Conversion: n 1: an event that results in a transformation 2: Something that is changed from one use, function, or purpose to another.
Conversion—this was the word often used by Christians of previous centuries to describe the change from death to life when someone truly becomes a child of God. While we often use words as “believer” “saved” “born again” or “accepted Christ”, often “converted” was their term of choice. The emphasis is not on words said or aisles walked or prayers prayed or church membership affiliation or any sort of belief, but on a transformed life. A changed heart was the measure of whether a soul was bound for heaven or hell— conversion.
How different this way of thinking about salvation was from the today’s typical American view was brought into sharp relief as I have been reading through The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. In it he describes in detail the line of questions he would ask of every member of his parish as he would visit them in their homes. Instead of four spiritual laws or even “If you knew you would die today, why should God let you into heaven?”, Baxter used the following explanation and questions (slightly modernized by me with words emphasized by me):
The Holy Spirit, using the Bible, enlightens a man’s mind, and softens and opens his heart, and turns him from the power of Satan to God, through faith in Christ. He that is truly converted, has had a light shining into his soul from God, which has showed him the greatness of his sin and misery, and made it a heavy load upon his soul; and showed him who Christ is, and what he has done for sinners, and made him admire the riches of God’s grace in Christ. He has now such a sight of heaven, that he despises all this world as garbage. This is the case of all who are truly converted and who shall be saved.
Have you ever found this great change upon your own heart? Did you ever find the Spirit of God, by the Word, come in upon your understanding, with a new and heavenly life, which has made you a new creation? Have you experienced such a change as this upon your soul?
I find Baxter’s model for evangelism both fascinating and disturbing. Fascinating, in how acknowledgment of belief or correct theology or even an experience per se is not the point at all for him. The point is solely on whether a person’s heart has been changed in a specific way, in that the person sees that he has been changed and has become a new creation and that his heart is different (admiring the riches of Christ, despising the world).
I find Baxter’s model disturbing when I think how many people in our churches who have “prayed the sinner’s prayer” “walked the aisle” and can tell you the day and date they were “saved” would be unable to look within their heart and see the change that Baxter speaks of. Can you?