Articles | "Conversion"

August 19, 2020

by William Heinrich

Matthew 18:2-3

“Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.’”


          The New Testament Greek’s words for convert or conversion are episterphein and strephein. Strepheim is the word for “turn.” It can mean to turn the mind or give attention to something or someone. The Greek word epistrephein hardly differs at all, for it too means to turn.


          It was said of John the Baptizer that he will “turn” many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. James speaks of the duty and privilege of “turning back” or converting a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. When Peter healed Aeneas, all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they “turned” to the Lord. It was the decision of the Jerusalem Council that the gentiles who “turned” to God should not be troubled.


          In Matthew 18:3 our word is not translated “turn,” but it’s the same Greed word. “Except ye be ‘converted’ (turned), and become as a little child, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The same translation is done for other verses such as: Matthew 13:15, Mark 14:12, John 12:40, Acts 28:27, Luke 22:32, Acts 15:3.


          From what has been said, it seems the basic meaning of the two Greek words for convert or conversion is a “turning” either in the physical or the mental or the spiritual sense of the term. Therefore, when the word is used in scripture, it means a change of outlook and a new direction of life, thought, belief, hope, and action.


          The Old Testament Hebrew has a similar word, shubh, which simply means to return or turn back, to change or alter a course of action, to turn from sin, to restore, and above all, to return to God. Conversion is a turning of a man’s mind, heart, and life in the direction of God.


          Conversion involves a “turning” from something and a “turning” toward something. In Acts 9:35; they “turned” to the Lord. In Acts 11:2 “a great number that believed ‘turned’ to God.” In Acts 15:19 “Paul’s message to the gentiles was that they should repent and “turn” to the Lord.”


          A man may have many attitudes toward God. He may be totally unaware that God exists at all. He may believe He exists but be completely indifferent to Him. He may be concerned with the activities of the world for a long stretch in his life and forget the very existence of God. He may be evading God. He may wish there were no God. He may be actively hostile toward God. He may believe in God, be kind to Him, courteous, but uninterested and indifferent. He may attend church and fulfill church responsibilities. Religion remains for him in a compartment of his life. This man goes to God in a crisis, but when the sun is shining, he can handle life well enough by himself. In all listed above, in none of them is God the steadily dominant factor in their life. In none of them is God permanently before him or the center of His life. In real conversion, a man is “turned” to face and live before his God. In real conversion life is no longer oscillating, but a state in which life is permanently turned toward God.


          Conversion is both a “turning” toward God and away from sin. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9 it is a “turning” from idols to serve the living and true God. In Acts 14:15 it is a “turning” away from vain things to a living God. A man’s god is that to which he gives his life. Conversion is the time when a man gives his life not to material things, but to God. It is a “turn” from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). Conversion means the dark things in which a man once found delight now repels him and purity thrills him.


          The “turn” is from the power source of Satan to the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 26:18), release from the past and strength for the future. The “turn” comes from God through grace by the power that spoke the worlds into existence. In one “turn” God granted a sinner to become a saint and a man of the world become a man of God and one dead in trespasses and sin to become spiritually alive. So the convert has entered a life that is radically different. Should one claim a “turn” but he has not changed, then he has not turned or been “turned” by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17).


          Jesus Christ is the atmosphere in whom the one “turned” lives. The two are inseparable. They have an indissoluble connection. The Christian never ignores Jesus but enters every day with Him. He is always thankful for Calvary, always desirous to please Him, always remembering the faith He granted him which resulted in being set free from sin’s dominion and the devil’s deceptive power.


          No so-called convert to Christ is a real convert unless his conversion makes him a worshipper of his God. The whole earth in a sense is God’s temple, and as such He can be worshipped anywhere. However, God’s plan has always been to have a day when His people gather together (1 Timothy 3:14-15) and worship Him. There is something wrong with a conversion which does not bring the sense of joy in worshipping the glory of God together.


          The “turned man” is a generous man (Matthew 10:8). The “turned man” is a grateful man. The “turned man” is a good man (1 Timothy 6:18). The “turned man” will do his part to “turn others,” strengthening the weak (James 5:19, Luke 22:32), teaching the word (Matthew 13:14-15), taking others by the hand (Matthew 18:3, Acts 28:26-27), sharing the gospel of salvation (Acts 3:19).