by Jerry Gentry
"For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Acts 28:27).
Not all believing Christians are converted, if we are to believe the Bible. One notable example, the Apostle Peter, had followed Jesus for most of His earthly ministry. At the end, when Jesus was soon to be crucified, He told Peter, "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). Peter was a believer, a Christian, one who had "faith." He walked in personal salvation, yet his heart was still ultimately ruled by his "carnal," unconverted genes. He was foreknown, predestined, called and justified. He walked in his "faith." Yet Jesus pointed to the future conversion of this great man: "when thou art converted."
Are you a Christian, as Peter was a Christian? Christian, are you yet to become a converted Christian?
Peter was clearly an unconverted believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Conversion began for the Apostle Peter, when he believed with more than just his mind. Conversion came when he saw himself in a different light. Peter, the man who once, "said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee" (Matt. 26:35), later "began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew" (v. 74). Jesus had told him this would happen: "before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice" (Mark 14:30). Peter soon saw that his own "heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it" (Jer. 17:9). Christian, have you yet been confronted with the utter deception of your own heart? Peter was an unconverted believer. And what exactly turned the apostle Peter from his state of natural, carnal, unconverted belief in his Saviour, to one of becoming a converted Christian?
"And Peter went out, and wept bitterly" (Luke 22:62). The ground of conversion is not found in hardpan soil, Christian. It is softened with many tears of sorrow. The ground of conversion must be broken up, shattered, and made ready for new seed of daily regeneration. "Break up your fallow ground," the prophet calls, "for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hosea 10:12).
The first step in the conversion of Peter was when he "wept bitterly," when he realized and sorrowed over his denial of the one he loved most. Peter's staunch self will had failed him. Peter's hardened determination of loyalty had failed him. Peter's self assurance had failed him. We must look to another great man of God for further understanding of what conversion gets to.
Job tells us: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6).
Peter, as Job, had heard of Jesus Christ. Peter had even walked at His side, witnessed His great miracles, and talked with Him intimately. Yet Peter's unconverted heart could not see Jesus, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7).
And if you doubt that Christians can have a "carnal mind," then hear the words of the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1Cor. 3:1,3). Yes, brother and sister, there are Christians who are saved by faith, but are yet to be converted to a new life. Churches today are filled with carnal Christians, resting in their personal salvation, not yet converted for use by God.
Only after Peter "wept bitterly," only after he "abhor[red] [him]. . . self, and repent[ed] in sackcloth ashes," in the words of Job, was Peter's life converted to use by the Saviour. Only after such conversion was Peter's life changed into uncompromising service of God. And even later, there were times when he erred through weakness of the flesh. On one occasion the apostle Paul "withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Gal. 2:11). Nobody wants to be "blamed," but there is a time to cast blame. When a Christian walks in deliberate error, he must be confronted&emdash;"blamed"&emdash;and restored, as Paul did to Peter, who received Paul's correction, his "blame," his rebuke. Peter later wrote letters of exhortation to the very gentile Christians (Israelites of the dispersion) against whom he had "dissembled" in promoting a double standard.
Where personal salvation is an event in time, conversion is a process, not an event.
In Gladewater, Texas, there is an old building, originally built many decades ago as a public hospital. Due to regionalization of medical treatment, that building became vacant a number of years ago. It was too valuable to be bulldozed, so it was put up for sale. Potential buyers looked over the building, and thought of purposes it might be renovated for. Its days as a hospital for treating the sick were long past. Finally, a local church group made an offer on the building, which spreads over a large portion of a city block. The offer was accepted; a contract was drawn up and signed by seller and buyer. Soon came the closing date, when full payment was made and the title of ownership was transferred to the buyer, who became the new owner.
At that point, the building still remained the shell of an old hospital. No changes had been made, though it had been lawfully purchased and saved from destruction. No conversion had yet begun. Everything about the place was the same, except the owner had changed. In fact, it would have been illegal for the buyers to have begun the conversion into a church complex until after full payment was made and title deed was transferred. Once the purchase was complete, then the new owners began the process of conversion of that old building.
Today, it stands with a new sign out front, with new offices and classrooms inside. In rooms where surgery was once performed, the gospel is now preached. In rooms where people once lay in sick beds, children now learn the scriptures. Where medicines were once prescribed, there is a new prescription for worship, song and praise.
The relation between our personal salvation and conversion can be likened to the purchase and later conversion of that old hospital building. That building was saved from destruction when the buyer paid the money and title deed was transferred. We are saved from destruction of hell when we by faith accept the price of Jesus' own blood spilled for our sins. At point of purchase, the old hospital building still stood unconverted as before, except as a set of plans on the drawing board of the new owners. Conversion was yet ahead, yet future.
At the point of our personal salvation, we are moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, in our spirit man, by faith. Our future is set, on the drawing board of Jesus Christ, found in the Holy Bible. However, the old physical, corruptible man, our old building, still remains very much in place, of little use to God. The old hospital building was of no use to the new owners as a hospital. The new owners had to first convert the building for its new use, and not merely renovate it.
Our old man, our old building, though saved from eternal destruction, is of no use to God until it is converted according to the divine plan found in the Bible. The old man and his walls and partitions&emdash;"the works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19)&emdash;must be torn out and the new man built up, board by board, stone by stone, rafter by rafter, and wall by wall. Our old building must yield to "be led of the Spirit." The saved, yet unconverted Christian, must cease "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21).
Through the new divine blueprint of the Spirit, laid out in heaven, we must be "Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving" (Col. 2:7).
Just as the old hospital was gutted, transformed and converted inside and out, board by board, stone by stone, rafter by rafter, wall by wall, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1Pet. 2:5). The concept is easier to understand than it is to accomplish!
For sure, personal salvation is an event, not a process. We cannot say that the believer must be fully converted before he is saved. The old hospital building was not converted at all before it was saved from the bull dozers. It was saved, thoroughly saved, bought and paid for, and title of ownership transferred, before the first step of actual conversion ever took place. The Christian is saved, thoroughly saved, knowing "ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price" (1Cor. 6:19-20). Personal salvation occurs at the instant we accept the price of Jesus' blood paid for our sin, and opens the way for our ongoing conversion.
"Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). The fires of faith do light the candle of conversion, though that light be ever so small.
Once purchased by the blood of Christ, with title deed fully executed, transferred and saved from "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41), then and only then does the conversion process begin for real.
It is therefore clear that salvation is that certain purchase or prerequisite, which is the kick off for the conversion process. Conversion without personal salvation may be called illegal trespass. For this reason, Jesus told his disciples, "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Pharisees are people who use the law unlawfully: "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3). Pharisees are a faithless unsaved generation who want to be converted by aspects of God's law, yet outside of Christ. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). "Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep" (v. 7). Without personal salvation through Jesus Christ, no conversion is at all possible.
The unconverted Christian reads that "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul" (Ps. 19:7). He even wants that law to be written in his heart. but has not yet yielded to the process. The apostle Paul said, "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1Cor. 9:27). A castaway from salvation? Of course not! Faith in Jesus Christ secured his salvation. He did not want to lose the race and lose his crown or reward: "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Hebr. 12:1), and let "no man take thy crown" (Rev. 3:11).
The unconverted Christian sees the perfection of the law, and desires it. But his pride keeps him from admitting the full imperfections of his own heart. Self will holds him in bonds. As with Peter and Job, he trusts in his own righteousness. He has not yet abhorred himself. He thinks he is not so bad, especially in comparison with others. He, as Job, lives in self delusion, thinking that he needs no further conversion, for he is "righteous in his own eyes" (Job 32:1).
The unconverted Christian is excited about his new found faith. He loves God, does good works, favors the righteous, and condemns the wicked. He goes to church, prays, sings and says amen to the sermon. He supports deserving ministries and gives alms to the poor. He is a good Christian, mostly, in every outward sense. Yet he has no depth of conversion, because he resists the process. He is incensed at the idea that God chooses to use fallible men to convert him, to help tear out his old walls "daubed with untempered mortar" (Ezek. 13:10). He deludes himself into thinking that salvation and conversion are one and the same. He remains mostly unconverted, living in his own self will, until through chastening he is brought low, and finally says, "Oh God, please change me. Please work your divine will in me."
With David, the saved but unconverted Christian eventually prays, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults" (Ps. 19:12).
Through much pain and agony, the unconverted Christian's old doorways and walls are torn out. His insides are gutted: "That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Eph. 4:22). The unconverted Christian begins to "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (v. 24). Lips that once cursed God, now give praise. He who once fashioned idols now "cast[s] away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin" (Isa. 31:7). Feet that once were "swift to shed blood" (Rom. 3:15), now are "shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15).
As the process continues, he thanks God that Jesus saves. He praises God that the Holy Spirit regenerates and makes his heart receptive to change. He rejoices that the Father justifies, by judicial declaration. And now he finally yields to the job of conversion, which is largely that of fellow Christians. Yes, brother and sister, personal conversion is largely hammered out by God through fellow Christians.
"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (Jam 5:19-20). This "death" is by necessity physical and carnal, for all "brethren" are saved from eternal death, and the doctrine of eternal security keeps them saved.
Christian, are you converted? Would you become more converted? Are there recesses of your heart that remain untouched by the saws and hammers of God's master carpenter, Jesus Christ? Then ask someone close to you to point out your "walls daubed with untempered mortar," your hypocrisy, and see what you learn. Ask a strong, converted Christian friend to point out three of your worst holes in your roof. You will be surprised what you learn.
We Christians are taught how to participate in the process of another's conversion. "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). Each of us have a vital part in the conversion of one another. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9). The answer is yes, I am my brother's keeper. The purpose is not to point the long finger of accusation, as Satan does. The purpose is to "restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1).
Hear Paul's admonition to fellow Christians, who have backslidden into sin: "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat" (1Cor. 5:11). Do you go out to dinner with unconverted Christians you know are living in serious, habitual sin? The Bible says you should rather rebuke them.
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" (Prov. 27:17). Yes, conversion, is largely a work, brother to brother, sister to sister, member to member. Resistance to God's established authority in your life is one sure fire sign of an unconverted heart. In such cases, God will merely turn up the heat through new avenues of chastisement.
Are you a converted Christian? If you are, then you will desire the correction of your authorities and other fellow Christians, which will further convert both your heart and your life for God's use. Only then can you find the center of God's will for your life and become a converted Christian.