Conversion is Active and Passive
The active side of conversion is that it involves man. Man is called to work out his own salvation. This is an activity whereby man is called to repent and flee to the Saviour.
There is also a passive side to conversion: God gives repentance and He works conversion in the soul; He changes the heart. He works in the sinner both to will and to do by His good pleasure.
The command is to work out your own salvation, for the Lord works in you both to will and do according to His pleasure. God converts the sinner and the sinner then turns to the Lord. We may never minimize the one or maximize the other. Both are clearly taught in Scripture. The Lord gives repentance (Acts 5: 31), but the sinner is called to repent (Mk.1: 15).
Conversion is of Vital Importance
Conversion is of vital importance in one's life because God's Word emphasizes the need for personal conversion. In conversion a sinner turns from his sinful ways and starts to live for the Lord.
The reality of our life is that by nature all of us live with our backs turned against God. If we continue to live like this we will succumb to eternal destruction. Therefore we must turn from our evil way and walk on the path of God's commandments.
Repentance or conversion has three aspects of turning. There is a turning to self--seeing our guilt and the mischief we have done. Secondly, there is a turning away from sin; and finally, a turning toward God to walk in His ways.
Conversion always consists of breaking with sin and turning to the service of the Lord. In this way our sins are forgiven, peace is experienced and God's honour is proclaimed.
The Sinner is Both Active and Passive
In conversion the sinner is active as well as passive. God converts a sinner--this is the passive side of conversion that man experiences. But in conversion man repents and turns to the Lord. This is the active side of conversion. Therefore, in conversion, the sinner is passive as well as active.
The active work in conversion depends on the passive aspect of conversion. The late Prof. G. Wisse writes: "Because God converts a person inwardly and irresistibly, he repents in very deed to God." The apostle PaulÕs admonition to the Philippians, "work out your own salvation," is derived explicitly from the work of God--"For it is God which worketh in you."
Some Emphasize the Passive Element
Some people like to emphasize the passive side of conversion: man cannot convert himself; God must convert man. This can easily lead to a false passivity. In that case people excuse themselves and hide behind their inability. They will even go as far as to blame God for their unconverted state. They rest at ease, not realizing their great guilt before God. Their inability to work conversion has never become their guilt
But when God's Spirit works, He causes sinners to weep because of their inability to work conversion. Man's passivity in conversion is a result of our fall in Adam. When one is awakened by God's Spirit, he will see his misery. He will also realize his inability to work any good before the Lord. He will grieve because of these things and will be filled with deep sorrow.
At this point, the need for God to turn the sinner becomes uppermost in such a personÕs prayer. He sees his great need for God. He bewails his own misery and he realizes that unless almighty God intervenes, he is lost forever. True humility is imparted to the soul and on his knees he prays with Jeremiah 31:18, "Turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for Thou art the LORD my God."
Some Emphasize the Active Element
Some people like to emphasize the active side of man's conversion. They claim that man must bring forth fruits. Man is considered to be able to do this in his own strength or with some help from the Lord. All the emphasis rests on man's presumed abilities. Man has to fulfil his obligations and duties.
But must man not bring forth fruits worthy of repentance? Is the Lord not looking for fruit on the unfruitful fig tree (Luke 13)? Indeed, man must bring forth fruit, but these are the fruits of God's own work in the soul. Without the Lord Jesus Christ we can do nothing. God converts sinners. He gives His people a new heart and then also prepares the good works them to walk in. GodÕs Spirit prepares His people to walk in good works.
The conversion of a sinner is God's work. Emphasizing the active side of conversion breeds pride and conceit and deprives God of His honour.
The Work of the Holy Spirit in Conversion
The Holy Spirit works both the active and the passive element in conversion. By nature man is an enemy of God and unwilling to repent and bow down before the Lord. We lack the desire as well as the ability to work our own conversion. This is because we lie in the midst of death (Eph.4: 18; 1 Cor.2: 14; Eph.2: 1).
This inability increases man's guilt. When the Holy Spirit converts the sinner He shows him that both his unwillingness and inability come from his depraved nature. Then the sinner acknowledges that he is lying in the midst of death. He grieves and mourns because he cannot grieve and mourn, as he should. He is astonished at the hardness of his heart and he is convinced that a complete change of heart is needed. He realizes that he needs an act of sovereign grace to deliver him. When the Lord thus starts to work salvation in the soul, He convicts of five things: sinfulness, guilt, ignorance, helplessness, and misery.
The Spirit Leads to Christ
The Holy Spirit does still more in the work of conversion. He works towards Christ so that His beauty is unfolded to the soul. The soul then desires to lay hold of Christ. The presence of hope begins to be experienced--hope in God, in Christ Jesus.
But often, after this initial work of the Spirit, such a person can become afraid that he is becoming less concerned about his sin and misery. The sinner becomes alarmed that he is losing some of the initial convictions. He is afraid that he is becoming too cheerful and even has become easy-going. He experiences a loss. He cannot be sad as he used to be because the Lord is showing him more and more of Christ. That gives a measure of joy. But he is afraid to rejoice, except with trembling, for he has not forgotten his initial convictions.
GodÕs Spirit at length brings such a soul brought to a more settled peace. Fears no longer prevail and the soul becomes more and more focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. He learns to rest on Christ alone for his salvation and entrusts his soul completely to Him, Who bled and died on Calvary.
If you ask such a person, are you converted? He will probably answer, Òno,Ó or ÒI donÕt know.Ó Or he may say, ÒI do not dare say that; but one thing I do know: once I was blind but now I see, and my hope is on the Lord Jesus Christ and His grace.Ó
The Spirit Makes the Soul Active
The soul now becomes more active in going to God through Christ Jesus. Matters are seen with different eyes. William Plumer writes: "He looks at time and eternity, sin and holiness, truth and error, the Bible, the Saviour, the pious, the world, life and death, things present and things to come, in a new light. In particular he is pleased with the fulness, freeness, power, kindness, and glory of Christ. He loves and admires the Saviour for what He is and for what He was, for what He shall be, for what He has done, for what He is doing, and for what He shall yet do to save perishing men. He loves what Christ loves and hates what Christ hates."
The soul can then be so overcome with the love of God that he weeps tears of joy because the Lord looked down on a sinner like he is and shows him so much undeserved mercy.
The Sinner Works Out His Own Salvation
In this manner the Lord enters the heart, renews the spirit and leads the soul to walk after Him. The sinner manifests sorrow over sin, begins to hate it and flees from it. He shows love to God and His service and has concern and love for his neighbour. He desires to live, not for himself, but for the Lord and His service. The sinner becomes activated and works out his own salvation.
He Òcuts off his right handÓ and Òplucks out his right eye,Ó if these would tempt him to sin. He takes up the cross and follows the Lord Jesus Christ and crucifies his flesh. He runs the race and fights the good fight of faith. The Christian is activeÑyet it is all God's work in him. ÒWithout Me ye can do nothing,Ó the Lord Jesus says.