Believers often talk about their conversion, but what do we really mean by that? What happens when someone experiences conversion? Are there “true” and “false” conversions?
We continue our study of of “Great Doctrines of the Bible (vol. 2)” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) by looking at chapter 12, “Conversion.”
MLJ views conversion as “the first exercise of the new nature in ceasing from old forms of life and starting a new life. It is the first action of the regenerate soul in moving from something to something. The very term suggests that: conversion means a turning from one thing to another” (118). It is the initial step man takes after God has given him a new disposition.
Whereas in regeneration man is completely passive, in conversion man moves based on the work the Spirit has done in him (119).
MLJ takes some time to warn about false conversions. He begins by warning about what he calls temporary conversions. This is when some hear the word and temporarily seem to believe it. They are not true Christians, but they do and say the right things at first. They have not been regenerate by the Spirit but they make a carnal profession of faith that might look real in the beginning (Matthew 13, Acts 8, 1 Timothy 1:19-20). These have not lost their salvation, but never truly had it in the first place.
Lloyd-Jones also warns about counterfeit conversions. These are distinct from temporary conversions because they are not a response to a presentation of biblical truth. Counterfeit conversions “may even come out of the world and join a church, and their whole life from the outside may apparently be different…It is a conversion in the sense that they have left one thing and have come to another, have given up sins and are now doing good but it is counterfeit because they lack the necessary essential relationship to truth” (121). Many of these types of changes can be brought about psychologically but they aren’t necessarily the work of the Spirit.
Essential Elements of Conversion
True conversion does have certain central elements, but MLJ begins with elements that are not necessary. The first relates to time. True conversion can occur either suddenly or gradually. Second, true conversion is not always “dramatic.” It may be quiet and somber or emotional and intense. Finally, he argues that there isn’t a necessary age for conversion: “age does not make the slightest difference. We are talking about something the Holy Spirit produces” (123).
Instead, MLJ argues that there are only two necessary and essential elements to conversion: repentance and faith. “Sudden or gradual, it does not matter. Repentance must be there; faith must be there. If one is missing it is not conversion. Both are essential” (125).
The primary point of conversion is that it brings man into right relationship with God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit bringing man to repentance and faith, man can be reconciled to God and live with him forever.
Amen! Praise God that sinners like us may become reconciled to such a good and gracious God!