I was flustered. Thrown off-course. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I met Him in the Bible. I’d thought of Him as being Big and far-off, but not Jesus the man – the person, who wants relationship. But when I read Revelation 5, I saw Him for who He was.’ (This is much more articulate than what actually came out, but anyway).
I stopped. ‘Does that answer your question?’ I said.
‘No’ was the answer. ‘No, not really’.
So I talked more. About getting to know the Lord through the bible – I recommended reading the Gospel accounts especially. But I’m not sure I answered her question. What is it to actually encounter the living Christ through Scripture? Is that just Christian jargon or does it mean something? And if so, what?
What kind of experience is conversion? Is it an experience? A powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit? A palpable sense that This! This has happened? God’s touched me and He’s in me and now I’m new. Totally new! And it’s all different.
Well, the Spirit has to work in a powerful way to open our eyes: and we are literally reborn: crossing over from death to life. But the way it happens? I don’t know. All I did was open the bible, I read some words and I knew I was being addressed personally. No light show. No dry ice. But something shifted of eternal significance – I started to recognize that Jesus was the Lord He claimed to be all along. Suddenly I discovered myself trusting that God was exactly as gracious as I saw Jesus to be.
John 5:24 describes this as crossing from death to life. That’s a dramatic event. But how do you cross from death to life? The verse says “Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life.” Completely ordinary, utterly life changing. Romans 10 says “faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.” There might be all sorts of dramatic fruit to this faith – and that fruit might come instantly or over time – but conversion is not necessarily a lightning strike. It may just be a gradual dawning.
So, I still don’t know how to answer the question I was asked this morning. I’m not sure what satisfies as a description of conversion. But as someone who has struggled with depression for a large part of my life, I’m glad conversion isn’t equivalent to emotional fireworks. What counts is meeting the real Jesus. And in the Gospels it’s fascinating that He never offers people the same words twice. He never heals in the same way. He treats us as individuals. He’s the common denominator in these encounters, not the method. Maybe, then, the best thing I can do as I talk about my story is to point, not to an experience, but to the Jesus who changed me. The point isn’t so much conversion but the Christ who converts.