Teach Believers What Happened to Them in Conversion

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Everyone who is converted to Christ is converted through partial knowledge. Real knowledge, to be sure — otherwise, there would be no true conversion — put partial, nevertheless.

This is not surprising, of course, since that’s the only kind of knowledge we have as finite creatures, especially in this fallen world. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

The Obvious Worth Speaking

But speaking the obvious is very useful. For example, it may be obvious that the blue sky is glorious today, but it is not pointless to say to your friend, “Isn’t the deep blue sky beautiful today!” Till that moment, he may have been blind to the obvious. And suddenly you woke him up to joy — by saying the obvious.

My point here is that when a person is saved, they do not know all the glorious things which, in that moment, happened to them — like a person who wakes up from surgery and does not know that the cancer has been completely removed. He must be told.

“Never assume that people understand how God saved them.”

So it is the task of parents and Sunday school teachers and small group leaders and pastors to teach people what happened to them. Never assume that people understand how God saved them. All of us have only partial knowledge of this. And most of the New Testament is designed to increase our knowledge of how God saved us (in history and in our souls), and what is true of him and us now in this new relationship.

What Happened to Every Christian

Let me illustrate what I mean.

1. Thousands of people are truly converted who have never even heard about new birth or regeneration. The witness they heard to Jesus’s death and resurrection and forgiveness did not include that truth. Now they are believing. They have been born again, but they do not know that. So we must teach them.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. (1 John 5:1)

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3; see also 1 Peter 1:3, 23; James 1:18)

2. All Christians have been called by God. But thousands do not know the language of divine calling. They’ve never heard that language. So we must teach them.

Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22–24; see also Romans 8:28; Galatians 1:5; 5:8; Ephesians 4:1, 4; 2 Timothy 1:9)

3. All Christians have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But thousands do not know that God chose them from eternity. They need to be taught this truth.

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4; see also 1 Corinthians 1:26–29; Romans 9:11; 11:5–7; James 2:5)

4. All Christians have died with Christ. But thousands have never taken note of that way of thinking about their conversion. Even if the words were spoken over them at their baptism (not to mention how many true believers have no memory of an infant sprinkling), the words did not register. They need to be taught that they are dead.

You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3; see also Romans 6:4–6; Galatians 2:20)

5. All Christians are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law. But many came to Christ without the word justification ever being used. At some point along the way, they need to be taught that this glorious thing has happened to them.

We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:28; see also 5:1; 8:1, 30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:16; 3:11)

6. All Christians have been transferred out of the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of Christ. But many have never heard that they were under the dominion of darkness, or what that is, let alone that they have been transferred to another kingdom. They must be taught.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13)

“It is the task of parents and Sunday school teachers and small group leaders and pastors to teach people what happened to them.”

7. All Christians have been set free from the decisive control of the devil. But many Christians didn’t even know they were in the control of the devil, let alone that they are freed from him. They need to be taught.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15; see also Hebrews 2:14–15)

8. All Christians have been sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption. But thousands are not aware that there is such a sealing or what it means. They must be taught.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30; see also 1:13)

9. All Christians have been legally adopted into God’s family and are children of God. But many have never heard this truth about adoption. They must be taught.

You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15–17; see also Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:4–5)

10. All Christians are indwelt by the living Christ. But not all know this. They must be taught.

To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27; see also Romans 8:10)

An Old Word on New Life

Think for a moment about the implications of this. Our experience (note the word! Not just knowledge, but experience) of who we are, and what has happened to us, is profoundly determined by what we know about the miracle of our conversion. And what we know comes from Scripture.

God ordained that the miracle of the Christian life be powered by his sovereign grace in the soul, but guided and shaped by his word in the Bible.

“We experience the fullness of our conversion when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.”

We might think God would cause us to enjoy all the glories of conversion just because we are in fact miraculously converted. It was, after all, a miracle! Do you have to be told you just experienced a miracle? Yes, if you are to know the many-faceted wonder of the miracle. But God does not give the joys of conversion through the conversion alone. We experience the fullness of our conversion when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.

For example, the Spirit of adoption within (which every Christian has) intersects with the biblical teaching on adoption, and explodes with the joy-giving awareness and assurance that we are the children of God.

So pastors, teachers, parents: teach the believers in your charge what happened to them in the miracle of conversion. This is how we experience the work of the living God.