There is no greater thrill in ministry to watch a person move from death to life and put their trust in Jesus. We preach the gospel and pray the Holy Spirit illuminates hearts to respond to him in faith- and when people do it reminds us why we labor each day for the sake of the gospel.
But is conversion to Jesus and his gospel enough? What I mean is that while we proclaim the gospel so that people can have a renewed and right relationship with God through Christ- is this the only conversion that needs to happen in the life of a Christian? Or could there be more “converting” work that needs to be done in the life of Christians and our churches?
Jonathan Dodson in his book “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” argues that at least three conversions need to happen in the life of a Christian. Martin Luther talked along these same lines as a conversion of “head, heart, and purse”. If Jesus is Lord and Savior over the life of a Christian he wants all of us not a segmented portion.
What are the three conversions that need to happen in the life of a Christian and the church at large?
- Conversion to the Gospel (Jesus).
- Conversion to Community (Church).
- Conversion to Mission (Cultural Mandate/Great Commission).
First, at the foundational level there of course needs to be repentance and faith in Jesus for salvation. That is where all of these conversions must begin. But, if we are not careful this conversion to Jesus can be seen as an individual response that is devoid of Christian community and the Christian church. It becomes my “personal” walk with Jesus devoid of involvement in a local Christian community where ministry takes place.
Second, God is redeeming a “people” for his name and glory. It is not a bunch of spiritually minded individuals- but rather a new community (church) where Jesus is the center. The Christian community is where the gospel is heard, lived, and demonstrated to the world. There needs to be a conversion from “I” and “me” to “us” and “we”.
The most heart breaking part of ministry are Christians that have not been converted to community and simply try and live apart from a local church body. It actually short changes their sanctification because they are not able to use their gifts, hear the gospel, encourage one another, and be called to repentance in places where their lives are out of sync with the gospel. Living apart from Christian community never leads to deeper intimacy and knowledge of God in Christ.
Third, as people are converted to Jesus and his church there must be a final conversion to mission. This takes on many shapes and sizes but must involve the “Great Commission” by making disciples, baptizing, and proclaiming the gospel in word and deed to the entire world.
Our local church communities are by their very nature “missional”- a place where people will hear the gospel proclaimed, but also see the gospel demonstrated in how we love one another, forgive one another, show unity, and care for the needs of others. Our communities should be “gospeling” one another on a regular basis.
When Jesus showed his infinite kindness to sinners like you and me he did not do this for us to sit back and wait for heaven. He saved us because he had “good works” for us to do (Eph. 2:10). He rescued us from sin and death so that we would be “ambassadors” and re-present our King well in the world. This mission “to make disciples” is the responsibility of every Christian and local church community.
We also must not forget that God is renewing “all things” through Jesus. In other words he is not simply saving souls but renewing all of his sin-scarred creation. That is why the cultural mandate given to us in Genesis 1-2 is vital as we join God in his re-creation work in the world. We need conversions of souls and the cultivation of God’s kingdom in all spheres of our culture.
It is vital that pastors of the CRC and pastors in the greater evangelical world not assume that our people have been converted to all three of these areas. We must call people to repentance and faith in Jesus, his bride, and his mission. To forget one is to only have part of the gospel message we proclaim.
What conversion would you say is lacking most in our lives, communities, and churches?