“MISTAKES ABOUT CONVERSION”
The devil has created many counterfeits of conversion, and tricks one person with this counterfeit, and others with a different counterfeit. The devil is a master of trickery and deception. If it were possible, he would deceive the very elect. My purpose is to cure the mistake of those who think they are converted when they are not. I also want to remove the fears of those who think they are not converted when they are. Therefore I will show you the nature of conversion. First I will show you what it is not.
Conversion is not merely declaring that you are a Christian. Christianity is more than a name. Paul says that it is not in word, but in power (I Corinthians 4:20). If merely leaving Judaism and paganism and going to a Christian church were conversion, then who was a better Christian than those of Sardis and Laodicea? These people all said they were Christians. But they only had the name of “Christian,” and so Christ threatened to reject them (Revelation 3:14-16). Many name the name of the Lord Jesus, but do not depart from iniquity (II Timothy 2:19). Many profess that they know God, but in works deny Him (Titus 1:16). Will God receive these as true converts? What! converts from sin, when they still live in sin? It is a visible contradiction. Many who say they are Christians, and even preachers of Christ, and wonder workers, will be rejected, because they were not truly converted (Matthew 7:22-23).
Conversion is not baptism. Ananias and Sapphira and Simon Magus were baptized. What good did it do them? Many make a mistake here, dreaming that conversion comes through the external administration of baptism. And indeed, if conversion and baptism are the same, all people would have to do is proclaim that they were baptized to be admitted to Heaven. Whatever people do or pretend to receive in baptism, if they are found afterward to be grossly ignorant, or profane, or merely formal they must be born again (John 3:7), they must be renewed by a thorough and powerful change, or else they cannot escape the damnation of Hell.
Conversion does not lie in moral righteousness. The righteous living of the Scribes and Pharisees could not save them (Matthew 5:20). Before he was converted, Paul was righteous, in the law blameless (Philippians 3:6). The Pharisee could say “I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11). You must have something more than this to show, or else God will condemn you.
Conversion is not simply conforming to the rules of Christianity. People may have a form of godliness without the power (II Timothy 3:5). People may pray long prayers (Matthew 23:14), and fast often (Luke 18:12), and listen to the preaching gladly (Mark 6:20), and serve God (Isaiah 1:11), and still not be converted. There is no outward service that an unconverted person cannot do, even giving all his money to feed the poor, and his body to be burned (I Corinthians 13:3).
Conversion is not merely education. It is easy to mistake education for conversion. But if learning how to be saved were enough, who would be better than Joash? While his uncle Johaida was alive, Joash served the Lord (II Kings 12:2, 7). But there was nothing more than a good education in all this. When his teacher was removed Joash appears to have been a wolf chained up, and falls into idolatry. Learning “the plan of salvation” is not conversion.
Conversion is not conviction of sin or a partial reformation. A man like Felix may tremble under conviction without being converted (Acts 24:25). A man like Herod may do many things without being converted (Mark 6:20). It is one thing to be alarmed by the conviction of sin. It is another thing to be converted. Many people mistake conviction for conversion. But if that were true, Cain would have passed for a convert. He ran up and down the earth like a man distracted, under the influence of a guilty conscience, until he was able to stifle his conscience with building and business.
Others think that they are real converts because they have changed their way of living. They forget that there is a great difference between being converted and being civilized.
Still others think that some emotion or feeling they have had is conversion. So a person can pass through various transmutations, from ignorance to knowledge, from no religion to a form of Christianity, and all the time remain unconverted.
It is hard work to take away your false hopes. It must be unpleasant to you, and it is certainly not pleasant to me. But it is better to let go of your false hopes than to have your eyes opened in Hell, when it is too late. I would be a false teacher if I did not tell you that you have built your hope of being saved on something that will not save you. Do not rest until God has done a thorough work with you, for you must be converted, or else you are lost.
What will become of you if you are not converted? God is hardly ever in your thoughts. What will become of you who are so ignorant that you cannot pray, and so careless that you refuse to do so? O repent and be converted! Come away to Christ for pardoning and renewing grace! Wash your hands, ye sinners! Purify your hearts, ye double minded! But if you insist in going on the way you are, you will die.
Please turn to Matthew 18:3. Let us stand together and read this verse aloud, beginning with the word “Verily.”
“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”
You must come away to Christ for converting grace. “Except ye be converted ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). And may God grant that conversion will be experienced soon in every troubled and convicted soul. Amen.