BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
JULY 1, 2016
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, KJV; See Matthew 4:16)
Since all of us dwell in the land of the shadow of death, Isaiah’s prophecy is for us today. For those of us who grew up in Fundamentalist churches, there was only one meaning of conversion, best described here in Peter’s speech on the Day of Pentecost: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19, KJV) For many of us, the context of being converted always had to do with repenting of sin and becoming a follower of Christ, exchanging our bad habits and faulty thinking for a godly life. That is certainly an acceptable meaning of conversion, but let’s expand our thinking about this interesting topic.
The dictionary gives a multifaceted definition, “1) A change in which one adopts a new religion, faith, or belief. 2) Something that is changed from one use, function, or purpose to another; 3) the exchange of one security or currency for another; 4) in football, an extra point or points scored after a touchdown.” I believe that transformation is an acceptable synonym for conversion. Paul equated transformation with renewal: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, RSV)
In the many, many “gospel sermons” laid upon us by zealous preachers in my youth, repentance and conversion always had to do with conforming to the standards of behavior deemed by church authority to help us avoid hell and attain heaven. One friend of mine says that were it not for all those hell fire and damnation sermons, she might have gone off into a life of sin. Maybe so, but they didn’t keep her in church. She left organized religion like so any others have who chaffed under such a legalistic definition of conversion. That’s a part of my story also, but looking back over my 75 years of seeking God in and out of church, my conversion was not a one time event. It began when I was personally introduced to the fellowship of God Himself, and has been ongoing ever since.
Jesus told the Jews who were struggling to believe that He came from God, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, NIV) They were offended, saying that because they were Abraham’s descendants, they had never been slaves. He replied that they were slaves of sin, and concluded, “So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36, NIV) Freedom is what we all want and desire. It’s as essential to us as the air we breathe and the water we drink.
What Jesus was talking about was letting go of our own agenda, our private interpretations about what is truth, and instead, following Him, who is Truth. Richard Rohr’s meditation on June 26th deals with this subject. He wrote, “From a religious perspective, a conversion experience is an experience of an Absolute. And once you’ve experienced a True Absolute, everything else is relativized, including yourself! Once you’ve experienced fullness, you don’t need to keep seeking “that which does not satisfy.” (Isaiah 55:2)
Attendance in mainline churches is down today, possibly because many churches still continue to urge us to “Seek what does not satisfy.”
Freedom from sin is only ONE gift of the Incarnation. It’s a valuable, priceless gift to be sure, but it was not given to us just so we could be better, holy and godly people. All those qualities are ours in Christ, but are NOT a result of our own efforts. Paul wrote, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5, RSV) Notice that these glorious attributes have nothing to do with us or our actions, and everything to do with God’s will and His pleasure. Since we are predestined to be His sons, then Father, let us be transformed in our minds to see this truth in all its glory and to then become light bearers and truth bringers to others who still walk in darkness about their true identity in You. Amen.
How would that play out on planet earth today, you ask? Jeremiah suggested this: “And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34, RSV) The prophet Habakkuk added, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14, NIV)
Richard Rohr sees conversion this way: “Transformation begins with a new experience of a new Absolute, and, as a result, your social positioning gradually changes on almost all levels. Little by little you will allow your politics, economics, classism, sexism, racism, homophobia and all superiority games to lose their one-time rationale. You just “think” and “feel” differently about most things. If this does not happen in very specific ways, I have no reason to believe you have been converted. Your motivation foundationally changes from security, status, and sabotage to generosity, humility, and cooperation. If you do not want to go there, you’d better stay away from the Holy One.” End Quote.
One of my favorite thoughts about the Holy One is found in I John 4: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.” (I John 4:15-17, RSV) Certainly most of us have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God. Father, let us see this as our reality: “as he is so are we in this world.”
There’s nothing in the universe with more conversion power to transform us than the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Embraced by this love, we can appreciate Isaiah’s encouragement: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities… For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.” (Isaiah 54:2-5, RSV)
There’s no way I could improve on what Isaiah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Paul, John, and Richard Rohr have said. One more comment is in order however, and it is that conversion is as unique and individual as each of us is. We probably won’t be called to tend the sick and dying in Calcutta, like Mother Teresa, or bring multitudes to Christ like Billy Graham. We might be like the old woman my brother-in-law David told me about, who led him to Christ. He said she told him that Billy Graham had wanted her to teach him the way of the cross, just like David himself had asked. David never told me her name, and there’s no way to trace the story, but I’m led to include it here, because just by living our ordinary lives, we may with the Spirit’s anointing, reveal the Christ to someone who doesn’t know Him.
The way of the cross always brings loss and suffering, but out of the fires of ruin, God brings transformation into our lives. My conversion included the sure knowledge that only God sits on the throne. I didn’t learn that until I was faced with my own failures when we lost our house in California. At one point during that dark time, the Lord softly said to me, “Jan, the throne isn’t big enough for both of us.”
Father, we thank You that You have chosen us to be your sons and daughters, to bear Your light to those who still walk in darkness as we once did. For it is You, Abba, who said, “Let Your light shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” We join our voices with “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” To God be the glory, world without end. Amen.