For a little over two years now, I’ve been teaching a Bible study class of senior adults, people who are 75+, on Sunday mornings. Basically, these are people who could teach themselves, and that’s about what it amounts to, but we have been covering some interesting ground lately, related to evangelism, and the practical applications of sharing your faith with someone who is past 70. Those discussions, and Ken Coffee’s challenge to blog about evangelism, have led to this post.
There are several places in the scripture where conversion is described. Peter’s two messages in Acts 2 and 4 are both great models of evangelistic messages in which the process of Christian conversion is explained. The preaching brought about the work of conviction, which was not done by the preacher himself, but by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In each case, not everyone who was there came under that conviction or responded to it, but many did. The response to conviction, as it is described in the scripture, is repentance. The response to repentance is grace, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, through which the Holy Spirit works to bring about sanctification, or cleansing from sin, and justification, or being made spiritually perfect in God’s sight.
Paul describes the work of the Holy Spirit in I Corinthians 2:
“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him–‘
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person which is in him?
…And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdon but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. I Corinthians 2:9-11, 13 ESV
The whole book of I John gives a list of assurances to believers regarding the conversion that they have experienced. “This is how you know,” are the words that John uses frequently to encourage his readers. The very essence of conversion, and of faith, is found in I John 4:1-3, which distinguishes between true Christian faith, and the spirit of antichrist.
“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” I John 4:2-3, ESV
So, in a nutshell, Christian conversion is the experience of spiritual transformation that takes place when an individual comes under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, is led to repentance from sin, and receives God’s grace through the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. The transformation is one of both forgiveness and spiritual empowerment brought about by the Spirit’s work. The immediate result is a changed life, which is lived to please God as the individual is discipled through relationships with other believers, the end result is eternity in the presence of God.
It is so much a thing of God, that it sometimes seems that programs, emphases, and other human inventions designed to get people to make a decision that can be recorded on paper, and counted in statistics to measure the effectiveness of the program makes it look more like the end result of a commercial marketing campaign than something that is initiated and empowered by God from beginning to end. That’s not to say that followers of Christ are not to be involved in the process, we certainly are. We are used by God as the deliverers of the message, and our presence and “preaching,” or “witnessing,” is the means God uses to bring about the conviction in the lives of others, though it is not the persuasion of our words that causes it.
We need to be careful that our efforts are not perceived by those who are the object of them as if they are some kind of a “target” or objective. This is a very intimate, and personal decision, not to be considered lightly. And sometimes, in our haste to get a result, we try to become the Spirit and do what we think needs to be done to elicit some kind of response. We aren’t doing this to create some kind of legitimacy for the existence of our denominational organization, we are doing it because we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit and have been given God’s deep love for his creation. As a result, we want to see others experience the same joy of salvation that we have known. The denominational emphasis is there to get us thinking about what we should be doing, and to spur us to action.