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Belief, Salvation, and Conversion; First Sunday of Epiphany, 2010
Topic Started: Jan 10 2010, 05:14 PM (2,081 Views)
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A lot of years ago, a famous evangelistic ministry changed the way they kept statistics. For years, they had counted the hands raised at events and called them conversions. As the leadership matured and as they reviewed those “conversions”, they realized that many of those who raised the hand or made the long walk to the altar had only recognized their need for a redeemer, but had not acted on it. That ministry changed the way many believers viewed those who respond, changing the vocabulary to this day. These are only decisions for Christ. Small change, but an important revelation.

I had a conversation with a friend recently about these issues. He was struggling about an acquaintance of his who had made a decision for Christ, who was claiming to be a Christian, but who was living in total rejection of what many would consider to be a Christian walk. We’ll call the acquaintance Lonnie. And he was even more concerned about his tendency to “judge” Lonnie. We talked about the differences between assessing conditions and condemnation, and found scriptures that pointed to God as the One Who makes heaven/hell judgments, and His instruction that those who are spiritual are expected to assess all things. At the end of the conversation, my friend realized that he had an obligation to assess Lonnie's behavior and to gauge his relationship with Lonnie accordingly. There were lots of facets to the discussion, but I thought the most interesting had to do with the whole issue of decision versus belief, and the relationship of those two to salvation and conversion.

While most of these are hard verbs to define, to decide is fairly easy—pick one! In our scenario, when presented with the facts of sin and a fallen nature, the choice is stay there or pick Jesus. The decision, however, is only a single point in time. It could be a pivotal point, or just another meaningless and unvisited rest stop on a person’s journey. Lonnie had mouthed the words, “I believe” and had gone on with life pretty much unaffected. The decision was really a non-decision, seemingly, just a powerless acknowledgment of human condition. Those of us who’ve been around and through the processes and training to help new believers know that it’s a process, that one who decides must use that point of decision as a pivot to change the direction of one’s life or it won’t help.

What about the verb, to believe? I love that word. It’s another one that has so many layers, much like to love or to know, or to worship. Each layer has an intensity and flair. I’ve explained this intensity on numerous occasions with a short analogy. I love my wife. Read that in a monotone. Every day, when I am at work and totally focused on my job, I love my wife. She is not in my conscious thoughts, but in truth, she is a primary reason that I am at work. As I earn my living, I am expressing my love for my wife, but she’s not often in my thoughts. It’s break time and I think about our last conversation, maybe a short email exchange, and I smile. Maybe I’ll give her a call, just to touch base, to hear her voice, and to say, “I love you”. I have changed from loving her to Loving her, if you will. My work day is done, I travel home and find my honey waiting for me. A long, tender hug, a tender kiss, a smile, an eye-to-eye conversation, and things change from loving, to Loving, to LOVING. Can we assign similar values to “believe”? I think so. I believe that two plus two equals four. I seldom think about it, but that simple truth hides in the core of my logical processes. I believe that Jesus is Lord and that He is God. That truth hides in the very core of my being and colors all of my decisions, consciously and unconsciously. My focus is on the task at hand, but through training, I am busy, “doing all as unto the Lord.” For me, that is belief, small “b”. The most intense, BELIEF, is easier for me to relate to than the broader, middle ground of Belief. BELIEF is knowing in my knower that God has given me an assignment or a point of truth for a specific point in time. This could be an expression of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (a word of knowledge or a prophecy), or instruction to turn left NOW.

Perhaps, Belief comes into play in the kind of secondary as I’m faced with situations where I have to make large or small life decisions in the flow of life. There are times when I have the opportunity to actually ponder a response to a situation. What do I Believe? What would Jesus Do or Say? What does my training or exposure to the Word of God indicate would be the better or correct choice? I Believe in Jesus enough to consider His thoughts on the matter. Anyone care to weigh in on believe, Believe, BELIEVE?

I would offer that salvation begins when my “belief” that Jesus could be a solution to my life issues, changes to BELIEF that Jesus has become the solution to all life issues. We all know that salvation is a process, right? To be saved and to continue being saved seems to be a major tenet of the faith. Paul talked about working out one’s salvation. We’ve been taught about walking out our salvation. As various parts of my life becomes subject to kingdom thinking and kingdom actions, more and more of my life experiences salvation. I get closer and closer to Paul’s expression teleios which is translated as “perfect” or “mature”. That’s the goal!

I would offer that in this context, conversion equates pretty closely to salvation. It is a process, not a one time function. How does it happen? As I submit to the discipline offered by the church and the Word, as I willingly submit the various parts of my thinking and being to the truths of the Kingdom and walk in His ways, I am truly converted to Christ. I am converted more and more into His image, allowing Him to increase, while my old man decreases. Letting my old man, my carnal nature, “the flesh”, rule the roost is defying conversion and frankly denying BELIEF, in my opinion. Keeping the old man down and allowing the mind of Christ to reign is witness to the conversion process.

So how do the Lonnies in our circles move from belief to BELIEF? I think that part of the formula is that we need to encourage and expect Lonnie to work at his confession of belief, to explore what it means, and to begin to walk out the truths of salvation. Prayer of course enters into the formula, but speaking encouragement and speaking the Word gently and without trying to inflict guilt or shame is a large factor in whether or not Lonnie begins to walk it out and allow the belief to become that pivot point, the change in life direction.

Onward toward teleios!

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