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SIGNS OF CONVERSION
by Dr. Robert Hymers
A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Morning, February 5, 2006
“Try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1).
How can we know whether someone has truly come to Christ? Jonathan Edwards spoke of this at length, giving a detailed description in a message titled, “What are Distinguishing Scripture Evidences of a Work of the Spirit of God” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth Trust, 1992 reprint, volume 2, pp. 266-269). I am lifting out four of Edwards’ signs, by which we can “try the spirits whether they are of God.” In simplified language, here are four of the tests Edwards gave as signs of true conversion.
I. First, when their esteem of Christ is raised high.
Notice verses two and three,
“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God…” (I John 4:2-3).
It is to be observed that the word confess, as it is often used in the New Testament, signifies more than merely allowing [admitting]…So that if the Spirit that is at work among the people is plainly [seen] to convince them of Christ, and lead them to him - to confirm their minds…that he is the only Saviour, and that they stand in great need of him…to beget in them higher and more honorable thoughts of him than they used to have, and to incline their [love] more to him; it is a sure sign that it is a true and right Spirit…But the words of the Apostle are remarkable: the [person] to whom the Spirit gives testimony…must be that Jesus who appeared in the flesh, and not another Christ in his [place]; nor any mystical, fantastical Christ; such as a light within. This [would diminish] their esteem of and dependence upon [the] outward Christ - or Jesus as he came in the flesh - and lead them [away] from him; but the spirit that gives testimony for [the real] Jesus, and leads to him, can be none other than the Spirit of God (ibid.).
Thus, a truly converted person thinks very highly of the Christ of Scripture, who was physically crucified to pay for his sins, and was raised physically from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God in His resurrected body. The person who is convinced of that true Christ, and has come to Him by faith, “is of God” (I John 4:2). He is not relying on a “spirit Christ.” No! He has trusted the resurrected, physical Christ in Heaven. He has not trusted an inner feeling or emotion. No! He has come to Jesus, ascended to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. That is the Christ he confesses. That is the Christ he trusts. That is the Christ who saves him. That is the person who is saved!
II. Second, when their heart is turned from the world to the things of God.
Look at verse four through the beginning of verse six.
“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God…” (I John 4:4-6a).
Edwards said this shows the difference,
The one is of God, and overcomes the spirit of the world; the other is of the world, and speaks and [enjoys] the things of the world (ibid.).
Those that think of God, and enjoy the things of God; those whose hearts are turned from the world to the things of God; they are among those who “are of God.”
III. Third, when their regard for the Bible is greater
than their regard for human logic.
The spirit that operates in such a [way] as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them [to believe the Bible] is certainly of the Spirit of God (ibid.).
Look at verse six. Let us stand and read it together aloud.
“We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (I John 4:6).
You may be seated.
The Apostle John speaks of hearing “us.” By this he means the Apostles, and what they wrote in the Bible. The person who is saved hears the Bible and believes what it says. The person who is not saved does not hear and believe the Bible. “Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” Edwards said,
The devil has shown a mortal…hatred towards that holy book the Bible: he has done all in his power to extinguish that light; and to draw men [away] from it: he knows it to be that light by which his kingdom of darkness is to be overthrown…it is the sword of the Spirit, that pierces him and conquers him…therefore he is…against the Bible, and hates every word of it: and we [can] be sure that he will never attempt to [make us believe it, or love it]. [Therefore] we see it commonly in [fanatics] that they [do not value it], and set up [some inner feeling or some other book] above it (ibid.).
But the true Christian has greater respect for the Bible than any other book, and believes the Bible to be the very “God-breathed” Word of the Lord. The true Christian reads the Bible and believes and acts on what he reads. The true Christian has greater respect for the Bible than for human logic, human reasoning, and human philosophy, for he knows that this book alone is the very inspired, unerring Word of God. Thus, the third mark of a true Christian is that he believes the Bible - from cover to cover.
“He that knoweth God heareth us [the writers of the Bible]; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (I John 4:6).
We also know the difference between the saved and the lost by a further sign.
IV. Fourth, when they love the members of their church.
Please stand and read verses seven and eight aloud.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (I John 4:7-8).
You may be seated. The man or woman who loves the members of his local church with pure agape love is a Christian. He who does not love the brothers and sisters in the church “knoweth not God; for God is love” (I John 4:8).
He may say he loves God. But his statement is proven false because he does not love the brothers and sisters in his church, for whom Christ died. Thus, true agape love for the members of the local church is a strong sign of whether a person has been saved.
“Beloved, let us love one another…He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (I John 4:7-8).
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19).
See John MacArthur’s good comment on this verse in The MacArthur Study Bible, note on I John 2:19. Dr. MacArthur, though wrong on the Blood, is, I believe, right in what he says in this note. The man or woman who leaves his church because he lacks love for its members, shows, thus, that he is probably not converted, as Dr. MacArthur observed in that note.
Summing up, then, from this abbreviated sermon by the great Edwards,
1. A saved person has high respect and love for Jesus Christ.
2. A saved person has turned from the things of the world to Jesus Christ.
3. A saved person loves the Bible with all his heart and reads it and does his best to obey it.
4. A saved person loves the brothers and sisters in his local church, and does not want to leave their fellowship.
The proof of salvation does not rest on subjective feelings or thoughts, but on whether a person loves Christ dearly, has turned from the world of sin to Christ, loves the Bible and his local church. Those are proofs of conversion!
Do you have very high respect for Christ? Have you turned away from the things of the world to Christ and the church? Do you love the Bible with all your heart? Do you love the dear members of your local church? If those four things are true of you, it is very likely that you are converted, that you are a true child of God, saved for sure and forever.
On the other hand, if you fall short of these simple standards, it is most probable that you are still lost. If that is true, I urge you to repent and turn completely to Jesus the Saviour. He loves you still. He will pardon your sin and give you everlasting life if you will come to Him in simple faith. Amen.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: I John 4:1-8.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“I am Amazed” (by A. H. Ackley, 1887-1960).
THE OUTLINE OF
SIGNS OF CONVERSION
by Dr. Robert Hymers
“Try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1).
I. When their esteem of Christ is raised high, I John 4:2-3.
II. When their heart is turned from the world to the things
III. When their regard for the Bible is greater than their regard
IV. When they love the members of their church, I John 4:7-8;