By Dr Hank Lindstrom
What does it mean to “be converted”? I believe that there has been a great deal of confusion centered around the term “conversion”. Much of this confusion has served Satan’s purpose to blind the lost (II Corinthians 4:4).
The hymn writer has it correct when he says, “What can wash away my sin?” and then answers the question, “Nothing, but the blood of Jesus.” Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away our sin! Human effort or conduct cannot contribute to our salvation at all. Faith alone in the shed blood of Jesus Christ determines one’s eternal destiny. Salvation is not based upon a person’s behavior, conduct or works (Romans 4:5).
Yet there are those who would sing the words to the above-mentioned hymn and at the same time contradict those words by having a faulty view of the doctrine of conversion. They would say something like, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus could wash away my sin, but you must change the way you are living to be saved. You must be “converted”. Unwittingly, perhaps, a Christian would therefore be teaching human works for salvation, contradicting clear Scripture. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; Not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).”
Salvation is not dependent upon what we have or have not done. Nor is it dependent upon what we will or will not do. It is dependent upon what Jesus Christ has done on the cross of Calvary. Jesus said, “He that believeth on him is not condemned, but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).” Notice! Whether a person is condemned or not is determined by whether he or she believed or did not believe.
But what about conversion? When does conversion take place? “Be converted!” What does it mean? When does it take place?
The Apostle Peter was converted three years after he was saved. After Peter, the Apostle, had already been saved for three years, he was then converted. Shocked? What does this do to the use of the phrase “be converted”? Should we only tell saved persons to “be converted” and then what does it mean? Why should a saved person need to be converted?
First, let’s look at Peter’s conversion. Peter’s salvation, in contrast, occurred after the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Andrew, Peter’s brother led Peter to Christ. John’s gospel says of Andrew, “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, “We have found the Messiah, which is being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus (John 1:41,42).”
But Peter’s conversion is mentioned after the Lord instituted the Lord’s Supper and just before Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, the evening before the crucifixion. Look at Luke 22:32, “But I have prayed for thee (Peter) that thy faith fail not: and when thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren.” Actually Peter became converted after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter’s conversion, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ had to do with Peter’s Christian life and NOT his salvation. And at least three years had elapsed since Peter had trusted Jesus Christ as his Saviour and was saved. Peter later testified that the way we live our lives has nothing to do with our salvation. I Peter 1:18,19 from the Amplified Bible reads, “You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited from [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver or gold, but [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ the Messiah, like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot.”
But isn’t the phrase “be converted” used of salvation? The answer is yes. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” You will notice that when talking of salvation, Jesus did not say, “be converted” and then say no more, but Jesus went on to define what he meant by “be converted” when dealing with salvation. Jesus said, “Except you be converted and become as little children.”
In other words, he defined the meaning of conversion in salvation to be that an adult would have to become as a little child to be saved. What do we learn from this? Little children are totally dependent upon their parents to live. In the same way a person must become totally and completely dependent upon Jesus Christ and his death for us on Calvary to be saved. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Also in Christ’s illustration he said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me (Matthew 18:6).” He was referring to little ones (children) who were saved by BELIEF in Him. An adult must “be converted” in that way to be saved. That is an adult must place simple child-like faith in Jesus Christ to be saved.
The Greek word “epistrepho” which means to revert, to turn again, is translated once “convert”, once “converteth” and six times “converted”. The Greek word “epistrophe”, which means reversion, revolution, is translated once “conversion”. The Greek word “strepho” which means to twist, i.e. to turn quite around or reverse is translated once “conversion”.
James 5:19:20 is talking of saved persons being converted. The passage begins “Brethren, if any of you…” The erring Christian, being converted, would be saved from the Lord’s chastisement and possible early physical death.
Matthew 13:15; Mark 4:12; John 12:40 and Acts 28:27 all speak of persons who are lost and have turned away from the Word of God and are blinded to it. Their need is to “be converted”, that is to turn or return to the Word of God which contains the Gospel message which they are to BELIEVE to be saved.
Also Acts 3:19 speaks of those who professed to believe the Bible yet they denied, rejected, and killed the Saviour, the Son of God, whose true identity was revealed through the prophets in the Word of God (see Acts 3:18). These lost persons needed to repent (change their minds) and “be converted” (turn again to the Word of God [the prophets) and believe the Gospel, recognizing from the Word of God that the Jesus they crucified was indeed their Messiah.
To insist upon a conversion that in any sense includes a demand for a change in conduct either toward God or man is to add an element of works or human effort to the gospel of grace. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: other wise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work (Romans 11:6).” Please don’t let Satan use you! Be clear on the doctrine of conversion! Read 2 Corinthians 3:12.