Ray Dawes, Hillingdon
In these days of easy profession, it is possible that some associated with assembly activities and passing as believers have not had a personal experience of Christ in conversion. One is caused to suspect at times, with genuine concern, the reality of some professing Christians, whose lives show little evidence of subjection to Christ and His Word. The challenge of Paul to ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith’, needs to ring out again today, and practical evidence of conversion provoked, 2 Cor. 15. 5.
It is a healthy exercise, however, for us all to reflect upon our conversion. Some may not be able to remember the day and hour, but can recollect what led to their conversion. The remembrance of it causes us to magnify the overflowing grace of God and recognize afresh our own wretched unworthiness. Hence there is praise to God and preservation from pride, 1 Tim. 1. 12-16. Many things perplex us but of this we should be sure. With one of old we should confidently testify that ‘one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see’, John 9. 25.
The Scriptures recall the experience of conversion again and again. The Psalmist prays ‘Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation’, 51. 12; Paul when warning the Corinthians of fornicators, thieves, adulterers, drunkards, adds pertinently ‘And such were some of you’, 1 Cor. 6. 11; and again, to the Ephesians, pointing back to their unconverted days he says, ‘at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens . . . and strangers . . . , having no hope, and without God in the world’, 2. 12. The Corinthians had been washed and sanctified, the Ephesians had been made nigh. When? At their conversion! Can we all thank God for such an experience and sing:
O happy day, that fixed my choice
On Thee, my Saviour and my God!
Well may this glowing heart rejoice,
And tell its raptures all abroad.
The word conversion means ‘a turning around’ in order to face the opposite direction. It is the word used in 1 Thessalonians ‘ye turned to God from idols’, 1. 9, and in Acts 26 ‘to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God’, v. 18. Its spiritual significance becomes immediately apparent from these verses. Thus, at our conversion, we who were occupied with idols turned around to the true and living God; we, who were in darkness, turned to the light, and we, who were in Satan’s power, turned to Christ. In the words of the Psalmist, ‘I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies’, 119. 59.
The need to be converted is fundamental. Man’s condition demands it. Notice again the three things from which we must turn; from idols, from darkness, and from the power of Satan. What an awful state this depicts!
Many are not idolaters in the literal sense of that word, but in principle they are. An idol is anything that fills the place that God should have in man’s heart and affections. Even the desire to have things without bringing God into our thoughts is spoken of as ‘covetousness which is idolatry’, Col. 3. 5. O the multitude of things that occupy the hearts of men to the exclusion of God - money and possessions, which the Lord Jesus personified as ‘mammon’, saying ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon’, Matt. 6. 24. To serve mammon is to be guilty of idolatry. How many indeed worship silver and gold! Many too in this generation worship at the altar of pleasure. Sport, entertainments, music, gambling, even the fine arts and culture fill the hearts of thousands who are ‘lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God’, 2 Tim. 3. 4. These are some of the idols of life which claim men’s utter devotion. Such is their fascination that John warns believers to ‘keep yourselves from idols’.
Without God, man’s moral condition is necessarily affected. Paul concludes that, as a result of idolatry, ‘their foolish heart was darkened’, Rom. 1. 21. If God, who is Light, is displaced from the heart by idols, darkness follows. Man’s moral state is still one of darkness, in spite of the fact that light is come into the world in the person of Christ. Men prefer darkness to light, John 3-19. Their moral blindness is shown in the fact that Christian principles of morality, which have raised the standards of life wherever they have been heeded, are being relentlessly attacked and immorality is being justified. Isaiah’s words are strangely pertinent today, ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness’, 5. 20. Learning and material prosperity are at an unprecedented peak but men still grope in moral darkness, enable to discern moral truth. Reasonings are perverted, consciences are dull; the shaft of divine light by means of conversion is still needed to chase away the night of sin from the soul.
Behind it all there lurks the sinister power of Satan, in whose hand the world lies, 1 John 5. 19 R.V. He and his spirit forces are ‘the world rulers of this darkness’, Eph. 6. 12 R.V., and unconverted men and women walk ‘according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’, Eph. 2. 2. The Lord Jesus said to some of old ‘ye are of your father the devil’, John 8. 44. No man can match his might. Apart from Christ, men are helpless in his power, cf. Heb. 2. 15.
What a terrifying condition this is - engrossed with idols, swallowed up in darkness and in the grip of Satan. No religious rite, no moral reformation, no lofty resolve, no cultural pursuit can meet such a desperate plight. We must be converted to God and turned to Him from idols, from darkness to light, from Satan to Christ. Conversion is absolutely essential, it provides the only solution to the situation.
How is conversion effected some may ask? Psychologists have tried to rationalize it but it defeats them. Firstly, conversion is through the Word of God, that living Word which is the inspired revelation of God, for ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul’, Ps. 19. 7. The world is marked by imperfection and impotence, but this word is perfect and powerful, which, if believed, will effectually turn the soul to God, ‘And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you’, 1 Pet. 1. 25, cf. v. 23. Secondly, humility is needed. All pretention must be abandoned, worldly wisdom shunned and we must become as little children to be converted. Matt. 18. 3. Thirdly, as regards our sins, we must repent and be converted as Peter declared in Acts 3. 19. The Word, when heard and believed with humility and repentance within the realm of the soul, brings conversion. It is a decisive act of the will to repent and believe, thus turning to God. Conversion brings the soul into a personal experience of God that becomes a sheet anchor for the soul. For when doubts arise and Satan assails, this experience remains undeniable and unshakable.
In turning from idols we find a God who is true and lives eternally. It was a true report that we heard. O the glorious discovery of God when once the soul turns to Him! He is the same God of glory who appeared to Abraham, Acts 7. 2, the creator of the universes, the Almighty, yet He becomes for the first time a great reality to the soul at conversion. We turn from darkness and God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness shines into our hearts, 2 Cor. 4. 6. The blind eyes of the soul open and become filled with light, so that one newly converted can say, ‘Truly the fight is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun’, Eccles. 11. 7. Also, we turn from Satan, escaping from his grip, into the hand of the Son to be eternally free and eternally safe, John 8. 36. For the moment we turn, the mighty hand of Christ snatches us from our evil captor, never to be returned into his grasp. In brief then, at conversion we turn to find the living God, who imparts life to dead souls, light to dark souls and liberty to dominated souls.
Has this been our experience? Or, is there an idol set up in the heart and Christ is still outside? Do we grope uncertainly in the moral darkness of this world, in need of divine revelation? Has Satan still the real power over our soul, or have we been made free by the Son of God? Ponder the questions deeply, nothing is of greater importance; eternal issues are involved, ‘for except ye be converted, ... ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’, Matt. 18. 3.
For those who have definitely turned to God, conversion places us on the threshold of spiritual life marking the beginning of experience with God. Although immediately fitted for heaven, we are thus also fitted for earth, to walk with God, worship Him and witness for Him. Divine life, light and liberty are ours, and God wants them developed and manifested in us now. What tremendous possibilities and opportunities are latent in the new convert, and what unspeakable loss therefore, if these things are neglected. Let us remember, as we reflect on our conversion, ‘only one life ’twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last’.