The Clarity of Conversion
A majority of people in the West who consider themselves “Christian” have in fact never been led to Jesus Christ; they have instead been led to a church, a doctrine, an ideal, or a human personality. They have been informed of the Gospel, but not transformed by the Holy Spirit who too often remains personally unknown. This truth will vex and convict many who are confronted with it, particularly church “leaders.” But those most distressed by it are souls not-so-secure in their salvation, for they expect an easy road to eternity built on intent and assumption in preference to actual conformity and surrender to Christ. The simple remedy, of course, is for such souls to immediately set things aright with the LORD God, for today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2)!
Leonardo da Vinci observed that the average person “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking…”
I would say this describes the average Christian.
Spiritually, da Vinci’s words affirm the Scriptural truth that we must have “eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying” (Rom. 11:8; Rev. 2:7). Naturally, we gain such eyes and ears by prayerfully attending to the Word of Christ, which is the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). As we spiritually mature, our primary and peripheral discernment will increase toward the perpetually necessary clarity of conversion. This means that we become ever aware of, but not haunted by, what we have been converted from, specifically the failures of our old sin-dominated self. However, this should not beget a sour bearing or reluctance to survey areas of weakness, struggle, and deliverance.
Instead, a clarity of conversion is the result of facing fears with the Spirit’s assistance and overcoming all manner of sin and darkness through the power and love of Jesus Christ, so that we may help others do likewise. Yet this is where most Christians grieve the Spirit and emotionally wither for dread of convicting self-examination that may reveal a lack of genuine discipleship or a counterfeit conversion per lack of spiritual fruit (Matthew 7:17-20). Greater exertion is put toward keeping God at a safe distance so as to maintain an intentional ignorance of any hard truths that would dissolve the comfortable futility of a designer discipleship. But self-imposed blindness does not excuse disobedience.
Therefore, know that when we invite and allow the Holy Spirit to be the Comforter and Counselor He promises to be, we will indeed be immersed in all the truth He yearns to reveal (John 16:13)! Jesus affirmed this when He said, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free… I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 8:31-32; 14:6). Jesus’ words also confirm that it is not mere knowledge of truth that sets one free, but He Himself is who sets one free in that He is truth personified. Once set free from prisons known and unknown, our battles become memorial altars of testimony with which we gladly glorify a most holy God! Never again will the discomfort or fear of conviction keep us from surrendering every facet of our being to our omnipotent and omniscient Creator.
The Sword & The Cross
When walking in Christ’s victory and fearlessly wielding the Sword of the Spirit, we routinely consider the requisite self-examination that the apostle Paul encouraged, boldly welcoming the loving scrutiny, chastisement, and commendation of our heavenly Father (2 Corinthians 13:5). For in the Word there is conviction of sin wherein one is confronted with truth and one’s own failure to wholly know and obey that truth. In the Word there is also an invitation to know God wherein one is separated from Him by depravity and then invited back, not to judgment, but to His overwhelming love. And in the Word there is assurance of salvation which convicts one of sin, points to Christ’s cross, and certifies that there is no other name under heaven or among men whereby we may be saved (Acts 4:12)! These truths must never grow stale within our being (Mark 12:30).
Our path to Golgotha must be well-trod, for our flesh forces a willful aversion to that terrible place and its cross that was meant for us. Indeed, only in that blessed place will we truly find those crosses/burdens that Christ would have us bear with Him for the sake of ourselves and others: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
Death To Self Is Life In Christ
Here is wisdom: Discipleship involves identifying with Jesus Christ in both His victory and His rejection. The apostle Paul states this in a way that some will find provocative: “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
Why would this be offensive? Because most professing believers do not have time for such disciplined passion and loving devotion for a jealous God. Busyness, distractions, self-interest, and cares of the world steal our passions and our time. And the God we profess to serve gets our worthless lip service, empty rituals, and excuses. The most intimate communication with Him via soulful prayer and worshipfully reading His Word becomes a tedious chore where the reward of blessed fellowship and revelation remains elusive (Matthew 13:22).
So we accumulate contempt and unforgiveness toward God, poisoning the only channel through which true joy, peace, and love flows. Consequently, soulful worship evaporates (or is never practiced) and we become boring and uncaring pretentious “Christians” who have lost the joy of our salvation. Worse yet, our testimony loses its authority and its power to persuade because we have fallen to dutifully or reluctantly reciting the “tracts of truth,” rather than sharing with others the experiential reality of passionate and revelatory fellowship with God. The true disciple does not merely present the Gospel; he/she presents the Person of Jesus Christ because they are in His presence.
Furthermore, the idea of “the fellowship of His sufferings” and “being conformed to His death” is too much for some. Why? Because they do not truly know or love God. Period. This statement will also offend and convict. And rightly so for the one on the wrong side of eternity. The response, however, will make or break one’s discipleship. For if one truly knows Christ through the Holy Spirit, then one will know intimately and experientially His resurrection power. Such power then equips us to fellowship with (partake of) His sufferings according to His will. It is not enough just to understand that He suffered. Being conformed to His image includes being conformed to His life and death. What this means exactly for each individual, however, is only to be found amidst one’s fellowship with God through the Spirit.
To Live Is To Treasure Christ Above All
It is too easy to forget that God offers us salvation from sin because of His love for us, because of His desire for intimacy with us (John 3:16-21). He therefore desires a response from us; and if we profess to be His children yet fail to respond out of genuine love for Him, then we have failed at living (Ecclesiastes 12:13). If our discipleship is one of convenience and entitlement in lieu of commitment and sacrifice, then we have failed. If our goal as a Christian is to get to heaven more so than to know and love God and others, then we have failed. Such counterfeit discipleship will earn the hard words that Jesus offered to presumptuous servants: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-23).
In our culture of “instant everything” we cannot assume instant maturity at any level. We must understand that growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ takes time and devoted discipline (2 Peter 3:18). And the “knowledge” the apostle Peter speaks of is not the soundbite and suggestion sort; he is referencing the intimate wisdom that arises from continually experiencing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). When we truly love God by allowing Him to love us for His sake and nothing else, then we can truly begin to walk in discipleship to Christ. There is no need to focus on ideals or theological concepts, we need only commune with Jesus and learn from His life, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, and continuing mission via the Holy Spirit. Everything else will be a byproduct of our love for Him and His love for us (Matthew 6:33). Only then will our individual Spirit-tailored missions be wholly known!
So let us not approach God as a mere Resource from whom to take information and instruction for trite personal benefit. But let us approach God as the Author of wonder and Creator of our souls in whose shadow and by whose Spirit we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Though our minds be informed with innumerable facts, our souls must be immersed in the beautiful mysteries of the Divine. And only by Spirit-led experiences both burdensome and blissful are our minds and souls recast into unhindered Christlikeness.
Moreover, there are things that cannot be learned, only revealed. And of those things revealed, only the grandest manifest through the light and love of Christ’s burden:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light…” (Matt. 11:28-30)