Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Conversion - Do We Really Need it?

In my last post, I talked about the wrong way to speak of conversion.  But this does not mean that conversion is a thing to be set aside, even though it seems some churches have done just that.

Let me go at it this way.  We Methodists know that grace comes to us before we are aware of our need for God in the form of prevenient grace.  This grace draws us to God in all kinds of ways.  Grace comes also at the point of conversion when we say "yes" to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and commit all of our ways to him and his purposes.  It comes then as justifying or saving grace.  It also comes every day after as we grow in understanding and strength and courage and compassion and wisdom and especially in love.  It comes as the ability to see this world as God sees it and live our lives as if Jesus were in our place.  This is called sanctifying grace - grace that sets us apart for God's purposes. 

This is just an observation.  What seems to be happening now is that prevenient grace is still doing its work.  And when we manage to get people to come to our churches, we are aware that most folks today are not so into absolutism or dogmatic presentations of faith.  So we treat them as if their appearance in church is evidence of conversion and move right on to instruction meant for those in need of sanctifying grace. 

We have de-emphasized or in some cases, entirely ignored saving grace or conversion because nobody wants the stigma that goes with insisting that such a thing is necessary.  We are too enlighten, universalist, too broad-minded to insist on a thing like conversion to Christ.  Asking someone to convert seems like we might be making a judgment about their standing before God, and within today's philosophically acceptable boundaries, this is anathema.  So we just talk as though everyone is already justified before God.  We treat conversion stories in the Bible as though they are things we all already know and have experienced, even when many have not.

These unconverted folks may find something of value in our churches where conversion is not taught and held as an essential value, but it all seems pretty optional to them.  "Yes, I should serve, give, be in community, spread the Gospel, train my kids up to follow Jesus, but only if I can fit it into my schedule and there is not a party to go to."  This may be why the average person who considers themselves active in a local church only attends 1.6 times per month. 

But the converted know better.  Without conversion I can be fooled into thinking that I am merely adding Jesus to my portfolio of assets.  In conversion, I realize that I am bankrupt and without hope apart from the gift of grace and salvation in Jesus Christ. 

Without conversion I can be deceived into thinking that I am only guilty of mistakes that Jesus will help me correct and move beyond as I learn to use better judgment.  With conversion I realize that I have sinned and separated myself from the only known source of life in the universe, and that nothing awaits me but hopelessness and death.  Because of my sin, I am shipwrecked, drowning, choking and gasping for a few more desperate breaths apart from the saving grace of Jesus that has rescued even one as undeserving as I am.

Without conversion I can believe that I am still in control of my life, my career, my family and my future, and that Jesus is around to take control of the spiritual stuff when I feel I need to bring that into the picture.  With conversion I am totally yielded to the reality that everything I have, including my life, belongs to God and that there is no such thing as a meaningful life apart from the way of Jesus. 

Without conversion I think that the death and resurrection of Jesus was a grand gesture, even if a little bit of over-kill, on God's part in trying to help me accept Jesus as Savior.  With conversion, I realize that my sin was so great that nothing but the sacrifice of God would atone for that sin, and now I owe everything to Christ as not only my Savior, but as my Lord (owner) as well. 

Without conversion I might experience faith like I might a good movie that moves me, or a documentary that challenges me to rethink a certain value.  With conversion I will at times experience faith as the wrecking of my soul and the reshaping of the affections of my heart, causing me to weep with anguish over things I now see clearly, but to which I had been blind. 

Without conversion, I might be religious.  With conversion, I am a new creation in Christ where the old has passed away, all things have become new, and I can now do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  Only one of these two relationships with conversion - with or without -  leads to the promised life of abundance Jesus came to give us.

May we begin to once again in our churches put an emphasis on conversion.  May we begin to trust the work of the Holy Spirit and not feel like we need to market the Gospel in any way other than to live it and clearly present it in love.  May we be bold enough to explain conversion and invite those who are far from God to be truly converted to Christ.  And may they see in us a people who have been wrecked and reshaped so much in the image of our Savior that they have a reason to say "yes" to the saving grace of Jesus.  

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