Unless You Are Converted

Bible Book: Matthew  18 : 3
Subject: Salvation; Redemption; Love of God; Repentance

Matthew 18:3

A minister pulled into a gas station on the start of a holiday weekend and found it crowed. The owner finally serviced his car, saying, "I'm sorry it took me so long to get to you. But it seems that everybody waits until the last minute to get ready for a trip." "I know," said the preacher, "I have the same problem in my line of work." But what you put off today, you'll probably put off tomorrow too. So don't putt of your conversion. Put it over! For the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Your conversion is so infinitely important that our Lord began the verse with the word, "verily." This word was only used by our Lord when He was about to mention something solemn and significant. It was as if He had sounded a bell or waved a flag and shouted, "Stop! Look! Listen!"

I. Mark The Meaning

One day a soldier asked, "What's conversion?" "Let me tell him," said an officer. "We were born with our backs toward God. One day the Captain of our salvation said, 'Halt!' I stopped. Then He commanded, 'Right about face!' I turned to the Savior and I turned from my sins. That's conversion." How true!

Look at the word "convert." It comes from "con," which means with; and from "vertare," which signifies to turn. It expresses the idea of "to turn with."

It's the Lord's desire that you be converted. Your first step is to turn your face to the Lord, and then to turn your back on your old habits and haunts. But you don't do it alone. There's the word "with." The moment you're willing to turn, the Lord is there with you, giving you His presence and power, His grace and grit. He enables you to do what you've never been able to do before-to break with your old life and begin a new life. But the decision to turn must be your decision.

One evening as we were walking into a restaurant in Savannah, a man grabbed me and hiccupped, "I'm one of your converts." "You look like you're one of mine," I answered, "not the Lord's." He protested, "I came forward in one of your meetings here in Savannah." "You came to the speaker," I replied, "but did you come to the Savior? You turned from your seat," I continued, "but did you turn from your sins?" Hanging his head, he sobbed, "No, preacher; to be honest with you, I didn't."

Can it be that you've been charmed, but not changed; reformed, but not regenerated; swayed, but not saved; turned-out, but not turned-about?

II. Mark The Means

There's a twofold work in converting the soul. First, the means applied directly to the part of God to the soul from within; and second, the means applied on the part of mean to the soul from without. Let's think on these means.

First, the Savior. He makes the first move. Why? 2 Peter 3:9 answers, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Why does the Lord let you live a little longer? To give you a little more time to turn to Him. When you refuse to turn, He's left with one or two courses: to let you perish, or to keep on wooing and warning you. What would you do if you were the Lord seeking to save a person just like you? The Bible says, "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1).

Second, the Spirit. During a Billy Graham Crusade in London, a Russian nobleman came one evening. He spoke no English. Yet when the invitation was given he came forward and received the Lord Jesus as his Savior. The trained Russian-speaking counselor asked him how, knowing no English, he had understood enough of the sermon to respond to the invitation. He answered, "When I entered this place I was overwhelmed with a longing for God." Every desire you have to be delivered from destruction, every hope you have for heaven, every longing you have for the Lord, was put there by the Spirit of God. No soul has ever been saved without the striving of the Spirit of God. No soul has ever been saved without the striving of the Spirit. And if you haven't come to to Christ, you better come now. For the Father says in Genesis 6:3, "My spirit shall not always strive with man."

Third, the Scriptures. It's impossible to be converted apart from the Spirit of God and the Scriptures. Our Lord said in John 3:5, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." And what does the word "water" refer to? Baptism? No, the Bible. For 1 Peter 1:23 says, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." The Spirit of God takes the Scriptures of God and makes the child of God.

Martin Luther, while climbing Pilate's staircase in Rome, for which act the Pope had decreed an indulgence, was arrested by Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." Convicted of his sins, he called upon the name of the Lord and was converted. From that hour his motto was, "Faith alone, without works of ours, can justify a sinner before God."

Fourth, the saved. The Savior alone converts, but He doesn't convert alone. He uses the saved. One day the treasurer of Ethiopia was returning from Jerusalem in his chariot, reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the chariot." Philip ran over and heard what he was reading. He asked, "Do you understand it?" "How can I," asked the treasurer, "when there is no one to instruct me?" Then Philip, on receiving permission to get into his chariot, told him about Jesus, and he believed in Him with all of his heart. Will you let the Lord uses you to lead the lost to Him?

Fifth, the supplication. The Lord does everything with prayer. He does nothing without it. No matter who you are or where you are, you can do more through prayer than through your personality or pleading, for prayer is the greatest force on earth. It can touch the highest heaven or shake the lowest hell. There's a person by your side. You can talk to him, but before you can influence him to turn to the Lord, you must first have won the victory in the place of prayer. It's only as you're prayerful that you'll be powerful.

III. Mark The Mode

The Bible presents two sides to conversion: the divine and the human. But God takes the initiative. He gives you the impulse to turn. You see this in Jeremiah 24:7, "I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto Me with their whole heart."

Here's the divine side. The Psalmist prayed, "Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause Thine anger toward us to cease" (Psalm 85:4). Here's the human side. Paul, in his preaching, showed the people "that they should repent and turn to God" (Acts 26:20).

God calls, but He won't compel. God invites, but He won't insist. God Himself chose to make you a free moral agent. You may receive Him or reject Him. The choice is up to you.

God appeals. Will you appear? God calls. Will you come? God requests. Will you respond? "I'd like to," you may be saying, "but is it possible for me to turn? It's not easy, you know." How true. It takes twice as much power for an airplane to get off the ground as it does to fly. And the difficult thing to do is to get away from your old life and longings. But that's where the Lord comes in. He not only entreats you to turn, but He enables you to turn. You see this in Jeremiah 31:18, "Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for Thou art the Lord my God."

IV. Mark The Methods

No two conversions are alike. Some are dramatic, others are dull; some are spectacular, others are subdued; some are unique, others are uneventful.

Paul's conversion was significantly striking. As he was approaching Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground, blinded. Suddenly he heard the Lord say, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" He asked, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus." What a sensational conversion. It was Sam Jones, the Southern evangelist of a generation ago who said, "God saw that Paul was big game, and therefore had to use a big gun on him" No doubt it did take something unique to covert him. On the other hand, some very great Christian men and women were converted quietly.

Lydia's conversion was sweetly soothing. This business woman listened to Paul preach. As he preached, the Lord opened her heart to respond, and she became Europe's first convert.

Matthew's conversion was quietly quick. Sitting in his tax office, he heard the Lord Jesus say, "Follow Me!" He rose, and followed Him.

A pastor's conversion was lovingly life-changing. He decided to preach on the text, "Except ye be converted ... ye shall not enter into the kingdom of God." He thought, "How will I divide it?

Conversion: How?

Conversion: When? Conversion: Where?" He said to himself, " Conversion: What? That's turning to God.

Conversion: How? How was I converted? I don't know. I'll go to the next point.

Conversion: When? I don't know. Conversion: Where? Have I really been converted? I'm afraid I've never been converted."

He preached his own sermon to himself, dropped to his knees and asked the Lord Jesus to come into his heart, and was wonderfully converted. That was the beginning of a new life and a new ministry. Have you really experienced conversion?

V. Mark The Manifestation

Sinners and saints don't favor. Christ within means a change without. A turning is always followed by a transformation.

Think of Paul. He was a persecutor of Christ. He was converted, and he became a preacher of Christ. In due time Paul became the greatest of Christians, the profoundest of teacher, the staunchest of friends, the most intrepid of adventurers and the most dauntless of sufferers. He who once lashed the church came to love the church. He was soon her most valiant champion, her most ardent evangelist, and her most brilliant leader. O, what a change his conversion meant to Christ and to Christianity. It demonstrates with force and fervor the divine power that is at work through Christ.

Think of Matthew. He began as a publican, but he became a preacher. He robbed his own race to find favor with Rome and a fortune for himself. Rome despised him and the Hebrews hated him. But the Lord Jesus loved him, and said, "Follow Me!" Immediately he left mammon for the Master, and the one who stole became the scribe that wrote the book of Matthew. "Once a thief, always a thief." That's not the case with Matthew. The crook became a Christlike Christian.

Think of Lydia. There was a swagger of success in her stride. She was a businesswoman, alert and ambitious, successful and stunning. Lydia was a seller of purple who traded with men on even terms and beat the best of them. She heard Paul preach and turned her life over to the Lord. Social criticism? That didn't bother her. Effect on her business? She didn't think of that. She determined to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness. Her home of business became a home for believers- missionaries and ministers. The hostess for purple merchants became the hostess for prayer meetings.

Think of Peter. Oh, he was a believer, but he became childish, not childlike. He kept on doing the work, but he had lost the wonder. He no longer sat amazed in the presence of Jesus, he sat  amused. When take to the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord said to him, "Pray." But instead of being lost in supplication, he was lost in sleep. Instead of following the Lord Jesus closely, he followed Him carelessly. And instead of declaring the Lord Jesus, he denied Him. No wonder our Lord Jesus said to him in Luke 22:32, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." He needed to turn to the Lord Jesus again. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan used to say, "Begin again as though you'd never known Him and with all the simplicity of a little child." Peter turned back to the Lord again. The salty hands of the fisherman became the soothing hands of the fisher of men, the hurtful hands of a rash man became the healing hand of a rededicated man; through nailed to a cross, they beckon you and me to turn back to our Lord again and go on to live valiantly and victoriously!

VI. Mark The Moment

When should one be converted? Now! All thinkgs in the Bible and in your body, all the certainties of death and all the uncertainties of life, all the workings of the Spirit and all the warnings of the Savior say "now!"

Shakespeare said, "Delays have dangerous ends." Carlyle said, "No man has learned anything rightly until he knows and feels that every day is doomsday." Cotton said, "Tomorrow is a period nowhere to be found-unless in the fool's calendar." Tillotson said, "To be always intending to live a new life, but never to find time to set about it-this is as if a man should put off eating and drinking and sleeping from one day and night to another, till he is starved and destroyed."


Now is the time for tending. Many Christians are asking, "What time is it?" Paul answers in Living Romans 13:11-14, "you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up for the coming of the Lord is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is far gone, the day of His return will soon be here. So quit the evil deeds of darkness and put on the armor of right living, as we who live in the daylight should! Be decent and true in everything you do so that all can approve your behavior. Don't spend your time in wild parties and getting drunk or in adultery and lust, or fighting, or jealously. But ask the Lord Jesus Christ to help you live as you should, and don't make plans to enjoy evil." Now is the time for toiling. God says to each of His children, "Go work today in My vineyard"- Matthew 21:28. One pastor confessed, "my church is full of 'lily Christians'; they 'toil not, neither do they spin.'" Isn't it time you put some motion to your devotion, some expression to your impression and toil for the Lord?