conversion, Christ’s circumcision
on the human heart
There is much controversy in Christendom today about how one is “saved”. Many people say many different things. It is no doubt confusing to the mind of the individual who is seeking God and His plan to be—to use a biblical word—redeemed. To get through all the smoke of confusion on this issue, one must return to the Word of God to find what He says on the matter! So, what does the Word of God teach on how to be redeemed, or saved?
What exactly does it mean to be “saved”? Saved from what? How can one know whether or not he/she is really “saved”? When exactly is one saved? With man, it seems the questions are infinite. However, with the Word of God, the answers are clearly given.
When an individual stands before the throne of God on the day of his judgment, God will not be concerned with whether one is saved, baptized, born again, or any other phrase man considers to be the proper term to label a person as a child of God. God will be looking for something entirely different. He tells mankind exactly what He is looking for in Matthew 18:3. He says, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” God is not looking for a label, or even membership in a church, He is looking for CONVERSION. The word converted means to twist, turn around, or reverse. Simply put, it means to have a change in direction in life. It is a point in time when there is a complete change within the person. This change results in a new lifestyle. How, according to Scripture, does that happen, and when?
There was a man who approached Jesus under the cover of night to ask the same question. In John chapter 3, Nicodemus went to Jesus as a seeker. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and was well versed in the Scriptures, but apparently had questions about all that Jesus was teaching. Jesus told Nicodemus, “. . . unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Notice the phrase Jesus uses—born again. One is converted when he/she is born again. Being born again, one enters into a new life, one completely changed and different than the last. Being born again is what Jesus meant by saying one must be converted. To understand what conversion is, Jesus’ phrase born again must be understood. How and when is one “born again”? Does Scripture shed any light on this phrase? Absolutely!
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, uses this exact phrase and gives more detail about it. He says in 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”. He answers the question of HOW one is born again—through the resurrection of Christ. He later says, “. . . you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus is the “living and enduring word of God” (see John 1:1-18). So, according to these passages, to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born again through Jesus and His resurrection.
To be born again through the resurrection requires faith in Jesus Christ as the God-sent Savior of the world. Faith is the foundation of salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Also, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28). Without faith in Christ, no one will see God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
However, contrary to what many believe and teach, faith is much more than a mental assent in the existence, life, and work of Jesus. Biblical faith requires action and obedience. While the popular verse, John 3:16 is often quoted, one must continue to read on to John 3:36. In it, John says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Paul also begins and ends his entire letter of salvation to the Romans with the teaching of the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:6, 16:26). Obedient faith compels an individual to ask the question of the jailer in Acts 16:30—“What must I do to be saved?” The answer? Scripture makes it clear.
Jesus says in Luke 13:3 that, “. . . unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The question was asked previously, “Saved from what?” Salvation is being saved from the penalty of sin—death (see Romans 6:23). To repent means a change of mind in regard to sin. It is a guilty sorrow for one’s sin and the decision to live in it no longer. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). This begins the process of conversion. It is a conversion in the mind and of the will. However, this is not all that is needed. The sin of the person still remains with him.
Only when one is IN Christ, is one forgiven of sin. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Furthermore, “. . . if anyone is IN Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Notice the conversion, from the old to the new? This conversion only happens when one get into Christ. How does one get in Christ? When does that conversion take place? Again, as Peter said, the conversion, or being born again, takes place through the resurrection of Jesus. How can one go through the resurrection of Jesus? Unsurprisingly, Scripture answers that question.
In Christ, or in/through the resurrection of Christ, one is born again, sin is no more, the old self is gone, and the new self comes forth. Where in Scripture does all this come together? Romans 6:1-23!
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Rom 6:3-7).
This passage states that at the moment one is immersed INTO Christ, one is linked to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, it states that the body of sin is crucified and the new life has come. Take note of the beautiful conversion that takes place at immersion! It is this conversion that opens up the gates of heaven to the recipients of baptism—“. . . having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life” (Romans 6:22). The conversion God is looking for in Matthew 18:3 is the death of the old self and birth of the new self, which is clothed with the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:26-27). In baptism, God works (Colossians 2:12 “working of God”) to do some magnificent things in the recipient! What happens at baptism? The individual calls on the name of the Lord (Romans 10:9-13; Acts 22:16); he/she contacts the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7); conversion from the old self to the new self (2 Corinthians 5:17); sins are washed away and forgiven (Acts 2:38, 22:16); the recipient is clothed with Christ’s righteousness (Galatians 3:27); a circumcision of the heart by the hands of Christ (Colossians 2:11-12); God gives His Holy Spirit as a “seal of ownership” (Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30); the individual is ultimately SAVED (1 Peter 3:21).
Remember John 3:3—being born again? Jesus says more. “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). In immersion, this beautiful rebirth takes place. When one approaches God with a heart of faith and with a conviction of sin, He offers His salvation, which is accomplished at the point of baptism in water. At that point, one is in Christ and becomes a child of God. Praise be to God through whom all blessings flow!!