Have you ever seen a conversion happen? I don’t just mean the blessed moment when somebody makes a public announcement of their desire to “be a Christian” or to “follow Jesus.” That’s a moment that we might call the beginning of conversion, but to slap the label of “conversion” on such an instantaneous moment is akin to calling the first celery stick weight loss.
No, my question is: have you ever seen somebody gripped by the Spirit and remade over days, weeks, months, and years into the being that God has called them to be? Any conversion is a process that begins perhaps in a moment, but does not relent until that person is transformed. But, conversion is not a word that applies only to altar-walking and blood-soaked hymns in some humid sanctuary. People can be converted into just about anything. Ultimately, it’s a process of transformation, but even though the Christian God is a God of change and transformation, change and transformation are not themselves holy or dominated by the Spirit.
Here’s the truth: we are always and forever being converted—what matters is what we’re being converted to.
Take the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke’s Gospel (15:11-32). Often, we rip right through the passage to get to that moment among the pigs where our protagonist, who has first demanded and then squandered his inheritance from his still-living father on “dissolute living” (read: all those things that good boys and girls don’t do. You know, drink, or smoke, or chew, or go with boys/girls who do) comes to a shocking realization. He exclaims to himself, “My father’s servants have food to spare, but my father’s son is dying of hunger! I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll go home and beg dad to forgive my sins against him and God. I’ll beg for mercy and to become his servant so that I might be saved.”
We rush to this muddy and noisy place in the story because we’ve been trained to see this as the moment of conversion. Don’t get me wrong, it is! The wayward son has seen the effects of his choices on his life and how his pursuit of the world was a pursuit of death; so, he repents and confesses and seeks forgiveness. He sees what he is and starts down a path toward becoming something else. This is, most definitely, a beautiful picture of God’s converting love.
But in our haste to get there, we miss the conversion that happens all around it. Is it not just as clear that the son who repents and confesses was first converted to a love of, and devotion to, something else? In those first few verses, we see a story of conversion from loyal son to prodigal son—from child who loves his father to child who loves his father’s money. We don’t get all the details and we don’t get a speech or exclamation, but we most certainly see a process where he is converted to love of himself and the pursuit of pleasure as his greatest good. He is seduced by the gospel of living for yourself and transformed into something altogether pitiable.
Or how about the conversion of his brother who remains home with his their father. At the end of the passage, the older brother is irate that his father has lavished mercy and reward upon the wayward son come home. The older brother cannot bite back his disgust that his loyalty has remained unrewarded while his younger brother’s sins have been forgiven and overlooked. It seems that while younger brother was away being converted to the gospel of this world, older brother was being converted to a gospel of works and pride. His confidence in his own inherent goodness and effort have made him a hard man who cannot celebrate life restored to the undeserving—indeed, he can no longer see that he is truly among the undeserving himself.
Conversion is happening every day to everybody. Right now, you are being converted from something and into something. God has graced us with some small decisions to make about who and what we are becoming, but make no mistake: you are changing—you are being converted. The primary question is: to what are you being converted? There are a whole host of kingdoms and gospels to which we can be converted, but if we are being converted to any kingdom except the Kingdom of God, or to any gospel but Christ crucified, then we are being converted to death no matter how defensible or reasonable the cause.
So, just who are you becoming?
This inspirational word was brought to you by Josh Hearne of Grace & Main Fellowship.