The Miracle of Conversion


     Since some have been wondering what I believe about conversion, I am going to basically repeat a post I did in August.  Hopefully this will explain what I believe the Bible teaches about conversion.

     The argument is often made that the commands, “Believe” and the like automatically imply the ability to do what is commanded.  If a person doesn’t naturally have the ability to do what is commanded, why give the command?  The logic is that a command presupposes the ability of the person to obey it.

     But that logic doesn’t always apply when God is added to the equation.  Take Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead.  In John 11:44 we hear Jesus crying out, “Lazarus, come forth.”  It would be ridiculous to say that this command implies that Lazarus had the ability to obey it – that Lazarus was lying in the tomb and had a choice:  do I come forth or don’t I come forth?  No, Jesus’ command was a creative command – through that very command Jesus created life in Lazarus’ dead body.

     This is common in miracles.  When Jesus told the lame to walk or the blind to see, his command created within them the power to do what he commanded.  Again it would be ridiculous to say that the lame or the blind had a choice to make:  should I walk or shouldn’t I?  Should I see or shouldn’t I see?

      The Bible describes coming to faith also as a miracle worked by God.  It is a spiritual resurrection:  “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”  Ephesians 2:5.  It is also equated to God’s creation of light.  “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 4:6)  Just like in the examples cited above, God’s commands of “Believe”, “Follow me” etc. are creative commands.  That is why Paul wrote:  “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:  for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth’” (Romans 1:16)  Even when it comes to coming to faith, the Bible gives God all the credit.

6 Responses to “The Miracle of Conversion”

  1. January 23, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Conversion to me is transformation. It’s the decision to follow Jesus, and orient my entire life around Him. It’s a never-ending process, conversion is just the beginning.

    You might like my latest post: http://theriverjordan.net/why-im-not-a-people-pleaser


  2. January 24, 2009 at 3:27 am

    Before I began commenting on your blog I went through and read all of your previous posts from July 2008 including this one. I wrote my last comment based upon my reading of your entire blog. I don’t think this post clearly sets forth your views on conversion. There are several questions remaining. First, of all it is unclear whether you think that all of God’s commands are creative in nature.

    Christ says that he has the power to lay down his life and to take it again. (John 10:18). However, neither the bible nor general life experience has shown that other people have this power as well. Therefore, Lazarus did not have the power to lay down his life and take it up again. Furthermore, the bible record shows that Christ has power over the seas and the wind and fig trees (Matt 8:27, 21:19) and that he multiplied fish and bread and could walk on water (Matt. 14:26). However, one could understand this in the following manner. When Christ is turning water in to wine (John 4:46), the water obeys, and when he cures the eyes of the blind man (Mark 10:52), the eyes obey. It is unclear whether human beings themselves obey God just exactly in the same way as the wind, sea, and human body parts. It is also unclear whether God only gives “creative” commands, or whether human beings can refuse to obey God’s commands.

    In fact, the bible gives examples where human beings do not obey God in the same way as wind or the sea or a hand or eyes. Christ says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). Here Christ longs to gather his children but they refuse. Why do they refuse? The only conclusion a reader of your post can come to is that it is God’s will that they refuse. Because if God commanded all men to repent, then they would repent exactly like the winds calm or the mountains move.

    If your proposition is that in order to be converted God must work in that person, that still leaves questions. It could be that God is working in all people but some refuse God, similar to God desiring to gather his children but being refused. This position still gives credit to God for conversion but preserves human will. However, a reader of your post is drawn to the conclusion that, in your mind, God has simply chosen not to work in certain people, for reasons that are unexplained. People must wait around until God commands them to be converted or else they simply will not be converted. Again, you haven’t actually said that you don’t believe human beings have any choices, and I have to divine this from your post. For you, it would seem that human beings don’t have any more choice than the wind or the sea to obey God (bracketing the question of whether the wind or sea actually has a choice to “obey” God or whether it is simply forced to do God’s will).

    However, if this is your position, that humans have to wait until God works in them, then what is your role in your discussions with Latter-day Saints? Indeed, if this is only God’s choice and decision, and people have to wait around until God works in them, then it would seem your blog has no function since whether you write this or that, it doesn’t matter to the salvation of others. You also haven’t explained how you are able to discern among billions of human beings, those in whom God is working and those in whom God is not working. How have you come to this power? Also, can you explain what criteria that God uses to decide who he will work in and who he will not work in? It wouldn’t make much sense to say this is based on theology, so then God can choose to work in a Latter-day Saint, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Buddhist. Again, it would seem your own theological position undermines the purpose of your engagement with Latter-day Saints. As I’ve had extract theological propositions from your posts, I may be mistaken. Where I’m mistaken or where I may have misrepresented your theological views, please feel free to clarify.

  3. 3 markcares
    January 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    First of all I want to thank you for taking the time to read all my previous posts. I appreciate the effort you have expended in trying to understand where I am coming from.
    I do not believe that all commmands are creative. I believe the commands given in the context of conversion are (i.e. believe) because the Bible describes conversion as a creation. 2 Corinthians 4:6 draws that parallel. 2 Corithians 5:17 describe believers as a new creation.
    In addition, the way the Bible describes conversion describes God as the active party and man as the passive party. God reconciled us. We were dead – God made us alive. We wever blind – God enlightened us. He is the one who gave us new birth.
    Now comes the part I suspect you will really scratch your head over. There are a number of statements that the Bible makes that I believe wholeheartedly even though I can’t reconcile them with my reason. But that doesn’t bother me, because I believe God’s ways are far above my ways.(Isaiah 55:8)
    Here they are:
    1) All people are spiritually dead -for example, Ephesians 2:5
    2) God does the converting – previous paragraph
    3) God wants all people to be saved – 1 Timothy 2:3-4
    4) God is just – Deuteronomy 32:4
    5) God chooses some – Matthew 22:14
    By the way, this is not Calvinism. As I stated in my last post, I am a Lutheran. This is classic Lutheran teaching. I mention that in case you would want to do more research. But let me emphasize the word “classic”. Not all Lutherans have stayed with this classic teaching.
    Why my blog? Not to reason anybody out of Mormonism and into Christianity. But to present the powerful message of salvation by grace alone to bring not human reason, but the powerful word of God into play. And let me tell you it works. There are many LDS members who, after hearing that message, have become new creations in Christ. To God be the glory!

  4. January 24, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Mark why shouldn’t we consider 2 Cor 4:6 and 5:17 as simply engaging in poetic imagery to make a point?

    Why does it have to lead to the conclusion that God’s command to conversion is “creative?”

    I really do get the feeling that most of the difference between Mormons and Evangelicals is which verses we choose to read literally and which we choose to read figuratively/symbolically/allegorically.

  5. January 24, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Mark, thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my comments. I greatly appreciate it. Allow me to offer a reply. I fully agree that the scriptures speak of being born again as becoming a new creature in Christ. (2 Cor. 5:17). It is however, possible to accept this language without implying a complete denial of human free will. Latter-day Saints, after all, also have language about becoming new creatures and God being the one who steps in to save (Mosiah 27:25-29), and yet, still accept that human agency exists. Therefore, if we tease apart the tension and try to specify exactly the point of divergence, it isn’t that God saves man, but rather that human free will does not exist. I also must stress that the notion that human free will exists is not some kind of indigenous Mormon view. Many Christians, currently and historically, accept that mankind has free will and they do this not based upon extra-biblical writings or new revelation, but they base this view on their reading of the bible. This is extremely important to recognize. This means that making the case that human free will does not exist is not merely a function of doing away with Mormon additions to the canon, but it means engaging biblical interpretation proper. Christians who believe human freedom is real do so without an expanded canon. That is a point that must not be forgot.

    As to reason of man and God. I completely understand your view based upon Isaiah that God’s ways are not the way’s of man. Many people use this same language when speaking about faith. In other words, if they come across something they cannot reconcile, it doesn’t bother them because their faith in God supports them. I’ve heard many Latter-day Saints express this similar language. As to personal faith, this happens and I’m not necessarily saying this is negative.

    However, in the realm of communication between people of different faiths, to deny that ultimately logic is suspended when humans engage in dialogue about God is extremely problematic. On a blog, such as this, it is humans who are discussing matters of faith with other humans. Often what ends up happening is that everyone claims everyone else is using “man’s ways” but they alone are using “God’s ways,” and this doesn’t really foster understanding. I’m not saying that human belief is not complicated and complex. Indeed, there are many beliefs we hold which we cannot explain well to others. However, in my view, the purpose of engaging others in dialogue is exactly so we will attempt to explain things in ways that people can understand and appreciate. I think Paul is a great example of someone who sought to reason with the people. To say that we can’t explain certain things is simply to stop trying to explain. At least this should be acknowledged.

    As so I won’t be misunderstood, I’m not saying that everyone must be in the position to explain all of their theological views when asked. Not everyone has worked them out in their mind. In fact, most people have not worked out all their views out to the point that they can discuss them with others. However, I think it is important when discussing matters of faith with others that we at least acknowledged the points that where we have not worked things out, but where we still believe regardless. I believe people of faith can understand and appreciate this. I think understanding greatly increases when we say, “I believe A and I believe B, I know that A and B may seem to you to be irreconcilable, but I still believe them.” Perhaps people do not want to have this discussion in public, but in private such discussions often go a long way to helping others understand our point of view. Because I think everyone appreciates what this is like.

    I’m less interested with trying to convince you that your views are Calvinistic. The point here is that without dialogue on this point, it is extremely possible that many of your readers will be assuming you hold to a kind of Calvinism so I think this is just another reason why it is important to discuss some of these issues. I’m more interested in trying to understand your views than trying to force them into some box. Without dialogue, however, this is what people are going to do as they try to grapple and make sense of what you are saying.

    Lastly, as to your reason to blog. You say it is not to “reason” anyone out of Mormonism but to simply present the message of God and that it works. Here too, it sounds like you haven’t fully fleshed out the implications of your position. I’ve come across many Christians however, who seem to share this view.

    However, there is a serious problem with this view. First of all, isn’t it possible that in your experience those Latter-day Saints would have become new creatures in Christ anyway, without you presenting the message? In other words, there is no way to trace the causality of your methods or approach to actual Latter-day Saints becoming converted to God. In your earlier posts you speak about trying to win the person rather than win the battle, and speaking truth in love. I’m assuming that the reason you prefer these methods are because you realize they are more effective. Wouldn’t you agree that some people present the Gospel message very poorly and end up pushing people away from Christ in the process? But, if the framework you hold to is that you present a method and then somehow people become new creatures in Christ, then there really isn’t any evaluation of the manner in which you present the message. There is no motivation to really think through the issues to find the best and most winsome matter to explain your views. People switch denominations all the time, and in churches people are always coming and going. The question isn’t whether this will happen, because it just will happen. The question is whether we are reaching those people who would not switch but for us playing some role. In other words, what I see on this blog are many Latter-day Saints who you are not reaching and who simply don’t understand your views and often reject the kinds of things you are writing. Shouldn’t the goal be to try to reach that audience? Those Latter-day Saints who would switch regardless are already going to switch whether they come into contact with you or not. I’ve met people who just because they know Latter-day Saints who have joined their congregation assume this means they are doing something right or that their methods are effective but this isn’t the case. Rather, I think the goal should be to reach people who you haven’t yet reached, and in my experience, this only happens when we seek out the best ways to relate our views to others. To at least move from them some saying “You know, I have no idea what Mark is thinking, and I simply cannot accept what he is saying” to “Well, I might disagree with Mark one some issues, but I can understand why he thinks that way and honestly, there are times I’ve had similar thoughts, so I don’t think he is way out there.” This is the beginning of increasing understanding. Again, I really appreciate your interaction with my comments and questions.

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January 2009

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