Christians know that being a Christian means we don’t say certain words. Most of us know Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths…” Here’s the problem. We miss the fact that the Bible should shape the words we do say.
Particularly, the Bible should shape the way we speak about Biblical matters. Even more particularly, the Bible should shape the way we speak about something so critical as conversion. Consider these five common–and unbiblical–ways we speak about Christian conversion:
1. “Ask Jesus into your heart.”
If you want a thorough treatment of this one, I’ve written a whole article on just this one misconception. We do not have a Jesus-shaped hole in our hearts. Six chapters into the Bible we have this summary: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Jesus has no interest in taking up residence in the “diamond-hard” (Zech. 7:12) and idol-infested (Ezekiel 14:3) hearts we possess.
The Bible speaks of us needing a new heart. Our encouragement is to “rend [our] hearts” (Joel 2:13) and to ask God for a new one. If we do, God has promised, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
2. “Give your life to Christ.”
This is a well-meaning encouragement. It acknowledges that Jesus’ death and resurrection merit a response. However, this phrase is never found in the Bible, and it confuses the idea of redemption. Here is how the New Testament speaks about our lives: “For you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20, and again 1 Cor. 7:23); “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:7); “[Jesus], by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
Redemption and ransom are words that appear throughout the whole Bible. They mean that Jesus purchased his people and paid for them with his blood. Jesus himself said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28, and again Mark 10:45). It’s not that we gave our lives to Jesus. He gave his life to purchase us.
3. “Get Christ in your life.”
There are a few variations of this one, but it is often said to a person in dire straits, in despair, or in need. The sentiment is that Jesus will come and fix the problems of your life. Unfortunately, this presents Jesus as a positive influence to add to your life and not as a King deserving yourr full obedience. The Gospels are chock full of people wanting a little Jesus in their lives. However, only a few were willing to submit to him as the one having “all authority in Heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).
Jesus is the good Shepherd. He is the healer. He does solve our problems–the worst of them being sin and death. However, his Resurrection was not merely an offer to help us. It was a definitive statement from God the Father through the Spirit: “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4). The resurrection means Jesus is the Lord, the Boss, the Supreme Master. He is not a consultant. He is the loving, sacrificial, and risen King who deserves total obedience.
4. “Get right with God.”
This one appears a lot in the South. “You need to give up the bottle; you need to get back in church; you need to stop sleeping around.” “Getting right” is the idea that we need to do our part to reconcile the relationship with God.
How does a dead person fix his relationship with God: “You were dead in your trespasses…” (Eph. 2:1; 2:5; Col. 2:13)?
The Bible speaks of being “made right” with God. This is the basic meaning of the word justification: “We have now been justified by his blood…we [are] saved by him from the wrath of God…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom. 5:9-10). We are not a part of the solution. God has provided his Son who suffered the full penalty that our sins deserved. When we put our faith in Jesus, we stand completely justified before God because of what Jesus has done, not because we cleaned up our own lives.
5. “Get Converted.”
Perhaps you are wondering, Where in the Bible is the word conversion? I admit I actually had to do some research to make sure I wasn’t playing the hypocrite by including conversion in the title of this article! Conversion comes from the Latin word convertere which the Latin Vulgate uses to translate the Biblical Greek word ἐπιστρέψω (“turn back”, “return”, 38 occurrences). For instance, 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Personal preference can dictate whether you choose to speak of conversion or turning to God.
The Solution: Repent and Believe.
John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2)
Jesus: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 4:17)
Jesus: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15)
Peter: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” (Acts 2:38)
Paul: “[I was] testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21)
If you want to speak about conversion rightly, you only need to look at the preaching ministries of John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul. From front to back, the ministers of the Gospel used the same exact language: repent and believe. Repent means to turn away from your sins and to turn back to God. Believe means putting faith in Jesus Christ–that he is the Crucified and Resurrected King, the Son of God promised from the dawn of time who died for the forgiveness of sins.
Certainly we can do worse than to follow the example of the Forerunner of the Gospel (John), the Center of the Gospel (Jesus), the Rock of the Church (Peter), and the Apostle to all nations (Paul). Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins!