Week 36 – God-centered Conversion
Prayer. Our Father, we love You. You are so worth our lives. May Your name be exalted among our local and global communities. God, do exceedingly and abundantly more than anyone in this room has thought to pray for. Fill out hearts; renew our lives with Your redemptive mission for all nations. May we all receive a fresh, authoritative Word from You today. In Jesus Name. Amen.
I would like to introduce to you three people today. The first is an 8 year boy who reluctantly went to a Vacation Bible School. On one of the days, the teacher described the wonder and beauty of heaven along with how horrible hell would be. Then she said, “who here wants to go to heaven?” This boy, along with others, raised his hand. Then teacher prayed a quick prayer and asked those whose hands were raised to repeat her prayer in their heads. After the prayer the teacher with excitement affirmed that they were now all Christians and going to heaven and never had to worry about going to hell. So this boy was glad he went to VBS that day. But soon there was a problem. Despite and a few other meaningful experiences with God this decision produced no sustained change in his life as a child or teenager. There was no desire for prayer, God’s Word, or to be with the people of God. I can verify this story to be true because that boy was me.
The second person was a girl, named Jenny, whom I met while in college. I was interested in her because of her faith in Jesus. She had been actively involved in her youth group. She had been on a few missions trip and enjoyed teaching children about God. I thought to myself this is the kind of woman that I would date. So you might imagine my great surprise when one day at church she went forward to become a Christian. She told me that despite all of her prayers to accept and rededicate herself to Jesus. And all the times people affirmed that she was indeed a Christian because she was so involved in church. How could she not be a Christan? However, she finally realized she never fully embraced God’s grace. She still believed that her actions in some way would play a role in going to heaven. She didn’t believe she was broken and powerless because of her sins. She did not believe she was spiritually dead. Yet all this changed for her in college.
The third person is a man named Tom. He grew up going to church and found ways to serve in whatever church he was attending. He served on almost every committee there was in church. He taught Bible studies and was a one of the spiritual leaders of his church before he moved to another church where my friend is the pastor. In fact, Tom’s former pastor called my pastor friend telling him how Tom was a man of God and that the church would be so blessed if Tom decided to become a member. However, there was a problem. God did not have a relationship with Tom. He never in his life changed his story to God’s. It was always about bringing God into his story to bless and make his life better. No one challenged him that following Jesus on his own terms was not Christianity. Tom never embraced the cost of following Jesus. He always thought the cost to become a Christian was all on God. Now you may wonder if Tom looked for another church to affirm he was a Christian but instead he humbled himself and left his kingdom to participate in Jesus kingdom. He realized he could not be in God’s kingdom when he was so full of himself.
Now I am convinced that these 3 stories are far too common in today’s American church. (show slide 2) So it is critical, eternally significant that we, the Church, understand conversion. You and I must sift through the clichés and traditions and ask the question, ‘what happens when someone is saved by God’s grace? When one is brought out of darkness and into the light? In other words, what happens when someone is genuinely converted by God? We must allow the Word of God to speak to us and this past week it did through an O.T. text, Ezekiel 36
. This passage we are about to read gives incredible insight into the how, why, and what of a God-centered conversion. And if any of you are wondering what you can learn about becoming a Christian through the O.T. this text speaks to the promise of the new covenant that God established in and through the perfect and sufficient work and person of Jesus Christ.
So if you have your Bibles turn to Ezekiel 36
. I would encourage you to follow along. If you forgot your Bibles make a note to bring it with you next week until then it is pg. 755 in the Bibles in your seat pockets. I am going to begin reading in v. 16. As you turn there here’s a quick overview of Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel was called by God in 593 B.C. to be a mouthpiece to His people in Babylon. Chs. 1-25 answers the question why God brought judgment on His own people by carrying them to a godless culture. The middle of the book is Ezekiel pronouncing God’s judgment among the surrounding nations to let them know that their godlessness will be punished as well. And then in the last 12 chapters God gives His people a fresh vision of hope with what He is going to do in the future. So let’s listen carefully as God reveals His truths about a biblical conversion.
Read vv. 16-20. Here God, through the prophet Ezekiel, is recounting Israel’s sins which brought His rightful judgment. Now profaning God’s name is not using bad language but rather (show slide 3) disobeying His commandments and failing to participate in His redemptive mission. This led the nations around Israel to view God in a way that demonstrated God was strong, great, and glorious. God was viewed like any other god. So when God’s people profaned His name it brought shame and embarrassment. So what is God going to do? Let’s continue reading vv. 21-23. God cares about how the other people groups are viewing Him so for the sake of His glorious reputation He is going to act. This leads to the first truth of a God-centered conversion that answers the why: (show slide 4) The supreme motivation behind conversion is the glory of God.
Let me ask you why does God save sinners? The common answer is because God loves us. He does not want any to be lost and receive the rightful punishment that our sins deserve. This is true but there is more to the story. This is why the book of Ezekiel is so important to read. Over 70 different times in Ezekiel God says I am doing what I am doing so that the nations will know who I am. And remember when the Bible using nations it means ethnic people groups. So God saves people because God loves his glory and wants the world to know that He is the Lord. So yes God loves you and me, but ultimately He loves His glory. This is why God acts for the sake of His name, not for our sake. I do not know if you ever thought about that before but this is the reality we see in Ezekiel. This truth is also in other books of the O.T., like Isaiah, but Ezekiel is shouting what we just read in v. 22. Let this soak in. Let it burn into your hearts and minds. The supreme motivation behind conversion is the glory of God. So Travis, are you saying that God’s primary motive in saving me is something different than His love for me? I’m not saying that. God is saying that. You and I are not at the centered of God’s universe so let’s remember when He acts in love towards us it is for His glory. We are saved to know Him, to enjoy His grace but also to share that with our local and global neighbors. God says in v. 23 that He wants to show His holiness through His people to the nations. I hope you see that here in Ezekiel 36
. Now many Christians are guilty of following Jesus on their own terms, believing a self-centered Christianity is the real deal. But the truth is that God created, saved, and blessed you and me for His glory. God saved me out of His amazing love for something greater – His glory to be known in my local and global communities.
Let’s continue to read vv. 24-32to discover the 2nd truthwhich answers the ‘how’ question to a God-centered conversion: (show slide 5) The sole means of conversion is the grace of God. Let’s read.Over 13 times from vv. 22 to 32 God says I will do this or that. And according to Jeremiah 17:9
the hearts of humanity are beyond cure. This means there is nothing anybody can do to fix their sin problem. Their only hope is to receive a new heart that God in His grace wants to freely give. This leads to the third truth about a God-centered conversion: (show slide 6) At conversion, God forgives and fills us with His Spirit. Let me read vv. 25-27 again. God made some huge promises to Israel here which have life-changing implications. Israel had a heart of stone but God promises that He is going to recreate His people from the inside out. Every genuine Christian knows that there was a point in their lives where their hearts were unresponsive and unyielding to God but when they received a new heart from God it changed them. Now they are responsive and yielding to Him. This cannot be manufactured by religious activities or by following a religious routine. Now this cleansing in v. 25 speaks is not like taking a shower. Rather it is a deep cleanse that removes the stain of sin once and for all. Remember God does this. We cannot clean up our lives. Biblical conversion happens the moment we receive that new heart and spirit.
And this new heart and new spirit leads to the fourth truth of a God-centered conversion: (show slide 7) Conversion will lead to new desires and wants. Our greatest need in life is not to be more religious, spiritual, or just nicer people. No, our greatest need is a new heart and in conversion God gives us what we truly need. This new heart leads to new desires and wants, a continually hunger to know God and join His mission. Of course, we can suppress these desires and hunger but they are still there. Why? The Spirit of the living God is living and dwelling in a person now. And the Spirit of God always longs for the glory of God. The Spirit of God will not keep quiet when we live for ourselves or try to bring God into our story. Despite our attempts to suppress the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will not remain quiet. He continues to work and faithfully molds and shapes us. This is why if a person says they have been a Christian for 10 years and there is hardly any longing to know and express God’s glory it is only right to wonder if the living Spirit of God is in that person. To be clear you do not need the Spirit of God to have the right information, the right behavior, and participate in the right activities but only the Spirit of God longs for the glory of God and His redemptive mission which is the fruit of a biblical conversion.
Now to wrap up this message let me share the key point in all of this: (show slide 8) profession of faith without transformation of life is not a biblical conversion. For example, if you and I had a lunch appointment but I showed up 15 minutes late and told you the reason why I was late was because I got a flat tire on I-15. But as I was changing the tire I accidentally stepped into the freeway and a semi truck hit me. Not going to lie it hurt Jbut I got back up finished changing the tire and drove so I could have lunch with you. Now I imagine you would either think I was either lying or crazy because if I really got hit by a semi truck I would look very different. So people of Sandy Ridge I stand on the authority of the Bible, which is the only safe ground to stand upon. If a person professes to follow Jesus then they will look different than before they made that decision. This is not to say we will not have struggles and seasons of set-backs but what I am saying is a genuine conversion will change a person. People will be able to see it. Why? That person has new desires and wants because of their new heart and spirit. They will long for the glory of God not because their lives are together but because of the Spirit of God is living in them.
Now one specific way Christians today profane God’s name is failing to call people to repent, meaning to change their stories. It is no longer about them or even asking God to help them be a better person. It is about God recreating them with a new heart and spirit so they become a new person with new desires and wants. Recently, I read The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham and in it the story is told of how Billy Graham told his team repeatedly that when someone raised a hand, came forward in a service, prayed a prayer one should view them as an inquirer and not immediately label them as a Christian. Why? Billy said only God knows what their motive and understanding was. But over time people will be able to see if their actions reveal there are these new desires and wants. If not, then there was no biblical conversion. So people of Sandy Ridge let’s lead people into the truths of God-centered conversions not for our sake, or the sake of Sandy Ridge but only for the sake of God’s holy name. At this time I invite ? to come up to pray.