Conversion #1: Away from the world, to God.
To convert means to turn around, change direction, repent. Charles Colson’s whole story illustrates this: he turned from being a man driven by greedy ambition and lust for power, to a man bent on humbly serving what many people feel are the dregs of society, prisoners (and their families.) He was, like lusty Augustine, before, a vivid example of Jesus’ truth”: He who loses his life for my sake will find it. Both Augustine and Colson were profound examples of turning away from the world, and to God, revealed, and experienced, through Christ.
Obviously, to be a Christian does not mean simply saying “Oh yes, I believe in God.” The Bible says, The devil believes there is a God, too, and trembles.
There are millions of folk who say they believe in Christ, but deep down believe more in themselves, or their feelings, ambition, goals, and their (longed-for) money. There are even pastors who let their wives sacrifice the emotional and spiritual well-being of their children in order to work overseas, along with millions of other parents. I’ll never forget the scene: a man was almost in tears as he told me it was now time for him to go work overseas again, despite having several children, as his wife had just returned from working in Hong Kong or some place. I should have said, “Don’t go, then. Be a leader, the ‘salt and light’ Christ is calling you to be.’”
It’s tricky: You can think you are converted, but still be so attached to worldly things that you are deep-down worshipping an idol, for the Bible says that greed is a false god. I John 2 says Love not the world or anything in the world, for if anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. And Jesus says, For where your treasure is, there your heart is also. People can value all kinds of things besides God.
For example, The president of Fuller Seminary, Mark Labberton, tells the story of how he was at an evening meal with a wedding party the night before a wedding. A young couple (NOT Filipino!) who didn’t know who he was soon was telling all kinds of intimate things about their sex and drug lives. When they finally asked him what he does and learned he was the pastor who was going to perform the wedding the next day, they were shocked but undaunted and said, “Oh, we have Jesus too. And that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
On the other hand:
Conversion #2: From “religion” to the world. Whereas I John says we should not love the world, John 3:16 and other Bible passages clearly state God so loved the world. . . If we are to be imitators of God and likewise love the world, would not this contradict the I John passage?
When you read in context, a basic principle for interpreting the Bible or any literature, you see that I John 2 speaks of loving the world as giving into the desires of the flesh, attaching to the things of the world, the lust of the flesh and of the eyes, and “the pride of life”—things that are not of the Father but from the godless world, which is passing away, with its desires. (In contrast to doing the will of God, and living forever.)
The John 3:16 passage speaks of a love so great that it gives the Son, even to death, for the sake of the world.
It is love-as-attachment and gaining vs. love-as-self-giving, suffering even unto death. Jesus expects his followers—including us—to take up your cross and follow me. This is what Augustine and Colson and millions of Christians have experienced, having two conversions, one from the world, and the second to the world, self-sacrificing giving.
This, paradoxically, is what the Church needs to hear and to do: not focusing on how to get to heaven, like the lawyer in Luke 10, but like the Good Samaritan who demonstrated eternal life by his loving response to severe human need.
A philosophy prof at my alma mater, Calvin, put it this way: YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE—
So discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand “the kingdom of God.” Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t just inform our intellect but forms our very loves. He isn’t content to simply deposit new ideas into your mind; he is after nothing less than your wants, your loves, your longings. His “teaching” doesn’t just touch the calm, cool, collected space of reflection and contemplation; he is a teacher who invades the heated, passionate regions of the heart. He is the Word who “penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit”; he “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). To follow Jesus is to become a student of the Rabbi who teaches us how to love; to be a disciple of Jesus is to enroll in the school of charity.
This famous prayer from the founder of the Franciscans puts it all in perspective:
The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.