CONVERSION: THE TURN FOR THE BEST
1. “A turn for the worse” would suggest foreboding news of a declining condition, of moving in the wrong direction. “A turn for the better” calls to mind the hopeful note of improvement, positive progress of some sort. But we are thinking about “the turn for the best” – conversion – in the sense the New Testament speaks of it.
2. “Conversion” is a term which carries quite a lot of baggage.
a. Down through the years many have thought of it as a mystical experience that happens to passive spiritual seekers.
b. Now it often includes connotations of having, either for crass temporary advantage or because of the influence of some guru, left one socio-religious group to join another.
c. And besides these two problems there are the ever-present conflicting claims about what is involved in the process of conversion.
3. It is still easy to see that when we speak of “conversion” we are dealing with a very precious concept.
a. Consider, for example, the only time the noun is used in the New Testament – the statement in Acts 15:3.
b. The “great joy” mentioned here is recoverable if we can learn to think of conversion as “the turn for the best.”
1. The place for us to start is with the meaning of the term.
a. The word the New Testament uses means “to turn,” “to turn towards,” or “to return.”
i. It’s a regular word that could be used of returning home from a trip (Lk. 2:39), or of turning one’s heart back toward to what has been left behind (Acts 7:39), or of a person physically turning around (Rev. 1:12).
ii. Eight times the KJV translates it with some form of “to be converted,” maybe to indicate that in these cases the word is used in a spiritual or theological sense.
(1) But some have taken that phrasing as evidence of the idea that being converted is not something we do, but something that happens to us.
(2) And others have used it to put more accent on the change that results from conversion than on the returning that conversion is.
iii. In almost all cases the newer versions just translate the word “turn,” or “turn again,” or “turn back.”
b. When you think about it, what strikes you is that the thing that makes all the difference is what a person is turning from and what he is turning to.
i. For example, Paul uses a form of this same word to speak of “turning away from listening to the truth” (2 Tim. 4:4), “swerving from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:21), and “stray[ing] after Satan” (1 Tim. 5:15).
(1) People who do that are turning from the love that “issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” to wander away into vain discussion (1 Tim. 1:5, 6).
(2) That is turning from the right thing to the wrong thing! That’s the opposite of what conversion means!
ii. The “turning from” and “turning to” we’re talking about is the kind you can see in wonderful statement like these.
(1) 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
(2) 1 Peter 1:25
iii. What “conversion” means is turning away from the error and evil of sin to the living God and his wise and loving will.
2. Another thing that will help us some reflection on the significance of the event.
a. “Conversion involves a change of lords,” as one writer put it. (F. Laubach, NIDNTT, Vol. 1, 355)
i. The gospel of Christ is the power that makes such a turning possible, but conversion is “an action, something one does” in response to the good news. (Packer, New Bible Dictionary, 228)
ii. The tense the New Testament uses to speak of it indicates “an immediate and decisive change, consequent upon a deliberate choice; conversion is a voluntary act in response to the presentation of truth.” (Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 162)
iii. In this once-for-all event, one who has been under the rule of the prince of this world returns to God through Christ, gains present entry into his kingdom, and receives the blessing of forgiveness of sins.
b. “Conversion secures the salvation which Christ has brought” (Packer). That this is indeed the significance of the event may be seen from passages like these.
i. Matthew 18:3
ii. Acts 3:26, 19
iii. Acts 26:18
3. The other important thing for us to grasp is manner in which the change for the best occurs.
a. The book of Acts is especially valuable to us as we think about this.
i. The Lord had promised his apostles the Holy Spirit to guide them into all the truth (Jn. 16:13), and Acts is the record of what happened when he fulfilled his promise (Acts 2:1f).
ii. It offers not only their authoritative teaching about what the death and resurrection of Jesus means, but also their authoritative instructions on how all people are to respond to him.
iii. The examples of conversion found in Acts are the best way for us know how to turn to God through the gospel of grace.
b. Four simple principles may be identified in each conversion account in Acts (Suggested by Steve Reeves in “The Acts of Conversion,” Magnolia Messenger, March/April 04, p 10, 17). You can remember them with A-C-T-S.
i. Acceptance of the message: “what this says is true.”
(1) I have messages in my e-mail box I have not opened. Thus far they have no effect on me.
(2) If those who heard the apostles say Jesus has been made both Lord and Christ had not accepted their claim, nothing else the apostles told them would have made any difference.
(3) Matt. 13:15 (from Isa. 6:10); Mk. 4:12; Jn. 12:39-40; Acts 28:27
ii. Conviction: “this is talking about me.”
(1) No one turns back without facing the fact that he has been headed in the wrong direction. That is an uncomfortable realization.
(2) Bill Dillon has written, “When any man or woman is about to be converted...a famine of meaning and purpose [comes into that life]. The conscience begins to be troubled as Almighty God works through his word, presses upon the soul, and this leads to the question, ‘what can I do about my sin?’”
(3) In the conversion accounts in Acts, it shows in the urgency with which they obeyed the gospel (2:37; 8:37; 16:31, 33).
iii. Turning: “I am genuinely sorry my sins against Your love.”
(1) This the repentance that godly sorrow causes – the turning from what hurts God and ruins us.
(2) Repentance is necessary for any of us to return to God (Lk. 13:3, 5; 2 Pet. 3:9).
(3) In Acts, this part of turning is both taught by the apostles (2:38; 17:30), and embodied in their experience – think of Peter and Paul.
iv. Submission: “Your will is my will. I depend on You.”
(1) Can you see that there can’t be a “change of lords” without this?
(2) It is the “turning to” part of conversion.
(3) The conversion accounts in Acts are completed with obedience to the command to be baptized (2:41; 8:38; 10:48; 16:14-15, 33-34; 18:12; 22:16).
1. The return to God through Christ in response to the gospel is “the turn for the best.”
2. The God who has made it possible is also the one who determines how it occurs.
3. Accept the message. Be convicted in your heart. Turn away from what is not right. Submit to the command of God.