What Does Conversion Look Like? (Part 1)
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, your workers of lawlessness.’ [Matthew 7:21-23, ESV]
As I mentioned yesterday and on a number of previous occasions, I believe these to be the most startling, shocking, and frightening words in all of the New Testament. (And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night [Rev 14:11] runs a close second).
How terrible and disconcerting it will be to hear these words at the final judgment. There will be many after a life of service to the Lord in some form or fashion who will be expecting admission into God’s kingdom turned away and rejected. How can this be?
It is because many who profess to know Jesus, to have accepted Jesus into their hearts, who believe in Jesus, and even love Jesus have no relationship to him or with him. Empty professions of faith, lawless lives, and religious activity do not provide the righteousness required by God for genuine salvation.
For the record, many of the so-called means of presenting the gospel are not even biblical in nature. No where in the bible are we told to “accept Jesus into our hearts.” Nor does the scripture exhort a person to give their heart to God – as a matter of fact it is God who gives a sinner a new heart. The sinner’s prayer is not a ‘sure-fire guarantee’ formula ensuring salvation. Asking Jesus to ‘save you’ without repentance will not gain you heaven. Continuing to live or ‘practice lawlessness’ also is a good indicator of the lack of true salvation. One cannot claim to be a Christian and live according to the desires and works of the flesh, (Galatians 5:19-21). Don’t tell yourself that you are a Christian and remain a drunkard, live immorally, or disobedient to the clear commands of God.
Notice, Jesus said, ‘I never knew you.’ He did not mean that when they showed up expecting entrance into his kingdom that he didn’t know who they were. Jesus used the Greek word οὐδέποτε which means, never, not at any time ever did I, γινώσκω, come to know or have knowledge of, or to become acquainted with. At no time ever did Jesus ever come to know or to have a relationship with the aforementioned people. Regardless of all their protests and claims, professions, and service, Jesus never knew these people in a salvific or redemptive way.
Empty professions and religious works or service are not the means of genuine salvation. I am deeply grieved that I grew up in a religious atmosphere where manipulative means were often employed in hopes of getting people to pray a prayer or ‘to accept Jesus.’ I shudder at the memory of preaching such shallow ‘methods’ of securing converts.
Salvation is a work of God in the lives of sinners. Salvation is a gift given to those whom God chooses to give salvation to. Salvation is a result of God choosing to open the heart of a desperate and dammed sinner, granting him/her the gift of faith and repentance, making a dead sinner alive, and revealing Christ as the only means of salvation.
When God so works in such a life and heart, one is made alive by the work of God, one turns from sin, to the living God, and one’s affections and direction is changed eternally. Therefore, for lack of better of more sophisticated words, may I use my humble and limited vocabulary to simply say that salvation is a transformation of a heart by God, by the Holy Spirit regenerating a dead sinner, based on the sacrificial work of Christ on the Cross. Salvation is not a mere addition to a lawless or sinful live. Salvation without transformation is not salvation.
Just ask the people in Matthew 7:21-23. They called Jesus, κύριος, ‘Lord, Master, owner.’ Not only did they claim and acknowledge him as their Lord or master, they served him in some capacity. Some of them prophesized in Jesus’s name, some of them cast out demons, and others performed some type of miracles. But none of them were transformed by God. None were converted. How do we know? First of all, their profession and performance did not change their lives – they remained lawless. They remained in their sin, their addictions, their rebellion. Second, Christ himself declared that he never had a relationship with them.
My friends, Paul exhorted the Corinthians believers to ‘πειράζωto’ (‘to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quality, to try or test one’s faith, virtue, character), Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test! [2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV) Be sure God has made you alive in Christ by his glorious power and that you are not merely resting in an empty profession and religious activity. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! [2 Corinthians 9:15, EMTV]