Conversion is a Bible subject that has to do with the salvation of the soul. Thus, it behooves us to make a diligent study of the scriptures that we may learn what it is.
In the second recorded sermon of the apostle Peter, after the giving of the great commission and the descent of the Holy Spirit, (Acts 2), the matter of conversion was pressed upon the people in these words: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Conversion is here shown to be the thing that leads to the blotting out of sins and the seasons of refreshing sent from the presence of the Lord. Conversion is necessary to the enjoyment of such blessings on the part of all men.
A true description of conversion is given in few words in the scripture: “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20).
Conversion, then, is a turning from one state and condition to another. When man is converted from God, he is turned from truth to error. In turning from truth to error, his condition is changed from that of a saint to a sinner. Being changed in condition to a sinner, man is thereby brought into the state of death. The condemnation of God and the sentence of death have passed upon all who sin. Death is declared by inspiration to be the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23).
When man is converted to God, the opposite changes are made. He must turn again to the Lord that he may have his sins blotted out and enjoy seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. He must retrace the steps that were taken in turning away from God. He must turn from error back to truth. He must then be purified from sin by obeying the truth. “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22). With this change in condition, he is brought again into a state of love, communion, and fellowship with God where he enjoys the forgiveness of sins. This process is described as one’s “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Pet. 1:23). In conversion he is saved from death and given the promise of eternal life.
The process of man’s conversion to God may be further illustrated by reviewing the fall of man in the beginning and pointing out the steps taken in the process of that departure from God. God made man in His image, and after His likeness. He was just the kind of creature God would have him be. There was no impurity in his heart, no evil in his life, and no guilt attached to his soul. He dwelt in a state of purity, enjoying holy communion with God in the Paradise of Eden.
When God thus made man and placed him in this state, He gave him a law to govern his conduct.
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 2:15-17).
As long as man obeyed the law that God gave, he enjoyed the blessed state of communion with Him. But the tempter soon came to turn man away from God and from man’s holy state into a state of transgression and separation from God.
First, the tempter put a question mark over the word of God to weaken the force of it and to cast a doubt in the mind of man regarding it. He said unto the woman. “Yea, hath God said ye shall not eat of any tree of the Garden?” (Gen. 3:1). The woman then repeated the law God had given them. “And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die” (Gen. 3:2-3).
The tempter then preached a lie to the woman. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4). He thereby sought to turn man from truth to error. The woman placed her confidence in the tempter, believed the lie, and was led by that faith to disobey God. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6).
Having disobeyed God, man was guilty of sin, and entered into a state of death. This is descriptive of the condition of all mankind. Paul said, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
Briefly summarizing the steps taken in man’s fall, we find that a lie was given to supplant the truth, man believed the lie and was led into error, he disobeyed God and became guilty of sin, and thereby passed into a state of death.
With these things before us, it should be easy to understand the process of conversion to God. One must be turned back to truth and away from all error. God’s word is truth (John 17:17), and all that differs from it is error. One must repose his confidence in God and believe His word as man believed the lie (John 8:24). He must obey the truth as man obeyed error in the beginning (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).
When man obeys the truth in baptism, he is purified, or cleansed, from the guilt of sin and disobedience. Being thus purified by obedience to the gospel, man is brought from a state of death into life—translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13) and again enjoys communion with God.