We live in a culture where a majority of Americans make some kind of a faith commitment. Indeed, many Americans call themselves Christians. It is in this context that Stephen Smallman answers the question, What is True Conversion?
Smallman’s work is somewhat autobiographical as he recounts his conversion experience. He notes the impulse to “reform myself so that I would feel better about my relationship to God.” His transparency proves helpful at the outset as most people have struggled with a similar experience. However, the author admits that he discovered he had no power in and of himself to change. He learned of his powerlessness before a holy and omnipotent God.
The author takes time to carefully develop the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unconverted. Each one of God’s elect is effectually drawn by the Holy Spirit in an irresistible and compelling way. It is the Holy Spirit who carries out the unique purpose of God. “He comes to us while we are spiritually dead, ignorant, indifferent, lost, blind, sinners, and he gives us a heart for God that did not exist before. When the call comes, we have ears to hear because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit.”
Smallman rightly distinguishes conversion (which involves human response) and regeneration (which is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of people). We must be born again – we must be regenerated. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he “must be born again” (John 3:5-7) he does not issue a command. Rather he “makes a statement of what God must do in our hearts if we are to enter God’s kingdom.”
Smallman utilizes the excellent definition of conversion in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “True conversion is embracing Jesus Christ as he is freely offered to us in the gospel.” While he stresses God’s exclusive role in regeneration, he also rightly emphases the human role at the point of conversion, namely, sinners must believe/embrace Jesus in order to be saved. Again, the role of the Spirit is essential. Smallman writes, “The gospel message is only a string of words until the Spirit applies it to the heart.”
The author emphases the role of repentance and the vital role it plays in true conversion. “Conversion is rightly defined as a turning to a new direction … repentance is understood as a turning from sin in order to turn to Christ.” This stress on repentance is necessary in this discussion – for without repentance one has not experience true saving faith.
Finally, Smallman points out that when one is truly converted life change takes place. “Conversion assumes turning to walk on a new path.” True conversion does not result in lawlessness. Rather, true conversion results in bearing fruit to the glory of God (John 15:8).
What is True Conversion? is a necessary resource that should be fully utilized in the local church. Smallman includes helpful study questions at the end of each section that can and should be utilized in small groups.