Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Conversion

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
Conversion is a very fundamental issue in Scripture. Together with faith, conversion is the direct result of regeneration. In regeneration the Holy Spirit pours spiritual life into the soul. Because of the spiritual life within, an awakening takes place. The person becomes concerned about the state of his or her soul and believes the testimony of Scripture concerning the lost state of their soul. Such a person begins to long for the Lord and His peace. Faith is exercised in the Lord and His Word. Coupled with this is also conversion.

Conversion is also called repentance in Scripture. Repentance or conversion may simply described as a turning from sin to God.

The reality of our life is that by nature we live with our backs turned toward God. We are on our way to eternal destruction and if we continue to live like this we will fall into eternal destruction. Therefore, we must turn from our evil way. We must turn around so that we start to walk on the paths of Gods commandments.

Repentance or conversion is a turning toward oneself so that one sees the guilt and the mischief we have done. It is a turning away from sin. It is also a turning towards God to walk in His commandments.

Conversion consists of a radical change of life, which springs from a radical inner change of heart and mind. The course of our life changes. It changes from disobedience to obedience to God and His Word.

Conversion always consists of breaking with sin and turning to serve the Lord. The one is connected with the other. In this way sins are forgiven, peace is experienced and God's honour is proclaimed.

God calls people to repentance because they are sinners. He calls everyone to forsake sin and to turn to Him. This is especially applicable to the covenant people of Israel and the covenant people of the New Testament church. They are also called to repentance. But this has an even stronger emphasis, because in their case God refers to His covenant. They are not only sinners, but they are included in God's covenant. He has united Himself to His people in lovingkindness and grace. He calls His covenant people to serve Him, to belong to Him and to forsake sin. When Israel forsakes God, God remembers His covenant and calls them to repentance, based upon His covenant.

Repentance Is Fundamental in Scripture
Repentance is central throughout all of Scripture. It is the most universal theme in the New Testament, even more so than the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ makes the preaching of repentance possible. Repentance became the primary aim of Christian preaching after the resurrection of Christ.

Let me illustrate this by some important Scriptural facts to show that repentance is of fundamental importance in preaching. Both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus began their public ministry with the preaching of repentance. In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1,2). From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17).

The entire thrust of the Sermon on the Mount is that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven people must repent of their sinful practices, change their thinking patterns and seek to follow JesusÕ commands. When later, the Lord Jesus gives His disciples the command to go and preach the Gospel, He opens their heart to understand the Scriptures. It is in that setting that we read the special significance of the preaching of repentance: And [He] said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke 24:46,47).

Consider also Paul's ministry. He summarizes his divine calling and his subsequent ministry in a statement delivered to King Agrippa in Acts 26:17,18: Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

Paul's task was to lead people to repentance. He preached this also to the Athenians: And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).

This universal appeal to repentance is further confirmed in Romans 2:4: Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? In the first chapters of Revelation we again hear the Lord Jesus emphasize repentance to His backsliding church: As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent (Rev. 3:19). Another Scripture proof is 2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Words Used for Repentance
There is the Hebrew word nicham. It means to be sorry, to be moved to pity, to repent of wrongdoings. It is used to describe sorrow for sin in people (cf. Judges 21:6, Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19). It is even used to designate a perceived change in God, even though we know that God can never change and is immutable. We read of this in Genesis 6:6-7 and Exodus 32:12,14.

The more common word for repentance is the Hebrew word shub. It means to turn around and go in the opposite direction. It is a turning away from sin, from wickedness and transgressions, to the Lord and to walk in His commandments (cf.1 Kings 8:35; Ezekiel 3:19; Nehemiah 9:35; Psalm 51:13; Isaiah 10:21; Jeremiah 4:1; Hosea 14:1). In Malachi 3:7 we read: Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return?

Rich promises are attached to such returning to the Lord. When God's people turn to the Lord, He will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). The Lord will have mercy upon them (Isaiah 55:11) and He will prevent their death (Ezekiel 33:11). Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil (Joel 2: 12-13).

In the New Testament there are various words to designate repentance or conversion. Metamelomai means the natural pain that is caused by sin. It does not designate a turning to God, but it shows the pain and sorrow of sin. There is a human feeling of shame. This shame and sorrow comes from the general workings of God's Holy Spirit. This contains fear and dread of punishment to be inflicted. There is shame and remorse (Matthew 21:29; 27:3; 2 Corinthians 7:8). This is a selfish emotion, but it does imply a moral nature and a conscience.

Metanoia is the inner change involved in the act of repentance. The word meta means with or after. The word nous means mind or attitude, a way of thinking, a disposition. So metanoia means a change of attitude. The result of metanoia is a different mindset. It involves much more than sorrow for sin or shame. It is also more than just an intellectual change. It involves a change of the entire person and one's total outlook on life. It involves a change of thinking, feeling and willing. It is the beginning of a new moral and religious life. Metanoia is not only a turning from sin, but also a turning towards God. It is repentance to life (Acts 11:18). It brings forth fruits (Matthew 3:8). This repentance leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is in this setting that the beautiful definition of Answer 87 from the Westminster Shorter Catechism fits: ÒRepentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.Ó

Epistrofe stresses the outward change of one's conduct in life which implements and gives expression to the inward change of heart. The word epi means toward and the word strepho means to turn. So the combination gives to turn about or to turn toward. It is used particularly as a turning from God towards sin (1 Peter 2:25, Acts 26:18; Acts 15:19). Epistrofe describes a total change of one's lifestyle and behaviour. It is a turning from evil to God.

Sometimes these two last words are used in combination: metanoia and epistrofe. Repent [metanoia] ye therefore, and be converted [epistrofe], that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19. We find the same combined use of these two words in Acts 26:20, But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Elements of Repentance
Repentance is a unity. It is one act, but there are various elements to be distinguished in this act of repentance:

1. There is an intellectual aspect. True repentance involves a knowledge of the holiness and majesty of God. Repentance includes recognition of our unworthiness and guilt. There must be an understanding of the mercy of God and of His readiness to forgive.

2. There is an emotional aspect. There is a heartfelt sorrow for sin. That is what Paul means by a godly sorrow. The root of this godly sorrow is love. There is inner grief that we have grieved God. There is also joy after repentance of forgiveness of sins.

3. There is an aspect of the will. There is a turning from sin to God and a change of motivation and purpose or aim of life. There is total commitment to Christ.

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