Continuing to blog my way through Dever's What Is A Healthy Church? and our current C-Group study, I will briefly, due to lots of things to do today, mention three things about today's "mark," a biblical understanding of conversion. First, conversion refers to the time when we turn from our sin and turn to Jesus. This is the action that corresponds to last week's "mark," the gospel. We hear the gospel, and then we are "converted" when we genuinely repent and believe.
Second, conversion comes about by a work of God, regeneration. Even if the two ideas are temporally quite close together, regeneration at least comes logically and theologically before conversion. Regeneration refers to the new birth. John 3 speaks of this quite clearly. Notice first that Nicodemus is not commanded to be born again (that occurs no where in Scripture). Jesus just states a simple fact. No one can be a Christian without being born again. Notice second that to "enter" and to "see" the kingdom both come after regeneration. These are just synonyms in John for belief. See third that the statement about the Spirit blowing where it wishes also clearly emphasizes that salvation, particularly regeneration here, is of God. Therefore, rebirth comes, by God's sovereign grace, and conversion, repentance and faith, follows. This is confirmed by 1 John 5:1, which clearly states that one who believes has already been born of God. I encourage you to read this article by Tom Schreiner, our guest this past weekend, as he explains this quite well.
Third, true conversion really converts people! Big surprise, eh? No, actually, that statement is fairly controversial. But biblically, it seems clear that one changed by God lives a resulting life bent toward good works. Last night, we read James 2, which shows that mere intellectual assent to the gospel is on par with the faith of demons. They believe the facts of the gospel! True conversion results in good deeds or that "faith" is no faith at all. It is a "dead" kind of belief.
So what does this have to do with having a healthy church? First, if we are to be a healthy church, we must be constantly calling people to conversion. We don't sit and wait for people to be born again. We obey God and tell people, "Repent and believe the good news!" Second, if we are to be a healthy church, we must understand that salvation is of God alone. The problem in much of Christianity is that we take an "ends justifies the means" approach and end up with false converts. Third, and related to the last, true conversion must result in a changed life. The problem we have in the American church is that many, many people have prayed a prayer, have professed intellectual assent to Christ, but they haven't been truly converted. Then, they're either in our churches wreaking havoc and reproaching the name of Christ in the world, or they're home sleeping in. What we teach about conversion has everything to do with how healthy we become as a people.
At Karis, we do not make this understanding of the relationship between regeneration and conversion a requirement for membership, but I do strongly commend it to you.