Biblical Conversion is Not Self-Improvement

Biblical Conversion is Not Self-Improvement

The very bad news of the gospel regarding the sinner’s hopeless and diabolical situation is more than matched and surpassed by the very good news of the gospel that speaks of the incredible saving power of God. It is the power to transform us into forgiven saints with the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and the power to enable us to live a life that is pleasing to him. All this has nothing to do with self-improvement and everything to do with the matchless grace of God.

Mankind’s greatest and most urgent need is to get right with God. That of course presupposes that we are NOT now right with God. We are sinners who live in alienation from and hostility to God. The whole point of the life and work of Christ was to make a way for lost sinners to be reconciled to a holy and just God.

But we must be clear as to what biblical conversion is all about. And that means being clear about our condition as sinners and our complete inability to save ourselves and turn our lives around. Since I am again reading through Jeremiah, I recently came upon a familiar passage found there. Jer. 13:23 says this: “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

Our condition as sinners is one of utter hopelessness and inability. Consider some of the things the New Testament says about who we are as sinners and what we are like as sinners:

-spiritually sick (Luke 5:31-32)
-rebellious children (Luke 15:11-32)
-lost (Luke 19:10)
-enslaved (John 8:34)
-in darkness (Acts 26:18)
-remain in darkness (John 12:46)
-under the power of Satan (Acts 26:18)
-God’s enemies (Romans 5:10)
-slaves to sin (Romans 6:22)
-influenced and led astray to mute idols (1 Corinthians 12:2)
-spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
-God’s enemies (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
-slaves to those who by nature are not gods (Galatians 4:8)
-dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)
-objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
-dead in transgressions (Ephesians 2:5)
-darkened in their understanding (Ephesians 4:18)
-separated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18)
-darkness (Ephesians 5:8)
-in the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13)
-alienated from God (Colossians 1:21)
-his enemies (Colossians 1:21)
-idol worshippers (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
-held in slavery (Hebrews 2:15)
-not a people; who had not received mercy (1 Peter 2:10)
-sheep going astray (1 Peter 2:25)

That is quite a list. It is a damning indictment of those who we are without Christ – which is all of us. And that is why Scripture speaks about what it is like to have a real, God-given conversion:

-We are moved from death to life.
-We are moved from darkness to light.
-We are moved from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.
-We are moved from bondage to liberty.
-We are moved from slaves to sons.
-We are moved from being enemies of God to friends of God.

So a radical change takes place when the sinner is converted. It has to be radical: we are talking about bringing spiritual life to dead men and women. And that is why the Apostle Paul for example speaks about the power of God when it comes to the conversion of sinners.

As he said in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The word for power (dunamis) is used two other times in this chapter: in v. 4 which discusses God’s power in raising Jesus from the dead, and v. 20 which speaks of God’s power in creating the world.

Many Christian commentators could be mentioned here who have spoken to these truths. C. S. Lewis for example said this: “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” And again: “Conversion requires an alteration of the will which does not occur without the intervention of the supernatural.”

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