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What is Conversion?

By E. Stanley Jones


      Jesus said: Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3 KJV) Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet and philosopher, said this passage was the most beautiful passage in the bible.

      But what is conversion? Converted comes from "con", with, and "vertare", to turn - "to turn with." The big question in life is, is my face or my back toward Christ? The first step in the new life is to turn your back on the old life and face toward Christ. You do not do that alone - there is the "with". The moment you throw your will in His direction, He is there with you. He helps you to do what you can't do - to break with the old life - but that decision to turn around is your decision. There you stand alone and as a free moral being you make the decision alone, severely alone. The moment you make it, however, He is "with" you.

      Second . . . we must "become as little children" - acquire a new spirit. You are given a new spirit-the spirit of a little child-you have a fresh beginning with a clean slate. That emancipation from the old guilt, from the consequent sense of inferiority, of estrangement from God, man, yourself, and the universe, is the most important and radical emancipation imaginable. "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." This is an "indeed" freedom - nothing, absolutely nothing is like it. You are not only emancipated from the past you become receptive. A child is receptive. The new spirit is the spirit of receptivity. You can now take life by handfuls and heartfuls and beingfuls. You are no longer struggling with life-you take it open-armed. You are alive to life to your finger tips.

      Third . . . we must "enter the kingdom of God" - gain a new sphere of living. Your circumstances will be the same, but you will now live in two worlds at once-the world of physical relationships and the world of the kingdom of God. This inner world makes new the whole outer world. You will do things now from a motive, a new spirit, a new outlook. As one of the most alive Christians I know, says, "The one thing that has changed is your reason for living." In this "new sphere of living" you supply willingness and He supplies power. Life is no longer alone, struggling, tense, anxious, and uncertain. It is relaxed, released, reassured, and receptive. You are no longer living on the unit principle, but on the co-operative plan.

      To sum up: The first step, "the new direction," is yours; the second step, "the new spirit," is His; the third step, "the new sphere of living," is yours and His. This is Conversion.

      Conversion may be described in a most striking way. "If any man . . . be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold they (the old things) have become new." (II Cor. 5:17, ASV) The American Standard Version makes everything clearer. You are a new creature - "old things" have passed away; those "old things" have become "new."

      A psychiatrist came to where I was writing in the Himalayas for the express purpose of surrendering himself to God. It happened on the way when he was still twenty miles away. He describes it, "I was dead tired from sleepless night - tired and upset. When suddenly as I made my surrender to God, my tiredness and frustration dropped away. I was a new man. I came to Sat Tal striding across the mountains as though I had on sevenleague boots. And I have never seen Sat Tal so beautiful before. It was alive with beauty." He was gay with a divine gaiety. Reconciled with God, he was reconciled with himself, with his body, with his brothers, with nature, with life, and with his psychiatry. Psychiatry was no longer dominant, proud, self-sufficient in its own techniques. Now it had a point from which to work out to life - Christ. It was a servant, no longer a master. All life fell into its place, and all life began to add up to sense and meaning.

      In other words, "Conversion is a reaction in which Christ is central." When you make Christ central you are converted. When self-surrender takes place God moves in from the margin and takes possession of the center. He is no longer "marginal and vague"; He is now "focal and dynamic." As someone said: "I expose myself to His everything". Jesus is Lord.

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