True Conversion and Change

In my last blog, I talked about how true liberty is not the ability to sin with impunity and expect God and others to condone your actions. It is the ability to function in accordance with God’s design and live a life that glorifies Him and leads to your well-being. This month, I want to talk about something that is related to that same topic.

In conversions with other people—including some who identify themselves as Christians—one of the contentions people have is that preachers of the Gospel often demand that listeners change their behavior when they come to Christ. For example, they say, “Some of the nicest people I know are homosexual/lesbian couples. Why should they have to give up their lifestyle to become Christians?” Others wonder why church-goers will not accept heterosexual couples who are not legally married, but are happily ‘living together.’ It seems unfair to outsiders that God’s love should come to them at a price. If everyone is accepted by God, then why should they stop doing what they did before they came to Him?

Many churches have adapted their doctrines and theology to accommodate those objections. Mainline denominations have not only begun to teach that homosexuality is okay, but they even go so far as to ‘marry’ same-sex couples and ordain ministers who openly practice that lifestyle. Their reasoning is that people who are ‘born’ desiring members of the same sex must be ‘made’ that way by God. And why would he object to them carrying out the desires that he himself instilled in them? Likewise, why should ‘consenting adults’ engaged in a mutually satisfactory love relationship be required to sanctify that relationship by undergoing an expensive public ceremony that states what they have already confirmed by throwing their lot in together and occupying the same household with one another?

As in all things, our final authority should not be what seems right to us (Judges 17:6 & 21:25, Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25), but what God’s Word clearly teaches. Let’s see what our Creator has to say.

First, let’s consider this matter of sin.

  • What is sin? According to 1 John 5:17, sin is unrighteousness—that which is not right or goes against what is right. James 4:17 defines sin as neglecting to do what we know we ought to do. Romans 14:23 says it is anything not motivated by faith. And 1 John 3:4 says sin is lawlessness, or living against or without the Law.
  • Who defines what is right and wrong? Contrary to popular belief, it is not ‘We, the people’ who determine what is acceptable or not. God, who made us, is the One who says what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. He gave us the Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, which tell us how we were designed to function. Jesus boiled it down to two main principles: Love God and love each other (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; c.f.—Romans 13:8-10, 1 John 4:21 & 2 John 1:5-6).
  • Do we get to interpret Scripture and determine what is relevant today or not? In Matthew 15:1-9 and Mark 7:5-13, Jesus had strong words against those who tried to circumvent God’s Law by inventing rules of their own. He quoted Isaiah 29:13, saying “These people draw near to Me…and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. …in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (NKJV). That same version of the Bible translates 2 Peter 1:20-21 this way: “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” In both the Old Testament and the New, God warned against adding to or subtracting from His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2 & Revelation 22:18-19). Jesus asserted that there would be dire consequences for anyone who tried to cause others to disregard God’s Law or to sin (Matthew 5:17-19, 13:41, 18:6-7; Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:1-2).

As explained in “True Liberty,” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21 and Revelation 22:15 tell us that there are certain sins that—if not abandoned and atoned for—will exclude a person from heaven. That’s why Jesus came: to take away sin—both the penalty for and our propensity toward it (John 1:29, Hebrews 9:26-28 & 1 John 1:7-9).

Second, according to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, part of the job of truly effective, Holy Spirit-directed preaching is to make people aware of sin, its consequences and its remedy (John 15:22 & 16:8-11; Romans 3:20 & 7:7). When Jesus delivered people, He challenged them to stop sinning (e.g.—John 5:14 & 8:10-11). And the first thing that came out of His mouth and the mouths of other preachers of the Gospel was “Repent!” (Matthew 3:2 & 8, 4:17, 12:41; Luke 3:8, 11:32; Acts 2:38, 3:19-20, 26:20; 2 Corinthians 12:21).

What does it mean to repent, and why is that such an important part of the Gospel? According to Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, the Greek word translated “repent” in our English Bibles is metanoeo. It means “to think differently afterwards,” or reconsider. It involves a change of mind, heart or will about something. Consequently, it involves a change of conduct, as well.

When John the Baptist came preaching his message in preparation of the coming of Christ, he said that people who were truly ready to receive their Messiah would “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8 & Luke 3:8, NIV). He added that they would share what they had with others, giving instead of taking, and be content with what they were given (Luke 3:10-14). Both the apostles Paul and John said that people who truly belong to Christ have died to sin and have God’s holy nature implanted within them, so that they cannot go on willfully sinning any longer (Romans 6; 1 John 3:6-10 & 5:18). Paul went so far as to say that anyone who continues to sin rejects Christ and His offer of salvation (Hebrews 10:26-31).

When someone who has murdered others comes to Christ, we don’t want that person to continue killing, do we? Paul told people to stop lying to each other, but tell the truth (Ephesians 4:25). In verse 28, he wrote, “Those who are stealing must stop stealing,” but earn an honest living, so they can give to others, instead (NCV). We don’t allow adulterers to keep cheating on their spouses. So why should we not expect people who commit other sins that God has condemned to keep doing whatever they please? Do we want them to suffer the consequences, as it says in Romans 1:18-32?

As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:34, “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning…” That is the more reasonable message we ought to be preaching, rather than compromising the Gospel for the sake of ‘tolerance’ or ‘acceptance.’ When Paul heard that one of his congregations was allowing flagrant sin among its members, he was indignant. He wrote:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Cor. 5:1-2, NIV)

His remedy for the situation was to publicly disavow this person and “turn him over to Satan,” until he repented of his incest (vv. 3-5). Furthermore, he warned the rest of the congregation not to hang out with any so-called Christian who was“sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler” (11). Pointing to Old Testament guidelines, this New Testament writer instructed the Corinthian church, “put away from yourselves the evil person” (1 Cor. 5:13, NKJV).

It is neither loving nor honest to let people believe that they can come Christ and then continue to live as they did without Him. At best, we set them up for failure and frustration, to be constantly confronted by a Holy Spirit that will not allow them to be content with their sin. At worst, we give them a false sense of security that God will allow them into heaven, while their garments are continually being re-stained with the sin that separates them from His presence. Stop trying to please and accommodate the world by dumbing down the Scriptures. Doing so neither pleases God nor helps your fellow man.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15, NIV). It’s time to present the full Gospel: Tell people the bad news of wrongdoing that separates us from God, and then follow up with the Good News of Christ, who separates us from sin and reconciles us to God. When people see how great His love and His ways are, they will no longer want to hold on to what keeps them from experiencing Him in His fullness. More people will rise to challenge of living the kind of life that God intended, serving Him and others instead of unwholesome and unholy desires.