Beyond Conversion 1

by Tim Isbell, September 2017

The Personal Journey Toward Christlikeness

In conversion, the Holy Spirit leads us to confess our rejection of the Creator’s path for us, receive forgiveness through Jesus, and begin following Jesus into the future. Saint Paul offers this perspective on conversion:

Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for.

But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ, you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.
Galatians 3:23-27 (MSG)

One way to understand the Christian life is the Family Metaphor: God the Father adopts us into his family where Jesus is our elder brother and the Holy Spirit lives within us as our guide. This Trinitarian family re-parents us, along with other adopted sisters and brothers, so that we increasingly exhibit the family characteristics. In particular, our hearts grow to beat more and more like Jesus’ heart, where sorrow and love flow mingled down. Our part is to respond daily to the Spirit’s urges to keep Jesus at our center.

God created us in his image, including with the freedom to choose. Even after conversion and throughout all earthly life, our humanness and surroundings tempt us to replace Jesus with someone or something else at our center. The Spirit notifies us when we stray. Our knee-jerk strategy is to apply willpower to get back on course. This seems so right, but it is so wrong because it puts self back at our center!

Here's God's redemptive loop strategy:

  1. Remember that despite my slip, Jesus' sorrow and love still flow mingled down to me.
  2. Offer gratitude for God’s continuing grace.
  3. Humbly confess that I put self back in my center.
  4. Invite Jesus back into my center.
  5. Stand up and start moving forward again. 

This sequence seems counter-intuitive but it's the key to growing in Christlikeness.

Each pass around God's redemptive loop leads us deeper into intimacy with Jesus, where our hearts beat increasingly like his. Over time, we grow beyond the parent-child relationship of the Family Metaphor to something like a brotherly love such as Jonathan had for David, or the sisterly love such as Ruth had for Naomi. Others experience this as a Nuptial (Marriage) Metaphor.

People around us begin to notice something different - and oddly attractive - about us. Some ask us to explain the reason for the difference, and then we can gently and respectfully share with them the good news of life with Jesus at the center.

Caution: Living in the deeper life's Freedom in Christ rarely offends secular people, but it can offend religious people. The New Testament tells of religious leaders attacking Jesus for breaking their religious laws when, in fact, he was doing a more redemptive thing! Indeed, that’s why the religious leaders crucified him. So, as we follow Jesus, we can expect pushback from religious people. But we’re in good company: the company of Jesus.



  1. In the above post, I describe God's transformative process in terms of a "redemptive loop." In Surrender to Love, David Benner writes that the indispensable condition for transformation is receiving love in an undefended state. And in Changes that Heal, Henry Cloud writes that a religion of “grace alone” is a license for chaos and leaves its followers wanting structure, while “truth alone” destroys its adherents and leaves them wanting for love. The elegance of the Christian the gospel is the integration of grace and truth, which come entwined through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.14, 16-17).
  2. For related material, check out BEYOND CONVERSION.

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