A Healthy Church Member is Genuinely Converted (Part1)
April 27, 2014 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos
We are looking at a series on the marks of a healthy church member. We have seen first is that a healthy church member is an expositional listener. The second mark is a biblical theologian. Such a person is rooted in bible doctrine and makes the bible final authority in his life. The third mark is gospel saturated.
Today, we are going to look at the fourth mark of a healthy church member: A healthy church member is genuinely converted.
The ideas I will share with you come from the following:
- Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member
- David Wells, Turning to God.
- Joseph Alleine, a 17th English Puritan pastor and author who wrote Alarm to Unconverted Sinners
- 18th century American Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, who wrote The Experience That Counts.
When we hear about someone changing from one way of life or from one religion to another we say that person was converted. For example, when an atheist starts to believe in God and becomes religious; or when a Moslem, a Buddhist, or a Catholic becomes a Protestant or the other way around; orwhen a university student afflicted with boredom renounceshis way of life and seeks meaning from an Eastern guru, we say that is conversion.
There are so many kinds of conversions in the world today. They may involve positive changes in one’s behavior brought about by some dramatic crises in life. But this does not mean they are Christian conversions. David Wells in his book about Christian conversion entitled, Turning to God,
If [conversions] do not have Christ as their cause and object and His service as their result, they are not Christian. If they do not involve turning from sin to God, on the basis of Christ’s atoning blood and by means of the Holy Spirit’s work, they cannot be called Christian.
When we turn to our English Bibles we will discover that the word conversion
appears only once. This is in Acts 15:3 ESV “So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.”
Although the word conversion is used just one time, it is not a minor theme in the Bible. The Bible teaches conversion, but it uses different words to describe this process. Just by looking at the Book of Acts we find several instances of dramatic conversion experiences. For example we read about the conversion of Paul, Cornelius, the Philippian Jailer, Lydia, and several others. To emphasize the importance of conversion we find the conversions of Paul(chs. 9, 22, and 26) and Cornelius (in chs. 10, 11; 15) mentioned three times.
David Wells said,
Christianity without conversion is no longer Christian, because conversion means turning to God. It involves forsaking sin, with its self-deifying attitudes and self-serving conduct, and turning to Christ, whose death on the cross is the basis for God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus was judged in our place so that God could extend His righteousness to us. Conversion occurs when we turn from our waywardness and accept Christ’s death on our behalf.
If we want to be a healthy church member, we need to understand and embrace the biblical teaching of conversion. I agree with what Thabiti Anyabwile said in his book, What is a Healthy Church Member,
Surely one of the reasons for the vast number of nominal Christians—those who hold to the faith in name only—in the history of the Christian church is that churches have failed to embrace and teach a biblical understanding of conversion.
In our study about conversion, I will present to you first the negative, What conversion is not.
Next week, Lord willing, we will look at the more positive aspect of our study.
- Conversion is not simply professing to be a Christian.
- 1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
- James 2:14-17 ESV What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. … 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe--and shudder!
- Titus 1:16 ESV They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
Luke 18:11-12 ESV "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
- Conversion is not just morality
- The apostle Paul mentioned that when he was unconverted, he was blameless claimed that with regards to righteousness under the law, he was blameless (Philippians 3:6 ESV as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.).
- Paul wrote about people who only have the appearance of godliness but did not have its power (2 Timothy 3:5ESV having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…).
2 Kings 12:2 ESV AndJehoash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. But later, when Jehoiada died, he quickly turned his back from God.
2 Chronicles 24:17-18 Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. 18 And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols…
- There are many people whose righteousness only consists in an external conformity to rules or desire to please authorities. In the OT, we have an example of a king who was very active in God’s service while his godly uncle who was a priest was alive and made him accountable. But when his uncle died, he quickly showed his true colors.
- Men may pray long (Mt 23:14fn), and fast often (Luke 18:12 ESV I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'), and gladly listen to preaching (Mark 6:20 ESV for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.), and be very [active] in the service of God, though costly and expensive (Isaiah 1:11 ESV "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.), and yet be strangers to conversion.
- They must have more to plead for themselves than that they go to church, give alms, and make use of prayer, to prove themselves sound converts.
- There is no outward service but a hypocrite may do it, even to the giving of all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.).
- Conversion is not experiencing conviction of sin or illumination.
- Felix trembled under conviction (Acts 24:24-26 - After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self- control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.)
- Herod do many things (Mark 6:20 - … Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.)
NET Bible: "terribly disturbed," "rather perplexed." The verb ἀπορέω (aporeo) means "to be in perplexity, with the implication of serious anxiety" (L &N)
- It is one thing to have sin alarmed only by convictions, and another to have it crucified by converting grace. Many, because they have been troubled in conscience for their sins, think well of their case, miserably mistaking conviction for conversion.
- Judas was convicted of his sin. Mt 27:3-5 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself.
- Conversion is not making a decision for Christ.
DOUBT AND ASSURANCE
How To Know That You Know Him
Across the Christian world… conversion has been placed almost on the level of a mathematical formula. That formula might be stated something like this:
When the invitation is given, go forward. If you go forward and sincerely repeat the words of a prayer of confession and faith, if you sign the commitment card, then [so we are told] you are a Christian. You may not feel like one, act like one, or have any substantial ground for considering yourself one. Nevertheless, if you have made a decision for Christ, that is all you need to do. And beyond that, you have the right to regard yourself as a fully assured child of God.
Illustration from Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is A Healthy Church Member?pp. 47-48
My friend Curtis possesses a contagious Christian joy. He loves the Lord and is zealous in evangelism. Cutis’s zeal is marked by a willingness to “do whatever it takes” to have someone “profess faith in Christ.”
One day Curtis, with his usual joy, told me of a mutual friend, Kenny, who “got born again.” I was struck by Curtis’s choice of words. Pressing past his excitement, I asked, “How do you know he was ‘born again’?” …
“Oh. That’s easy. He came down in front after the service and prayed to receive Christ—the way lots of people get saved.”
About a year after my conversation with Curtis, he telephoned, quite concerned. … Curtis told me how Kenny began the Christian race well, attending public services, praying frequently, going out with evangelism teams, and sometimes showing great emotion during public services. “The first year was great,” Curtis reported. “But then,” his voice quieting, “Kenny just faded away. … now he’s having marital problems and considering leaving the faith.”
Silence occupied the phone line for a moment. Then Curtis asked, “Do you think Kenny was ever really saved?”
- Conversion is not just being baptized.
Simon Magus was baptized but he was not converted.
Acts 8:13 ESV Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. 14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said to him, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity."
Mt 13:20-21 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
- Conversion is not being enthusiastic in the external religious duties.
The Experience That Counts, p. 57
It is no sure sign of conversion if we are enthusiastic in the outward duties of true religion. Such behavior exists in many who are not saved. The Jews in Isaiah’s time
were enthusiastic in worship. They had many sacrifices, assemblies, festivals, and prayers. Yet their hearts were not right with God, and God tells them he hates their worship!
Isaiah 1:12-17 ESV "When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations-- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
[Take note Lawyers, and Judges and Government officials.]
In Ezekiel’s time, many delighted in hearing Ezekiel preach God’s Word. However, God condemns them.
Ezekiel 33:31-32 ESV And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.
Psalms 50:16-21 ESV But to the wicked God says: "What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? 17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. 18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers. 19 "You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother's son. 21 These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
- Some can preach the gospel with wrong motives. (Philippians 1:15-17 ESV 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.)
- Some market God’s message for profit.(2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.)
Mt 7:22-23 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
- Conversion is not having some spectacular manifestation that has come upon you.
- I spoke in tongues,I fell to the ground. I felt wonderful.
The Corinthians boasted in spiritual gifts and most especially being able to speak in tongues but Paul wrote in 2Corinthians that he feared that some of them were not yet truly converted.
2Co 12:20-21 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish —that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
- Others speak of having heard a Bible verse come suddenly into their mind
The Experience That Counts, pp. 47-48
It is no proof that an emotion is spiritual just because it arises from a Bible verse which comes suddenly and powerfully into the mind. Some people think this sort of experience is a sign that they are saved. They especially think this, if the Bible verses produce emotions of hope of joy. They say: ‘The verse came suddenly into my mind. It was as if God were speaking directly to me. I was not thinking about the verse when it came. I did not even know at first that such a verse was in the Bible!’ Perhaps they will add: ‘One verse after another came into my mind. The verses were all so positive and encouraging. I wept with joy. I could no longer doubt that God loved me. [Perhaps what came to their mind is Jer 29:11--For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
In this way, people persuade themselves that their emotions and experiences are from God, and that they are truly saved. However, their assurance is unsound. The Bible does not tell us to test the reality of our faith in this way. The Bible does not say that we are saved if Bible verses come suddenly into our minds. The Bible does not say that we are saved if positive and encouraging verses enter our minds and make us weep… Many people think that an experience must be from God if it involves God’s Word, The Bible. This does not follow…How do we know it is not Satan who is putting these Bible verses into our minds? Satan used the Bible to try to tempt and deceive Jesus himself (Mt 4;6). If God allowed Satan to tempt Jesus through Bible verses, why should Satan not put Bible verses into our minds to deceive us? Why should he not even use positive and encouraging verses to delude us? The devil loves to produce false hopes and joys in the unsaved. He wants to persuade them that they are Christians before they have truly repented. Why should he not misuse encouraging Bible verses to produce this false assurance?
- Some even speak of having had visions of Christ.
The Experience That Counts, pp. 75-76
Many people confuse imagination with spiritual sense. Some people have ideas impressed on their imagination of a bright light; they call this spiritual revelation of God’s glory. Some have lively ideas of Christ hanging and bleeding on the cross; they call this a spiritual sight of Christ crucified. Some see Christ smiling at them, with his arms open to embrace them; they call this a revelation of Christ’s grace and love. Some have vivid ideas of heaven, and of Christ on his throne there, and shining ranks of angels and saints; they call this seeing heaven opened to them. Some have ideas of sound and voices, perhaps quoting Scripture to them; they call this hearing the voice of Christ in their hearts, or having the witness of the Holy Spirit.
Yet these experiences have nothing spiritual or divine about them. They are simply imaginary ideas of external things—a light, a man, a cross, a throne, a voice. These imaginary ideas are not spiritual in nature. A natural man can have vivid ideas of shapes and colors and sounds. A mental image of Christ hanging on a cross is no better than what the unspiritual Jews had, who stood round the cross and saw Christ with their physical eyes. [May I add. A mental image of the glory of Christ is no better than what unspiritual Peter saw in the Mount of transfiguration. He saw Christ in His glory and yet at that time, it did not result in anything spiritual in him. (Mk 9:4-6 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
These imaginary ideas are so far from being spiritual in nature, that Satan can very easily produce them. Even if God did produce these ideas in someone’s mind, it would prove nothing about the person’s salvation. This is clear from the Scripture example of Balaam. God impressed a clear and vivid image on Balaam’s mind of Jesus Christ as the star rising out of Jacob and the scepter rising from Israel. Balaam described this experience as follows. Num 24:16-17 the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: 17 I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.
Balaam saw Christ in a vision, but he had no spiritual knowledge of Christ. He was unsaved, despite this God-given image in his mind of the Savior.
- Conversion is not being able to give a moving account of your experience.
The Experience That Counts, pp. 65-66
It does not prove that someone is a true Christian just because he gives a moving account of his feelings and experiences. Anything which resembles a work of God is bound to be moving to a believer. Believers love to see sinners converted. It is not surprising, then, that it touches our hearts when someone professes conversion and gives a plausible account of his experience. Still, that does not prove that his conversion is genuine.
Scripture tells us to judge by a person’s life, not his talk. This is because the claims people make that they are Christians, are like blossoms on trees, and they all look beautiful, but soon many of these blossoms will wither, drop off and rot… It is the same in spiritual things. We must judge by the fruit, not by the beautiful colors and scent of the blossom. People who claim they have been converted may (so to speak) look beautiful, and smell sweet, and have moving accounts of their experience. However, it may all come to nothing. Talk proves nothing. We must judge by the fruit—by the lasting results in people’s lives. (Even here we cannot judge infallibly, but the way professing Christians live is the best
proof we can have of their sincerity and salvation).
- Conversion is not feeling sure you are going to heaven.
The Experience That Counts, 60,61
It is no proof that a person is saved just because he feels sure that he is. A person may have the greatest and liveliest assurance of salvation, and yet still be unsaved. He may seem to be very close to God, and use very bold and affectionate language in his prayers, calling God ‘my Father’, ‘My dear Redeemer’, ‘my sweet Savior’, ‘my beloved’, and so on. He may say, ‘I know that I will go to heaven, just as surely as I were already there.’ He may be so sure of himself that he no longer sees any reason to test the reality of his faith. He may despise anyone who suggests that he might not really be saved. However none of this proves that he is a true Christian.
When an unsaved person has this false assurance, he is free from those things which can cause a real Christian to doubt his own salvation.
- The false Christian has no sense of the seriousness of his eternal destiny, and the infinite importance of building on a right foundation. By contrast, a true believer is humble and cautious; he feels what a great thing it will be to stand before God, the infinitely holy Judge. False assurance knows nothing of this.
- A false Christian is not aware of how blind and deceitful his heart is. His false assurance produces a great confidence in his own opinions. He is boastful like the Pharisee in Lk 18:9-14 who was so sure he was right with God and thanked God boldly for making him so different from other men. The true believer, however, has a modest view of his own understanding.
- Satan does not attack false assurance. He attacks the assurance of a true Christian because true assurance produces greater holiness. On the other hand, Satan is the best friend of false assurance, because it places the false Christian completely in his power.
- False assurance blinds a person to the extent of his sinfulness. The false Christian seems clean and bright in his own eyes. The true Christian, by contrast, knows his own heart; he feels he is a great sinner. He often wonders whether a truly saved person could possibly be as sinful as he knows he himself is.
Not because you are a member of a local church, recite some verses of the Bible, explain the gospel, expound the doctrines of grace, perform religious duties, are just in your dealings, and have been troubled in conscience for your sins—that you are converted.
Not because you have given up wild parties and profanity and have experienced superficial change that you are now a real convert. Do not forget that there is a big difference between being sanctified and being civilized. Partial reformation does not mean conversion.
I would be a false and faithless shepherd if I did not tell you, that that if you have built your hopes on no better grounds than those I mentioned, then you are still unconverted.
You may be no different from the Pharisee in the parable of Jesus in Luke 18:11-12.
11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:‘ God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
I pray that you will recognize your sin, that you will receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord, and pray that God will truly change your heart so that you will be born-again.