Mark #4 of a Healthy Church: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith.
~Ephesians 2:1-8 (ESV)
A church that rightly preaches the Gospel should also have a biblical understanding of conversion. Salvation that has been reduced to repeating a prayer is no salvation at all.

Mark Dever writes,
If our conversion, our turning, is basically understood to be something we do instead of something God does in us, then we misunderstand it...Scripture presents us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, our spirits given life. We can do none of this for ourselves. the change each human needs, regardless of how we may outwardly appear, is so radical, so near our roots, that only God can bring it about. We need God to convert us.
Prayer by rote will not save our souls. Sadly, tragically, churches are filled with people who have repeated words without understanding them. They believe they have a ticket to heaven though their lives have remained unchanged, not marked by the grace and glory of God. 
In his popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren represents conversion in these words: "Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you" (p 59). There is a pit of false hope in placing our faith in our words rather than in God's compassion to receive sinners to himself. Warren falsely (and dangerously) assures us of our salvation. He writes: "If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!" (p 59). How do I judge my own sincerity? The saving grace of salvation is located in a holy and electing God, and a sacrificing, suffering, and obedient Savior. Stakes this high can never rest on my sincerity.

The Christian life is a life imbued with the supernatural power and authority of God. God is the God of salvation. We do not control God by saying magic words or attending church. Conversion is a heart-affair.
~Rosaria Butterfield,
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (p. 35, 36), emphasis mine

In searching for our new church home, we wanted to find a church family whose lives were obviously different from the world. We were not looking for, nor have we found, a church filled with perfect people. More than outward appearances (friendliness, kindness), we were seeking individuals living out their conversion with the understanding that sanctification is an ongoing process. Our new pastor frequently closes his prayers with a plea, "God, help us." To me, this simple cry is a beautiful prayer; we need nothing more and nothing less than God's help as we are transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). 

A church with a biblical understanding of conversion will be filled with those who can echo John Newton: "I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I hope to be. Yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was. By the grace of God, I am what I am."

This summer, I'm blogging through Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Find out why here.

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