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NEW DIRECTIONS

Essentials For The Twenty-First Century

Acts 9:1-9
31st July 2005

Jonathan Aitken was a British politician in Margaret Thatcher’s inner Cabinet. Many believed he would be a future Prime minister. But he lied under oath over who paid for a stay in Paris, and was sent to jail. He became bankrupt, his wife left him. Then he found Jesus Christ who forgave him. He has written his story in two books: In Pride and Perjury he tells the story with frank honesty, of how God can make a ‘new man’ from a repentant sinner. With the help of steadfast friends, prayer partners and a close family despite a divorce, he, like his friend Charles Colson, feels tried and tested by God.

The sequel to this best-seller, Porridge and Passion describes Aitken’s journey from sentencing at the Old Bailey, through his incarceration at Belmarsh prison to his eventual release and the beginnings of a new life with nothing but a black plastic bag of clothes. In his sequel Aitken starts his story as he is taken down from the courtroom. He writes frankly of subsequent events as a chastened man and of how religious belief transformed his life and began to influence the lives of others. On release, Aitken was accepted at Wycliffe Hall Oxford to study theology and how this reconditioned his mind as well as his soul. Aitken has lost none of his charm, fluency and determination. But now these are used for greater purposes. He has found a new life and meaning to it. The authenticity of his new life you can judge for yourselves when he speaks in Sydney. Like Charles Colson, the former Richard Nixon White House Legal head, who has gone on to become the most influential Christian leader in USA after Billy Graham, Jonathan Aitkin is becoming a Christian leader in the UK, supporting Alpha programs and Prison Fellowship. His is a remarkable recent conversion.

Conversion is the experience of an individual who encounters God’s reality or purpose and responds to that encounter in personal faith and commitment. The Old Testament psalmist said that, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” Psalm 19:7 He affirmed that “sinners shall be converted unto thee” Psalm 51:13 Isaiah was told that Israel’s heart would be hardened lest the people would “understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” Isaiah 6:10. The New Testament refers to “the conversion of the Gentiles” Acts 15:3 Jesus admonished His disciples, “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” Matt 18:3 The Book of Acts refers repeatedly to the importance of conversion, beginning with Peter’s words, “Repent, and be converted”. Acts 3:19 Acts uses the term most frequently in describing a person turning to God Acts 15:19, 26:20 or turning “from darkness to light.” 26:18 James encourages us with the words “that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death.” James 5:20

The Old Testament records experiences of several men who in the most basic sense turned to God and were converted. They were confronted by God in a way that made them conscious of sin. As a result, they turned to God in self-surrender. Jacob’s experience with God at Bethel was a conversion. Genesis 32 Isaiah had an experience with God that undoubtedly changed his life. Isaiah 6 One of the most notable conversions in the Old Testament was the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who turned to God. Daniel 4:37 But the New Testament has a lengthy list of conversions starting with the apostles who were converted to following Jesus.

Many encounters Jesus had with individuals resulted in their acknowledging Him as the Christ. They then experienced a radical change in their lives: Zacchaeus, Luke 19 the woman at the well at Sychar, John 4 the sinful woman in the house of Simon, Luke 7 and Nicodemus. John 3 The Book of Acts records a number of individual conversions, the most notable of which are the Ethiopian,Acts 8 Saul of Tarsus Acts 9 and Cornelius the Roman. Acts 10 In addition, there are references to large numbers of conversions. Acts 2:41; 9:35; 11:21

The Bible emphasizes conversion. Persons need to be converted. Conversion is necessary because of sin. Conversion is made possible by the grace of God. Conversion is the experience of an individual who turns from sin and trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is personal and inward in nature, but results in a public and outward change. Each individual’s conversion is unique; yet the requirements of conversion are the same for everyone. An individual’s conversion will be influenced by temperament, knowledge, and people; but each conversion is the result of the same gospel and the same Spirit. The characteristics of conversion are summarized: 2 Corinthians 5:17 “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” A change of the mind, emotions, and will is the result of conversion. The mind is changed to seek the truth whereas before conversion the mind resisted the truth. The emotions are changed in that evil is hated and righteousness is loved, whereas before conversion evil was loved and righteousness was hated. In conversion the will is changed so that it turns away from sin to the will of God.

Conversion does not result in Christian maturity, but it does begin the process. Conversion does not cause perfection, but it redirects the personality. Conversion does not produce instant sainthood, but it does change the goals, the values, and priorities of life. The cause of conversion is the sovereign grace of God. “God commends His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 The finished work of Christ on the cross is the basis of conversion. Whatever methods God uses to influence individuals, the preaching of truth, the prayers of people, the circumstances of life, are the result of God’s grace. God takes the initiative. God causes understanding. God creates desire. God enables response. Conversion is an encounter with God. One is confronted with the living Christ and faced with decision. It is a personal event, concentrated and focused. Everyone’s conversion will not be as dramatic as someone else’s, but all must personally come to Christ to claim a conversion.

Confrontation is not just acceptance of ideas or intellectual assent to plan of salvation. It is not just agreeing to some facts. It involves acceptance of a Person and acknowledging that acceptance. Confrontation is saying to Jesus Christ, “I accept You as my Lord. I trust You for my salvation.” Confrontation is a personal transaction between you and Jesus Christ. The cause of conversion is the result of the Holy Spirit’s witness to the Word of God.John 16:7–11 Christian conversion must be preceded by a basic understanding of the gospel story, some cognitive grasp of truth, a minimal acquaintance with God’s redemptive work in Christ. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:17

The clear presentation of God’s requirements, man’s failures, and God’s provision for sinful man in Jesus Christ creates the opportunity for conversion. Conversion is the result of grace on God’s part, and the result of repentance and faith on a person’s part. Repentance is turning from sin and self-centeredness to God and His will. It is a redirection of life, a change of mind, a radical break with the past. We are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. John 3:16; Acts 16:31; 1 John 5:13 Belief is more than acceptance of the historical Jesus. It is a personal trust in the living Christ who lived, died, and rose again. It is trust to the point of commitment and surrender to the will of Christ. Before his conversion to Christianity, Paul was opposing the church and persecuting it. Paul was a Jew by birth, a Pharisee by choice and exceedingly zealous in his persecution of the church and his rigid adherence to the law. In both of these aspects Paul was fanatical. No man possessing such characteristics is about to be converted by human testimony.

God Himself accomplished Paul’s conversion. This is precisely what happened on the Damascus Road.Acts 9:1–19 That was the turning point of his life. For three years after his conversion, Paul was alone in the desert of Iraq, meditating and listening as the Risen Jesus revealed Himself to Paul. The other disciples had spent three years in the company of Jesus in Galilee. Now Paul had the special privilege of being with Jesus for three years in Iraq. Thereafter he would be the greatest missionary in history. Paul, chief opponent of Christianity was now the preacher of what he once tried to destroy! This was all the result of his conversion.

It is impossible to understand the rest of the life of Paul without understanding his complete turnaround in conversion. Conversion is the key to the gospel over the centuries. Conversion means to be changed completely. It is described by Jesus as being “born again”, as coming from darkness to light, from death to life, from Satan to God, of getting rid of an old humanity and putting on a new humanity; of being a new person, of dying to yourself and your ways and rising to life in Christ. That was part of the Gospel Paul preached. He had experienced it personally himself. He knew it was true.

The story of the church is the story of twice born people. Zacchaeus, Matthew, Lydia, Constantine, Francis the sensual who became Francis the Saint; Luther the legalist Monk who became Luther the proclaimer of grace, Wesley the runaway failure who became one of the bravest of all, David Livingstone who opened up Africa, Albert Schweitzer who inspired my generation with his genius and his humble missionary service, Malcolm Muggeridge who turned from being an atheistic critic of the faith to one of it’s most able writers, C.S Lewis, the agnostic Oxford Don who became the passionate apologist for Christ, Chuck Colson who knew the power of the White House but found God’s greater power in his Watergate prison cell. Jonathan Aitkin is one of the latest. You cannot understand the church outside of conversion to Jesus Christ. Conversion lies at the heart of our ministry at Wesley Mission. Have you been converted? Seek to be born again. Like Darryn Keneally who sat before me in the radio studio. He was thirty-something, with closely clipped moustache and beard. I knew he was a former drug addict and I was wary!

I am suspicious of ex-offenders. Darryn used drugs from age 13 years. By 15 he was an addict. He dropped out of school and became a drug pusher. Short of $800 to pay a supplier, Darryn had his life threatened. With two friends he decided on an armed hold-up of a convenience store. Darryn drove the get-away car while the other two shoved a gun into the face of a terrified shop-keeper. The armed robbery yielded $80. Darryn despaired. Three days later a Christian friend gave him $800 to clear his debts. That act of generosity really shook him. On his own Darryn got out of drug dealing, shifted, and prayed “Jesus, I need your help to get my life straight.”

He went to a church looking for help. The pastor helped Darryn get off drugs cold turkey, introduced him to Christian young people, and led him to commit his life to Christ. Darryn posted $100 to the convenience store owner with a letter of apology. He went to a solicitor, then to the police and confessed to the crime. He apologized to the court. The judge was impressed and gave him a two year suspended sentence. Darryn went to Bible college, trained for ministry, married and now is an associate minister of a large church, runs a large street work program with 50 volunteers working with 400 drug users a week. He is a contemporary example of conversion. Darryn said to me: “I have a great sense of shame about the pain I have caused my family. But I believe God has used my past to make me who I am now. Because of it, I can relate to these kids and help them.” Darryn is in a line of remarkable conversions which have occurred daily since the Apostle Paul’s conversion. What of you? Have you been born again?

REFERENCES

  • The Message Of Galatians: The Bible Speaks Today. J R W Stott IVPress 1968.
  • The Expositors Bible Commentary, F E Gaebelein Zondervan 1997
  • Discovering Paul, G K Moyes Albatross 1986

Gordon Moyes

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.