authority over ten cities.”

He had qualfied to rule. He had been obedient to God’s commands – God’s government. We have to be ruled before we can learn to rule.

    The second servant had increased his spiritual stock of goods five times. He had qualified, in this life, for half as much as the first servant. He was given half the reward.

So the parable of the pounds shows Christians are to Rule under Christ, when the Kingdom of God is set up. Jesus was speaking of government – world government. This parable was given to show that the Kingdom of God was not to appear at that time. The Kingdom is not an ethereal, sentimental something “in our hearts.” It is not the Church.

Daniel’s prophecy shows that the saints are to rule under Christ the Messiah, when He sets up a literal world government. See Daniel 2 – read it through and then notice verse 44.This Kingdom will break in pieces every other form of government – all rule of man – and will stand forever. Notice Daniel 7: And especially verses 18 and 22. It will be an earthly kingdom – not in heaven, but “under the whole heaven,” verse 27.

Jesus said: “And he that overcomes, and keeps my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations and he shall rule with a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:26-27).

He said, “To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev.  3:21). When Jesus said this, through John in the 90s A.D., He was in heaven with His Father on the throne from which the entire universe is governed.

When Jesus sits on His own throne on this earth it will be the throne of David, in Jerusalem. Notice what  is said of Jesus: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Eternal God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).

But He was not going to set up the world government of the Kingdom of God at that time. The Bible speaks of three worlds – or ages – in time order. First, the world that then was, overflowed with water – prior to the Flood: second, this present evil world; and third the New World to come. On trial for His life before Pilate, Jesus said He was born to be a King (John 18:37), but that His kingdom was “not of this world.” He will rule the New World (v 36).

The saints (Spirit-led Christians) are to reign, under Christ, “on the earth” (Rev. 5:10), for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6). 

Why has the whole world been deceived with a false gospel (Rev. 12:9)? Why have they been deceived into belief in a counterfeit Kingdom of God?

Look again at the many parables of Jesus. They teach the Kingdom of God. They make plain the fact the Kingdom of God is a world government soon to be set up by Christ, coming in all power and glory, to bring us world peace, abundance, happiness and joy.

The purpose of the Christian life is to train future kings to rule with and under Christ. How then, does one become a Christian? And why is salvation a process, as well as an initial phase when he becomes a Christen instantaneously? Here is the plain truth you need to know.

 We repeat: “A Christian (a truly converted person) is one who has received, and in whose mind dwells the Holy Spirit of God.”

But how does one receive the Spirit of God?

On the day the Church of God was started, the Apostle Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Repent of what? Of sin. And what is sin? “Sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). What law? The law that the carnal mind, hostile to God, is not subject to – the Law of God (Rom. 8:7). Again, we read of “the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (Acts 5:32)

These are the two conditions to receiving God’s gift of the Holy Spirit: repentance and faith. Being baptized is the outward manifestation of the inner faith in Christ. Repentance is not merely being sorry for something one has done – or even many such sins. It is a repentance of what one is and has been – of his whole past attitude and life apart from God. It is a total change of mind and heart and direction of life.  It is a change to a new way of life. It is turning from the self-centered way of vanity, selfishness, greed, hostility to authority, envy, jealousy and unconcern for the good and welfare of others to the God-centered way of obedience, submission to authority, love toward God more than love of self and of love and concern for other humans, equal to self-concern.  

Love is the fulfilling of God’s Law (Rom. 13:10) – but God’s Law is a spiritual law (Rom. 7:14) and can be fulfilled only by “the love of God, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5).

The Holy Spirit will open one’s mind to understand God’s instruction on how to live, but it will not force one to live God’s way – it will not pull or push one. Each Christian must take his own initiative, though God’s Spirit will give him help, faith and power. But it is “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14).

The two above-mentioned conditions to becoming a Christian – repentance and faith-- we ourselves must perform.

But these do not make us Christians – do not convert us. It is what God does – giving His Holy Spirit by His grace as His free gift – that converts us.

Our repentance and faith do not earn the receiving of God’s Spirit, God does not give us His Spirit because we repent and believe. He gives His Spirit because He wants to give it. He wants us to have His Spirit as His gift before we repent. He merely requires repentance and faith as conditions.

    Yet no one, of himself, says: “Oh now, I see – I must repent. All right, I hereby repent.” One does not just decide casually, as a matter of routine, to repent. Why?

 Jesus Christ said that none can come to Him, except the Spirit of the Father draw him (John 6:44, 65). God grants repentance (Rom. 2:4). God calls one, and convicts the mind and conscience by His Spirit, working on the mind externally. Usually a real struggle goes on within. The person has been shaken to know he has done wrong – that he is wrong – he has sinned – he is a sinner! He is brought to real repentance, not only for what he has done, but for what he now sees that he is. It is not easy. The self never wants to die. To repent is to make an unconditional surrender to God – to obey His Law!

Yet he, himself, must make the decision. If he does repent, surrender to God, and in faith accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior, then, upon performance of these two conditions God promises to put within him the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the very life of God – Spirit life. It imparts to him the very divine nature!

Then what, at that stage, has happened?

This new convert has only been begotten of God – not yet born. Many who believe they are “born again” on receiving the Holy Spirit are more in error in terminology than in what happens. This new convert has not received the full measure of God’s Spirit which Christ had; he is only a spiritual babe in Christ. He must now grow spiritually, just as a newly conceived embryo in its mother’s womb must grow physically large enough to be born as a human.

This new convert has now repented, in his mind, of his sins. Of his heart. He means it, too! In all sincerity, in his mind and heart, he has turned around to go the other way – to live a different life. He is now a Christian – he has received God’s Holy Spirit. He has been converted, He is a Christian. He really wants to do what is right – to obey God – to live God’s way.

So a Christian convert, then, is one who has received God’s Spirit, which dwells in him, leading him, and he is following God’s way of life. A converted Christian has forsaken his former habitual way of life – his selfish way unconcerned with God. Now he lives in the habitual way of God’s Word – in the light the Word of God.

But suppose, like an eight-or ten-month-old baby trying to learn to walk, as he “walks” this new way, he stumbles, “falls down,” as it were, and sins. Is he then condemned – lost – no longer a Christian?

We would like you, now, to notice, and understand, what the Apostle John was inspired to write for our admonition. It is in the first letter of John.

Speaking of Christ, in his opening salutation, as “that which was from the beginning . . .  which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us; that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3).

Now continue in I John: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not (are not doing) the truth” (vs. 5-6). That is, He, the living Christ is walking in the light – as if on a brilliantly lighted path. But if we are walking in darkness, we are walking on a different path altogether, where it is dark. Therefore, we are not walking with Him at all, and if we say we are, we are lying.

But suppose, while walking with Him – in the light – one of us stumbles and falls down. This is not a case of having turned away from Him and the path He is treading, to a different and darkened path.  If we say, “Oh I’m sorry,” would He not give us a hand and help us get up and continue on the lighted path with Him? Would he become angry and say, “Get off my path, go walk down a darkened path”?

In still other words, the true Christian has turned from his former life of habitual sin- and from his former attitude of selfishness, and self-seeking when he had no serious intention of living God’s way. His life, in general, now, is the habitual way of the Christian life.

The newly converted person, in his mind and heart, sincerely has about-faced! He has actually gained contact with God, and received God’s Holy Spirit. God’s own divine nature has now been conceived within him. But that’s all. It is merely conceived, not yet full grown! He is still human – mortal flesh and blood. He is still composed of matter, not Spirit.

For nearly 6,000 years humanity has been going in the way of pride and vanity, selfishness and greed, a lack of outgoing concern for others – the spirit of competition, opposition, strife, effort to acquire, and to exalt the self. Humans have been filled with self-gratification, jealous, envy, resentment toward others, a spirit of rebellion against authority and hostility toward God and the Law of God. The Christian must overcome these tendencies.

The Christian must develop the righteous character to choose the right way, and resist the wrong, to discipline the self in the way he ought to go, instead of the way of self-desire and vanity.

    God’s purpose in having created humanity – in having caused you to be born-- is to reproduce Himself. God above all things, is perfect, righteous character! God is able to create character within us, but it must be done as a result of our independent free choice. We, as individual separate entities, have our part in the process.

God’s character travels in the direction of His Law – the way of love. It is an outgoing concern for others. God has that character! He has outgoing concern for you and for me. He gave His only begotten Son to reconcile us to Him and make the joys of His character and everlasting life possible for us (John 3:16). He showers on us every good and precious gift. He even puts within us His divine nature (II Peter 1:4) – when we repent and turn from the wrong way of this world, begin to resist it, and turn to Him through faith in Jesus Christ as personal Savior!

Now when one is converted – has repented, and turned from this world’s false ways – has at once received God’s Holy Spirit – his humanity – his human nature does not flee. It was (probably subconsciously) injected within us by Satan, the prince of the power of the air. He still exerts a pull. We still live in this present evil world, and it exerts a pull. God still allows Satan to be around. And Satan is still around!

So we now have three pulls to resist – to overcome! We must now overcome these three: Satan, this world, and our own selves. We have to battle against these three, in order to develop and strengthen right character within us. God says plainly it is the overcomers who shall be saved who shall reign with Christ (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21, 21:7).

If you see a Christian do something wrong, don’t sit in judgment and condemn – that’s God’s business to judge, not yours! Let’s have compassion and mercy – we don’t know the inner heart of others, only God does!

And if you, yourself, have stumbled and fallen down, don’t be discouraged! Get up and press on ahead!

God looks on the heart – the attitude – the intent.

As long as one, in his heart, has the real desire to walk God’s way with Him – is deeply sorry, and repents when he commits the occasional sin – and is seeking to overcome sin, and to make God’s way his habitual way of life, he will stumble on occasion, but if he confesses it and repents, he will be forgiven.

What is your attitude? When you have sinned, have you been carelessly indifferent about it? You are on dangerous ground. Do you justify it, feel others are to blame? That will never justify your sins. Do you still desire to go God’s way? Then it’s not too late. Turn from sins, confess your sins – to God. Repent! Pick yourself up, with Christ’s helping hand – and go on overcoming and growing spiritually.

But remember, once you know you have really repented and been forgiven, don’t repeat the sin(s), but forget it. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phi. 3:13-14).

 
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