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THE TWO SIDES OF CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, January 31, 2010


Last Sunday someone asked me, “What is conversion?” He had never heard the word and wanted to know what it means. I have been thinking about that for several days.

The English word “conversion” in the Bible is a translation of the Greek word “epistrepho.” It means “a turning from and a turning to; corresponding to these are repentance and faith” (Vine). This brief definition takes us to our text. Please turn to Acts 20:20-21. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word. The Apostle Paul said,

“I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, TESTIFYING BOTH TO THE JEWS, AND ALSO TO THE GREEKS, REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD, AND FAITH TOWARD OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST”
       (Acts 20:20-21).

You may be seated.

Here, then, are the two things God works in the hearts of those that are converted: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those two things are inseparable in real conversion: “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those are the two things that must happen. You must be made to see and feel repentance toward God, and you must be connected to Jesus by faith, to experience real conversion.

I. First, there is a repentance that is not “toward God.”

This should be called “false repentance.” False repentance can merely be a sense of shame. When people are caught sinning they feel ashamed. But that is not true repentance. True repentance is more than being ashamed of your sins.

Again, false repentance can be merely grief over the consequences of sin. Many alcoholics have realized that sin was ruining them and destroying them, so they gave up drinking because it was harming them. That is not true repentance! It is like a dog that is whipped for stealing food. Such a low “repentance” can never be accepted by God!

Again, false repentance can be no more than a fear of future punishment in Hell. I have often heard people say that they were ready to trust Christ because they were afraid of Hell. When they say that it is almost always certain that they are not ready to receive Christ. This fear goes no farther than a selfish desire to escape from punishment. It can never be accepted as true repentance by God.

Once again, there is a false repentance that is only partial. The person who has partial repentance gives up some sins, but he does not hate sin. The true convert hates sin and flees from it. He is not yet perfect, but his heart hates sin and he turns from it to Christ. He is not like many Catholics (and others) who confess their sins and then go right back and commit them again! Such so-called repentance cannot be accepted by God!

False repentance is represented by Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. He admitted his sin, “I have sinned…I and my people are wicked”(Exodus 9:27), but he did not turn from his sin to God. Instead, after confessing his sin, “he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart” (Exodus 9:34). This is a clear picture of false repentance!

II. Second, in real conversion there is true repentance toward God.

Paul preached,

“repentance toward God” (Acts 20:21).

The Greek word translated “repentance” is “metanoia.” It means a change of heart – a change of affection – from loving sin to loving God – and hating sin! “Repentance” means that God has given you a new mind, a new way of thinking and feeling about sin. In real repentance you are made to hate sin and love God, to turn away from the world and love Christ and the local church!

Real repentance includes a deep sorrow for your sin, and a real desire to be rid of it! The Westminster Shorter Catechism says,


Question 4:  What is [required in] turning from sin in repentance?

Answer:       It is [required in] turning from sin in repentance that there be – 1. A true sight of sin. 2. An [awareness] of the mercy of God in Christ. 3. A grief for sin. 4. A hatred of sin.


Question 5:  Wherein doth the true sense of sin consist which is [required] in repentance?

Answer:       The true sense of sin, which is [required] doth consist in such an inward feeling of our miserable and low estate…as putting us into great perplexity and trouble of spirit; so that our consciences being…pricked and wounded, can find no quiet, and take no rest in this condition, “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).


Question 6:  What is…this sense of sin unto true repentance?

Answer:       There is need of this sense of sin [in] true repentance, because without this sense of sin, sinners will not forsake sin, nor [come to] the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and healing. “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).


Question 10: Wherein doth true grief for sin consist?

Answer:        True grief for sin [consists] in our mourning and sorrowing for sin… “I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin” (Psalm 38:18)…


Question 11: May we not truly grieve for sin, though we do not weep for it?

Answer:       1. If we can readily weep for other things, and cannot weep for sin, the truth of our grief is very questionable. 2. There may be true grief for sin without tears, in [those] that are [unemotional] and are not prone to weep [for any reason]; and as there may be in some many tears in the eye, where there is no grief in the heart, so in others there may be much grief in the heart where there are no tears in the eyes.


Question 12: Why is grief for sin [needed] in repentance?

Answer:       Grief for sin is [needed] in repentance, because it further works the heart into willingness to leave sin; because God [requires] it, and hath promised mercy unto [those who] mourn for sin. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9)… (The Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession Explained and Proved from Scripture, by Thomas Vincent, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004 reprint from the 1674 edition, pp. 228, 230).


Dr. J. Gresham Machen called Christianity, “the religion of the broken heart.” He said, “Although Christianity does not end with the broken heart, it does begin with the broken heart; it begins with the consciousness of sin. Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale” (J. Gresham Machen, Ph.D., Christianity and Liberalism, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990 reprint of the 1923 edition, pp. 65, 66).

These quotations from the Westminster Catechism and Dr. Machen show the necessity of conviction of sin. If you do not feel grieved, and sorrowful, and sad, and brokenhearted over your sins, how can you experience repentance? How can you feel hatred of sin and be turned from it? Therefore true repentance cannot be taught – and it cannot be learned. It must be felt. You must feel pain for your sins.

There are a few people that are so unemotional that they feel grief for their sin without tears. But the vast majority will weep when they are under the conviction of sin, which is part of repentance. As the Catechism said,

If we can readily weep for other things, and cannot weep for [our] sin, the truth of our grief is very questionable (ibid.).

When people are under conviction of sin,

“They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn” (Zechariah 12:10).

When they have a true sight of their sin, they usually cry real tears. In times of revival, people often “weep and howl” (James 5:1). This is not the “howling” of some modern charismatics. It is an evangelical weeping and howling over sin that has accompanied the great revivals of history.

During the preaching of Dr. Asahel Nettleton in America, scenes of deep conviction were common. In one of his meetings an eyewitness said,

Did you ever witness two hundred sinners, with one accord in one place, weeping for their sins? Until you have seen this you have no adequate conceptions of the solemn scene [filled with] the sighs and sobs of anxious souls…in the most awful distress (Brian H. Edwards, Revival! A People Saturated with God, Evangelical Press, 1997 edition, p. 117).

In the Western world today there are no such scenes that I know about. But in China such scenes are very common. Most of them never heard of the Westminster Confession, with those words, “If we can readily weep for other things, and cannot weep for sin, the truth of our grief is very questionable” (ibid.). Although these Chinese may never have heard of the Westminster Confession, yet they weep openly in their churches, under deep conviction of sin. Their theology did not come out of a book. They didn’t learn to weep and repent. Their experience has come directly from the Spirit of God – as He shows them their sins – the sins of their minds, the sins of their hearts, and the sins of their past lives. If you only learn dry-eyed doctrines you will go to Hell! You must repent – and the initial part of repentance is conviction of your sin! When we see someone weeping in the inquiry room, he is already half way converted – for conversion begins with repentance – and repentance begins with conviction of sin! That is why the Apostle Paul preached,

“repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

In real conversion, there is repentance toward God.

III. Third, in real conversion there is faith in Jesus Christ.

When someone is under deep conviction of sin, it is not at all hard for him to come to Jesus. When your heart is truly grieved by your sin, and you hate your sin, and you want to be rid of your sin, it is but an easy step to come to Jesus! The Bible says,

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”
       (I Timothy 1:15).

If you are a sinner, then Christ can save you. Of course He can save you! That’s why He suffered such pain and agony on the Cross – to save you! He died in your place – a substitute for your sin – paying the full price for your sin on the Cross! If you feel your sin and hate it – then come to the Saviour! He will receive you and pardon your sin and heal your iniquities. Jesus made that clear when He said,

“Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

Joseph Hart made that very clear in his great hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners.” It’s number seven on your song sheet. Stand and sing it!

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched, Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power;
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more!
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more!

Let not conscience make you linger, Nor of goodness fondly dream;
All the goodness He requireth, Is to see your need of Him;
This He gives you, this He gives you, God’s own Spirit makes it seen,
This He gives you, this He gives you, God’s own Spirit makes it seen.

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden, Bruised and mangled by the Fall;
If you wait until you’re better, You will never come at all:
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Sinners Jesus came to call!
Not the righteous, Not the righteous, Sinners Jesus came to call!

View Him prostrate in the garden; On the ground your Maker lies;
Then on Calvary’s cross behold Him, Hear Him cry, before He dies;
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” Can’t you see He paid the price?
“It is finished!” “It is finished!” Can’t you see He paid the price?

See, the Saviour now, ascended, Plead the merit of His Blood;
Throw yourself on Him completely, Let no other trust intrude;
None but Jesus, none but Jesus Can do helpless sinners good;
None but Jesus, none but Jesus Can do helpless sinners good.
    (“Come, Ye Sinners” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768; altered by Dr. Hymers).

(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: Acts 20:17-21.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Depth of Mercy” (by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE TWO SIDES OF CONVERSION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, TESTIFYING BOTH TO THE JEWS, AND ALSO TO THE GREEKS, REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD, AND FAITH TOWARD OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST” (Acts 20:20-21).

I.   First, there is a repentance that is not “toward God,” Exodus 9:27, 34.

II.  Second, in real conversion there is true repentance toward God,
Acts 20:21; 2:37; Matthew 9:12-13; Psalm 38:18; James 4:9;
Zechariah 12:10; James 5:1.

III. Third, in real conversion there is faith in Jesus Christ, I Timothy 1:15;
John 6:37.