First Mennonite Church
February 12, 2017
Christian Conversion: How and What for?
Text: Romans 10:5-17
Last Sunday I talked about Christian conversion or in the New Testament language, our “turning” or “returning to the Lord.” I said Christian conversion has four main characteristics: it is centered in Christ Jesus, it involves the supernatural, has eternal consequences, and it also provides every convert with a story to tell. So the question is, how do we or can we experience Christian conversion?
In passing I said last Sunday, that the gospel is the story of God’s decisive action through his son Jesus who revealed how far the love of God could go in order to reconcile us to himself. Also, that Christian conversion happens when the light of the gospel dawns in our heart when the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, yet at the same time points us to the work of Jesus on the cross as God’s solution. But here is the greatest challenge us humans have with the above proposition: how do we come to the point where we are actually confronted by these truths and moved to respond to God? In other words, how does conversion happen?
I will attempt to address this issue: how do we get converted? Many evangelicals believe that conversion is a one-time life-changing experience. Those who believe this way see conversion as the result of an all-encompassing spiritual, emotional, and psychological momentary crisis the person goes through, which instantly leads the person to a profound and thorough transformation. Those who hold this view see conversion as an instantaneous experience. And while this type of conversion can be found to be true as in the case of the apostle Paul and many along Christian history, there is also a more complex type of conversion which does not happen at a single moment. Sometimes conversion happens after the person goes through a process of thinking and rethinking, doubting and overcoming doubts, soul-searching and deep reflection, internal struggles with feelings of guilt and shame, and a conscious consideration of what embracing faith and committing to following Christ Jesus really demands of him or her. Often times, those who go through this kind of conversion are people who are more aware of the implications the life of faith will have in their lives. These are people who consider the cost before they commit to Christ. The experience of Peter according to the gospels might be one clear example of this experience. Peter went through a gradual process of conversion until he finally showed evidence of having grasped the full implications of what following Jesus meant. Converts with this type of experience cannot readily say as the evangelical song goes, “In the moment I first believed.”
It is no wonder why out of ten people who made a public profession of faith in evangelistic crusades only one remained committed to Christ after one year of having made that profession of faith. Many times those who respond to the “call” act without much reflection on the implication of what receiving Christ as Savior and Lord really means. In times when revival meetings were the common way of carrying out evangelistic outreach, preachers sought to raise the emotional stress during the last part of their sermons. This was usually done by highlighting the perils of facing God’s judgment or the prospects of what eternity in hell could be. Most naturally with these tactics in mind the preacher neglected to emphasize the truth of God’s love as revealed in Jesus and what was even more neglected was to remind the new convert what the demands of discipleship are. In this series we will look at how central discipleship is in Christian conversion.
For now, let us take a look at what Paul says in Romans 10, to enlighten our discussion of how we are converted to Christ. In Romans, chapter 10, Paul was creating a parallel argument with Deuteronomy 30. In Deuteronomy, chapters 28 and 29, God presented Israel with what the consequences of obedience or disobedience could bring upon them. If Israel obeyed God, it would receive the blessings listed there or if it disobeyed, then the curse listed there would come. In light of those two possibilities, God pleaded with Israel to choose life and not death. Chapter 30 argues that choosing life was not a complicated matter. Israel already had the Commandments of God and in fact, every Israelite recited the Commandments daily. In that regard life was not something they had to fetch from the other side of the sea or from up above in heaven. It was already there echoing in their heart if they would only listen. The words of the covenant had no other purpose than to keep the Israelites in a good relationship with God, and among themselves and for them collectively to be a witness in the world. Based on this argument about the availability of guidance if they were only the willingness to obey, Paul says, salvation in Jesus Christ is readily available too. God has done everything necessary for salvation if we only confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead. For it is with the heart that we believe and with the mouth that we confess. And Paul stresses: The scriptures say, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Up to this point in Romans, Paul had been emphasizing the work of God for salvation. God has done everything necessary for salvation.
I believe that one major obstacle people have with salvation is that it is a free gift from God. It is natural to think that free things are not always the best. Or, if salvation is such a good thing, it cannot be free. And that is why people try to earn it by doing good works, having good morality, or by being charitable. That is what Paul contended about the Israelites who wanted to cross the oceans or go to heaven to find God’s word for them, when it was already with them and in them. No, my dear friends. God has done everything necessary for our salvation. We need to humbly accept this gift by confessing that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. We need to confess that the death of Jesus on the cross was a substitute for us. Our rebellion or even indifference towards the Holy God made us worthy of death, but because of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead God grants us the righteousness of his son. Yes, God has done everything for our salvation.
But then, Paul makes a sudden change and it is a change that involves our participation in the salvation of others. In other words, Paul also wants to remind us, the believing community, that we play an important role in the salvation of others.
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?
The church plays in an important role in the salvation of the unbelievers. How can people believe and confess the name of the Lord if they have not heard of him? It is very important for us as a congregation to know that we make the gospel visible, audible and palpable to the unbeliever. According to Paul in Romans 10, God was renewing the covenant with his people through the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. But God was also opening this new covenant to all peoples of the world—to the Gentiles. Faith in Jesus meant for the Jews entering the new covenant as promised by God through Isaiah and Joel. And parallel to that is Paul’s understanding of what having faith in Jesus means. Faith is not the affirmation of some spiritual and historic truths, but entering in a covenant with God. In other words, Christian conversion is the act of accepting God’s offer of a new relationship with him and with each one in the fellowship of believers. Through this relationship with God and the fellowship of believers we make the gospel visible, audible and palpable to those who need to hear the gospel. Through the ritual of baptism we level ourselves with all believers in Christ. Through the breaking of the communion bread we affirm one another and commit to serve one another in the body of the Lord. Through our prayers we share the burdens, joys, fears, and hopes of those in the fellowship and with those outside of it. Through the joyful singing we celebrate the presence of God in our midst. This is the God who heals, forgives and commissions us to announce the good news. Thus Paul quotes, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” It is true that salvation comes from hearing and hearing from the words of Jesus, but salvation also requires the messengers to proclaim it. If we have experienced a Christian conversion then it means we have a story to tell. And the urgency to tell that story should make our feet beautiful because we will be compelled to take that good news to those who need to hear it.
Let me close with the words of Paul:
If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
Christian conversion is turning to God in Christ. To believe and to confess the lordship of Jesus is to accept God’s offer of a new relationship with him through his Son. And that relationship with God is manifested through our love, obedience and gratitude to the point of making us messengers of that experience. Amen!