CONVERSION -  by Foy E. Wallace Jr.

(This article was a part of a special edition of the Gospel Advocate; April 7th, 1938.  It is reprinted by perission of the Gospel Advocate Company, Nashville, Tennessee)

    
The elementary meaning of conversion is to change a thing or a person into something else.  Corn is converted into bread - sometimes!  Rags are converted into paper, and paper into books.  Biblically, conversion is the mental or moral change in man which begins with belief of the gospel and ends with obedience.  It is a synonym for the whole plan of salvation.  Man has never been able to frame a system which could purify the sinner's heart, sanctify his woul, restore his character, and save the perishing race.  His creator alone could do it - and did it.  "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." (Psalms 19:7)
     Conversion stands between the sinner and the kingdom of God.  "Except ye be converted and become as little children (in character), ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)  It is the important and supreme work of the church.  "He who converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." (James 5:20)  Conversion, then, is simply the gospel process of turning men to god.  It is not a convulsion, and does not take place in a nightmare; nor is it the operation of the Spirit in strange, distempered dreams.  It is accomplished through obedience to the truth - the agent, or vital power, through which the Holy Spirit effects conversion.  There is no necessity for any other power than the truth in effecting this change; and other, in fact, would be an infringement upon man's freedom of will.  Man is either willing or unwilling to receive the truth.  If he is willing, no other means of conversion is necessary; if he is unwilling, any other means would be coercion rather than conversion.  The motive power of conversion is, therefore, the truth - and it is an immense power.  "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God unto salvation." (Romans 1:16)  Certain thrological theories of conversion have their setting in two fallacies - on fact, three - they are theological triplets.  First is the doctrine of inherent human depravity; second, direct converting power; third, the impossibility of apostasy.  Assuming man's hereditary total depravity; it follows that he is unable to do anything at all to be saved; he is a passive recipient and not an active agent; therefore, in this helpless, hopeless state the Holy Spirit must exert a direct influence upon his heart to enable him  to obey God, after which the divine nature so completely destroys the depraved nature that thereafter and ever he can no more fall from grace!  So false is the theory that it stands virtually self-refuted; and so abundant are the scriptural arguments against it that the task is not one of finding the arguments, but of selecting the ones to cite.  Jesus represents the seed (God's word) as falling into the "honest and good heart: in order to produce conversion and its effects.  But if man is hereditarily totally depraved, his heart is neither honest nor good, and could not receive the word, not even understand it if he received it, not obey it if he understood it.  The parable of the sower alone rejects the theory in all of its points.  It shows that the sinner may have an honest heart (not totally depraved); that when one hears the word, the devil seeks to steal it away lest he "should believe and be saved" (showing that faith is produced by the word and not a direct operation); and that some who "receive the word with joy" in time of temptation "fall away" (showing the possibility of apostasy).
     In the very nature of things - everykthing - redemption involves the understanding.  "Understandest thou what thou readest?" inquired Philip, an inspired preacher, of the eunuch, an average gospel subject.  But if conversion is the direct work of the Holyl Spirit - a direct operation  - it can neither be explained nor understood.  If the Holy Spirit converst, or begets, without the word of God, what seed does he plant to produce it?  If a different seed, then the gospel falls to the ground; if the same seed, then the theory fals to the ground.  If the Spirit operates without the word, why preach?  And if we do not preach, on what does the operation depend?  If it depends on preaching, the theory falls to the ground.  Furthermore, if conversion is wrought by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, independent of the word and gospel conditions, why are not all people converted?  Man can resist arguments, appeals, and exhortations, but not Omnipotence?  If it is without the word, and obedience to it, and the sinner cannot act until the divine influence comes, who is responsible?  The sinner cannot act until the power acts, and he cannot do anything to cause the power to act!  Yet if the Spirit does not come, he cannot be saved and there he is - a man with neither volition nor ability, helpless and passive, his salvation or damnation a matter of naked Omnipotence!  What becomes of thke conditions of the gospel, the law that declares that men must hear, believe, repent, and be baptized in order to be saved?  A mere theory, mingled with the cobwebs of tradition, would set the law aside.
     The apostle James ascribes conversion to the influence of the truth alone.  "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth" (James 1:18)  It is as much the law of God that conversion is effected byk "the word of truth: as that an oak shall spring from an acorn.  No man has any more right to imagine that the Holy Spirit is absent fron this law of conversion than he has to suppose that the Creator is absent from the law of reproduction.  The fact that in no land or age has conversion ever been effected without this "word of truth" is corroborative evidence that James meant the statement in all of its import - "by the word of truth" alone.  He did not say the word of truth and something else, but onlyi the word of truth.  Then whatever the word of truth requires or commands is what the sinner must do to be saved.
     But Paul, the peerless, corroborates James.  "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, ye thave ye not many fathers: for in Christ JEsus I have begotten you through the gospel." (I Corinthians 4:15)  The statement provides for the word onlyi as the cause of conversion.  It allows for nothing distinct from it, above it, or without it, but simplyi the gospel itself as the unaided cause of conversion.  There were many instructors and many influences among the Corinthians, but only one cause of their conversion - the gospel preached by Paul.  Everykthing said to be a condition of salvation is produced by the word.  Faith is produced by the word. (Romans 10:17)  The new birth is produced by the word. (I Peter 1:23)  Salvation itself is produced by the word (James 1:21) How mighty is the gospel!  How afailing is the word!
     Finally, all of the conversions in Acts of Apostles - the book of conversions - were produced by the word.  Begin in Acts 2 with the conversion of the three thousand and go through it until the last chapter, where Paul "expounded the matter" to the chief Jews, and some believed and some believed not.  There is nothing else on record.  Any one who thinks otherwise is at liberty to find a case, and we promise to examine it with all candor.
     Once we know that the process of conversion is plainly that of obeying "the word of truth," the rest is simple and easy.  Jesus, the lawgiver, said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15-16)  Fulfilling this commission on Pentecost, Peter said; "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." (Acts 2:38)  On the occasion of his second recorded sermon Peter said: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19)  So the command to "be baptized" in Acts 2:38 is put "be converted" in Acts 3:19.  They are equal to each other.  Both passages say "repent"; in place of "be baptized" in the first we have "be converted" in the second; in place of "remission of sins" in the first we have "sins blotted out" in the second; in place of "gift of the Holy Ghost" in the first we have "seasons of refreshing" in the second.  Incidentally, therefore, Acts 2:38 and Acts 3:19 interpret each other, even to telling us in the latter what the gift of the Holy Spirit is in the former.
     If baptism, along with faith and repentance, is not a condition of salvation, or conversion, can any one tell us why we have Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, and a dozen other such passages?  Deny that these passages teach that baptism is essential to conversion, and the passages are tobbed of their sense and essence.  May we all "receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.




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