Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Does it Mean to be Converted?

Chuck Colson's death over the weekend has brought the "C" word back into public discussion: not "convict" or "criminal," but "conversion." And that is a good thing.

Yesterday, I wrote about the very public transformation of Chuck Colson from a Watergate criminal to a convert who exemplified Christian service and sacrifice for the marginalized in society: prisoners and their families. Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson wrote on Monday that Colson was "the most thoroughly converted person I have ever known."

Conversion is a mystery--Christian theology has never made the claim that conversion is man-made. One cannot just whip up a quick conversion, though many evangelists have probably tried. Christian conversion involves the Spirit of God convicting us of our great need to turn toward God and away from all that holds us captive: sin, pride, evil. The dictionary defines conversion in the Christian theological sense as "repentance and change to a Godly life."

Do you want to know if someone is a true convert? Look at his or her life! Let's look at our own lives! True repentance leads to a changed life. It won't happen overnight--though some internal and external change can happen instantaneously. My father, for instance, was miraculously healed of alcoholism. That was apparent to anyone who knew his circumstances: he never suffered the effects of withdrawal. But other changes within him happened over the long term. God's work in us is a life-long project, but His grace and love encourage us to keep turning to Him!

Colson was known pre-conversion for having few virtues--few people liked him, and many were afraid of him. It would be awful to leave a legacy like that--but God did not let that happen. Colson took no credit for the changes that occurred within him and his relationships--it was a work of God that allowed him to be so thoroughly converted and so thoroughly transformed. He, like every other person who turns to God and away from the prison of sin, became "a new person."

Colson reminds me of a certain person named Saul, who was greatly feared by the first Christians 2,000 years ago. He believed his destiny was to wipe out what he and the other Pharisees believed to be a blasphemous group. He was going to make it his life's work to throw every Christian into prison or to have them executed.

But God had very different plans for Saul, who was thoroughly converted on the Road to Damascus. He, too, was eventually thrown into prison for his crimes--the very crimes of the faithful he had railed against as a Pharisee. Colson was released from prison for his crimes after only seven months, but lived the rest of his life as a former prisoner truly set free. We don't jail people in the United States for preaching and living out the Gospel (there are countries who do!)--if we did, he would have served a life sentence, like Paul.

"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17, New Living Translation.

Photo credit: Kairos Prison Ministry

1 comment:

  1. Christian Conversion has been with us since Christ died for us - it is a genuine phenomenon that can change a person like night to day. Many people don't have a CLUE, and some have tried to FAKE it - but like Jesus said, "you shall know them by their fruits".
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