Conversion

In my family’s after-breakfast reading of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), we’re currently reading about salvation. In the past few days we considered Chapter 35, “Conversion (Repentance and Faith),” and I’ll share here some of what we read from it. We preceded our reading of it with reading about common grace, election, and the Gospel call; and we plan to go on to read about regeneration, justification,
adoption, sanctification, perseverance, death, and glorification.

Conversion, the turning from sin to Jesus, includes two elements–turning from sin or repentance and turning to Christ or faith. The two occur together, and I’ll follow Grudem in considering faith first and then repentance.

Saving faith includes more than knowledge or even agreement with the facts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It also includes trust in him for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God. This is shown by John’s saying “whosoever believeth in him” rather than “believeth him” in a passage memorized by me and probably most of you as a child, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (3:16, KJV; all other Biblical quotations in this post will be from the ESV). Moreover, according to Leon Morris, “believeth in him” could be translated “believeth into him,” indicating that faith “is an activity that takes people right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ” (The Gospel according to John, revised edition, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1995, pages 296-97).

Repentance includes more than sorrow for one’s sins. It also includes a decision to forsake them. This is shown by Paul’s telling the Corinthians that he rejoiced because a letter from him (now lost) had grieved them, “not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting … for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Grudem argues that repentance also includes a decision to walk in obedience to Jesus Christ. However I understand that to be an aspect of faith rather than of repentance.

Often only faith or repentance is referred to as being necessary for coming to Jesus for salvation. Examples include John 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 quoted above and:
(Faith)
– “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31; Paul and Silas to the Philippian jailor).
– “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
(Repentance)
– “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19; Peter to those who gathered after the healing of the lame man).
– “God exalted him [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31; Peter and the apostles when questioned before the Sanhedrin).

However repentance and faith are both involved in conversion, as is shown by Paul’s describing his ministry to the Ephesian elders in his meeting with them on his final journey to Jerusalem as “testifying both to Jews and Gentiles of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Neither comes first; they come together. “When we turn to Jesus for salvation from our sins, we are simultaneously turning away from the sins that we are asking Christ to save us from” (Grudem, page 714; my italics).

Although I have been considering faith and repentance as the two aspects of conversion, they are not confined to it. They should continue throughout our Christian life. This is shown by Jesus’ telling his disciples to pray, “Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4), implying that they should continue to exercise repentance, and Paul’s asserting, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20).

My family and I concluded our consideration of the chapter by discussing its application questions (page 718). In our discussion we shared about our first coming to Jesus, the roles that faith and repentance and faith played in our doing so, and the roles that they play in our present lives. I encourage you to think about those subjects regarding yourself after reading this post.

Grudem closes the chapter with Charlotte Eliott’s hymn, “Just As I Am” (1835):

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about,
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind.
Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

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