Friday, March 6, 2009

Theology of Conversion

The word conversion comes to us from the Greek word "Metanoia." This means to change one's heart, to turn away from something in order to turn toward something else.

Conversion is about radical transformation. Conversion must be seen as the beginning of our ascent to Christian perfection. This is very churchy language. What is needed is not a second conversion by which such perfection is secured but the continuing and maintaining of a conversion that is never completed in this life. Evangelical theology in the tradition of the Reformation contends that we can make progress toward perfection, but we can never attain it as a realized goal. We believe that even the converted need to repent, even the sanctified need to turn again to Christ and be cleansed anew.

Conversion is both an event and a process. It signifies the action of the Holy Spirit upon us by which we are moved to respond to Jesus Christ in faith. It also includes the continuing work of the Holy Spirit within us purifying us of discord, remolding us in the image of Christ. This work of purification is accomplished as we repent and cling to Christ anew.

Conversion is both personal and social. While conversion basically connotes a change in our relationship with God, it indicates at the same time an alternation in our attitudes toward our fellow human beings. Conversion is a spiritual event with far reaching social implications. An example of someone whose personal conversion can have social implications might be Mother Teresa -- her own conversion had an effect on the whole world regarding: raising the dignity of the dying. Another example comes from a man in a maximum security prison who experienced a total conversion. He is studying to be a counselor for adolescents in order that he might convince them not to make the same mistakes he made; meanwhile, he is writing programs for the youth in his home parish. His conversion is having social implications. It entails accepting Christ not only as Savior from sin but also as Lord of all of life.

Conversion is a gift and a response. We cannot be converted through our own power, but we can repent and turn to Christ through the power of his Spirit. We cannot maintain our walk with Christ on the basis of our own resources, but we can maintain this walk with the aid of his Spirit. Conversion entails the promise of sanctification just as it reveals the gift of justification.

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