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Conversion: Is It Still Possible?
Are you converted? This is a very important question, but also a very necessary one. For, if we do not know what conversion is personally, we are going lost. Furthermore, without conversion, we are lost already. Without conversion, we cannot enter into God’s kingdom. What an awesome thought: Baptized ones who are lost!
Necessity of Conversion
What we read in Matthew 4:17 is very remarkable, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was the content of Christ’s preaching. When He later sent His disciples into the world, He stated their commission: “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name, among all nations.”
All the prophets have preached this way; also John the Baptist and all of the apostles. Woe to the minister who does not preach the necessity of conversion! Of such servants the Lord says that He shall require the blood of their hearers from their hands. “Therefore, Oh thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel;.... As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:10,11).
The Lord says that He does not delight in the death and destruction of the wicked. Oh, the Lord stoops down so low! He Himself preaches the necessity of conversion. Isn’t that a touching thought? The Apostle Paul, standing in the midst of Mars’ hill, cried to the assembled multitude, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”
Why is it that you ignore repentance? Why do you not believe this message? Why do you misuse the precious time given you by God? Why would you rather visit places where the necessity of conversion is not spoken of? Do you not see what danger you are in?
Young friends, nowadays we hear many times the words “honesty” and “openness” mentioned among you. Youth views things keenly and does not want to mince marters. Young people like to talk frankly, straightforward, and in plain terms. The Bible also speaks in this manner. God’s Word points to us, saying, “Turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways: for why will ye die, oh house of Israel?”
The Biblical meaning of conversion is to turn back from the way you are going; a renewal of your heart, your will, your intentions, yes, in short, renewal or your whole life. This is what happens when a person is converted. Yes, but “I cannot convert myself!” How do you know that? Have you experienced that in your struggle to be converted? Let’s try to be honest and open-hearted when facing God. Let’s confess, “Lord, I must confess that there’s no room for Thee in my heart. There are so many other marters competing for my attention.” We can so easily ignore God’s well-meant invitations. Do you know why? Because we do not accept or believe the Biblical truth that we are lying in a lost state because of our sins and guilt. Really, we act as the sons-in-law of Lot who didn’t believe the message that Sodom would be destroyed. Genesis 19:14 says, “But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law.”
This is our image! We are sinners. We miss the mark set by God. We reveal this in our conversations, dress, thoughts, words, and actions. Or, does this not apply to you ? That would be a great wonder! But it is still possible to be converted. There are some young people (and older ones, too) who are inwardly convinced of the necessity of their conversion. They feel deeply within their hearts: “I need to be converted, but how can / be saved? How can my soul be rescued? I know what I stand in need of, but how is it possible for such a one as I to be saved? I’ve heard the Lord’s invitations for such a long time already, but to no avail. I have grossly trespassed all God’s commandments; I have not believed His gospel; I have disregarded His invitations. Lord, I desire to serve Thee, for Thou art so worthy to be feared, served, and loved. But how can it be? Is it possible that I, too, can be converted?”
Possibility of Conversion
As long as we are in the land of the living and God sends his ambassadors to preach the necessity of conversion, it is possible for us to be saved. Devils cannot be converted, but for us it is still possible.
What an incomprehensible wonder! Angels who rebelled against God were cast out of heaven, and their return is eternally impossible. Although our fall has been worse than that of the angels, for us sinners, children of Adam, it is still possible to be converted.
Why has our fall been so much worse? Because we were created in God’s image; we were the show-piece of His image. It was our duty to honor and glorify God, our Creator. But instead of praising, honoring and glorifying God’s Name, we have darkened it by trespassing against His commandments. We have made God a liar and have willingly served His enemy. By doing this, in Adam, the entire creation became guilty. This is why our fall is so much worse than the fall of the angels.
But behold God’s incomprehensible love! Notwithstanding all that transpired, for us, conversion is still possible. This is the miracle of the gospel. No, it is not possible in a way of self-reformation or self-improvement, nor in keeping God’s commandments externally—but in His eternal, sovereign good pleasure, God has provided another way. A much more excellent way—His Covenant of Grace. In eternity God has developed a plan to save sinners. And that in such a way that He can maintain His justice and still grant grace to guilty sinners who have deserved nothing less than His curses and judgments. God gave His Son to make return possible, and the Son gave Himself willingly to complete that way.
We do not only need to understand these matters with our mind, but we must also be convinced within our hearts by the Holy Spirit of the possibility of our conversion. It is a very important duty of God’s servants to preach the necessity, as well as the possibility, of conversion. This has to become experientially known in our hearts. When it is revealed to us that we have sinned against a just, holy, and well-doing God, a deep spiritual need arises in our hearts, as well as many questions. The Holy Spirit teaches us that we have deserved God’s wrath and curse because we haven’t kept God’s holy law. When we realize that we have sinned against a God who says that He has no desire in our death, we are humbled in the dust. Can you understand then that young persons who may have experienced something of this in their hearts, have no desire for sinful, worldly pleasures? No, they do not feel themselves to be any better than you are, but they simply cannot join in sinful entertainment any more. They have other problems. Oh sure, these problems do not always press on them heavily, but still there is some disquietness in their souls. They pray more than ever before, as in Psalm 116, “Oh Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul.”
No, such people do not become overly pious, but sincere. They do not feel themselves to be converted, but unconverted. The prayer of Psalm 42 has been born in their hearts, “As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, oh, God.” They often do not dare to speak of this to their acquaintances, but there is an all-knowing God, who knows their hearts. When as a fruit of granted gospel light, the possibility to be saved becomes clear to them, a wonderful joy and delight fills their heart—a relief from the weariness of their struggle to find the way. A new song is then laid in their mouth. What a wonderful change this causes in their life! What a miracle of grace and mercy! They may fathom somewhat of the depth of the glorious experience recorded in Psalm 6, “The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping....The Lord will receive my prayer.” This is a joy that is unknown to the world. It cannot be explained, only experienced. It causes us to pray, “Shew me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths.”
Dear young people, when the Holy Spirit enters our heart, applying this new life, it will bring forth fruits. We try to convert ourselves. We shall turn from the way in which we walked before by nature. Our fathers confessed this in the Canons of Dort: “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received” (Head 3/4, Art 12).
The Content of Conversion
When the Lord calls a younger (or older) one out of darkness into His marvellous light, they reveal fruit. What are these fruits? Of what does true conversion consist? We can read this very clearly in the Heidelberg Catechism. “The mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man” (Lord’s Day 33).
Like all our creeds, this expression is derived from Holy Scripture. By old man we understand our natural depravity—in born depravity—which clings to us, even after having received grace. The old man, our corrupt nature, must be mortified. It has to die gradu-ally, which means strife and struggle. Paul said that the old man has to be crucified! The more we desire to live before God, the more strife we find in our heart—strife against sin, against evil lusts, wicked desires, against the evil heart of unbelief, and against the world with all its alluring temptations. Other people of God may say, “Welcome to the battle.” But for your en-couragement, it may be said that although this warfare will not end until our death, God’s grace is invincible. Only at our death will the old man die.
Besides the mortification of the old man, there is also the quickening of the new man. The new man is the spiritual renewal which begins in regeneration, and envelops the whole man. The understanding is enlightened; the heart is opened; the affections are regulated. The Catechism says, “It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”
Dear young friends, what is conversion? It is becoming a member of Christ’s family! But this also means bearing Christ’s reproach, without the camp. Perhaps you will become a lonely person, losing former friends, or, losing a good job. Maybe it will cost you your engagement; perhaps some doors will be closed for you. But consider this: You will gain more than you lose. For God is on your side.’ Notwithstanding many disappointments and attacks, God gives such strugglers the freedom at times to sing, “Thou has put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Ps. 4:7).
Young friends, the Lord says, “Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Do not misuse your time, which is the time of grace. How many years have you already lived without God? How many days, or years, will God still give you? You can answer the first question, but not the last one. Therefore, “Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.” Use the means of grace faithfully. Attend catechism class, youth society and church very faithfully. Seek the places where the seed of God’s Word is sown. Plead to the Lord that He will fulfill His promise:
Children’s children shall proclaim the glorious honor of His Name.
Rev. B. Vander Heiden is pastor of the Gereformeerde Gemeente (Netherlands Reformed Congregation) of Woerden, the Netherlands. This article was translated from Daniel.
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Bekijk de hele uitgave van woensdag 1 juni 1988
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's
Bekijk de hele uitgave van woensdag 1 juni 1988
The Banner of Truth | 28 Pagina's