We, evangelical Christians, often think the gospel is the A, B, Cs of how to become a Christian. The truth is it is the A to Z of the Christian life:
Timothy Beougher, in writing about Richard Baxter’s perspective on conversion said,
“It is the very drift of the gospel, the main design of the whole Word of God, to convert men from sin to God, and build them up when they are once converted.”
“…if you be not converted, you are not true Christians. You may have the name, but you have not the nature.
“It is all one to be a man, and not to to be born; as to be a true Christian, and not to be new-born: for as our conception and birth is the passage into the life and world of nature, so our conversion or new birth is the passage into the life of grace.” (Richard Baxter in, Richard Baxter and Conversion, by Timothy Beougher, p. 11)
To be born again is to truly be converted. The Gospel of Jesus was intended to change us from within and to cause us to turn from resisting God, to working with God as new creatures in Christ renewed to actively participate in God’s design for the world (Ephesians 2:10 and Philippians 2:13). This begins with personal conversion, being born anew by the Spirit of God to partake in the Kingdom of God (John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17; & Galatians 2:20). There is an end goal in mind, and a journey along the way.
Repentance is the beginning; the changes that you see as a result of conversion are the evidences that you have converted as a result of repentance onto new life in Christ. When you mess up and feel ashamed and question your salvation, this is an opportunity to turn again to the grace God supplies in the GOSPEL centric life in Jesus rooted in God’s love for humanity (John 3:16). For,
“True repentance does not come from fear alone, but also from the love of God. The heart is not changed to God without love.” (see Richard Baxter and Conversion, p. 90)
Love is what causes us to melt and appreciate what the Lord has done for us. Receiving this love, acceptance, and grace from God as a result of repentance and belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord brings about a renewed attitude in the converted:
“The difference between true assurance and blind presumption is that the former will cause men to hate sin more, while the latter causes men to sin with less remorse, because they sin with less fear.” (Beougher, p. 92)
Such was the case of a dying Lutheran Pastor in the 1990s; he had brain cancer and was on his deathbed in the hospital for several weeks. My wife had the privilege to visit with this man and noticed as he was facing death he felt the searing pain of guilt for minor sins that he knew offended his Lord. He prayed constantly, quoted scripture with every breath, and was a loving joy to be around.
Such was also the experience of Richard Baxter in his 30s when he thought for several mother that he was on his deathbed. As he suffered, he experienced more pain in minor sins than the physical pain of the maladies of cancer. He wrote in his journal what he was experiencing, which became a book, The Saints Everlasting Rest. He did not die during this time, but he learned the meaning of suffering and the joy of preparation to enter eternity. From this he learned to “preach as a dying man to dying men.” (Beougher, p. 99)
Baxter listed the desire to see others converted as one of the marks of genuine conversion. Beougher summarizes Baxter’s thoughts,
“A converted person eagerly shows others the way… Christians should not focus solely on the benefits of conversion which they receive, but should recognize that a major benefit of conversion is that it will make them useful to others.” (Beougher, p. 102)
Baxter also believed,
“Evangelism will be crippled so long as those outside the church can see no difference between believers and unbelievers. …lack of discipline in the parish churches had cause godly believers to ‘fly from our churches…because we will not yield to the healing of our own diseases.'” (Beougher, p. 131)
In other words, the Gospel must take root in a person with Holy Spirit bestowed grace coming on an individual in such a way that they are compelled to change out of a love for Jesus. “God will not be mocked. He knows the difference between head faith and heart faith. True faith results in action.” (Beougher, p. 89) And the result of GOSPEL centrality in the life of a true Christian is a better life:
‘The poorest member of the household of Christ,’ Baxter exclaimed, ‘is in a better condition than the greatest king on earth, that is unconverted.’ What benefits might a converted man [or woman] expect? They are numerous: he now has the special love and communion of the people of God, he is delivered from the power of Satan, he is united or joined to Jesus Christ, he has a pardon of all the sins that ever he committed, he is reconciled to God, he becomes an adopted son [or daughter] of God, he has the Spirit of Christ within him, all the promises of grace are his, all his duties are pleasing to God, the angels of God are commissioned to attend him, he becomes a true member of the catholic church, Christ is constantly interceding on his behalf, all things will work together for his good, he is prepared for death and judgment, he now can live a life of peace and joy, he will become useful to others, and finally, all of heaven will rejoice over his conversion.
“The unconverted lose far more each day than the pleasures of sin can ever repay. ‘Ask any of them that have escaped out of that condition that you are in,’ Baxter challenges, ‘whether they are willing to return?’ Preachers are not calling sinners into a miserable life. Quite the contrary!” (Beougher, p. 84)
You might have money, but in Christ are greater riches! You might have pleasure, but in Christ is the Master’s joy! You might be happy, but in Christ is eternal happiness! This is all offered to you, but if you refuse it, remember that you might have been happier if you would have accepted Christ Jesus by faith as Savior and Lord. And remember eternity is forever.