A “conversion” is a “turning.” Some of our turnings in life are more radical than others, but none is more radical than when a person is “converted” to Jesus Christ. The difference between the before and after is so fundamental, it can be said that a person has been reborn (John 3:3–6). Paul could even describe it as being crucified with Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
If we wanted to put our finger on the act which separates the old from the new, it would be a person’s baptism into Christ. In Romans 6:4, Paul wrote, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The “newness of life” is said to be after a person’s baptism and not before.
In the book of Acts, which contains a record of the beginning and growth of the gospel in the first century, we find numerous examples of people being converted to Christ. Starting with the conversion of three thousand people following Peter’s sermon in Jerusalem (Acts 2:1–47) and continuing to the other conversion accounts, we find a pattern that merits our serious attention today: people believed the truth of the gospel, repented of their sins, confessed their faith, and were baptized for the remission of their sins.
If a person’s heart was not in it, of course, he could go through the motions of doing these things and not really be converted to Christ. But when a person obeys the gospel “from the heart” (Romans 6:17), these are the things that occur when a person turns to Christ.
At the center of any true conversion to Christ is commitment. Turning to Christ is a process not engaged in lightly; it involves a determination to remain true to Christ for the rest of one’s life. Jesus talked about it very plainly: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). And Peter wrote, “If, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20)
Conversion to Christ can be looked at in two ways. There is a sense in which it is a present reality. In 2 Corinthians 5:17,. Paul could say that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” But since we must learn how to be like Christ, there is also a sense in which our conversion is a process. Think of it in terms of “putting off” one set of clothes and “putting on” another. For one who has been converted to Christ, it is true that he has “put off the old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9), but he is also commanded to do that in the present: “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22).
So is conversion to Christ a fact or it is a goal? It is both. In Christ, we’ve made a commitment to put away our past, and in that sense we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) with a new identity. But we must learn how to live on the basis of that identity. In a manner of speaking, we must learn how to be the people that we have become. Paul summed it up when he wrote to the Christians in Colossae, “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Colossians 2:6)
In many ways, those who have been converted to Christ don’t have anything that is not also enjoyed by other people in this world. They don’t have better houses or clothes or automobiles, but one thing they do have that can only be found in Christ: the glorious hope of eternal life.
In the eloquent words of the apostle Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5).
So if “conversion” to Christ is a “turning,” it is a turning of the highest order. It is turning from disobedience to obedience, from condemnation to salvation, from waywardness to faithfulness. Indeed, it is turning from death to life.