By Larry Short
In a new book by Vince and Lori Williams, Falsified: The Danger of False Conversions, the issue of how some modern-day churches (many of them classifying themselves as “seeker-sensitive”) water-down the Gospel message is tackled. (Christian Post has a good review of this book.)
The Williamses’ thesis is that a one-sided view of conversion as simply expressing a belief in Christ, as promulgated by many churches, has led to a high number of converts who have missed the key truth that conversion also involves repentance (turning from sin, to God).
In other words, Jesus not only provides complete forgiveness from sin (available to us as we believe in His grace), but also the power to live a changed life (available to us as we cast our lot with God in dependence on His Holy Spirit).
As a child, I clearly remember being told that the way to be saved was simply to believe. Romans 10:9 was frequently quoted: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
So true. And yet, Scripture clearly indicates that there are different kinds of “belief.” There is, for instance, the kind that fallen angels have: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” James 2:19 would seem to indicate that mere “theological” belief is not the type of belief that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:9.
But then there is the kind of belief that John the Baptist spoke about in Mark 1:15, when he said: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
When the time comes for true conversion, wholesale change, the first step is repentance.
There is also the faith that the writer of Hebrews speaks of in chapter 11, as he recounts Old Testament heroes whose belief drove them to obey God, to seek to please God, to take risks for God. “All these people were still living by faith when they died” (verse 13). Faith wasn’t simply a theological expression of belief. It was a way of life, of changed life.
Such belief (in the good news of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness) must be coupled with repentance. For salvation is not merely “fire insurance” designed for some life hereafter, in the sweet bye-and-bye. A biblical view of eternal life shows that it begins in the here and now. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” He wasn’t simply talking about Heaven in that verse. He was speaking of conversion, the life that He purchased, that He desires us to have, from this point onward: forgiven, free, cleansed, pure, and holy. Not just holy, but also wholly … wholly owned by God.
This is not to say that the hope for Heaven, for a life far better than the one we can have here on this fallen earth, is not a key part of the believer’s sustenance. But the “fire insurance” view of salvation, which says, “Heaven is the only thing that matters,” is as out-of-balance as its opposite, the view that God’s kingdom will only exist here on this earth. The statement that eternity begins now is true in so many ways; life after death must logically be a continuum from life before death.
A scriptural view of the saved person demands that their life bears evidence of their conversion. In John 15:16 Jesus told His disciples: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” And in Romans 7:4 Paul wrote: “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” As Jesus said, in Matthew 12:33, “A tree is recognized by its fruit.”
Many agree that “false conversions” have indeed compromised and corrupted many in our modern-day churches, causing many to live with a false sense of security, believing that they can live however they want (living for themselves rather than for Christ) here on earth since they are “guaranteed” entry into heaven. One has to wonder if Christ won’t say to such people, when they cry out, “Lord, Lord!” in the day of judgment: “Depart from Me … I never knew you!”
How about you? Do you simply “believe the right things” (theologically speaking)? Or have you truly repented of the sin that drove Christ to the cross? Have you turned away from your dead life, toward the new life that Christ offers? Does the fruit borne in your life bear evidence of the seed planted in your heart?