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How does conversion affect the church's health?

A drunk who has spent years and enormous amounts of wealth.

A compulsive buyer who cannot say “No” to a good bargain.

A serial adulteress.

An incontrollable liar.

A politician.

A lawyer.

What does these have in common? Many answers could be offered, and most would more than likely be correct. However, one answer to that question has enormous impact on our understanding of the health of the church.

These individuals, and many others like them, cannot change. That would be the answer that connects them all. Unfortunately, many people in our society, including Christians, hold to this view. Mark Dever discusses this when he writes,

“For many today, wisdom is seen as learning to accept your internal circumstances, to adjust to them, to adapt to them—not to try to fundamentally change them. The die is cast, the lot is fixed, our personality is assigned, and except for some terrible trauma, the assumption is that the leopard does not change his spots, the anxious person his personality, or the insecure person his psyche. ‘That’s the way it is!’ Maturity comes from facing up to the truth about yourself and resigning yourself to it.”[1]

But is that true? Are people assigned to their different vices and shortcomings? How you answer this has enormous implications for the health of the church. For if no one can truly change, then the church will be filled with people no different from the world.[2] And if no one can change, then there is no salvation. That is, if people cannot change, then sin remains, and damnation awaits (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8).

This would be terrible news, if it were true. But praise the Triune God that it is definitely not true! Paul tells us such in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (NIV) That is change. The old is gone, the new is here. Jesus tells Nicodemus essentially the same thing, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3, NIV) We can change, but how?

This is what the third mark of a healthy church comes into play. We are dealing with conversion, a term that has fallen into disuse, unfortunately replaced with the term “decision.” Helping remove confusion from the term conversion, Mack Stiles notes, “But the Bible clearly teaches that conversion is not a function of your parents’ religion, of which church you join, or of what your passport says. It’s not based on your academic achievements, even if they are from a religious institution. Conversion comes from true, conscious, genuine faith in Jesus.”[3] It is not a decision in the same sense that one becomes a fan of the Dallas Stars hockey team. It is true change, rebirth, new creation.

One of the sad results of a consumer-mentality is how it has changed the church. We have seeker-sensitive churches (a phrase that creates a whole host of problems). These churches have good aims. They want to see people in the community saved. However, they go about it in the wrong way. As a result, churches may skim on what conversion is, shrinking it down to what they consider “essential,” that is, making a decision or repeating a prayer. While the decision to trust Christ for salvation is there (see Rom. 10:9-10), it is not just a decision. It is a change.

Putting it in stark terms, Paul describes conversion as dead people coming to life (see Eph. 2:1-10). As we consider the health of our church, we need to see if our church as whole understands what conversion is. All the teachers, deacons, pastors (yes, the New Testament teaches a plurality of pastors/elders) must understand conversion. Not only that, all our members must grasp conversion (interestingly, membership is one of the marks of a healthy church, which, Lord-willing, we will discuss on 16 February 2021).

Conversion must be an essential mark of our church if we are to see the Gospel proclaimed (with lives and lips). Conversion must be expected if we desire to grow into the body of Christ (Eph. 4:1-16). We started with a list of individuals with various problems. After their salvation (see John 3 and 2 Cor. 5), we will find this:

A saved lawyer.

A sanctified politician.

A former liar.

A committed wife.

A wise steward.

A sober man investing in his family, church, and community.

What is the key to conversion: Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel.

[1] Mark Dever, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 97. [2] Compare the differences between people who are saved and people who are lost: 1 Cor. 5:9-6:11; Gal. 5:16-26; and Col. 3:1-11, to offer a few. [3] J. Mack Stiles, Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 36.


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