By Steve Sherman
Faculty, College of Theology
Conversion to Jesus experiences in Scripture are everywhere; the process takes many forms and may be sudden or gradual in character. The New Testament is clear about conversion being indispensable to Christian believing and therefore believers in and followers of Jesus must continue to share boldly, with grace and love, the need for conversion—for this is the way into God’s kingdom.
What was the primary means of conversion in the New Testament period? It was preaching (Acts 15:7). The focus was uncompromisingly centered on Jesus Christ—even in the midst of polytheism and syncretism. “It was the uncompromising claim of Christianity, not that all other religions were useless, but that at best they were broken lights, glimpses, fragmentary atoms of knowledge and that the only full and true revelation of God was in Jesus Christ” (Barclay, 1964, 32). At the same time, gospel presentations varied widely and were based, in part, on the context of the hearers.
In addition to preaching, dialogue was also used as a means of conversion. Stephen, Paul and Apollos give us examples of debate, argument and other attempts at persuasion as they participate with God in the conversion process (for example, see Acts 17).
Healing was an important instrument in the work of conversion. Peter, Philip and Paul especially exercised healing powers from the Spirit. Pagans saw in Christianity a “power that could cope with and mend the human situation” (Barclay, 1964, 40). Let’s not forget the importance of power in conversion:
It will always be true that the outsider will have no use for an alleged faith which is demonstratively ineffective. Long ago, Nietzsche, the atheist philosopher, issued the challenge: “Show me that you are redeemed and then I will believe in your Redeemer.” The greatest converting influence of all is a life which clearly and obviously is possessed of a power which can cope with the human situation in all its problems, in all its tragedy and in all its pain (Barclay, 1964, 40-41).
Personal witness (testimony) is a key component in conversion. Early church preachers testified to their faith and experience, calling others to the same. They witnessed to facts they knew to be true. For instance, Jesus is the Messiah, he is resurrected and he has commissioned them to make disciples. In the witness of one’s life, martyrdom was the ultimate demonstration of commitment.
New Testament scholar Scot McKnight get to the heart of the matter:
Conversion is about following Jesus. It doesn’t matter how or when someone is converted; it matters only that they are converted or are being converted. Jesus measures conversion by behavioral standards—by love, by holiness, by righteousness and by mercy. It is not about repeating a formula, belonging to a church or praying a prayer; it is about following Jesus as the shaping core of one’s identity (2002, 181).
Finally, theologian Stanley Grenz reminds us of the communal dimension of conversion to Jesus, noting that “conversion occurs in a specific context of a specific community [where] incorporation into the community of Christ . . . involves a new set of categories “through which we view and experience ourselves and the world . . . which “becomes the vehicle for reorientation of one’s perspective, facilitating the formation of a new identity and the construction of a new value system” (2000, 425).
Have you experienced conversion to Jesus?
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