OurConversion Lasts A Lifetime
Today I want to look at the subject of our conversions to Christ. What is a conversion? What does it look like?
Professional golfer Paul Azinger was diagnosed with cancer at age 33. He had just won a
PGA championship and had ten tournament victories to his credit.
He wrote, "A genuine feeling of fear came over me. I could die from cancer. Then another
reality hit me even harder. I'm going to die eventually anyway, whether from cancer or something
else. It's just a question of when. Everything I had accomplished in golf became meaningless to me.
All I wanted to do was live."
Then he remembered something that Larry Moody, who teaches a Bible study on the tour,
had said to him. "Zinger, we're not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We're in
the land of the dying trying to get to the land of the living."
Golfer Paul Azinger recovered from chemotherapy and returned to the PGA tour. He's done pretty well. But that bout with cancer deepened his perspective. He wrote, "I've made a lot of money since I've been on the tour, and I've won a lot of tournaments, but that happiness is always temporary. The only way you will ever have true contentment is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm not saying that nothing ever bothers me and I don't have problems, but I feel like I've found the answer to the six-foot hole."
When I was sixteen years old I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, made my public confession of faith, and was baptized a second time. It happened when I asked a friend who belonged to the Baptist Church what it meant to be born again. The religious T-Shirt he was wearing prompted my question.
To answer my question he turned to the story of Nicodemus in John's Gospel. Verse by verse he led me through the chapter explaining as he went. He told me that God loved me so much that he gave his only son for me. He told me that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. That's what Jesus meant when he said the son of man would be lifted up. He told me that eternal life came to those who believe in Jesus and accept him as personal Lord and Savior. Then he taught me the sinner's prayer. "Lord I am a sinner…." Pray that prayer he said and you will be born again. I had been in and out of church most of my life.
I had already joined the church and been baptized. However, this was the first time anyone ever taken the time to explain the gospel to me. It was so attractive I got down on knees that very evening and invited Jesus into my life. When people ask me to tell them about my conversion experience, this is the story that I usually tell them.
But as powerful as that experience was for me, I still haven't been converted to Christ. That's Right! Your minister hasn't been converted to Jesus Christ. If you speak of conversion in terms of becoming a Christian, then I have been converted. But if you are talking about conversion in terms of becoming the person Christ wants me to be I haven't been converted. In fact, I'm not even close. Actually it would be better to say I'm in the process of being converted.
At one time I thought that a conversion to Christ was a one-time event. When I accepted Jesus, confessed my faith, and was baptized that was my conversion. However, with time I've come to believe that the conversion process is a lifetime event. Accepting Christ it is only the beginning of the process. A person isn't completely converted until the day her crosses from this life to the next. It is going to take my whole life to be converted. My initial conversion was only the beginning.
You certainly see this in the person of Nicodemus. He only appears three times in John's gospel. In our text for today he comes to Jesus at night seeking some answers. But he does not understand what Jesus is telling him. Then in John 7:50 Nicodemus asks the Sanhedrin to listen to Jesus before they condemn him. Finally, in John 19:39 he helps Joseph of Arimathea prepare the body of Jesus for burial. Nothing is said about whether or not he ever accepts Christ. But what you see in the gospel of John is a gradual movement toward Christ. We sometime paint Nicodemus as a dimwit. But that's not really very fair is it? He was just at the beginning of his conversion process.
Think about Peter for a moment. When was Peter converted to Christ? When Peter put down his fishing nets to follow Jesus? When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ? When Peter was forgiven by Jesus for denying him three times? When Christ showed Peter that the Gentiles were to be included in the church? You cannot just pick one moment out of Peter's life and say that was the moment he was converted to Christ. All of those moments were steps down the road toward complete conversion.
"The great Protestant Reformers - (Martin Luther- John Calvin) - were so convinced that sin is so deep-rooted in human thinking and willing, that the gospel is so demanding and different, that only a life time of conversion can change us into the new creations God has in mind for us. The modern evangelical notion that conversion is an instantaneous, momentary phenomenon is not rooted in the thought of the Reformers, nor the Bible for that matter. …Presumably we never become too old, too adept at living the Christian life to be exempt from the need for more conversion. Conversion is more of a process than a moment. …Accepting Christ is just the beginning of the Christian journey, not the final destination." (1).
Therefore, describing just one event when talking about my conversion to Christ is insufficient. Since I accepted Christ at 16 my life there have been many minor and major turns toward Christ. There was my calling to the ministry. There was intellectual growth at TCU. There was my first position as a pastor. There was my marriage to Teresa. There was my near burnout two years ago. And I expect it has been the same for you.
Consider the following references, which point to the process of becoming over a solitary moment.
(Phil 2:12-13 NIV) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
(1 Pet 2:2-3 NIV) Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
(Rom 8:28 NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Meaning everything in your life when you are in Christ becomes an opportunity for God to use it toward your conversion.
Standing at the other end of this process is a God who loves us and is wooing us toward him.
Born again vs Born from Above. There is a play on words in this text. Through out John the author uses Greek words that have double meanings. The Greek word here is anothen. It can be born from above or again. Important that it is interepreted correctly. When Jesus uses it should be born from above and not again. When Nicodemus uses it, it should be again. So Jesus says you must be born from above. Nicodemus replies how can I be born again. The difference is critical. Born again implies a solitary salvific event. However, that we must be born from above implies something to the contrary. It implies three things.
1. It is something that God does and not something that we do.
2. The conversion process is an ongoing process as opposed to a solitary event.
3. We must be open to new revelations from God.
In Nicodemus case, he said we know you are a teacher from God. We have seen all the signs you have been performing. We know then that God is with you. The new revelation for Nicodemus is that God isn't with Jesus as God was with the Prophets. Jesus is the Word of God. He is God incarnate. Which is something quite different from what Nicodemus proposed.
What is the point then? Why is it important that we know that our acceptance of Christ is only the beginning? Why is it important that we know that our conversion will last a lifetime?
1) Encourages us to commit ourselves to the whole process of our spiritual growth.
2) Helps us to see God's hand in all the details of our lives shaping us into his new creations.
3) It embraces people who never had that big flash of light or that dramatic conversion experience.
4) Soul winning is not the only purpose of the church. It is an important part of our ministry. But it is only the beginning.
The Foreign Film Chocolate has a great climax. At the climax of the movie the Priest in the little community delivers a sermon on Easter Sunday. "I do not want to speak on Christ's divine transformation - his divinity. I'd rather talk about his humanity. We can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we have to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include."
(John 3:16-17 NIV) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
This is the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we journey forward in Lent our call is to embrace it for a lifetime.
(1) Interpretation: Acts, William Willimon, John Knox Press, 1988, page 102-103