WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN? Are you one because you signed a pledge card, or raised your hand at a crusade, or walked to an altar and prayed the sinners prayer?
Maybe, but conversion is more nuanced than that. Many have done these things that no one today considers a Christian. That is because conversion is something God does to us. It is not something we do to ourselves. The most popular terminology used to describe this is “New Birth.” To find out if someone is a Christian an evangelical might ask, “are you born again?” That is a good question, but it too has become trite. We now have Born Again Bugs—the name of a Volkswagon dealership; “Born Again Virgins”—a term for women who have lost their virginity, but have vowed to abstain from sex until marriage; and even one of my favorite songs, “With You I’m Born Again.”
It was Jesus who first described conversion as a New Birth.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.John 3:3
Jesus likened the dramatic nature of conversion to the process a fetus experiences as it changes worlds. It is big. The baby exchanges the warm, secure environment of its mother’s womb for a cold, drafty, noisy, brightly lit, outside world. It is a major transformation. Nothing remains the same. Life is completely new. That is the nature of Christian conversion. It is like a new birth.
Many Christians who have experienced this are not always sure when it happened, but if it did, they could look back on their past life secure in the knowledge that they are not the same person, that they don’t see life the same, that they don’t relate to morality the same, and that they no longer fear death the same. That shouldn’t surprise us. No one remembers their physical birth either. How do we know we were born? We are here, and we are dramatically different from the babe that was once in the womb.
But new birth is just one description of conversion. The Bible contains others, and they all have the same dramatic flare. In one place Paul describes conversion as tasting the inheritance that awaits us in the world to come, in another as being made a new creation, and in another as heart-circumcision. Peter describes conversion as partaking of the divine nature.
In the coming posts, we will explore these different metaphors tell us about true Christian life and experience.
The bottom line is this. Conversion is a matter of the heart, and no one knows the true condition of someone’s heart but God. But there is one outward sign that all true conversions produce—spiritual fruit. Fruit points to the nature of a tree. I’m writing from Phoenix where outside my window are two trees—an orange and grapefruit. How do I know which is which? The fruit makes the nature of the tree obvious.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Matthew 7:15-20