The word is used only once in the New Testament. And this morning it jumped off the page as I read it in Acts. A term I recall hearing more frequently 30 or 40 years ago, when I was a newer believer. Don’t really know when it faded from use, but I think it has. I’m guessing the word wouldn’t land on the modern ear very well. I’m thinking that whatever defines “politically correct” would filter out this way of talking about those who have been saved by faith alone in Christ alone. But it is a biblical term. And an accurate term. And maybe, if we used it more, a helpful term in reminding ourselves of who we are and, perhaps, how we should continue to be.
In Acts 15 those who wanted to attach circumcision to faith as the way of salvation are confronted by Paul and Barnabas. After “no small dissension and debate with them,” Paul and Barnabas decide to go meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to settle the matter. And the Holy Spirit moves Luke, the author of Acts, to write this:
So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.
(Acts 15:3 ESV)
Did you see it? Know what word I’m talking about? If not have a look again before reading on.
As Paul and Barnabas traveled to Jerusalem, as they were hosted by churches and groups of believers along the way, they described in detail the conversion of the Gentiles.
Conversion. When’s the last time you heard someone refer to becoming a Christian like that? We’ve believed. We’ve come to Christ. We’ve accepted Jesus. We’ve been born again (but even that’s less popular today). But we were converted? Not used that much I’m thinking.
Or, we’ll call ourselves a believer, a follower, or a disciple. But when’s the last time I said I was a convert?
Not to make a big deal out of something that isn’t. But as I chew on the conversion of the Gentiles I can’t help but think it’s an important way of describing ourselves that shouldn’t be dropped from the multi-faceted portrayal of what it means to be in Christ.
While the word “conversion” is only used once, its root is far more common and used far more frequently. It’s the verb to turn. As in, to turn to God. That’s what salvation is, it’s the turning.
And you read of the turning, again and again in the book of Acts. Peter calling upon his fellow Jews to “repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). In Lydda, when the people heard the gospel preached and saw a paralyzed man healed, “they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35). In Lystra, where Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for gods to be worshiped because of the miracles that accompanied their message, Paul declares, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).
Isn’t that at the heart of our salvation? Having once pursued the vain things of this world, we’ve done an about face and now seek first the kingdom of a living God? We’ve experienced a conversion. We’ve known the turning.
But perhaps, because we’ve lost the language, we’ve forgotten that we are called to be people who are to walk in a direction 180 degrees to the world which woos us to be more and more conformed to it. Called to be people who pivot on our heels, by the power of the Spirit in us, when the flesh lures us to follow its sensual leading. Called to be a people who give our back to the tempter and the accuser when he says, “Why even keep trying? Follow me.”
By God’s saving grace, because of the finished work of the cross, by the power of Christ’s resurrected life, through faith we are a people of conversion. People who have known the turning.
May we continue in the turning. Walking in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1). Returning when needed, confessing our sin, knowing that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). That we might be a source of great joy to heavenly realms as they recount too the conversion of the Gentiles.
Because of grace. For His glory.