Are You Converted?

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:5, Luke 18:9-14, Luke 10:41-42
Date: 02/05/2005 
As Christians we should examine ourselves and see whether we are genuinely converted. Conversion is the process where we are transformed from living self-centered lives to living life for God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Happy Sabbath. Good morning. Have I told you lately that it’s a privilege to be able to be your pastor? I really mean that. It is and especially, I’m not just saying this, we’ve got the greatest team in the world. The men and women that I work with are just outstanding and it’s just such a privilege. We get together, we get along and it’s wonderful. And most of you are pretty nice too so I wanted to thank you for that privilege. Message this morning is a very simple but I think very important one. Those are often the important ones, the simple ones. And it’s this: Are You Converted? Are you converted? That’s an important question that we should periodically ask ourselves and you might be thinking (I hope not), “Well, Pastor Doug!” You’re perhaps saying to yourself indignantly, “Of course we’re converted. What are we doing in church if that’s not the case?” But you know even for those who are in the church I think it’s healthy and biblical for us to ask that question. I base that on a scripture II Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul says this, “Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith.” That’s a challenge, a command, a mandate from the Word of God that we should examine ourselves.

We sometimes examine each other to see whether or not we think someone else is in the faith but Paul says we should examine who? Examine yourselves whether or not you are in the faith. “Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus is in you unless indeed you are disqualified…” some versions render that “reprobate, rebels.” God is inviting us to periodically evaluate, test, examine ourselves. You know before you go to court, if you should have to go to court, and you’re going to stand before the judge a good attorney will prepare his client by testing them how they’re going to behave and respond and react on the stand. They prepare you. And because you want to be ready, you want to be examined to know how you’re going to stand when you’re actually in the great court scene and create a lot of scenarios of questions that the prosecuting attorney might ask and so you might know how to respond. There’s a preparation that takes place. Well we’re going to have a big court date someday and God is inviting us that now while probation lingers and the door of mercy is open examine yourself are you a real Christian or as I phrased it in the title are you converted? Now you might be wondering define conversion. What do you mean by conversion? What is conversion? Well, conversion the way Jesus states it is very simple.

It represents the new birth. John 3:3 he said, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” We’ve got to know we’re converted, we’re born again, that we’re new creatures. How many of you at some time in your life owned a Volkswagen bug? I just wonder. Popular car. I had one, no, I had two, not at the same time. I had two Volkswagen bugs. How many of you remember, I haven’t seen any lately, but while they were still making the original Volkswagen bugs, the new ones are, I mean I’m sure they are a lot more dependable, but they’re just not as much fun as the old ones. The old ones were rolling miracles, weren’t they? And you know it would be a good car to be your first car. My first car was a Volkswagen. Anyone else? A bug. Yeah, because you know they’re virtually indestructible. You break them down, you could usually fix them with duct tape and rubber bands and practical things like that and make them run a little bit longer. I’m embarrassed to tell you the first one that I had… You know in New York City we don’t drive cars. We subway, bus, taxi and I basically grew up not knowing how to drive. Didn’t own my first car until I was about nineteen. First one was a Volkswagen and I remember looking for the radiator. I’m embarrassed to tell you that but of course they don’t have one. They’re air cooled unlike most cars and I thought I found it under the front hood. What’s there? You don’t fill the gas in the side or the back but you open the hood to fill the gas.

I won’t tell you the whole story, but I really learned some hard lessons, but you know the thing still managed to run in spite of all that. But I remember they had these what they called conversion kits for Volkswagens. And somebody came up with the clever design, they really loved their VW bug and they took body parts that were designed after a Rolls Royce. That Rolls Royce square hood with the Rolls Royce angel thing on the front or whatever it is and little Rolls Royce tailgate and they paint it all black. And you could put these Rolls Royce body parts on your Volkswagen to make your Volkswagen look like a Rolls Royce, but it was really a rolling joke, wasn’t it? Because you knew it still, when it came down the road it sounded like an electric blender. You know you could always tell when a Volkswagen, I almost said by accident you could always tell when a Volkswagen was passing you but that never happened. You could always tell when you were passing a Volkswagen especially the busses. They never could go fast enough. It always sounded like you’re going by a blender. They made that sound. But here it looks you know on the outside like a Rolls Royce but it’s not a Rolls Royce. And you know you can’t help but wonder there’s a lot of people that on the exterior want to look like Christians. It says on the way to heaven, but you can just listen to it and you know there’s something wrong inside, that it’s just a bug inside. It’s not a luxury sedan. Conversion is the process where we are transformed from being motivated by living self-centered lives to where we are living a life for God. That’s I think a good definition. Conversion is where we are transformed from living self-centered lives to living a life for God.

It’s very important for us to ask ourselves a question, are we converted? “Conversion is a change of mind issuing from a change of heart and leading to a change of life.” You know sometimes you travel overseas. If you want to spend the money of the local country you must convert your currency into their denomination otherwise it’s worthless. It’s even more so when you come home. A lot of places in the world will take American dollars but you won’t find too many places that will take your Rubles here in or your Rupees or even your Pesos here in North America. It must be converted. You must be converted. You must be born again if you would live in heaven. Now it’s not safe to assume that because we go to church that means we’re automatically converted. There’s a story in the Bible about a Pharisee and a publican. Luke 18:12, you know this. It’s a parable that Jesus tells. Two men went up to the temple to pray, two different people that go to church. One was a Pharisee the other a publican or a tax collector. Pharisees had a reputation for being the most religiously astute, zealous of the believers in the time of Christ. They are very particular about how they obeyed God. Publicans were well they were sort of your… Tax collectors then and tax collectors today are very different. The tax collectors in the time of Christ were considered your party animals. They hung out with the prostitutes. They drank, they lived lavishly, they were considered very sinful. That’s why they chastised Jesus when he went to the house of Matthew for food and the people said to Jesus, “He’s hanging out with publicans!” So these two men who are labeled, as far as the world is concerned, very different they go to the same church and they pray. And the Pharisee he stands and prays thus with himself, “God I thank you that I’m not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers or even like this tax collector” who is in the back pew. “I fast twice week.

I give tithes of all that I possess.” And then he began to cite all of his good deeds. The publican though would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven but bowed his head, he smote upon his breast and he uttered a very simple prayer, “Lord God, have mercy on me a sinner.” He came not pleading his goodness but pleading for mercy. Then Jesus makes a very interesting observation. That man, the publican, left the church that day forgiven and not the Pharisee. Which of the two was converted? The publican. Now why do I say this? There is a very real danger that many who go to church, have gone to church for years, their parents went to church and their grandparents, they’re in church all the time and they think that because they hang around in the church and they frequent the church that that automatically means they’re converted. They can be more lost than any pagan on the street and not know it and that’s a very dangerous condition. They have enough exposure to church and religious things, religious family and religious school that they’ve confused themselves into thinking that all these religious trappings means they’re converted and they’re not. You know there’s some statements that I’ve read that have troubled me and what I say to you today I say to myself. I’m in this equation with you. I ask myself sometimes, “Doug, are you even converted?” And as I was preparing for this message I nudged Karen and said, “Do you ever feel that way?” She said, “Oh, yeah.” So I figured if the two of us feel that way, pastor and his wife, then maybe some of the flock feel that way too. Do you ever wonder, “Lord, am I even converted? The things I think about, the things I do, am I even converted?”

From the book Christian Service, page 41, “It is a solemn statement that I make to the church that not one in twenty whose names are registered upon the church books are prepared to close their earthly history and would be as verily without God and without hope in the world as a common sinner. They professedly serve God but they are more earnestly serving mammon” money or self, you could say. Not one in twenty, that scared me! Not one in twenty! Well, we wouldn’t have to build a very big church if suddenly only one in twenty stayed in the building. That’s a frightening statistic. That could be why Jesus said, “In the judgment day many will come to me and say, ‘Lord! Lord!’” many. And he’ll say, “I don’t know you.” We’ve got to know are we converted? Are we genuine? You might hang around in church all week long ringing the bell like Quasimodo and it doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. Someone said one time “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in McDonalds makes you a hamburger.” And you like I said you could have been raised in the whole culture and the environment and the education of Christian things surrounded by the truth and still be unaffected by the most important truth. Are you converted? You can be surrounded by the truth and still be insulated against the most important truth. Are you born again? Now is that an important question? Is it, do you think worthy for us to consider are we converted? Now I say this to you as your pastor because I yearn to have a church where the majority, better than one in twenty, are real Christians. That we are asking ourselves this question, are we converted? And it’s not just the hypocrite Pharisee who thinks that he’s saved by his works.

We can sometimes get so involved doing good things that we still have no relationship with the God and that’s what conversion is all about. I think about Martha. You know the story Luke chapter 10:41 & 42, and he came into the house of Martha and Lazarus and she was rip snorting around the kitchen preparing for this dinner that we read about later and while she’s frantic trying to get this meal prepared her sister Mary, who is Mary of Bethany, probably the same as Mary Magdalene, is sitting listlessly spellbound listening to Jesus teach the apostles and she’s eavesdropping and everyone knows that when men are listening women should be working. You haven’t been overseas. And Martha, she doesn’t say, “Tell your apostles to help me.” But she says, “My sister should help. She’s just wasting time. Tell her, Lord, to get up and help me.” I can just see Martha, folds her arms and stomps her foot and snorts. “Jesus, you know I respect you and I know what you’re saying is important, but you know enough is enough! We can’t just sit around all day long and listen to your teachings! We’ve got work to be done. There’s work that needs to be done. Tell Mary to help me.” And you know what Jesus said? “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things but one thing is needed.”

How many things? One thing. That always amazes me because when that rich young ruler wanted to follow Jesus, wanted eternal life and Jesus said, “There’s one thing that you lack.” You know what that one thing is? Being converted and Mary was doing what leads to conversion. One thing is important “and that good thing is what Mary has chosen. It will not be taken away from her.” Now let me establish something in case you’re confused and I’m sure that some of you have been thinking about this. Receiving Christ is not the same thing as being converted. I would venture to say the majority of those that are here or even watching you have received Christ. You’ve made a decision consciously maybe even publicly where you’ve come forward, you’ve accepted Christ, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re converted. You can make a mental, conscious decision to accept Christ, but you see conversion goes beyond mental ascent. Conversion goes beyond a choice. Conversion even goes beyond faith. Conversion is what happens in your heart and mind because of your faith.

The devils believe and tremble. They’re not converted. How can we know if we’re converted? Helen Keller said, “We should think of conversion not as the acceptance of a particular creed but as a change of heart.” You may have accepted the creed of the truth but is your heart changed? A real convert is not somebody who is one man at church and a different man at home. The life has been changed from the inside out. How can you know if you’re converted? You know this comes from the book Steps to Christ and I think it’s a very good description. Let me read this to you. Steps to Christ, page 58 “It is true there might be an outward correctness of deportment without the renewing power of Christ.” Can an atheist quit smoking? Can an atheist turn from their alcohol? Not because they love God and their fellow man but for purely selfish reasons people can do good things. They can get apparent victories. “It is true there might be an outward correctness of deportment without the renewing power of Christ. The love of influence, the desire for the esteem of others may produce a well ordered life.” You might be as organized and religious as the Pharisee or Martha. Self-respect might lead us to avoid the appearance of evil. Why I’d never do that! What would people think?

Not what would God think. “A selfish heart may perform generous actions. By what means then shall we determine whose side we are on?” Here it is. “Who has the heart? Who owns the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ’s our thoughts are with Him, our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All that we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, to breathe His Spirit to do His will and to please Him in all things.” Are you converted? There’s some tests that you can apply. Oh, let me give you another verse that goes along with it. basically the book Steps to Christ is saying you’ll know them by their fruits. Matthew chapter 7, verse 16, you know this, “Jesus said, ‘How do you know if a wolf is a wolf or a sheep? Can a wolf put on sheep’s clothing?’” Well, in the parable he can, right? “If a wolf puts on sheep’s clothing does he become a sheep? He’s still a wolf. It’s still a Volkswagen. It’s not a limousine or a Rolls Royce. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so a good tree bears good fruit but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”

What is the fruit? What is happening in your life? That’s how you can know if you’re converted. There is a very deadly teaching that is very popular not only in the generic form of Christianity that’s sweeping the country and the world, there is a very generic watered down form mealy-mouth form of Christianity that all you do is articulate that you accept Christ and that means you’re converted. That’s not what the Bible teaches. You can mentally choose to accept Christ but you must be born again. Is a baby born the same day it’s conceived or is there a gestation period? I’ll submit to you, not always but in most cases, there is a period of sanctification that transpires in which a person is converted because it is a process. Isaiah chapter one says, “We learn to do good. We cease to do evil.” There is a learning. There’s a sanctification. Sometimes it can happen very quickly and we’ll look at some cases of that in just a moment, but there’s a process. “You’ll know them by their fruits.” And what are the fruits of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22, “Love,” do you have love? Am I converted? Do you love? “Joy,” do you have the joy of the Lord? “Peace,” do you have that peace that passes understanding? Let everyone examine themselves. Are you converted? Here’s, make a list. Check it twice. Do I love God? Do I love my neighbor? Do I have the joy of the Lord? Do I have that peace that passes understanding? Am I longsuffering? Am I kind? Is there goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?

Some of us, you know they got this list. Some people drink and they say, “I drink but I’m not an alcoholic.” And they’ve got a checklist you can go through to say, well, if you find yourself drinking for these reasons and they give you like nine different tests and they say if you answer yes to any two or three of these you are probably an alcoholic. And some people who look at the list say, “I never realized that I was an alcoholic until I looked at the list.” Am I converted? Here’s the list. Do you love? Do you have peace? Do you have joy? I look at this list and I worry. A changed life is the best evidence of genuine conversion. Now for those of you who didn’t like the Volkswagen illustration I’ll talk to those of you who speak “computerese”. Files that computers use operate with different programs. Matter of fact, we were just in the studio before the service. I bring some of the pictures that you see on the screen and I give them to the studio and they must convert those PowerPoint files to JPGS so they can be read by the Globe Caster that puts them up on the screen. A lot of programs are like that. You can take a Microsoft Word file and that doesn’t necessarily mean that a WAVE audio file is going to read it. It won’t. You open it up with the wrong program and it looks corrupt.

Any of you know that? Any of you seen computer gibberish? Sometimes I’ll try to open a file with the wrong program and it doesn’t understand it. Some music files, you can have an AVI file, you can have a MIDI file, you can have a WAVE file, it could be these different files. If you want one program to read it you’ve got to convert the file. Now there’s a trick. You can actually click on a file and change the name and you can call and MP3 file a WAVE file and then try and open it with your WAVE program, it still won’t work. You can change the name but it still won’t work because all you did is change the name of the file. You haven’t changed the contents. It must be converted. Most of you aren’t getting this. Some of you are going, “Aha!” because you speak computer language. You’re understanding conversion now. It’s just amazing. You know if Jesus lived today in our culture a lot of these illustrations about farmers and sheep that you and I just can’t relate to anymore he’d have to resort to computers and cars, right? So I’m trying to make it relevant. So it needs to be changed and there are these neat programs now that convert the files from one format to another so the other program can read it. In order for you to operate with a glorified body in heaven you can’t just change the name.

You’ve got to be converted. You need to be born again. The essence of who you are must be changed from selfishness to love. Those are the two great poles upon which everybody operates and I don’t know about you but when I examine myself not just what I do but why I do it, I catch myself all the time doing right things for selfish reasons and I’m ashamed. And I say, “Lord, sure I’m doing the right thing but I wish I could do it for the right reason.” And if you’re doing the right thing for a selfish reason, still do the right thing. Even if you’re doing the right thing for the wrong reason, keep doing the right thing. Hopefully you’ll get your reasons right. But don’t say, “Oh well, I’m doing it for the wrong reasons so I’m just going to do the wrong thing now for the right reason.” It doesn’t work that way. We must be born again. George Whitfield said, “There are many stony ground hearers who receive the word with joy that I’ve determined to suspend my judgment until I know their fruits.” Matter of fact, back in the time of the great reformation and the great enlightenment mission work going around the world a person wouldn’t even get baptized until they came to church a year or two, a year or two because they wanted to know are they real? And in some countries it’s still that way with Christians.

Someone gets converted, they come forward, they say, “Praise the Lord!” They don’t baptize them that day or that week. It’s sometimes months later. Any of my friends here from Russia or Romania? Is that true in those countries? They have them wait for a while. At least it was. Maybe it’s changing there too. Now we’ve got the fast food. You know we just crank people through to know if the fruit is changed, we don’t even wait. It ought to mean something when you say I’ve accepted Christ and there should be evidence that your life has changed. Are we converted? “If any man is in Christ,” II Corinthians 5:17, “he is a new creature. Old things have passed away. Behold all things are become new.” Now I want to take you to a story in the Bible that helps to illustrate this. Turn with me to the book of Acts chapter 9. I picked the story of Saul who was converted to Paul because it is one of the best case studies of a radical conversion. “Then Saul still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord he went to the High Priest.” Saul hates Christians.

He hates this Jesus that they believe. He is an imposter. He’s a deceiver. He thought that Jesus was no better than Jim Jones or David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite, thought he was just a big cult leader and he was out to exterminate Christians. This is Saul and he gets letters, he gets legal documentation, permission to do it. “He goes to the synagogues of Damascus…” Why does he go there? Because they’re meeting the same day and the same place as the Jews. “…so if he found any who were of this way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” where they’d be tried and or executed. Now he’s on the road thinking he’s doing the right thing. He’s going one direction with a certain purpose and God changes everything in his life. Paul gets converted. How does it happen? “As he journeyed he came near Damascus and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven and he fell to the ground.” This light was so bright it knocked him maybe off his horse and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And absolutely shocked by the whole experience he collects himself and says, “Who are you, Lord?” Here he thought he was working for the Lord and he needs to confess he doesn’t even know the Lord. Now that would be very important for us to ascertain. Before Jesus comes is the time to find out if we don’t know who he is. Don’t wait until he does come for him to declare he doesn’t know who we are. Now is the time for us to find out if we don’t know the Lord to say, “Lord, who are you? I don’t know you.”

Here Jesus reveals himself to Paul. Paul thinks he’s working for Jehovah and actually he’s working against him. Could that happen to us? Let’s examine ourselves. Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, “I am Jesus.” I Am the same words he spoke to Moses at the bush. “‘I am Jesus whom you’re persecuting. Is it hard for you to kick against the goads?’ So he trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do?’ And the Lord said, ‘Arise and go into the city and you’ll be told what you must do.’” I’m not telling you everything now. “And the men who were journeying with him stood speechless hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground and when he opened his eyes he saw no one.” His eyes were actually blinded by the light. He thought he saw but he was blind. God was illustrating that. “They led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.” He was leading others to Damascus to kill Christians and when he enters Damascus he’s being led because he didn’t know what he was doing. Do you know how many people are out there that take the position of a religious leader that are leading others that don’t know where they’re going and they’re leading people the wrong way. “And he was three days without sight. Neither did he eat or drink.” Alright now here’s my question for you.

When was Paul converted? Was Paul converted? How do you know? You’ve got to keep reading. Before the chapter ends he now goes into Damascus where he was going to arrest Christians for believing in Christ and now he is telling others to believe in Jesus. He now lays his life on the line along with Christians and preaches against the religious leaders who had paid him and he’s now believing in Jesus. His life demonstrated that he was changed. When did the conversion take place? Was it when he saw the light? Not exactly. I think that’s when it started. I believe the conversion took place over a period of time three days fasting and praying and sorting things out in his mind he was converted. There is a process involved in conversion. It can sometimes take a while and this is what happened to Paul in this story. During those three days when he was praying, you know someone asked Jesus one time about the Holy Spirit and he said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it lists and you can hear the sound thereof but you don’t know where it came from or where it’s going.” It is not easy to always put your finger on the very moment when someone was converted. Sometimes people have a dramatic experience like Paul where it’s on the road to Damascus, sometimes it’s a process. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t put your finger on a calendar and say, “That was the day when I was converted.” If you can, praise the Lord. You might put your finger on a calendar and say, “This is the day I was baptized.” And that’s fine.

You might put your finger on the calendar and say, “This is the day when I chose to follow Jesus,” and that’s great. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that was the day you were converted. I’ll tell you that I think some people are converted before they’re baptized, should be, and before maybe they officially or publicly took a stand. God was changing their mind which is what conversion is really all about. The experience of Saul represents one of the most radical turnings in the Bible. I’m embarrassed to tell you, but that’s never stopped me in the past, that I was in a strange city. I travel a lot and it’s easy when you’re in a rental car, a strange car in a strange city and you’re trying to find your way around to end up turning up a one way street. Anyone else done that before? How is it you find out you’re on a street going the wrong direction? You suddenly notice that cars are coming towards you in every lane and you realize something is wrong. What is the only appropriate thing to do? Either put it in reverse or turn around if you can do so without hitting another car. And there’s been more than one time that I’ve entered either a highway or turned up some strange street on a city boulevard, all the other cars were stopped two blocks up you know from a light and I didn’t know and I took a right turn like you normally and all of a sudden I’m heading into oncoming traffic. I’ve made some very creative U-turns when that happens. I used to have a bumper sticker on my car years ago and it said, “If you’re heading the wrong way, God allows U-turns.” That’s what conversion is: YOU turn. It is a turnaround. Paul made a radical U-turn. You know when it happened?

Not just on the road to Damascus, but when he was in the house of Simon on Straight Street praying and fasting for three days. During that time he made a U-turn. His whole life and he never turned back again did he? He stuck with it. You know it talks about this in the book Ezekiel chapter 18, verse 21, “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and keeps my statutes and does which is lawful and right he will surely.” He will not die. “None of his transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him because of the righteousness he has done he will live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die,” God says, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” Then you got to verse 11, Ezekiel 33:11, this is one of the greatest verses in the Bible. “Say unto them,” that’s what I’m doing, Lord. “Say unto them, ‘As I live says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways for why will you die, O house of Israel?’” The evidence of conversion is a difference in the fruit. Now please don’t misunderstand this. We are saved by grace through faith, but that saving grace, that faith in Christ will affect a change in the life.

It has a sanctifying influence that converts the behavior so if a person is saying, “Lord! Lord!” while they’re living a life of rebellion, they’re hypocrites. We want God not only to change us in profession but in heart, don’t we? God invites us to turn. Now I will, I’ll admit to you that I don’t understand the science of conversion. I understand aspects of it as revealed in the Word, but it is a miracle and the mysteries and miracles in the Bible still remain just that. I cannot explain the mystery of godliness, how God became a man. I cannot explain the mystery of iniquity why the devil would want to be God. I cannot explain the miracle of regeneration how God takes somebody like Manasseh, King Manasseh, remember him? Reigned fifty-five years over Judea, killed Isaiah the prophet, filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, made his children pass through the fire. That’s the part that really irks me. And that God would then, carried off into captivity in chains and you’d think that God would then dust his hands and say, “Good riddance! What a wicked man!” But while in captivity his heart is transformed. He prays, God forgives him and brings him back to the kingdom. How could he forgive Manasseh? He was converted. Manasseh? Yup. That tells us something about the longsuffering of the Lord and by the way, if he could do that for Manasseh he can do it for you, right? I don’t think too many of us here have offered our children in a fire yet. If you have, let us know about that. But that’s a radical conversion.

Peter was converted. And you know what’s interesting is Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, Satan has desired to have you.” I think this is Matthew 18, “…that he might sift you like wheat but I’ve prayed for you that your faith fail not and when you’re converted…” That always blew me away when I first read it because when Jesus says this to Peter he’s already sent Peter out preaching. Peter is already one of the twelve apostles chosen by the Lord. Jesus laid hands on him and said, “You’re ordained as an apostle.” Sends him out preaching. Peter comes back and says, “Even the devils are subject unto us. We’ve performed miracles!” Near the end of Christ’s ministry after Peter has been one of the leaders in his work, Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, when you’re converted…” What? Preaching, performing miracles, a leader, a representative, and Jesus said, “You’re not converted yet.” Well, how could he be working for the Lord if he’s not converted? The only way that I stay in ministry is I’m convinced that working for the Lord is part of our conversion process, and not just me, you too.

He engages us in working for him and that’s part of our conversion process. I think that conversion can be a process where God changes us. He sanctifies us. But you can’t let that process take forever. You’ve got to know that your motives have been renewed. What caused the conversion of Isaiah? Do you remember the story in chapter six of Isaiah he sees the Lord, he sees God in his holiness and after he sees the goodness of God, the power, the purity, the brilliance of God, he says, “Woe is me! I am undone!” And as soon as he confessed God cleansed him from his sins. Paul didn’t know who the Lord was. “Who are you, Lord?” Do you know him? God wants us to have that experience. Listen to what Paul says, Acts 26:5, “According to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee unconverted.” Philippians chapter 3, you can read verses 3 through 11, he begins to cite a litany of all the good things he had done, “Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law a Pharisee…” You know I hear that every now and then.

I’ll talk to people and sometimes I’ll meet folks who have been in the church all their life. They’re fourth, fifth generation, come from godly family, went through Christian education all the way from bow to stern and when I talk to them about their relationship with the Lord they look at me indignantly like, “Doug, don’t you know? I was circumcised the eighth day, Hebrew of the Hebrews, strictest of the Pharisees, Christian education, at the feet of Gamaliel.” You know the Lord can still say, “I don’t know you.” God would rather have a publican or a Mary Magdalene whose heart has been changed than a Pharisee who is a Christian in name only. God wants our hearts. So how can we be converted? Why is it important for us to be converted? Not just for our own salvation but the fact that there may be as many as nineteen out of twenty in the church that aren’t really converted hurts the work of the church. It’s hard for… you know what? Why did the gospel go like an epidemic in the first generation? Because Jesus spent three and a half years helping to effect the genuine thorough conversion of just twelve. You get twelve. What’s twelve times twenty? I don’t know. I’m asking you. I really don’t. 240, alright. That means that by our standards today you get a church with 240 if one and 20 is converted you’ve really only got twelve. But if you get twelve really converted people they just spread like wildfire through the whole Roman Empire. So our not being really converted cripples the church.

Cripple is the right word. King David, was David converted? Well, somewhere along the way he must have been. He backslid. Can a person backslide from their conversion? Yes. A person can be converted and be serving the Lord from their heart and then their motives can slowly change where they begin to do it for selfish reasons and they need reconversion. David started out a heart after God but after success and power and money and too many wives, yeah, he started asking for one more wife belonged to somebody else and he sinned a big sin. He had to be reconverted. What brought about David’s reconversion. You know real conversion and repentance are very similar. Nathan the prophet said, “You’re the man.” He killed Uriah and took Bathsheba and when he realized what he had done he fell down on his face and he prayed for how long? David prayed for seven days. What was he praying about? The baby that he and, that illegitimate child that he and Bathsheba had generated was sick, terminally sick and David prayed. He didn’t want to see the innocent baby die for his sin and it broke his heart. And those seven days on his face praying were something like Paul’s three days something like the time that Peter spent in the Garden of Gethsemane. That’s when Peter was converted. He went out and wept bitterly.

He was converted. His heart was changed. And during that time I want you to listen. I want to say it again. David his heart was broken because he realized that innocent baby, the son of David, was going to die because of his sin. You get that? Who was Jesus? The Son of David who died for our sin. And you think about David on his face praying and pleading and weeping for that suffering baby and you think about our Heavenly Father praying for his son. It broke David’s heart to think about an innocent baby suffering. You know Jesus was more innocent than any baby? You think about the purity and innocence of a baby, Jesus was infinitely more innocent than any human baby. Think about the pity and compassion. Boy, if you want to get people’s hearts. It’s one thing when they show some tragedy and they say, you know, all these people suffered, they died, they drowned, they perished in this calamity, disease. But all they’ve got to do is show a few kids, folks start sending them money. That’s why you’ve got preachers that capitalize on that. They’ve got this big, selfish ministry.

They open a little orphanage somewhere and they grandstand the orphanage and they get all the money through the orphanage and most of it gets funneled into their selfish ministry because they know that the idea of innocent children suffering breaks people’s hearts. Isn’t that right? What should convert us? The Child of God suffering, innocent, more innocent than a child or a baby. That broke David’s heart. He was converted. And you know what he says in connection with that? Psalm 51 in his prayer that he prayed after this sin, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your generous Spirit.” In other words forgive me, save me, help me have that experience that I lost. I want it back. “Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will be converted to you.” David was in no position to teach anybody God’s ways when he was living like the devil, he says, but if you’ll forgive me and help me to be converted then I can once again “teach transgressors your ways and sinners will be converted.” David was a sinner who wanted to be converted that other sinners could be converted. Is it possible that some of us who are in the church maybe have been in the church we’ve lost our first love and we need conversion, reconversion? How does that happen? How do we get reconverted?

Romans 1:1-2, you know this, we need a new mind first. “As a man thinketh in his heart.” Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice.” You come to God the way you are, you place your life on the altar, “holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service.” It’s reasonable. He owns you because he created you. He owns you also by redemption. “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This is what conversion is, a transformation, a mind that is renewed. You know what that tells me? It doesn’t say it’s something that happens once. It’s a renewing of your mind. Conversion is not only something you can lose and reacquire, conversion is something that must be maintained. That’s a very important truth. I want to say it again.

Conversion is an experience that can be lost. It can be found again but if you find it again it must be maintained. Why? Because it’s a love relationship. Conversion, real conversion is not some, you know you can go to the doctor when you’re young and you can get a vaccination for chicken pox or measles or, I don’t know, smallpox they were worried about and you don’t have to ever worry about ever getting it again. You’ve gotten your one shot and you go on your way and it’s just never going to hit you again. Conversion doesn’t work that way. Some people think that. There are some churches that teach it. You just come forward. You utter this little prayer, repeat after me, you’re converted, you’re saved, go do your own thing and you’re sealed, you’re saved, you can just do whatever you want. No, that’s not true! That’s a doctrine of devils. Say amen!

Even if you don’t know why, it made me feel better because it’s true that it requires an investment a renewing of your mind to maintain that conversion experience because it’s about love. It’s a new heart. D. L. Moody said, “When I was converted I made the mistake” (that many make) “I thought the battle was already mine. The victory was won. The crown was in my grasp. I thought old things had passed away. All things had become new and my old corrupt nature, the old life was gone. But I found out after serving Christ for a few months that conversion was only like enlisting in the army. There was battle on hand.” It’s something that is ongoing because it’s a new heart. You know what I think is a very simple truth that is powerful? Moses who we often think of as the Law, and Moses is the ultimate, the epitome of legalism because he’s the law giver.

Actually Moses understood conversion pretty well. Just about every time Moses commands people to obey God listen to what he says, “And I command you today that you obey God and love him.” No, he says, “Love him and obey him.” Deuteronomy 6:6, “These words that I command you today shall be in your heart.” It’s all about the heart. Conversion is a new heart. Deuteronomy 11:22, “For if you carefully keep all these commandments that I command you to do to love the Lord your God and to walk in all His ways.” I could probably right now list eight times when Moses says something like this and he always gets it in the right sequence. He says, “I command you.” Whenever you hear a command, who likes to be commanded? I mean, you know, when someone asks you to do something, I found out as a pastor it doesn’t work to command members to do things. It’s hard enough to ask them.

You order them, you know they’re not going to do it. I mean, people chafe at being bossed around and when you hear Moses say, “I command you,” can you command someone to love? What wife out there wants their spouse to say, “I command you to love me”? Who responds to that? No, it’s just that kind of whining doesn’t get you anywhere. But listen to what Moses says, “I command you to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and hold fast to Him.” You cannot walk in his ways unless you love him. Ezekiel, now we’re going to talk about something that is one of the areas that, and I’m almost done, that may sound confusing but I want you to listen carefully. Whose responsibility is conversion? When Paul was converted whose responsibility was it? Paul was just on his way doing his own thing, skipping on his way to Damascus to kill Christians and God got his attention.

God did it, right? But did Paul have something he needed to do? He needed to cooperate with that road to Damascus experience. Ezekiel 18:31 this is going to sound like a contradiction. Listen to what the prophet says here, “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed. Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” They’re on sale at Costco! That’s what he says, not the Costco part, he says, “Get yourself a new heart and a new spirit.” Get yourself! Where do I go to get it? He says, you get it yourself, a new heart, conversion. “For why will you die O house of Israel?” You need to get it if you want to live. Then you go to verse 26, chapter 36 of Ezekiel, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes.” We all like that part, don’t we? Lord, I want to be converted. Do it for me. Convert me. Wish it was that easy, right? But then he says, “Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.”

How can you get a new heart? You know if you’re involved in marriage counseling one thing that you learn right up front is you don’t fall for this nonsense when one or both in the couple say, “You know we’ve lost our love for each other.” Any counselor who falls for that isn’t worth anything. And they might be absolutely sincere, “You know we just don’t love each other anymore.” What counselor would you want to go to who would say, “Well, I guess that settles that. We’ll help draw up the papers. You don’t love each other anymore? Well, what can we do? Love happens, you know, and it’s not happening anymore and there’s nothing we can do.” No, what does a good counselor say? “You better get it back. You better find that first love and let me tell you what you can do to stimulate that love again. Do what you did when you first fell in love even if you don’t feel like it.

You felt like it more back then because you didn’t know better, but now you’ve got to do it because you made a promise.” They don’t fall for this thing, “Well, I just don’t feel the love anymore.” If you want to salvage that relationship you put effort and energy into doing the things that are going to cultivate the love. So is there something that I can do to be converted? Conversion is a change of heart. You can cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit. How was Isaiah converted? He saw the Lord. How was Zaccheus converted? He saw the Lord. How was Paul converted? He saw the Lord. And you can go through the Bible… When was Peter converted? He saw Jesus suffering for his denial and he went out and wept bitterly. David was converted when he saw the baby suffering for his sin. It broke his heart. The brothers of Joseph were converted, they saw their father weeping for the brother that they had sold, their hearts were broke. You know the best place to find conversion? We love God because he first loved us. When you look at the love of God for us at the cross it has a converting influence. When you contemplate and think about, now I’m going to be very practical. I don’t want to use a lot of quippy clichés. Pray every day even if you don’t feel like it.

Spend time on your knees because you need it. Get for yourself a new heart and God will give you a new heart. Spend time reading the Bible. Get good Christian literature that will move your heart. I can almost always draw a straight line between the amount of time that I’m spending in quiet time with God, in study with God, in prayer with God, there’s almost an exact equilibrium between that and where I am in my relationship with God. You know I’ve got one of these Pocket PCs. You know what I’m talking about, little hand, palm things. And I’ve been able, not only I have the Bible on there, but I’ve got a lot of the Spirit of Prophesy on there, I’ve got a lot of devotional books on there and I’ve now started something new that whenever I… I have to eat by myself a lot at restaurants because I’m traveling. I keep that with me, I pull it out and I’m reading all the time even when I’m eating. And you know I’m noticing that it’s giving me that a few extra spiritual vitamins that I need sometimes through the day. Take advantage of every opportunity to fix your eyes on Jesus and you might discover that that first love that’s been evaporating you’ll find it again. But if you’re hoping to survive with a vibrant loving converted experience on what you’re going to get from the pastor once a week that’s not going to be enough.

We need to feed ourselves. We need to meet together and encourage each other in groups. Amen? I know some of you, how many of you? Oh, I won’t ask you to raise your hands. I know a lot of us are involved in Bible study groups, home studies, we get together with other Christians. Doesn’t have to be from this church. Get together with other Christians and pray and study during the week, spend some time in Bible study, and especially in this day and age where we are constantly being bombarded with conflicting messages it is so easy for us to be selfish. The commercials are just programming us all the time to be selfish. “You deserve it. Go out and get it.

Put it on the credit card right now because you deserve it.” And these messages are lowered our Christian experience so we must counteract that by feeding our souls, by praying, by meeting together and getting a new heart. And you know what? When we come to the Lord just the way we are and say, “Lord, save me!” like that publican, beat on your breast and say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!” That’s the kind of prayer God hears and he wants to give you that new heart. I want to be a real Christian, don’t you? You know I picked our closing hymn to go along with that. “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart” number 319. Why don’t we sing that together? Let’s stand as we sing.

Lord, I want to be a Christian In my heart, in my heart; Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart. In my heart, In my heart, Lord, I want to be a Christian In my heart.

I want to be converted. I want to be real, a real Christian. Don’t you? Don’t you want me to be? Bad news for you if you don’t want me to be. I want to be a real Christian. I want you to be real Christians. I don’t want us to be nominal Christians. Maybe some of you as we’ve studied these things you’ve found out maybe you’ve been a Martha, maybe you’ve been like that Pharisee or Paul or Peter or David or some of the others, you were converted, you’ve lost it. You’ve neglected that new birth and you need a renewing in your mind. If you’d like to ask for special prayer this morning and you find yourself there somewhere you can come to the front if you’d like. We’ll pray for you. Let’s sing verse two. I like that verse especially.

Lord, I want to be more loving In my heart, in my heart; Lord, I want to be more loving In my heart. In my heart, In my heart, Lord, I want to be more loving In my heart.

You know one reason I thought about this message? I thought how sad it would be if we as a church family build a beautiful new church that is modern and beautiful and state of the art, new church full of unconverted Christians. Wouldn’t that be sad? How much better to have no building at all and be a body of people that are real in our hearts. That’s the most important thing because everything else about the facility really is to house the church. You are the church. The church building holds the church. You are the church. And I thought it’s so much better while we’re talking about a new church that we don’t forget what the real church is, that we are new in our hearts. That’s my prayer. Let’s sing verse four together.

Lord, I want to be like Jesus In my heart, in my heart; Lord, I want to be like Jesus In my heart. In my heart, In my heart, Lord, I want to be like Jesus In my heart.

Father in heaven, today we have followed the mandate in your word to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith that we are in Christ. Lord, I think that perhaps if the flock here is anything like me as we’ve looked at the fruit of the Spirit we sometimes wonder if we have genuine love and joy and peace and goodness and kindness and self-control. Lord, we want these fruits to be in our lives. We do not want to be Christians in name only but we want to be Christians in our heart. We want to be genuinely and thoroughly converted. Lord, we know that as long as we’re in this life that conversion experience is something that would need to be nurtured and renewed. And I pray that if there are any here who have lost that experience we can find it again. I pray that if there are some here who have never had that experience that the light that Paul saw, the look of faith that Peter saw and Zaccheus saw will change their hearts. The holiness that Isaiah saw will help them to say, “Woe is me!” and that they could be renewed by that coal of fire. Bless us, Lord. Help us to be a family where it’s not one in twenty but all of us that are Christians in heart. Thank you for hearing this prayer. I pray that we will cooperate with this prayer. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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