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REAL CONVERSION – 2015 EDITION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, January 4, 2015

“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 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 a real conversion. Notice that I said a “real” conversion. Through the use of the “Sinner’s Prayer,” and other forms of Decisionism, millions of people have only experienced false conversions.

We have a few people in our church, including my own wife, who were converted the first time they heard the Gospel clearly preached. But these were all adults who were well prepared by the circumstances of life before they heard the Gospel. None of them were little children. Most of our real conversions, by far, have been among young adults who came to Christ after several months (and even years) of hearing Gospel sermons. 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, 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 comes to church the first few times for the “wrong” reason, like I did it. I came to church as a teenager because the family next door invited me to come to church with them. So I started coming 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 without being counselled at all, without even being asked why I came forward. That’s how I became a Baptist. But I was not converted. I came because the people next door 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). That was the day I trusted Jesus, and He cleansed me and saved me from sin.

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 for coming to church – but they will not save you. You must have a real conversion to be saved. You must really want to be saved by Jesus. That’s the “right” reason – the only one that will save you from a life of sin.

It isn’t bad 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 most 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 easily find the right place in the Bible. 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 had a dim, unclear belief in God ever since I was a little child. But I did not become aware of “the great and terrible God” (Nehemiah 1:5) of the Bible until I was fifteen years old – over two years after I started attending that Baptist church with the people next door. The day my grandmother was buried I ran away into the trees in the cemetery and fell gasping and sweating on the ground. Suddenly God came down upon me – and I knew He was real, and that He was all-powerful, even frightening, in His holiness. But I was not yet converted.

Have you experienced something like that? Is the God of the Bible a real person to you? 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 the reality of God. 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 sin.

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, as an unconverted person, that 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 your sin. 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 be seen by you as a great sin at this time. But, more than that, you begin to see that your very nature is sinful, that there is nothing good within you, that your very heart is sinful.

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 sin. 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 fifth “stages” of conversion.

Charles Spurgeon became aware 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. That takes us to stage four in conversion.

IV. Fourth, you try to earn your salvation, or learn how to be saved.

The awakened person will feel sinful, but will not yet turn to Jesus. The prophet Isaiah described people in this condition when he said, “We hid as it were our faces from him...we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). We are like Adam, who knew he was sinful, but hid from the Saviour, and tried to cover his sin with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7, 8).

Like Adam, the awakened sinner tries to do something to save himself from sin. He tries to “learn” how to be saved. But he finds that “learning” does him no good, that he is “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7). Or he may look for a “feeling” instead of Jesus Himself. Some people who look for a “feeling” go on like this for months, because no one is saved by a “feeling.” Spurgeon was awakened to his sin. But he did not believe he could be saved simply by trusting 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” (ibid.).

And that takes you to the fifth stage.

V. Fifth, you finally come to Jesus, and trust Him alone.

Young Spurgeon finally heard a preacher say, “Look to Christ...There is no use looking to yourself...Look to Christ.” After all his struggle and inner turmoil and pain – Spurgeon finally looked to Jesus and trusted Him. Spurgeon said, “I was saved by [Jesus’] blood! I could have danced all the way home.”

After all that struggle and doubt, he stopped looking for a feeling, or anything else in himself. He simply trusted Jesus – and Jesus saved him right then. In a moment of time he was cleansed from sin by the Blood of Jesus Christ! It is simple, and yet it is the most profound experience a human being can have. That, my friend, is real conversion! The Bible says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). Joseph Hart said,

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).

Conclusion

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 associate pastor, 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, or feel 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... 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! Come to Jesus and trust Him! He will save you and cleanse you from all sin with the Blood He shed on the Cross! Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Prayer Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Amazing Grace” (by John Newton, 1725-1807).


THE OUTLINE OF

REAL CONVERSION – 2015 EDITION

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, Nehemiah 1:5;
Hebrews 11:6.

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

IV. Fourth, you try to earn your salvation, or learn how to be saved,
Isaiah 53:3; Genesis 3:7, 8; II Timothy 3:7.

V.  Fifth, you finally come to Jesus, and trust Him alone, Acts 16:31.