Marks Of True Conversion
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:23–25)
There were many people who believed during Jesus’ ministry, and on this particular day many believed because they saw His miracles; yet Jesus did not commit Himself to them. That is, though they believed Him, He did not believe them. Bearing this in mind, we must recognize that there is such a thing as a false conversion.
Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21–23) While many people love to quote, “Judge not,” from the first verse of this chapter, Jesus explicitly states that there are some whom He will reject in the judgment because they professed Him while not being truly converted.
James also taught about false conversions saying, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19–20) There is a faith that is not a real faith. There is a faith that is a dead faith. There is a faith that does not save. It is the faith of devils! Certainly we should beware of this and search ourselves to be sure that we are truly converted.
We can even read that Jesus warned that Satan was busy making false converts. “Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24–30) “Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36–43) Immature tares, we are told, look just like wheat. It is only when the crop nears maturity that it is evident that tares are present. Some have even called tares, “bastard wheat.” That is very interesting considering the fact that we are told of some who are “bastards and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:8)
This is a very sobering reality, and it is one that must be taken seriously. Can you imagine hearing Christ tell you, “Depart from me, I never knew you?” This is why we should all examine ourselves to be sure that we are saved. None of us needs to be so cocksure that we never take God’s words of warning seriously.
With these things before us, we can see that there is such a thing as a false conversion; but what are the marks of true conversion? This is what we will now seek to determine from the Scripture.
Jesus began His ministry by preaching “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)
As we study this text, we find three important things:
- We are to repent. What is repentance? “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.” (Matthew 21:28–29) Repentance literally means, a change of mind. Notice that the young man who repented did exactly that. When we change our minds, our behavior also changes. After the young man repented, he obeyed his father’s command. The apostle Paul said that it was a profitable thing that he preacher “ repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21) When we change our minds about our sins and our heart toward God, we will then trust Christ. We also find that true repentance not only brings us to faith and salvation, but it also results in a changed life. “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:9–11)
- Believe the gospel. What is the gospel? Mark said that Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. We find that the gospel is the good news that God rules (Isaiah 52:7), and this is what Paul stated that this is the gospel (Romans 10:14-17), and we must believe it. What is meant by it being good news that God rules as king? It simply means that God is fulfilling the promise to redeem His people by His promised king (Genesis 3:15), forgiving us of our sins and making us His children and citizens of His kingdom through the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection from the dead as conqueror of sin and Satan (Colossians 1:13-14;1 Corinthians 15:1-4;Romans 4:25;Romans 6:9-10).
- Believe the gospel. This good news of which I just spoke is what we are to believe. What is meant by believing the gospel? It simply means that we put our trust in the God who gives us good news and promises us eternal life through Jesus Christ. In fact, faith and trust are used as meaning the same thing in Ephesians 1:11-14. In what are you trusting? Faith is trusting in God and not in ourselves and our goodness. Paul said, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:4–5) Faith is when we stop trusting in anything other than God and His goodness, willingness, and power to save our souls.
The next thing that we need to notice is that the gospel message gives glory to God. Paul spoke the Romans saying, “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:1–3) God has determined to save men so that His name will be honored (Ephesians 2:8-10;1 John 2:12), and the gospel is called “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” (1 Timothy 1:11). The gospel is the good news that God is glorious and will glory and exalt Himself by freely forgiving and saving all who trust in Him. Notice that the gospel is not about the man who preaches, nor is it primarily about the person who is being saved: the gospel is about God’s greatness. When God saves a person, He will give that person a love for God (See 1 John 5:1), and that person will learn to exalt and honor God above all. In fact, that is the gospel promise: “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6) And this happens when we trust Christ: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:22–23)
Not only do we love God after we are saved, but we see that we will love the brethren. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1 John 3:14) We are told that we are indwelt by the Spirit of God when we are saved, and that He will lead us to love God and love others: “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:5) Love for others is a mark of true conversion. Sadly, many cult leaders or cult like leaders tell their followers that they are converted and then lead them to be hateful toward their family members who are either unconverted or who refuse to follow this particular leader. We must realize that this sort of divisiveness is not of God: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8) One who is truly converted will love his family members enough to want to see them converted also instead of turning against them. Love is a mark of true conversion.
As we saw when we spoke of repentance, a changed life is a mark of conversion. In fact, that is what conversion is, a change: it is a change of heart, life, and eternal destination. John said, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7) “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (1 John 2:4–6) When God saves a sinner, He rescues him from the condemnation of sin as well as from the power of sin. The old sinful habits will be exchanged for holiness. In conversion, the old man has died and we are new creatures in Christ: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Remember, however, that Jesus stated that those who do not do the will of God do not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-29). When a person is converted, they are truly and forever changed.
There are three important things to take from this:
- If you do not bear the marks of true conversion, you need to closely check yourself to see why. Have you truly trusted Christ?
- If you are struggling with confusion, yet know you have trusted Christ, take comfort in the signs of God’s grace that are present in your heart and life.
- If you find that you have not been truly converted, repent and believe the gospel!