By John Aldworth

Published 16 October 2015

  • Eph. 1:20: Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundant above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us.

  • Matt. 18:3: Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Living as believers in the dispensation of the grace of God as we do (Eph. 3:2) we know that grace is the answer to all our needs. Through his grace
God the Father can do far more than we can pray for, or even imagine. Yet few believers, it seems, lay hold of this wonderful provision as a continuing
reality in their everyday lives.

Grace not only completely saves it forgives all sin, past, present and future. It fully delivers from all evil and 'translates' (that is, writes us in) into Christ's heavenly kingdom (Col. 1:13). Grace redeems and reconciles the chosen believer to God, reshaping him or her for an appointed, God-given destiny both in this life and the next. Meantime grace preserves us in a wicked world and provides our every need.

But allow me to ask: Do you experience the fullness of this grace in your everyday life when, clearly, so many who profess to be saved are missing out on it? And if not could it be because in your life and mine we still lack real conversion?

In Matt. 18:3 Jesus was speaking to his disciples when He said: 'Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven'. These were men who had been both called and chosen by Jesus (Matt. 10:1, John 15:16, 19). They had 'left all' to follow Jesus (Mark
10:28). They believed He was the Messiah, the Son of God; they believed his word, even 'kept' his word (John 17:60).

Yet here Jesus tells them they still needed to be converted. Makes you wonder whether his words apply to the millions today who believe that
because they have 'received Christ', been water baptised, attend church, do good deeds and repent of sin, they will go straight to heaven when they die.
Yet they cannot produce a single scripture that promises them immediate access to heaven at their decease. And do we, who have come to know something of God's grace, also stand in need of real conversion? Let us examine ourselves and see.

First though some definitions. The 'kingdom of heaven' in Matt. 18:3 is not a location 'far above the sky'; it is the sphere of God's rule, the kingdom of God that Jesus preached was to come upon the earth. Later the Apostle Paul was inspired to write of Christ's 'heavenly kingdom' the glory above that we, as grace-saved believers have already been translated into (Col.1:13).  Importantly, it seems the conditions of entry into the kingdom of God are the same, whether his rule is
being exercised above in heaven or here below on earth. Evidently, we must still become as little children to enter it.

Secondly, just what is conversion? It means to be turned again to God, turned back into right relation with Him. Importantly, conversion is something done by God, not by man. Didn't the Saviour say, 'No man cometh unto the Father but by me' (John 14:6)? Didn't he state, 'No man cometh unto Me except the Father draw him' (John 6:44, 45)? Why then do so many today insist that conversion is something people can do? You read in the papers for example, 'So and so converted from Islam to Christ'. You do not read: 'God converted so and so from Islam to Christ'. Why not? Answer: because proponents of save-yourself Christianity have more faith in what man can do than what God does. Indeed, that is the nub of the issue about conversion. But let us see this from scripture.

A study of the word 'convert' reveals it is usually presented in the phrase 'be converted'. In Matt 13:15, for example, Jesus says of Israel:

  •  ... this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

Three classic examples of conversion are found in scripture:

First Paul's (Acts: 3-6) dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. While 'yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord' (Acts 9:1), Saul fell to the ground blinded by a great light from heaven. He heard the voice of the Lord and what's more saw Him, as Jesus Himself confirmed in Acts 26:16. The proof of the truth of his conversion were his words, 'Lord what wilt thou have me to do?' Paul was converted by the Lord Himself and the fruit of it was surrender and obedience to Christ. Can wesay the same of our conversion?

 Second is the conversion of Peter. This took place long after Peter had first followed the Lord, in fact it occurred on the eve of the Lord's crucifixion. Luke 22:31-33 records the Lord saying to Peter:

  • Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted strengthen thy brethren.

Peter responded, saying: 'I am ready to go with thee both to prison and to death'. But Jesus had to tell him, '... the cock shall not crow this day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me'. Peter did not know what he was up against and, sometimes, neither do we. Despite loving the Lord unto death Peter still needed to be converted.

The third example of conversion is that of Paul in later life. Despite a lifetime of suffering and service to the Lord we find the apostle in prison in Rome declaring that He had to be made fully one with Christ (Phil. 3:9-11), yet to 'apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus' (Phil. 3:12).  Paul was apprehended on the Damascus road; now he needs to apprehend Christ and, again,that is something that God must do for him.

He had willingly suffered the loss of all things and counted them but dung that that he might win Christ but he had not yet 'attained'. To be found in Christ, to 'know Him and the fellowship of his sufferings', Paul had to be 'made conformable unto his death'. In other words Paul needed a further conversion; he needed God to conform, to convert him, to one who had fully died with Christ. This in order that he might 'know Him' and 'attain unto the (out) resurrection of the dead'.

We too need to be made conformable to Christ's death if we are be among those resurrected to be with Him in the glory of his heavenly kingdom. Our problem is that too often we think we are already assured of this when a further conversion of our life to Christ is needed.

Consider, Paul had suffered more than other apostles serving his Lord. 2 Cor. 11:24:

  • ... in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.... In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

Yet despite all this and despite becoming 'a prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles' in Rome, Paul still needed a further conversion, that of being made fully 'conformable unto his death', something which of course, only God could do.

Likewise it is only God Himself who can bring us to full surrender to Christ. Only He can fully 'bury (us) with Him (Christ) in baptism', thus making us one with Him (Col. 2:12). Indeed, evidently, He did this for Paul at some point after he wrote to the Philippians but before he penned his message to the Colossians, else he would have not been able to assert as he does in Col. 2:12:

  • Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and sins hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

God says He has already done it; that He has already fully converted us. The question is do we believe it, do we walk in the light of it? More than our own feeble attempt at faith is needed here, for Col. 2:12 says being made fully one with Christ is 'through the faith of the operation of God'. God Himself needs to cause us to believe.

In other words it takes place in us only by the 'exceeding greatness of his power toward us' (Eph. 1:19). To know the full outworking of that in our spiritual lives then we need first to believe that because God has said it, He has done it. Secondly we need to ask Him to make it fully real to us in the here and now.