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by Jacob Ninan

Religious conversion is a touchy subject in our country, when it is looked upon as moving from one religion to another, especially as a result of force or coercion. The Constitution of India has no problem with religions practising their own individual faith or even propagating it. A few States have promulgated equivalents of 'Freedom of religion' acts, ostentatiously to prevent forceful or coercive acts to change people's religion. However, in many places, in practice, it seems to be targeted at Christians trying to share their faith with others, without any attempt to examine whether 'conversions' have indeed been forced or coerced.

To understand the Biblical meaning of conversion, we can look at Psalm 51:13, "Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You." It is when we come to recognise the standards of God for our lives, become convicted that we have fallen terribly short of them, confess our transgressions to Him and then turn to Him for forgiveness and restoration that we become converted. An integral part of this restoration is when God gives us a mind that does not want to sin any more (Ezek.36:25-27).

Conversion is a supernatural work of God in a man's heart that changes every aspect of his life. "Conversion is a deep work – a heart work. It goes throughout the man, throughout the mind, throughout the members, throughout the entire life" (Joseph Alleine). It is an undeserved favour shown by God to man, which any man can receive freely if he would only approach God in repentance and faith (Eph.2:8,9).

I believe, large numbers of people have been misguided when preachers have tried to simplify the presentation of the Gospel. In many cases they seem to have left out the need to repent from one's sins and also the dependence on the work God has to do in one's life by which one gets converted. As a result, many people's 'conversion' remains just a notion in their mind rather than a reality that has changed their lives. They think they have come to faith in Christ through their lives do not show any fruit to bear that out.

It is obvious that many 'evangelists' are preaching a false gospel – they offer a free entry into heaven, escape from trouble, prosperity, health and blessing if only people come to Jesus, without any true conversion! The result of this false preaching is that many 'come to Christ' and assume that they have become 'Christians' and children of God. But the question is, have they really passed from death to life (Jn.5:24), darkness to light (1Pet.2:9) and from the dominion of Satan to the lordship of Christ (Acts.26:18)?

"In what way, or by what manner of working God changes a soul from evil to good – how He impregnates the barren rock with priceless gems and gold – is, to the human mind, an impenetrable mystery" (Samuel Coleridge). Churches have a lot of people inside them who have never been properly converted! Many have just assumed they are Christians because they are from a 'Christian' family or are members of a church. Many have acknowledged the facts that Jesus the Son of God came to earth as a Man, was crucified for the sins of the world and was raised up. Since this belief sets them apart from others who do not believe this, they assume that they are Christians. Some of them even go to seminaries and become pastors and teachers who spread this knowledge. Some others have experienced something supernatural in their lives as an answer to prayer – healing, miraculous resolution of their problems, etc. – and as a result they have chosen to follow Jesus, even forsaking their previous gods. Unfortunately, without a proper conversion in one's heart and mind – without being born again (Jn.3:3,5), without Christ taking over the ownership over their lives – none of these people has actually become a Christian in God's eyes, and they are all actually outside the kingdom of God even when they are physically inside 'churches'. This is like the man, who was sitting without a wedding dress at the wedding feast the king gave for his son, who got thrown out in the end (Matt.22:11-13). On earth, such people continue to sit in the church and may even be leaders, but one day everyone's number will come up before God.

"We should think of conversion, not as the acceptance of a particular creed, but as a change of heart" (Helen Keller). The sad thing is that, without this proper conversion, we cannot have a Father-child relationship with God and we cannot become transformed into the likeness of His only begotten Son (Rom.8:29). If this born-again experience was not really necessary, God could have just sent more prophets and teachers who would tell us which laws to follow to become acceptable to God. But we cannot experience this transformation in our lives without the 'seed of God' being placed inside us (1Jn.3:8,9). That is what happens when we are born again. That is when we get a 180 degree change in the direction of our heart, as we turn from sin to righteousness. God describes this as replacing our stony heart (hardened by sin) with a new heart – a heart of flesh (pliable and supple enough to mould), putting His Spirit in us and enabling us to walk in His ways (Ezek.36:25-27). How can anyone 'become more and more like Jesus' apart from this starting point?

What happens among Christians when emphasis is not placed on ensuring proper conversion of people – in Christian homes, Sunday schools, churches, Christian organisations – and we are taken up with doctrines, rules and regulations, outreach, social concerns, programmes and projects, organisations and infrastructure, etc.? There is no real transformation of lives, and even when change seems to come, it is temporary. On the contrary, there are all kinds of problems developing among these people just as among those who have not known the Saviour. In the end, we stand and watch our sincere and earnest efforts producing only little or transient results.

"Conversion may occur in an instant, but the process of coming from sinfulness into a new life can be a long and arduous journey" (Charles Colson). Conversion is God's way of initiating the path of restoration to the individual and to humanity. The individual has to acknowledge his sinfulness and receive forgiveness and transformation of life. To expect that this can be accomplished merely by reforming man's doctrines and behaviour, and overlook the supernatural element that God needs to work in our lives, is to miss the whole point. And then to expect great results is nothing but folly.

A man who has been merely 'converted' from one religion to another can adapt himself to the new lingo and practices quickly. It may look as if he has been assimilated to the new religion and its people. But what is important is to see if there is a change in heart – from a sinful life to a holy life. Without that, there is no real conversion. But when there is a genuine conversion of the heart, it comes from a conviction in the heart and mind. That is what is needed for people and for society.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, January, 2019

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