Clearing Up Some Confusion About Our Conversion Stories

Conversion experiences vary among Christians; each has his or her own story to tell.

Be thankful that God has worked in you from the time you were a child.  The evidence of your conversion is not that you have a spectacular story.  You probably don’t.  You sat in church and in family worship, and you absorbed everything that was taught.  The evidence of your conversion is simply that you now trust in Christ and lean on him for the forgiveness of your sins.  You don’t need a striking story.  You don’t need a point where you were changed in an instant. All you need is hope in Christ alone today.

 

Conversion is a theological term.  It is not the same thing as the word regeneration or even the word salvation.  Regeneration is the work of God whereby he changes the hearts of his elect.  This may happen to a person as an adult or even as a child.  It may even happen before birth as is demonstrated with John the Baptist who leaped for joy in the presence of Christ while in his mother’s womb. Salvation, on the other hand, is a description of the entire work of God in the lives of his elect describing such elements as election, justification, sanctification, and glorification.

Conversion is a more particular term that describes the experience of each of God’s elect as God works faith and repentance in their lives. In regeneration the Christian is passive.  In conversion the Christian is conscious of what is happening.  He is believing, and he is repenting.

Conversion experiences will vary with every Christian.  The Apostle Paul had a dramatic conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  The three thousand who were converted on the Day of Pentecost could give a place, date, and time of their conversion.  The history of the church is full of dramatic conversion experiences where men and women in an instant were delivered from darkness to light. John Newton could recall the time when he was blind, but then he could see.

However, not everyone will have such a dramatic conversion experience.  This is especially true of covenant children raised in the church.  They should expect an experience more like that of Timothy.  He knew the Holy Scriptures from the time he was a child (2 Tim. 3:15), and we know that the faith that was in him was the same faith that was in his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5).  Yes, Timothy had to understand the gravity of his sin, and that his only hope was in Christ like all other Christians, but his experience of coming to that knowledge was quite different than that of the Apostle Paul.  He speaks of no place, date, and time.  I believe that his mother and grandmother were instruments in his conversion that happened over time.

One of the issues that pastors deal with at times with some covenant children is their sense of the lack of assurance they may have because they may not have had a dramatic conversion experience.  They can’t give a place, a date, and a time when they were converted.  Many of them only know that they have always trusted in Christ.  They cannot remember a time when they did not trust in Christ.

When men flee from flood waters, some will have a dramatic escape.  Some will be rescued by a helicopter at the last moment before the water covers the land. Some will escape by boat.  These dramatic tales will generally be published in the local newspaper.  However, some will escape simply by walking to higher ground.  Nothing dramatic about that!  The point is not how you escaped.  The point is that you are safe.  You are on higher ground.

Likewise, with regard to conversion, the issue is not who has the best story to tell.  I know of some churches where there seems to be competition among the members regarding who has the most remarkable conversion story to tell during a public time of testimony.  This tends to create doubt in many others in the church about their own conversion, especially in the lives of people raised like Timothy.  The real issue is not the tale we have to tell, but that we are all safe.  We all stand together on higher ground.  We all trust and love Jesus.

If you were raised in the church and you have always trusted in Jesus, don’t envy those who have had a dramatic conversion.  They would probably trade their experience for yours any day. Don’t seek after someone else’s conversion experience.  There is no need to walk the isle.  There is no need to be baptized again.  Yes, there will be some covenant children who later in life have an extraordinary conversion experience.  However, most covenant children will not have such a story to tell.

Be thankful that God has worked in you from the time you were a child.  The evidence of your conversion is not that you have a spectacular story.  You probably don’t.  You sat in church and in family worship, and you absorbed everything that was taught.  The evidence of your conversion is simply that you now trust in Christ and lean on him for the forgiveness of your sins.  You don’t need a striking story.  You don’t need a point where you were changed in an instant. All you need is hope in Christ alone today.

Larry E. Ball is a Retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.