Beyond Conversion 1

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

The Personal 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 search by showing us that our root problem is that our life is organized around "self." So the Spirit of God uses 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 from self-rule 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 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 to drift back to the habits of the old life. Our best defense is to invite Jesus into our center, many times a day. Gordon MacDonald says it this way, "But he who would be born again indeed must wake our souls unnumbered times a day." 

When we sense a drift, the Spirit urges us to invite Jesus back into our center. When we fall all the way back to the some of the 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 into some degree of self-rule.  
  2. Offer gratitude for the seat that still awaits us at the family 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 respond.
  5. Return to our seat at the Father's table; it's still waiting. 

God repeatedly re-parents us with this redemptive loop. Each cycle deepens our intimacy with Jesus, and our heart beats increasingly like his. Here are a couple lists that describe (as opposed to prescribes) 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 they see, it is our privilege to gently and respectfully share the good news of life with Jesus at the center (See 1 Peter 3.15 in NIV). 

Blessings,
Tim


Notes

  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 beautiful 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 3 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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