Chapter One

Convinced or Converted?

Casual observation will reveal that the American society is composed of distinctive groups: the "involved" group; the "amen" group; the "it is alright with us" group; and the "I could care less" group. The "involved" group finds it natural to champion causes actively. The "amen" group believes in and advocates causes, but it limits its support to being well-wishers. The "it is alright with us" group's involvement is limited to not being a hindrance. The "I could care less " group is apathetic with no concern.

These groups also exist in the Lord's church. Their existence in the church has produced two frightening situations. First, it has produced an alarming number of Christians with no sense of spiritual commitment. Their greatest act of commitment is to say, "Amen," or, "It is alright with us." Second, it has produced numbers of Christians who are spiritually incapable of coping with any crisis. Years of apathetic "okaying" have robbed them of all spiritual strength. The lives of the "amen" Christians, the "it is alright with us" Christians, and the "I could care less" Christians consist of little more than a few habits built around attending worship. It is frightening to see how many of them live in fear and depression.

How can the same Savior influence one Christian to become an involved, fulfilled person radiantly alive in Christ, and produce nothing but apathy in another Christian? How can any Christians know the Lord, understand the Word, taste the promises, be a part of the Lord's family, and still be weak or indifferent? Obviously, many problems create apathy and disinterest. However, a major contributor to the situation is this: too many Christians have been convinced but not converted.

The Convinced Person
There is a vast difference between being convinced and being converted. Being a convinced person is not difficult. He believes God Exists, Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is divine truth, and all need to be saved. He is convinced that God should be obeyed, that Jesus is the true religious authority, and that one must be a member of the Lord's church and worship regularly. However, his faith is only a shallow, intellectual understanding.

His believing and being convinced is no more than accepting a set of facts. A convinced person regards his beliefs as important, but not as imperative. While strongly feeling one should do what is right, his doing right is not a matter of urgency. He has no devastating awareness of past sinfulness or of having been lost. Thus, he feels no sense of rescue from death or deliverance from destruction. Feeling has little place in his Christian life or his spiritual motivations. He may even object strongly to religious feelings. He has reduced the whole Christian life to a set of facts to be accepted.

Since faith and understanding is merely possessing proper facts, he accepts the facts, builds a few necessary new habits, and continues to live a "normal" life. His life is simple, easy, and involves no hard decisions. He is comfortable with his life and assures himself everything is fine because he has accepted the right facts. He enjoys the ultimate convenience of living without conscience problems.

The Converted Person
In complete contrast, being converted is not simple or easy. Being converted hurts. This person looks honestly at hard realities about himself. He sees his own sins for what they are. Admitting he is responsible for his sins, he accepts accountability for his life. He acknowledges that just condemnation and punishment will result if his sins are not forgiven. All of that hurts.

Being converted is a life-shattering experience. Before conversion he was deceived in his belief that he controlled his life. He discovered sin controlled him. He understands what his sins are and how they have offended God. He confesses his life has not been good, right, or okay, and he admits it is his fault. These acknowledgments so tear his world apart he knows he must change.

Being converted involves a moment of terrible fear and despair. Realizing he is lost, he knows he is powerless to rescue himself from sin. From the depths of his heart, he knows he cannot save himself. In life's most terrifying moment, he sees and faces eternal destruction.

Being converted demands repentance and resurrects the conscience. Repentance involves many hard decisions. The conscience makes him a person who thinks rather than a person who reacts to circumstances. He now answers to himself and to God on a daily basis.

Being converted is finding a Savior. He allows Jesus to destroy the enslaving guilt, fear, and anxiety founded in his past life. He accepts the peace, direction, and hope promised in conversion. Conversion is demanding because it involves the whole person--mind and heart, knowledge and emotions, body and soul.

Examples of Conversion
There are three excellent examples of the process and the results of being converted. The Christians at Thessalonica are the first. No more than a month after Paul and Silas established that congregation, they incurred the wrath of jealous Jews who hired the riffraff to start a riot (Acts 17:5). Some of the Christians were dragged before rulers of the city and forced to pay a peace bond. The brethren so feared for Paul and Silas that they sent them away by night.

After he left, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to those Christians. In chapter one he extols their work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope. Rather than discouraging them from imitating the faith and lives of Paul and Silas, the afflictions made them an example of faith, godliness, and commitment to Christians throughout Greece.

Considering their stormy beginning, one must ask, "How could such spiritual development occur under such circumstances?" How could they learn to be exceptional Christians with the limited opportunities of troubled conditions? 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10 gives the answer:

For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come.

Why were they exceptional Christians? They deliberately gave up their past religious life to come to the living God. They came to the living God with the desire and commitment to serve. They were more than convinced. They were converted.

The second example is the Christians in Rome. In Romans 6 Paul reminds them of the basic realities of being in Christ. Baptism into His death placed them in Christ (v. 3). Resurrection from baptism's burial brought newness of life (v. 4). The body of sin had been deliberately crucified to end bondage to sin (vv. 6, 7). They were now dead to sin and alive to God (v. 11). Sin would not be allowed to reign in their bodies or to use their bodies (vv. 12-14). They belonged to the one they obeyed (v. 16).

Verses 17, 18 declare:

But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.

Serving sin was a part of their former life. When they obeyed from the heart the pattern of teaching given them, they ceased being slaves to sin. Now they willfully were servants or slaves of righteousness. These people had been more than convinced; they were converted.

The third example is the well-known prodigal son of Luke 15:11-32. A man's youngest son demanded his inheritance and received it. Shortly thereafter he left home for a far country. There he wasted the entire inheritance in foolish, irresponsible living. A severe famine forced him to accept the disgraceful job of feeding a Gentile's hogs. His hunger was so great he gladly would have eaten the carob tree's husky pods with the hogs if they had been digestible. No one helped him; no one cared about his need; no one gave him anything.

Luke 15:17 says, "But when he came to himself . . ." Conversion begins with coming to oneself. In sin, no one sees, thinks, or understands clearly. In sin, no one is ever truly himself. When the prodigal came to himself, he realized his father could care for his needs. He knew he needed to return to his father and to confess his sins against his father and God. He clearly understood his unworthiness to be regarded as a son. Willingly confessing the truth, he would request his father make him a hired servant.

The result of "coming to himself" was this: he got out of the pigpen and started walking home. How difficult that trip must have been! What anxieties and fears must have haunted him as he drew nearer that fateful meeting with his father!

Through those long months the father never ceased watching for the return of his son. Though the son was likely ragged, dirty, and thin from hunger, the father recognized him in the distance. With compassion, joy, and thankfulness, he ran to meet his son. Hugging and kissing him, the father hardly let him utter his confession. After being clothed and receiving a family ring, the son was honored with a feast of thanksgiving and rejoicing. The son who was dead was now alive.

The turning point in this rebellious young man's life was coming to himself. Finally, in the pigpen he saw himself for what he was. He honestly realized what he had done. He clearly saw his mistakes and unworthiness. He knew he had to do something; he knew he had to redirect his life. Thus he got out of the pigpen, got on the road, and went home to throw himself on his father's mercy. That is the most beautiful, forceful example of conversion in the New Testament.

If New Testament Christians are to exist, the nature of a converted person must be understood clearly. There are three aspects of conversion. The first is recognition. The person in absolute honesty recognizes who he is, what he has done, and what his immediate condition is. The second is awareness. He is aware that it is imperative that his life change. Whatever the price, he must change. He cannot tolerate continuing as he is. The third is a "becoming." When the person he was before conversion is compared to the person he is after conversion, it is like seeing two different people. His actions, attitudes, purposes, desires, and feelings are different. He has become a new person in Christ.

Why So Many Unconverted?
One troublesome question remains. Why are there so many unconverted persons in the church? First, the situation exists because of a failure in teaching. It is a failure produced by misunderstanding, not an intentional failure. People have been allowed to substitute "belonging to the church" for being converted to Christ. In the Scriptural sense those converted to Christ have been added to the church by God (Acts 2:47). These converted persons are Christ's church because they belong to Christ. However, in much of the past teaching in the church, it was assumed that the person who understood the necessity of being baptized automatically understood what it meant to belong to Christ. That is a false assumption. The essentially of baptism in Scripture is shown easily to any sincere person wishing to understand. Many people do understand Scripture's teaching on baptism. Yet, many of these people do not understand the meaning of belonging to Christ. They were baptized because the Bible said do it, but they know little about belonging to Christ.

The essential question is not, "Must I be baptized?" It is, "Do I accept the Lordship of Christ?" Is He really Lord with all authority over the individual and the church? Is He the ruler of one's personal life and the church? Is He the sole authority over His people? Is the Word the only source for knowing and understanding the will of God? When a person sees and accepts the authoritative Lordship of Jesus, when he depends on the Word to show him the will of God, he wants both to be baptized and to belong to Jesus. He wants to become a Christian, not merely to acknowledge Jesus' identity.

Second, too many Christians do not want to be converted people. Unlike the Thessalonian Christians, they did not turn from lives of sin to serve the living God. Some did not turn at all. Their lives, their thoughts, and their emotions did not change. They retained their evil habits and pleasures. They have no intention of serving. "Belonging" to the church, not serving, is their concern. It is the fear of hell, not the desire to live with God, which motivates them.

Unlike the Christians of Rome, they did not obey the teachings from the heart. They obeyed because they feared the consequence of disobedience. The heart had little to do with their decision. They do not act like persons free from sin or bondservants of righteousness.

Unlike the prodigal, they never came to themselves. The prodigal knew he had to leave the pigpen. His conditions would change only if he got out of the pigpen and went to the father. Too many Christians continue life in the foreign pigpen of sin and pleasure. They want the Father to love them by saving them where they are, as they are. It cannot happen!

Christians must learn the difference between being converted and "belonging to the church." One must want more than hell insurance. He must want the Lordship of Jesus Christ.


  1. Name and describe common groups seen in any cause.
  2. What two frightening situations have these groups produced in the Lord's church?
  3. Explain this statement: too many Christians have been convinced but not converted.
  4. Describe a "convinced" Christian. Why are some Christians content to be convinced?
  5. Describe a "converted" Christian. Why does being converted hurt?
  6. Why is being converted a life-shattering experience?
  7. What moment of fear and despair is produced by being converted?
  8. What is the relationship between being converted and finding a Savior?
  9. Illustrate the process of conversion with these examples:
    1. The Thessalonian Christians
    2. The Christians at Rome
    3. The prodigals son
  10. Can you suggest other examples of the conversion process?
  11. What three things happen in conversion?

Thought Questions

  1. Why are many Christians spiritually apathetic?
  2. How can a Scripturally baptized person determine if he is convinced or converted?
  3. What do you personally consider the most important lesson in this chapter?
transcribed by Kathy Simpson
Copyright © 1983, David Chadwell
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