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REAL CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, February 1, 2009

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).


Jesus plainly said, “Except ye be converted…ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” So, He made it perfectly plain and clear that you must experience conversion. He said if you don’t experience conversion you “shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

This morning I’m going to tell you what happens to a person who experiences conversion. Spurgeon said, “There may be such a thing as faith at first sight, but usually we reach faith by stages” (C. H. Spurgeon, Around the Wicket Gate, Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1992 reprint, p. 57). Here are the “stages” most people go through.

I. First, you come to church for some other reason than to be converted.

Nearly everyone does this, and comes to church the first few times for the wrong reason.  I did it.  So did Mr. Griffith, the man who just sang “Amazing Grace.”  So have you, in all probability. 

I came to church as a teenager because the family next door invited me to go to church with them.  So I started going to church in 1954 because I was lonely, and the people next door were nice to me.  That’s really not the “right” reason, is it?  I went “forward” at the end of the first sermon I heard and was baptized.  That’s how I became a Baptist.  But I was not converted.  I came because they were nice to me, not because I wanted to be saved.  Therefore, I went through a long struggle that lasted seven years before I was finally converted on September 28, 1961, when I heard Dr. Charles J. Woodbridge preach at Biola College (now Biola University). 

How about you? Did you come to church because you were lonely – or because your parents brought you to church as a child? If you are here this morning out of habit, like a kid raised in the church, it does not mean you are converted. Or did you come like I did, because you were lonely and someone invited you, and the people were nice to you? If you did, it does not mean you are converted. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you are here – whether out of habit like a church kid, or out of loneliness, like me when I was thirteen years old. Those are understandable reasons to come to church – but they will not save you. You must have a real conversion to be saved. You must really want to be saved.  That's the "right" reason.

It isn’t wrong to be here out of habit or because you are lonely. It’s just not the right reason. You must want something more to be converted, not just because it makes you feel better to come to church.

II. Second, you begin to know that there really is a God.

You may have realized that God exists before you came to church. But many people have only a hazy, unclear belief in God before they are confronted with the Gospel. That was probably your case as well, if someone brought you here.

If you were raised in the church, you already know a lot about the Scriptures. You can find the right place in the Bible easily. You know the plan of salvation. You know many Bible verses and hymns. But God is still unreal and unclear to you.

Then, whether you are a new person or a church kid, something begins to happen. You begin to realize that there really is a God – not just talk about God. God becomes a very real person to you. I became so aware of the reality of God at the age of fifteen that I actually fell on the ground way out in a cemetery, under the trees, the day my grandmother was buried. I knew then that God was really a living person. But I was not yet converted.

Have you experienced something like that? Is God a real person in your life? That is tremendously important. The Bible says,

“Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is [i.e. that He exists]”
      (Hebrews 11:6).

Believing in God requires a certain amount of faith – but it is not saving faith. It is not conversion. My mother often said, “I always believed in God.” And there is no question in my mind that she did. She believed in God since childhood. But she was not converted until she was 80 years old. It was important that she believed in God, but something more than that must happen for a person to be truly converted.

So, I am saying, that you probably came to church this morning without knowing God’s actual reality. Then, perhaps slowly, perhaps more quickly, you see that there really is a God. That’s the second stage, but it is not yet conversion.

III. Third, you realize that you have offended and angered God by your sins.

The Bible says, “They that are in the flesh [i.e. those who are unconverted] cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). So you begin to realize that, as an unconverted person, nothing you do can please God. In fact, you begin to realize that you are a sinner.  Every day your “impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath” (Romans 2:5). The Bible says:

“God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).

After you discover that there really is a God, you begin to realize that you have offended God by sinning. You have also offended God by not loving Him. The sins you have committed were against God and His commandments. It will then become very clear to you that this is true. Your lack of love for God will also be seen by you as a great sin at this time.

This stage was often called the stage of “awakening” by the Puritans. But there can be no awakening without a sharp sense of sin and deep self-condemnation. You will feel as John Newton did when he wrote:

O Lord, how vile am I, Unholy and unclean!
How can I dare to venture nigh With such a load of sin?

Is this polluted heart A dwelling place for Thee?
Swarming, Alas! In every part, What evils do I see!
   (“O Lord, How Vile Am I” by John Newton, 1725-1807).

You will begin to think deeply, then, about the inward sinfulness of your mind and heart.  You will think, “My heart is very sinful, and very far from God.”  That thought will disturb you.  You will become very upset and disturbed by your own sinful thoughts and your own lack of love for God.  The cold lifelessness of your heart toward God will trouble you deeply at this stage.  You will begin to realize that a person with a sinful heart like yours has no hope.  You will see that it is necessary and right for God to send you to Hell – because you deserve Hell.  This is what you will think when you are truly awakened and realize that you have offended God and angered Him with your sins.  This stage of awakening is an important stage, but it is not yet conversion.  A person who sees how sinful he is has been awakened – but he is not yet converted.  Conversion goes farther than merely being convicted of sin. 

You may suddenly realize that you have displeased God, or such an awareness may grow from a mere doctrine into a fuller understanding that God has been offended and is very displeased with you. Only when you are fully awakened to the fact that you are sinful and unholy will you be ready for the fourth and final “stage” of conversion.

Charles Spurgeon came to this awareness of his sin when he was 15 years old. His father and grandfather were both preachers. They lived in a day when modern “decisionism” had not yet made true conversion muddy and unclear. So, his father and grandfather did not “push” him to make a superficial “decision for Christ.” Instead, they waited for God to do a thorough work of conversion in him. I think they were right.

When he was fifteen Spurgeon at last came under deep conviction of sin. Spurgeon explained his awakening to his sinfulness with these words:

All of a sudden, I met Moses, carrying in his hand the law of God, and as he looked at me, he seemed to search me through and through with his eyes of fire. He [told me to read] ‘God’s ten words’ – the ten commandments – and as I read them they all seemed to join in accusing and condemning me in the sight of a holy God.

He saw, in that experience, that he was a sinner in the sight of God, and that no amount of “religion” or “goodness” could save him. Young Spurgeon went through a period of great distress. He tried in many ways to earn peace with God by his own efforts, but all of his attempts to make peace with God failed. Only then was he ready for “stage” four – the final act of conversion itself.

IV. Fourth, you come to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

When Spurgeon was being awakened to his sin, at first he did not believe that he could be saved by simply believing in Jesus. He said:

Before I came to Christ, I said to myself, “It surely cannot be that, if I believe in Jesus, just as I am, I shall be saved? I must feel something; I must do something.”

But he couldn’t “feel” anything, and he couldn’t “do” anything! He was miserable. Good! That’s what leads a person away from himself – to Jesus, the Son of God!

Spurgeon went through a snowstorm to a little church. Only a few people were there. Even the pastor was kept away by the howling storm. A thin little man stood up to give an impromptu sermon. The man simply said, “Look to Christ.” Finally, after all his struggle and inner turmoil, the young Spurgeon did just that – he looked to Jesus Christ by faith for the first time in his life! Spurgeon said, “I was saved by blood! I could have danced all the way home!” He simply looked to Jesus! He simply came to Jesus! It is simple, and yet the most profound experience a human being can have. That, my lost friend, is real conversion!

Conclusion

Let nothing stop you in your search for Christ in a real conversion. Remember that Jesus said:

“Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Like the main character in Pilgrim’s Progress, don’t settle for any superficial “decision for Christ.” No! No! Make sure that your conversion is real, because if you are not really converted, “ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

To have a real conversion

1.  You must come to the place of really believing that there is a God – a real God who damns sinners to Hell, and takes the saved to Heaven when they die.

2.  You must know, deep down inside, that you are a sinner who has deeply offended God. You may go on like this for a long time (or it may be shorter for some). Dr. Cagan, our deacon, said, “I wrestled through sleepless nights for many months after God became real to me. I can only describe this period in my life as two years of mental agony” (C. L. Cagan, Ph.D., From Darwin to Design, Whitaker House, 2006, p. 41).

3.  You must know that you cannot do any good thing to reconcile you to an offended and angry God. Nothing you say, or learn, or do can help you at all. That must become clear in your mind and heart.

4.  You must come to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and be cleansed from your sin by His Blood. Dr. Cagan said, “I can remember, down to the exact couple of seconds, when I trusted [Jesus]…It seemed that I was immediately facing [Jesus]…I was definitely in the presence of Jesus Christ and He was definitely available to me. For many years I had turned Him away, though He was always there for me, lovingly offering me salvation. But that night I knew the time had come for me to trust Him. I knew that I must either come to Him or turn away. At that moment, in just a few seconds, I came to Jesus. I was no longer a self-trusting unbeliever. I had trusted Jesus Christ. I had believed in Him. It was as simple as that. In that short time, in a single act of trust…I ‘crossed over’ to Jesus Christ in the most important event that can happen in a human life – conversion. I had been running away all my life, but that night I turned around and came directly and immediately to Jesus Christ” (C. L. Cagan, ibid., p. 19). That is a real conversion. That is what you must experience to be converted to Christ Jesus!


Christ died on the Cross to pay for your sins and reconcile you to an angry God. Christ rose physically from the dead and ascended back to Heaven, where He is now seated at the right hand of God praying for you to be saved.

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth”
      (Colossians 3:1-2).

Look to Christ! Look to God the Son! Be washed from your sins by His Blood!

“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).

As Joseph Hart put it,

The moment a sinner believes,
And trusts in his crucified God,
His pardon at once he receives,
Redemption in full through His blood.
   (“The Moment a Sinner Believes” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).

That is what happened to Spurgeon.  That is what happened to Dr. Cagan.  And that is what must happen to you.  You must have an encounter with the living Christ and be cleansed from your sin by His all-atoning Blood! 

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Ephesians 2:1-7.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Amazing Grace” (by John Newton, 1725-1807).


THE OUTLINE OF

REAL CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

I.   First, you come to church for some other reason than to be converted.

II.  Second, you begin to know that there really is a God, Hebrews 11:6.

III. Third, you realize that you have offended and angered God
by your sins, Romans 8:8; Romans 2:5; Psalm 7:11.

IV. Fourth, you come to Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
Colossians 3:1-2; Ephesians 2:1-7.