Part of the 9Marks Healthy Church Study Guide series, this study explains what God does and what we do in conversion, as well as the implication for us and for the church in being saved.
About the Author
Bobby Jamieson is a PhD candidate in New Testament and affiliated lecturer in New Testament Greek at the University of Cambridge. He previously served as assistant editor for 9Marks. Jamieson lives in Cambridge, England, with his wife and three children and is a member of Eden Baptist Church.
Read an Excerpt
DO WE NEED TO CHANGE?
I like to think that I'm open to criticism, but when my wife actually offers some constructive feedback I get defensive and touchy. What's going on here?
1. It seems that many people get offended if someone even suggests that they need to change. What are some reasons why people get offended at this?
2. Do you get upset when someone suggests you need to change? If so, why? What does that show about your heart?
All people desperately need to change because by nature we are alienated from God, rebellious toward God, and subject to the wrath of God.
Regardless of the fact that many people would oppose this idea, the Bible teaches that all human beings are in need of fundamental change.
Consider what Paul says about humanity in Romans chapter 1:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (1:18–32)
1. Who is Paul talking about in these verses?
2. What are all the things that Paul says people do in this passage? List them all below. Does anything Paul says strike you, surprise you, or raise questions for you?
3. What is God's attitude toward humanity as described in this passage?
4. What does Paul say can be known about God (vv. 19–20)? How are these things made known (v. 20)?
5. How should we respond to this knowledge (v. 21)?
6. What have people done to the truth about God (See vv. 18, 21, 22, 23)?
7. What has happened to our minds and hearts as a result? (See v. 28.)
8. How would you summarize this passage's teaching about human nature and God's attitude toward humanity as a whole?
9. In light of this passage, how would you respond to someone who said that human beings are fundamentally good?
10. What evidence do you see in the world that this passage's teaching is true?
11. Why do you think it's important for us as Christians to clearly proclaim that people are in need of radical change? What would happen if we muted this part of the Christian message?
12. What are some ways that the local church as a whole can clearly communicate this need for change?
As Christians, we rejoice that this bad news about humanity is not the end of the story. We know that because God is good, he will punish sin. This is a fearful prospect since, as we've seen, all humans are rebels against God. Yet we also know that because God is merciful, he sent Jesus Christ into the world to live the perfectly obedient life that we should have lived and to die on the cross as a substitute for the sins of all who would ever trust in him. On the cross, God poured out his wrath against sin onto Jesus — not for any sin that Jesus had committed, but for our sins. And after three days Jesus rose from the grave, conquering death and vindicating his claim to be Lord and Savior.
And now God calls all people everywhere to the most radical, fundamental change possible: to repent of our sins and trust in Christ in order to be forgiven, accepted by God, reconciled to him, and given eternal life in fellowship with him.
The bad news is, we are in desperate need of change. The good news is that through Christ's death and resurrection, the change we need is possible. Our sinful natures can be renewed in God's image by the Holy Spirit, and we can be reconciled to God through Christ.
In the following studies we're going to consider more about how God changes us through the gospel, beginning with the fact that through Christ, the change we need is possible.CHAPTER 2
IS CHANGE POSSIBLE?
Many people today believe that people can't really change. We may be able to make some minor adjustments here and there, but we can't fundamentally change who we are.
1. What are some reasons why people believe this?
2. Do you think that people can really change? Why or why not?
By God's grace, through the gospel, we can change. Through faith in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive a new nature that delights to do God's will.
In Acts 9 we read of the radical change God brought about in the life of Saul of Tarsus, who is primarily known to us as the apostle Paul.
1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" 5 And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." 13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 9:1–22)
1. What is Saul doing at the beginning of this passage (vv. 1–2)?
2. What happened to Saul as he was approaching Damascus (vv. 3–9)?
3. How does Ananias initially respond when the Lord Jesus tells him to go lay hands on Saul? What does this say about Saul's reputation (vv. 10–14)?
4. Describe how Saul's life changed immediately after his conversion (vv. 19–22).
5. How did Paul's understanding of Jesus change as a result of this encounter? What did he believe about Jesus before and after this decisive meeting? (See vv. 20–22.)
6. How is Saul's conversion similar to all other Christians' conversions?
Obviously not all conversions are dramatic and instantaneous like Paul's. Some people come to Christ gradually, over a long time. And some people can't pinpoint the exact time of their conversion. That's okay. The Holy Spirit works in wonderfully diverse ways.
7. What are some other ways Paul's conversion might be different from other Christians' conversions?
In 1 Timothy 1, the apostle Paul reflects back on the great change God worked in his life, which began with the event we just considered:
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:12–17)
8. What are the different ways Paul describes himself (whether at present or in the past) in this passage?
9. What did Paul receive from Christ (v. 13)?
10. What is the "trustworthy saying" Paul gives us? What does this saying deserve (v. 15)?
11. For what purpose did Paul receive mercy (v. 16)?
12. What does it mean that Paul is an example of those who were to believe in Christ (v. 16)? What does this teach us about the possibility of real change through the gospel?
In case you're tempted to think that change only happens to apostles, consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
13. What does Paul say that some of us were?
14. What does Paul say has happened to us? How have we been changed?
15. In light of all three of these passages, how would you respond to someone who said that people can't really change?
16. How should this good news that we can change in the most fundamental way through the gospel impact:
a) Our prayers for our own lives?
b) Our prayers for others?
c) Our evangelism?
d) How we handle conflict in the church?
e) How we interact with difficult or immature church members?CHAPTER 3
What Is the Change We Need?
1. What are some things people commonly admit that they should change? What are some things people may be unwilling to admit that they should change?
2. In what ways do you think you should change? Why?
Jesus teaches that in order to enter God's kingdom, we must be born again. God himself must give us a new nature in order that we would believe in Christ and do God's will.
In John 3, Jesus confronts Nicodemus with his need for radical change that can only come from God. We read,
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:1–15)
1. What does Nicodemus say about who Jesus is? How does he know (v. 2)?
2. What does Jesus say to Nicodemus in response (v. 3)? Why do you think Jesus says this?
3. Does Nicodemus understand what Jesus means (v. 4)?
In Ezekiel 36:24–28, God promises his people that one day,
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
4. With this in mind, what do you think Jesus means when he says, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (v. 5)?
5. Read verses 7 and 8. In what way are people born of the Spirit like the wind and its effects? What is the point of Jesus's comparison?
6. Does Nicodemus understand what Jesus is talking about in verses 7 and 8?
7. What does Jesus say about Nicodemus's failure to understand (vv. 10–13)?
8. What does Jesus say must happen to himself? What will be the result (vv. 14–15)?
9. Considering the passage as a whole, how would you summarize the change that Jesus says must happen in someone's life in order for them to enter the kingdom of God?
10. How does this change come about? Is it something that we can bring about of our own power? (See also John 1:12–13.)
11. What are some common objections to the belief that you must be born again in order to enter God's kingdom? How would you respond to them biblically?
12. How should the reality that we must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God impact:
a) Our prayers for others?
b) Our evangelism?
c) Any notion that we can win God's favor with our morality or good works?
d) How we relate to those who claim to be Christians but whose lives don't match up to that claim?CHAPTER 4
HOW DOES THIS CHANGE HAPPEN?
1. Have you ever experienced a surprising, unexpected change in your life? How did it come about?
In the past few studies we've been considering conversion, the radical change that comes about when a person turns from their sin and trusts in Christ. In this study we're going to focus on how conversion happens.
Through the gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives new life to spiritually dead sinners. Conversion happens when God grants us a new nature and supernaturally enables us to repent of our sins and believe the gospel.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Real Change: Conversion"
Copyright © 2012 9Marks.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
An Important Mark of a Healthy Church: A Biblical Understanding of Conversion Mark Dever 11
Week 1 Do We Need to Change? 15
Week 2 Is Change Possible? 19
Week 3 What Is the Change We Need? 23
Week 4 How Does This Change Happen? 27
Week 5 What Are the Fruits of This Change? (Part 1) 31
Week 6 What Are the Fruits of This Change? (Part 2) 35
Week 7 Conversion and the Church 39
Teacher's Notes 43
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Jeramie Rinne, Senior Pastor, South Shore Baptist Church, Hingham, Massachusetts
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