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True Christian Conversion

What Causes it?

by David A. DePra

     What causes real Christian conversion? Have you ever asked

that question?

     I  am not talking here about what we need to do to be saved. No.

I'm getting at something which occurs before any of that. I'm asking

what it is that causes a person who is dead in sin, and has no

interest in God, to turn and reach out to Him.

     Jesus said, "No man can come to Me except the Father who

sent Me draw Him." (John 6:44) Thus, we see that it is GOD who

must initiate a process which results in a person embracing Christ

as Saviour. But how does God do this? What does He use? What

pushes a person from being uninterested in Christ, to wanting Him?

What draws people to Christ for conversion?

     Here's another way of approaching the same question: On

Monday I am not a Christian. On Tuesday, I hear a message and

embrace Christ as Saviour. What made me able, or willing, to now

embrace a message which I'd probably heard hundreds of times


     And how about my neighbor? On Monday he was an unbeliever.

On Tuesday he was sitting right beside me and heard the same

message I heard about Jesus Christ. Yet it did not move Him.

What happened in me that did not happen in him? And WHY did

it happen to me and not to him?

     The answer here is, "God called me." But of course, God called

me. That's clear. But the question is, HOW? What happened in


     The question becomes more profound once we realize that

God never overrides our free will. He doesn't FORCE Christ on

anyone. So however God calls a person has to be in line with that

fact. Yet God does call people to Christ, and they respond fully by

their own free will.

     No one is saying that it is possible for any of us to know all of the

details of our calling. Who can know the mind of the Lord? Indeed,

we don't even know ourselves. But we can know general principles.

And that is the discussion here . What is the cause of true Christian

conversion? How does God accomplish it?

The Importance

     Why is this question important? Why must we know how God

calls and converts a person to Christ?

     Well, first of all, we do NOT need to know it to be saved. In fact,

we don't even need to know it to walk with God. There are many

other facets of Truth which can carry us on with Christ. But Truth

always sets us free. Free from ERROR. And if we can discover

how God converts a person to Christ, we will also discover much

other related Truth. We may also find out that we have been under

quite a bit of deception.

      As Christians, we are going to come into contact with many

people who are not believers. We are also going to come into

contact with many people who profess Christ, but who perhaps are

not truly converted. We need to understand what we are dealing

with so that we can walk in love, in God's purpose, regarding them.

     There is something else, too. We need to examine ourselves.

Understanding this Truth about our own conversion can help us

deepen our appreciation for Jesus Christ, and can help us shed

some of the error which may have attached itself to us regarding

unbelievers and believers alike.

     It is not our responsibility to look at any person and decide

whether they are saved. That's God's business. But we can and

should know HOW God saves people so that we can properly

preach the Truth and guide those who are interested in the right

path. One can never go wrong knowing the Truth about God.

Doctrines and Christianity

     Today, many of us are under the notion that in order to be saved,

all that we need to do is agree to a list of doctrines. Of course, these

"doctrines" are Christian doctrines. They really are. They include

the essential doctrine of Christ -- His virgin birth, death, and

resurrection -- and the doctrine of salvation through Him by faith

alone. These ARE doctrines which define Christianity. If we have

become converted to Christ, we will know and believe that these

doctrines are true.

     Read that again. Am I saying that you must believe in those

doctrines to become a Christian? NO. That is not what I said. What

I said was this: If you have become a Christian -- if your conversion

is real -- then you WILL believe those doctrines are the Truth.

     We must see the distinction. Conversion is NOT the result of

agreeing that a list of doctrines are true. No. But if I am converted

to Christ, I will agree to those true doctrines. I will know that are the

Truth because I know HIM. I will know the doctrines are the Truth

because I have experienced that Truth.

     Jesus Christ is real. The new birth is real. And it is because

these are real that they can be defined in doctrinal form. But just as

a written description of a person is not THE person, so doctrines

about Christ -- as true as they are -- are nevertheless not the very

PERSON. Our faith is to be in HIM -- in Christ -- not in the true

doctrines and teachings about Him.

     Of course it is never a matter of being saved before I learn any

doctrines, or of learning all doctrine before I am saved. Usually

there is a mix. But the point is: Knowing the doctrine of conversion

to Christ is NOT the same thing as BEING CONVERTED. We

must not mistake our knowledge of something as an experience of


     Many Christians do make this mistake. We think that because

we know a Truth in doctrinal form that we know it the way Jesus

meant when He said, "You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall

set you free." But this is not necessarily so. Jesus was talking

about more than the accumulation of facts -- even if they are TRUE

facts. He was talking about knowing Truth in a way that alters one's

very being.

     It is a subtle deception: Our faith could be in our doctrines

ABOUT Christ, rather than in Christ Himself. It is therefore vital that

we see the difference and avoid the danger.

The apostle James knew of this danger. He said,

Do you believe that there is one God? You do well! The devils

also believe and tremble. But know this, O vain man, that faith

without works is dead. (James 2:19-20)

     The fact is, the Devil knows Jesus Christ is Lord. He knows that

Jesus is the Saviour of the world. Indeed, if he did NOT know this

he would not be fighting against it. Yet what we find is that the Truth

of Jesus is the one thing the Devil seeks to corrupt most of all!

Hardly something possible if he didn't know it was the Truth to begin


     It is vitally important that all Christians know what they believe,

and why. This is most commonly expressed in essential Christian

doctrine, backed up by scripture. But never think that a mere

knowledge of Biblical doctrine, or even full assent to it AS true, is

the same thing as a living faith in a living Christ. It is not.

     The best example of this is faith. I can know what faith is, and

that I must possess it. But that is a far cry from actually believing

and trusting God. My doctrine may be true. But the Truth of faith

may not yet be something which I have yet to experience and live.

In effect, I must not merely possess the Truth. The Truth must

grow to possess ME.

     Thus, we come back to the statement made earlier. Giving

agreement to essential Christian doctrine is not a "requirement"

for conversion; for salvation. But if I am converted; am embracing

Christ as Lord and Saviour, the RESULT is going to be that I will

embrace the doctrines which tell the Truth about Him.

     Thank God things work that way! For if they did not work that

way, you are not saved until you can give a detail expository of

the doctrines of salvation and justification. Christianity would be

no more than a religion, or a list of beliefs to subscribe to.

     Notice where all of this is leading: It leads us to recognize that

Christianity is not a mere religion with a list of beliefs which define it.

Rather, Christianity is a relationship with a Person. It is a real and

life-changing experience with God through His Son. Christianity is

true conversion; a new birth. And then because Christianity is all

of that, we can explain it through doctrines. But our faith is in a

Living Christ who is in us right now -- not in those doctrines.


     There are a number of common misconceptions with regard to

true conversion. For instance, many people think that if they are "in

a church," that they are automatically "in Christ." In other words,

really converted. But in reality, we are "in the church" only if we are

FIRST in Christ and FIRST truly converted

     Actually, if just this one Truth were realized, it would eliminate

many of the reasons that cults are able to control people. People

would see that their relationship with God is not contingent upon a

group or a leader. It is a one-on-one relationship solely because

of Jesus Christ, and not in any way dependent upon others in the

Body of Christ.

     Thus, true conversion is not caused by, or maintained, by my

church. Neither by any teacher or leader. I belong to God FIRST,

and am converted by HIM. The rest falls into place as a by-product

and nothing more.

The Intellect

     Another misconception is that we are somehow converted by

study. The more I study, especially if I get a degree, the more

spiritual I am. The more holy I am. The more I know facts about

the Bible, and about Jesus, the more I am qualified to lead others.

     Going hand in hand with this nonsense is the notion that the way

we are to convert others is by argumentation. By logic. If we win the

argument, we think we have won the person. But nothing could be

further from the Truth.

     Christian conversion is not the outcome of a logical argument. It

is not a matter of being painted into a verbal corner and not being

able to escape. I do not become a Christian because I have

intellectually or logically concluded that it MUST be the Truth.

     Does that seem shocking? It's true. Think about it. Any set of

beliefs which are the outcome of logical deduction or debate simply

exist within the bounds of those arguments. All that it takes to

overthrow those beliefs is a better argument. In those cases, a

person's "faith" is only as strong as their argument. In effect, my

faith would be IN my argument. It would be IN my intellectual grasp

of the Truth.

     But Christianity transcends all of that. At the basis of Christianity

is not an argument. At the basis is a moral accountability before

God, and the solution in Christ. Thus, faith in Christianity is not in

my argument or list of doctrines. It is in a Person, Jesus Christ.

     It is wonderful to be able to discuss and explain the Truth using

logical and intellectual means. But we don't GET the Truth that

way. We don't become converted that way. Rather, we express

the Truth that way, if this happens to be in keeping with our

particular gifts and personality.

     The fact is, to try to base Christianity on logic or the intellect is

nothing more than fighting on the terms of the enemy. There is

nothing wrong or evil with the mind or the intellect. But is cannot

breach the chasm between God and man and bring true


     Another big mistake the modern church has made is to try to

prove Christianity through historical proof. Yes, there is historical

proof to point to. This can serve a purpose by getting people who

rely on that sort of thing to seek further for a personal relationship

with Jesus Christ. But in the final analysis, I can convert no one by

showing them historical proof.

     Why? Can't history convert people to Christ? No. It can only

prove to them that He existed. It can even prove to them that He

was raised from the dead. But even that -- yes, even that -- cannot

convert anyone TO Christ.

     Thus, true conversion is not the outcome of a history lesson,

any more than it is the outcome of a debate in ethics and logic.

None of that stuff can result in a new birth. None of it can bring

repentance. None of it can bring the words "Jesus is Lord" to the

lips of a person.

Thou Art the Christ

     It is amazing how clearly the Bible answers all of our questions,
and even the objections of skeptics.  All we have to do is look.  The
issues are addressed in the Word of God.
     Take conversion for example.  The issue as to how God converts
is addressed again and again.  One of the best examples is found in
Matthew 16.  There Jesus asked a question which is THE question
all of us must ask.  He asked, "Who do men say that I am?"
     The disciples told Him who men were saying He was.  John the
Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.  But then Jesus asked, 
"Who do YOU say that I am?"
     Peter was the one, as usual, who stepped forward.  He said, "After
these many years of study, I have earned my doctorate from the
University of Jerusalem.  And I have studied many other ancient
religions.  I have learned HOW to read these ancient manuscripts.
And after all of that, I, Dr. Peter, have concluded that You are most
likely the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But we will keep the issue
open in the event of new discoveries."
     Is that how the conversation went?  Hardly.  Peter simply confessed,
"Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  But what really
speaks to the point is the response of Jesus.  Did He tell Peter,
"Books and study have revealed this to you!"  No.  Did He say, "Wow,
Peter, you are really smart.  You finally figured it out.  You must have
quite the logical mind."?  No.  Did He say, "Great Peter.  Perhaps
now you ought to get a Master's degree so that you can have papers
to verify that you really know this."?  No.  What Jesus said, IF WE
WOULD SIMPLY READ IT, tells us that there is really only one way

to true conversion:  God has to reveal Christ to us.   Period.

     Peter had walked and talked with Christ for 3 years.  He knew
Him as a man.  Yet Jesus Christ said THAT was not what revealed
to Peter that He was the Christ.  NOTHING of the flesh and blood
realm did it.  Only the Father in heaven.
     Incidentally, this is precisely why Jesus did not walk around the
country side saying, "I am God, I am God...."  It would have done
no good -- although there are over a half a dozen places where Jesus
does say He is God.  Rather than take that approach, Jesus knew
He simply needed to preach the Truth and do good works.  God did
the revealing to those He was at that time calling.
     What does all of this say to US?  It tells us that there isn't any
possible way we are going to see who Jesus Christ is by mere
study.  There isn't any way to see it only by reasoning and logic.
And it tells us for sure that, when all is said and done, there is no
way to prove to someone else that Jesus Christ is God.  We can
and should preach that He is God.  But only as an expectation to the
one only way in which a Person can come to see who Jesus is:  By
way of revelation from God Himself.
     If Peter, who walked and talked with Christ,  did not see who Jesus
was through the means of anything physical, or flesh and blood, then
who are WE?  God had to reveal Jesus to Peter.  He must reveal it
to us.  And when He does, it will be real.  It will also be something
we cannot reveal to others through flesh and blood means.  We 
need to stop trying, and simply focus on doing what God said to do:
Preach the Truth.  Let God use it to reveal Christ.

How Does God Convert?

     Ok. Now we come to the answer. What is it that converts a

person to Christ? What is it that God does in a person that gets

them to the point where they embrace Christ?

     Well, God has a multitude of specific ways of bring a person to

the point of surrender to Christ. But regardless of the method, the

issue of conversion hinges on one thing. And it is the SAME for all.

No one is excepted.

     What is that one thing?  Just this:  God reveals to us Jesus Christ.
And THAT results in two things:  First, I see that I am a totally helpless
sinner.  And I see that He is the answer.  Or to say it another way,

conversion comes when I repent of my unbelief and finally embrace

Jesus Christ for deliverance and salvation.

     So that's the answer: I must see I am a sinner. Then, because

of that, I repent of unbelief and surrender to Christ.  There is no other

way to become a Christian.

     The fact is, if I have not seen I am a sinner in need of the grace,

and repent of my unbelief, and embrace Christ on that basis, I

am NOT converted.  I am not born again.  I cannot be.

     Why?  Because if you don't see you are a sinner, you will not

see you need a Saviour. Oh, you might acknowledge there IS a

Saviour. And you might agree to the doctrine which says you have

a sin nature, and that says you need a Saviour. But unless you

actually SEE and KNOW you are a sinner, and repent, your

conversion is not real. It can't be.

     We are saved by grace through faith. And try though I may, I

cannot have faith if I have NOT seen my need. I cannot. There

will be nothing to motivate me. I will have no frame of reference for

the grace of God. It will remain mere doctrine to me.

A Moral Issue

     What all this means is that conversion is NOT an intellectual

issue. It is not an emotional issue. It is a MORAL issue. We are

here talking about my personal accountability to God. It is there

that God must begin with us. It is there that God must meet us: In our

sin. And through the Christ who died for us.

     Today there are many people -- including many church leaders --

who will tell you that what Jesus taught was wonderful. They will say

we must follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. But lost in the shuffle

is the very place Christ meets us: In our sin. In our need.

     Many Christians do not want to be told they are sinners. To many,

that is a negative message. It is depressing. Or it is just for the first

five minutes of conversion. But the fact is, if I embrace Christ, I am

going to spend the rest of my life realizing how much I need Him.

And it won't be depressing. That's because my focus won't be on

my sin and my need. It will be on HIM.

     We ought to be thankful that conversion is a moral issue. If it

were not, but instead were an intellectual issue, then the smarter

we were, the more holy we'd be. It would mean that no longer does

a little child enter the kingdom. Only the intellectual giants do.

     Unfortunately, many churches believe this. This don't come right

out and say it, but they believe study and the intellect is what matters

most. And we have, as the body of Christ, paid the price for being

so deceived.

     The New Testament requirements for church leadership have

been almost completely ignored today by most denominations.

Instead of actually reading what Paul said about this important

issue, we simply side-step this and rely on education. So now we

go to a seminary to acquire the spiritual gift of "pastor." And if you

have a doctorate, when then you REALLY have the gift. Such

thinking is foreign to the New Testament.

     Education is not evil. But we should keep it in it's place. It has

nothing to do with a MORAL relationship with God. All of the Bible

education in the world cannot equal death and resurrection in Jesus

Christ. It cannot bring repentance and conversion.

Moral Surrender

     Jesus never told us to check our brains at the door if we want to

enter the kingdom of God. But the intellect cannot bridge the chasm

from the flesh to the Spirit. It cannot penetrate through to the Truth.  

     Listen to the words of the apostle Paul on this matter:

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with

wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no

effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish

foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For

it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to

nothing the understanding of the prudent. (I Cor. 1:17-19)

     What makes these words all the more significant is the fact that

Paul himself was one of the most intelligent people God ever used.

Read the epistles. Do those letters sound like the writings of a

person who never did any thinking? Hardly. Yet Paul is able to say

without apology that it is not his arguments or his wisdom with words

which is the key. It is the Cross. It is Jesus Christ. It is the power of


     Paul make it clear what the balance is between using one's mind,

and true Christian conversion. The intellect and the mind are not the

tools which convert you. But they are the tools which, after you meet

Jesus Christ, can be used to understand and explain and proclaim

that conversion. And the reason that our minds are able to

eventually understand the things of God is only because they have

been renewed by the Holy Spirit.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you

present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,

which is your reasonable service.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the

renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and

acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom. 12:1-2)

     Note the progression: First, surrender. Unconditional and total.

Then, as the result of that surrender, a stand against becoming

conformed to this world. And then, because I have surrendered,

the Holy Spirit will renew my mind according to the mind of Christ.

The end result? I will prove what is the good, and acceptable, and

perfect will of God.

      The vital thing to see is that surrender comes first. It is a MORAL

surrender. A surrender to God through Jesus Christ as a sinner in

need of the grace of God. Then, as we move forward in faith and

obedience, comes the renewal of the mind. Only then comes the

real understanding.

     Often today, we get the cart before the horse. We think that if we

intellectually understand, then we've got it. No. We may have

merely memorized Biblical doctrine, or the teachings of our favorite

saint. We may have nothing personal of Jesus Christ.

     Imagine yourself planning to take a trip into a far country. You

have never been there before. So you do much reading about it.

In fact, you do so much reading about it that you could probably

convince someone you have lived there for many years. You have

all the facts and the stats. You can even add detailed descriptions

of this land which you have never seen.

     Ask: Is the ability to do all of that the same as having been in that

land? Of course not. You have to actually go to the land before you

can truly see. And then -- once you see -- then you can understand

and explain through experience.

     Agreeing that we must repent of sin isn't the same AS repenting

of it. Agreeing that Jesus is Lord isn't the same AS surrendering to

Him AS Lord. We must not only know how to explain conversion.

We must BE converted.

     Paul summed it up best. He said:

Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge

of the Truth. (II Tim. 3:7)

     Read that again. Notice what God is saying here. He is saying

that it is entirely possible to be "ever learning" but NEVER come

to know the Truth. And He is not talking about an atheist. He is

talking about those who are religious. For He says in the same

passage, in reference to the same people:

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.

(II Tim. 3:5a)

The Early Church

     About two thousand years ago, about 120 people gathered

together in Jerusalem to wait. The atmosphere was somewhat

tense. They were in danger. But they were also looking forward to

what was going to happen.

     What made the atmosphere even more tense was that they did

not really know what was going to happen, but simply knew that

SOMETHING was going to happen. Jesus had told them not to

depart from Jerusalem, but to "Wait for the promise of the Father."

He had told them, "You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not

many days hence." He had also said, "You shall receive power

once the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you shall be My

witnesses both in Jerusalem, in Judea, and to the uttermost parts

of the earth." (see Acts 1:4-8)

     The fact is, there was no way that any of these people could

have possibly had the slightest notion of what any of that really

meant. "Holy Spirit? What's that?," they probably questioned.

"Become witnesses for Christ?," they may have muttered, "How

do we do that?" Their perplexity is seen in the very last question

they had asked Jesus. Immediately before the ascension, they

asked, "Will you, at this time, restore the kingdom to Israel?"

     If there was one thing Jesus had tried to get across to them for

the last three and one-half years, it was that the kingdom He

continually spoke of was not a physical kingdom. Over and over

He tried to show them this. He had even said, "The kingdom of

God does not come in a way that can be observed with the eyes.

Neither can anyone say, 'Here it is, or there it is!' For, behold, the

kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

     Nothing could be plainer. But these disciples had grown up in

a society and culture which knew of only one kind of kingdom: A

natural one. A physical one. It was almost impossible to change

their thinking. Even after the death and resurrection of Jesus

Christ they did not understand. Even with the resurrected Christ

standing in front of them, they didn't get it. It is therefore certain that

when they returned to Jerusalem to wait, they still had not grasped

the meaning. They were told to wait. And they obeyed. But they

likely had no clue as to what they were waiting FOR.

     The first disciples had a Jewish background. They had no

patterns set for what a church was, or how it should function. They

were a group of scared, inexperienced people, none of whom had

ever been to a seminary or school. Yet it was these that God took

and used. They would turn the world upside down. How did they

do it? And more importantly, why don't we have today what they had

then? Where has all the power gone? Why aren't Christians

today turning the world upside down?

The Early Conversions

     In the first century, no one knew about Jesus Christ. Even word

about Him had to be carried verbally, or at best, through an epistle.

When one of the apostles walked into a town, it was often a Gentile

town. So not only were these people ignorant of Christ, but they had

false gods instead. Quite a few obstacles to overcome.

     Added to the problem was the fact that these early disciples had

no New Testament from which to preach. In fact, they really had no

Old Testament which they could easily carry around. And really,

what good would it have done to show the Bible to a Gentile of that

time anyways?

     We must get this setting. What possible reason, if you wanted

to preach Christ to a pagan of that time, could you give him for

believing Jesus was his Saviour? What reason could you give him

for believing the Old Testament prophecies? Why should he

believe them? How could you convince him?

     How would you preach to them? No Bible. No church to invite

them to. No written proof of what you taught. What reasons could

you possibly give them for believing? Why should they believe

you when you tell them Jesus rose from the dead? Why should

they care whether He lived, was crucified, rose, and ascended?

And how are you going to make them care?

     Remember that in those days, in that area, there was a Greek 

domination of the culture. Greeks like to argue, and they like to

reason. So we are not merely talking about ignorant heathen who

would sit there and let you spoon feed them anything you like. No.

These were heathen people, but smart people. And they had

never heard of Jesus Christ. If you wanted to convert them to the

truth, you had better be prepared to answer questions.

     Today skeptics demand proof, and claim that there is none for

Christianity. But back then, there was even less. There was no

written record. But many people WERE converted? How did

these early disciples turn the world upside down?

      In Acts 8, Philip converted a eunuch. He preached Jesus to

him. At the conclusion, the eunuch confessed, "I believe that Jesus

Christ is the Son of God." (Acts 8:37) What convinced this man?

What made him believe the scripture was worth reading, and that

Jesus as his Saviour? A good argument?

     No. What convinced him was a revelation of God. A conviction

of need. The work of the Holy Spirit. Lots of people read the Bible

and never come to that. This fellow came to surrender to Christ, not

because of a good argument, and not because of an intellectual

understanding. He surrendered because "faith comes by hearing

and hearing comes by the Word of God." (Rom. 10:17)

     Note that faith is only possible IF you have heard, and that

hearing is not possible unless it is created by the Word of God. In

effect, WE DON'T DO THIS. God does. God reveals to a person,

after much preparation, the Truth. The Truth about their sin and

need for deliverance, and the Truth about Jesus Christ as Lord and


True Conversion

     In today's environment of "political correctness," many places in

the body of Christ have given into the world's mentality. People

used to die for Christ. Today we apologize for Him, and adjust Him

to suit the preferences of people. Thus, we have a growing group

of churches who no longer insist that Jesus is God, or that He is the

only way to God. Instead, we want to be "inclusive." We want to

embrace all religions, all in the name of love and unity.

     People need to decide. They need to decide one way or

another who Jesus Christ is. "Who do men say that I am remains

THE question." Like it or not, we must answer.

     People can water down the Truth of Jesus Christ all they want, but

in the end, there is only one way to become a Christian:  I must

see that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate -- the Saviour of the world.
As the outcome of that revelation, I must then confess that I am a

sinner.  I must repent of the sin of unbelief.   I must surrender to

Christ as Lord and Saviour of my life. If I don't do this, I am NOT

a Christian.  I am NOT "in Christ." It does not matter how much I

learn, or how many degrees I possess.  It does not matter how 

much I go to church, or whether I am a leader, pastor, or layman.

I am a Christian only if I am born again in Jesus Christ, the Son of


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