Beyond Conversion 1

by Tim Isbell, 9/2017, revised 6/2018

The Journey Toward Christlikeness

Difficulties and failures eventually trigger many of us to seek outside help. The world offers some, but Christians know that we need more than the world can provide; we need a salvation that only comes from our Creator. His Spirit responds to our cry by showing us the root problem, our life is organized around "self-rule." So the Spirit of God uses the lives and words of other people and scripture to introduce us to Jesus. When we admit to the sin of self-rule and invite Jesus into the central position in our life, God forgives our past and places the Spirit within us to guide us onward. This is called "conversion" and it's the beginning of a transformation to life as a follower of Jesus. 

This webpage is not about conversion, it's about life after conversion. To begin, Saint Paul offers this perspective:

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 3:25-27 (MSG)

One way to think about the post-conversion Christian life is in terms of a Family Metaphor where God is our Father, Jesus is our elder brother, and the Spirit is our guide. This Trinitarian family re-parents us, along with other adopted sisters and brothers, so that we increasingly exhibit our new family's characteristics. In particular, our hearts grow to beat more and more like Jesus’ heart, where sorrow and love flow mingled down. By this, I mean that when we see our broken world and broken people, we instinctively react redemptively with the same "sorrow and love" that Jesus offered us at our conversion. This "sorrow and love" reference is from the third verse of the hymn "When I Survey," which describes Jesus' attitude during the crucifixion. Click the link for the complete lyrics, and let them sink in deeply. 

Even after conversion, our humanness and surroundings tempt us back to the habits of the old life. Our only effective option is to invite Jesus back into our center. Gordon MacDonald says it this way, "We who would be born again must wake our souls unnumbered times a day." We have no tank within us to store holiness, our only holiness is what Jesus imparts to us when he's at our center. 

When we sense drift, the Spirit urges us to invite Jesus back into our center. When we fall all the way back to behaviors and attitudes of the old life, the Spirit convicts us again of the sin of self-rule. At this point, the human 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! God's redemptive-loop strategy is different. Especially pay close attention to the following sequence:

  1. First, remember that Jesus still sees us with that same mixture of sorrow and love, even when we slip back.  
  2. Offer gratitude for the seat that still awaits us at the Father's table.
  3. Humbly confess that we allowed something, anything other than Jesus, into our center.
  4. Invite Jesus back into our center, in full confidence that he will gladly accept.
  5. Return to our seat at the Father's table; it's still waiting. 

God repeatedly re-parents us with this loop. Each cycle deepens our intimacy with Jesus, causing our heart to beat increasingly like his. Here are two lists describing (as opposed to prescribing) what this sort of heart looks like, Galatians 5.22-23 and Matthew 5.1-16

As we grow in Christlikeness - and we will - people notice something different and oddly attractive about us. When they ask us the reason for the difference, it is our privilege to gently and respectfully share the good news of a Jesus-centered life (See 1 Peter 3.15 in NIV). 

Such a life is impossible in our own wisdom and strength. It is only possible when we are fully in God's possession through our relationship with the Lord Jesus. In this life, we represent God to his Creation and we represent the creation to God.



  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 its integration of grace and truth, which come entwined through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.14, 16-17).
  2. This article focuses on the Family Metaphor of the Christian faith. But there are other metaphors such as the Regal Metaphor and the Nuptial Metaphor. For more on these check out Biblical Metaphors.
  3. For more on the conversion process itself, check out Becoming a Christian.
  4. For more on living the Christlike life, check out Freedom in Christ.
  5. For related material, check out BEYOND CONVERSION.

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