|Vol. 14 No. 5 May 2012||
Louis Rushmore, Editor
“Conversion,” says the dictionary, is, “2: an experience associated with a definite and decisive adoption of religion” (Merriam-Webster). The trouble is that many, many Christians in America exhibit no evidence in their lives that they have made “a definite and decisive adoption of religion” inaugurated by Jesus Christ. The churches of Christ in America, and I strongly suspect in western civilization generally, desperately need to undergo a true and thorough “conversion” to Christ. One definition for the verb “convert” reads, “2a: to alter the physical or chemical nature or properties of especially in manufacturing” (Merriam-Webster). Dear Brethren, few are the Christians who genuinely “alter” their “nature” spiritually as they professedly convert to Christ – become Christians.
Romans 12:2 commands Christians not to be “conformed to this world,” but rather to be “transformed” by Jesus Christ. “Transformed” is translated from the Greek metamorphoo, which is akin to our English word, “metamorphosis.” The dictionary says of “metamorphosis” that it is “1a: change of physical form, structure, or substance especially by supernatural means” (Merriam-Webster). We naturally think of the transformation that a caterpillar makes in becoming a butterfly; a creepy-crawler turns into a wondrous and beautiful, artful flyer, dancing in the air from one flower bloom to another. The point is that Christians are supposed to undergo a “change of… form or structure… by supernatural means” (1 Corinthians 12:13) when they become children of God.
Baptism, that outward, voluntary, physical act in compliance with the very words of Jesus (Mark 16:16), uniting one spiritually with the saving blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7) in imitation of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-5), washes one’s past sins away (Acts 22:16; Revelation 1:5). At the same time, the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) and Jesus Christ (Acts 2:47) perform the spiritual act of placing the new convert into the body of Christ. The new babe in Christ “is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old man of sin is crucified and buried through baptism, and Christians are not to resume life as normal, sinners rather than saints (Romans 6:6).
In Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2 metamorphoo appears as “transfigured” and refers to the Transfiguration of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, metamorphoo is translated with the words “are changed,” where it pertains to the Christian experience previously unobtainable when the Old Testament was in force. Not only is a person’s status now different from what it was before becoming a child of God (i.e., from sinner to saint), but also what one is, and consequently, what one does, is supposed to be different, too! Sadly, infrequently is there a sustained, discernible difference between what an American was and did before professing conversion and what he or she is or does as a Christian.
“Metamorphosis” or its Greek counterpart, metamorphoo, is a compound word that literally means, “change form.” It means to “change completely” (Exegetical Dictionary), “become different from what you are” (Greek-English Lexicon) or “to remodel” (Theological Dictionary). Vine’s observes of metamorphoo, “the obligation being to undergo a complete change which, under the power of God, will find expression in character and conduct.” When one truly becomes a Christian, he changes form – the condition of his soul, the condition of his mind and his deportment, which is the manifestation of change of form of the soul and of the mind. What, then, does the unchanged deportment – acting more like a sinner than a saint – telegraph about the true status of one’s soul and mind?
Is Jesus Christ first in your life? Is it His kingdom that is the focal point of your waking thoughts and subsequent actions? Are you and I more concerned with making a living, or even more so adept at amassing as much of this world’s possessions and wealth that we possibly can (Matthew 16:26; Luke 12:16-31)? Jesus said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33). Few, oh so few, Christians truly seek the kingdom first!
Luxurious living (at least compared to the rest of the world and historically even to ancient royal dynasties) comes first in the lives of most American Christians. Sports routinely sideline spiritual endeavors such as Bible classes and even worship assemblies, too. Recreation, vocations, school functions and academics, families, etc. without end commonly trump all things spiritual. We American Christians are Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Tea Party pledges before we are Christians! We are Americans before we are the children of God! We are proud of our ethnicity or race before we are Christians! As moms and dads, we will train our children to become nurses, doctors, lawyers, accountants or to pursue any of sundry aptitudes, before encouraging them to be Christians first and foremost, and to prepare for Christian service as preachers and preachers’ wives, elders and elders’ wives, deacons and deacons’ wives, and teachers.
Do our extended family members who are not Christians know that we put Jesus Christ first in our lives? Why not? Do our children realize that nothing is more important to their parents than serving our Lord and being faithful, useful Christians? Do they? What about our neighbors, coworkers and peers at school; do they know that we are serious about being the children of God above all else in life? How many of them would be surprised to discover that you are considered to be “a faithful member of the Church of Christ”?
Incredibly, many misguided persons around the world are prepared to die for their religious faith. Do we have enough conviction that we would be willing to die if necessary to sustain our allegiance to our Dear Lord? Many are the misguided religious zealots that will forgo the new car or the upgrade to a nicer house so that they can afford to send their offspring on mission trips to herald their false religion; would we do that? Many are the religious people that appear pious in the non-ostentatious way they dress modestly or because of the lack of salty speech flowing over their lips; could that be said of you and me? Do we look and sound like Christians?
Is it evident by what we profess, what we do, what we say and our priorities in life that we are wholly converted to the Christianity about which anyone can read upon the pages of the New Testament? Brethren, the churches of Christ in western civilization are experiencing a conversion crisis! This is nothing new, of course, and various internal movements over the years and the exuberance of youth still churn over the painfully evident conversion crisis among God’s people.
Colloquially, “If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it!” However, certainly, “If it’s busted, let’s fix it now!” The first step to betterment of anything is an objective analysis, coupled with courage to tackle what desperately needs attention. Acknowledgement of a problem precedes its remedy. Admit that there is a serious problem in the Lord’s church – in the lives of the Christians who comprise the Lord’s church – that there is a conversion crisis. Only then can we search for biblically permissible remedies to make each of us what we ought to be in Christ. Each member of the Church of Christ needs to experience genuine conversion, and that begins with you and me. Allow yourself to imagine for a moment what the congregation of which you are a member would be like, what the brotherhood worldwide would be like, if only each child of God were genuinely and wholly converted.
Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domain. CD-ROM. New York: United Bible Societies, 1988.
Merriam-Webster, I. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 1993. CD-ROM. Bellingham: Logos Research Systems, 1996.
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. CD-ROM. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.