Testing Conversion’s Reality9 min read
Paul ends his section on specific works of the flesh by saying “Of the which I tell you before (forewarn) as I have told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” It is a solemn reminder that conversion is no light thing, but rather it is marked by total distinction from past lifestyles. Evidently it is a truth necessary for assemblies to keep before them, for Paul obviously saw it as being worthy of repetition. An assembly that misses the need to distinguish true Christianity from its false imitation is an assembly that misses the whole point of Christianity, that is, to be a holy entity (set apart) for God, His purposes, and glory. Will we despise the holiness that God holds precious? This is the question which our attitude toward true and false conversion answers.
Doctrine always forms the basis for our outlook and practice, which is why we must first of all see what God declares as true conversion. In God’s eyes, our salvation is absolute, unmistakable, and irreversible. “The foundation of God standeth sure having this seal: the Lord knows them that are His.” Romans 8 illustrates this explicitly and explains what God sees.
It firstly describes true converts as them which are “in Christ Jesus.” They are identified by a new position before God. We have a position in Christ’s righteousness: justification. We have a position in Christ’s inheritance: joint-heirs and sons. We have a position through Christ’s blood: redemption. We have a position through Christ as Mediator: reconciliation.
Then in verse 14, Paul says “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” This is consistent with 2 Corinthians 1:22 in which he refers to the means by which we are sealed in our salvation: “the earnest (guarantee of future glory) of the Spirit in our hearts.” Romans also speaks of the Spirit of Christ indwelling every true believer: it cannot be any way. So then, on the one hand we have conversion being us in Christ, and on the other Christ is us. The former gives us a new position before God: the latter gives us power to have a new condition before God. God sees us in Christ; man sees Christ in us. This raises the question, then: what are the manward defining marks of salvation? What effects will God’s working in us inevitably produce?
The book of 1 John is very helpful in this regard, because it provides a few absolute, uncompromising truths in testing a conversion. Scripture says that there are two ultimate categories before God: truth and false. We must be sensitive to what each consists of. Below are five tests which John brings out to assure the true and reveal the false.
- The Test of Love and Light. “Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” (2:8-9). Light within always manifests itself in love without, especially toward God’s people. In chapter 3, he emphasizes again “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “By this shall all know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one toward another.” (Jn. 13:35). We as believers have an inseparable bond in the Person of Christ: we love the same Saviour, have the same hope, cherish the same Scriptures, are kept by the same Spirit, and have the same standard of conduct. The only way for love toward one another to be non-existent is for that bond to be non-existent and thus the salvation with it also.
- The Test of Worldliness. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (2:15-16). The world is that system which is diametrically opposed to the things of God, and thus those making up that system also associate with that standing. While it is possible for true believers to temporarily forget just how distinct they must be from worldliness, there is a fine line drawn between the true and the false when it comes to loving the world’s system and its teaching as opposed to loving the Father. Those who identify with the world “shall perish” with it: those identifying with God’s will “shall abide” forever.
- The Test of Endurance. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would [no doubt] have continued with us: but [they went out], that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (2:19). This “going out” is more that assembly discipline or even a temporary leaving of the assembly because of life’s circumstances and issues. This is, instead, a willful rejection of God’s people for the reason that there was never true fellowship with them. To leave the assembly because it doesn’t support a certain worldly lifestyle is to show allegiance to the world. God’s true people will enjoy and endure the presence of God’s true people. And even if there is a lack of fellowship for a prolonged period of time, there is still a longing for it in the Spirit-indwelt heart.
- The Test of Doctrine. “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” (2:21-22). This knowledge of the truth is a result of what verse 20 describes as “an unction (anointing) from the Holy One” which is in fact the Holy Spirit Who illuminates truth to us. God holds truth very highly, especially when it concerns the Person of His Son, Who is in fact the very essence of Truth in Himself. No wonder Paul declared eternal judgement in Galatians on those who pervert the “gospel of Christ” replacing it with a false version. True believers have received Christ for Who He is. To reject the Truth of His Person is to reject salvation and to deny the faith. True believers do no perpetually embrace and teach heretical error concerning Christ’s Person in rebellion to revealed truth, for they have the power of God illumating their minds to the truth. Is man wiser than God?
- The Test of Lifestyle. “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” (3:6-7). These verses are really just a reiteration of the same truth of Matthew 7:16-20 – fruit is how we can know the nature of the tree. The very same chapter that says not to judge hypocritically tells us to judge righteously by examining the fruits of professing Christians. To say it is not our place to use discernment is to be naïve in a most solemn issue. So then, since God calls us to know that “whoever sins (makes a practice of it) hath not seen him,” what must we to now but be sensitive to this vital test of conversion?
If even after this brief look at 1 John and Romans you are still unsure about the topic, consider 2 Timothy 2:19 –“Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Consider James 2:14 – “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can [that kind of] faith save him?” Consider Ephesians 5:5-7 – “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” Consider 2 Peter 2:1 – “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
In light of these things, let us remember that God does not appreciate mediocre Christianity. If you claim to be His, be His 100%. He gave His all for you: give your all for Him. And after examining our lives, let us beware that we are not deceived into thinking that mediocre service is fine on account of the false who would claim Christianity but live none of it. “How?” you may ask. “The works of the flesh are manifest.” If we are looking for them, we will find them. Some churches openly commend those who 1 Corinthians 6 says “neither shall inherit the Kingdom of God.” and thus miss the power of the gospel to change lives: “such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Will we be next in compromising the gospel to make the world more comfortable? While we must never push away sinners as the Pharisees did with the adulteress in John 8, we must also remember the part where Jesus said “Go and sin no more.” Scripture provides a balanced approach to the subject, yet a very straightforward one. Will this be ours?
In conclusion and for our own hearts, let us consider a concept from a brother named Paul Washer. Suppose you arrived late at an event, and the host asked you “Why are you late?” You say “Well, I was walking across the street and got hit by a logging-truck.” Obviously the host would think “If you were really hit by a truck, a much greater effect would be seen in your life.” Then Paul asks the question: which is bigger, the truck or God? The answer is obvious. How then can you claim to have been in contact with Him if there is no effect in your life by that contact? God is in the business of changing lives: how is our change coming along?