Conversion? Experience?

great conversionsThis morning I gave my testimony.  I talked about meeting Jesus when I was in a very dark place. And halfway though, someone stopped me and asked, ‘what do you mean, you ‘met Jesus?’

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.

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Conversion? Experience?

  1. So important to remember. I’ve often wondered what we mean by ‘meeting Jesus’. I think the ordinariness can throw us – because it ought to be ‘spiritual’ or something. But if it’s about the Christ, not the conversion experience…that (or rather he) makes all the difference. No more confidence in an experience I had once, but real confidence in him. Thanks Emma :)

  2. We might even say, ‘Jesus met me’.

    In his booklet for new Christians ‘All things New’, Peter Jeffery really helpfully mentions four people in the NT (Paul, Lydia, the Ethiopian Eunuch, and one other) who each have very different ‘conversion experiences’, showing that in the end God does it, even if our individual experiences may differ or feel like ‘no experience’.

  3. Hi Emma, thanks (again) for a blog that deals with Really Important Stuff. I’ve always struggled with those Christians who talk about “meeting” Jesus and having a “personal relationship” with God, using quite normal everyday words in a context where the normal everyday meaning seems to be intended. But when pressed, the down-to-earth physicality of the everyday meanings evaporates into … well, what, exactly? I suspect that Christians destroy their credibility with non-believers using this kind of language about as effectively as when they hold to young-earth creationism.
    Thank you for going beyond the simple misleading jargon.

  4. Thanks James – ‘Jesus met me’ – far better

    Nick – I’m afraid I said the misleading jargon before going beyond it! But hopefully I’ll speak plain English next time…

    ‘recreated into the persons we’re meant to be’ – spot on

  5. Wow Emma, thanks for this! It was a good bop on the nose, making me think before I got into a real situation!

    You’re right that “meeting Jesus” is a apocalyptic (in the traditional sense) event, but explaining it is tough. Personally, I had been building up through reading on what Christianity was for some months, then I had a Romans 7 (“I do things I don’t want to do” etc.) experience.

    I suppose ultimately, though the modes of experience (like all those listed in the comments) may differ, the result is the same:

    And [Jesus] said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed [Jesus].

  6. Great question Emma, thanks for publicly sharing your struggle with this terminology we use so easily and as you’ve highlighted its not just or words that are difficult to explain its the experience itself.

    My own two pennyworth – I find two pieces of scripture helpful, mainly because they also don’t answer the question, but leave it hanging, which is true with all relationships. You can’t formulate romance or a great chat over coffee, they can only happen once and never to be repeated. The next encounter has to be different and fresh for it to be real.
    So Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob Wrestles with God – I love this because it happens in the dark, Jacob only recognises it was God afterwards, and then it scares the living daylights out of him. In the encounter God placed himself in a position of vulnerability.
    The other is from the Song of Songs, where the relationship between the lovers is so human – there are times of intimacy, but there is also times when stuff gets in the way, pride, circumstances, brothers, city guards, foxes, sleep etc. Our relationship with God is not yet perfect and just as with our own relationships they all ‘Undulate’ C.S. Lewis uses this word to describe the ups and downs of of all our relationships.

  7. You created a wonderful blog, Emma. I am very impressed because your site is aesthetically appealing, your entries are both deeply touching and well founded, and you are extremely honest. I dropped in for the first time today and I already read some entries in order to get to know you and your commenters as well.

    At first I was a bit insecure whether I should write on the issue of ‘being born again’ (the Nicodemus thing, ya know ;) ) or on this one. Well, ahem…now here we are.
    So, what does it mean to meet Jesus Christ as, for example, Saul did on his way to Damascus (Acts 9)?

    Let’s say, you wouldn’t know your hubby yet, Emma. Just imagine, all you had were a few letters which you would read over and over again because they speak to your heart. However, you don’t know how he looks like. You never heard his voice. You never met him personally, and thus you never touched or even hugged him. But his words touched your very heart. And therefore, you want to meet him.
    That’s the very stage we are in when we read the Bible, go to church, listen to sermons, learn about God, and so on and so forth.

    “You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17 – ESV)

    The first stage then is to know him who dwells with us. Our hearts “know” that God draws us, don’t they.

    The second stage is completely different from the first, It is being converted (in)to a new life, being blinded by the light like Saul, who became the apostle Paul by being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:9 – ESV).

    When a baby is born, after having left the dimly lit womb of its mother through many, many pains (not only for the mother), this new life outside is not as warm and as comfortable as the baby knew it before. Quite the contrary. It is cold, the baby can hear noise but is still blind, and alas, there is no “automatic feeding device” any more ;) – Phew! Life has become harder…
    After some time, babies’ eyes open and begin to see. They see where the noise has been coming from. And our baby knows that is must cry out loud when it’s hungry, or thirsty, or when it’s time for diaper changing.

    And behold, this new world outside is soooo interesting and adventurous that, indeed, the old life inside its mother’s womb is completely forgotten.

    That happens when someone has been born again from their “old” outwardly oriented, visible life into the “new” invisible kingdom of God (Jn 3). The whole process – both stage 1 and stage 2 – is God’s doing. And nobody can see or enter the kingdom of God without having been drawn by God to Christ before.
    In order to make a (very) long story shorter, I’d like to offer a link leading to one of my testimonies on how it was for me to meet the CHRIST of Revelation personally. If you’re interested, you might check out

    http://blogforthelordjesuschristianleaders.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/god-laid-down-his-life-for-the-creation-that-he-might-take-it-up-again/#comments

    This testimony also includes a description of how Jesus healed me from bipolar disorder and panic attacks.
    Such a new life in Christ, a life which consists of Christ (and nothing else) has been described by Paul with these words,

    “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

    As for the implications of that life, I could point to another testimony on the same blog site (the article on which I commented was “Creation – God = World”).

    Well, dear Emma, I hope my comments were a bit helpful. ;)

    All the best and every blessing to you and yours!

    Love,
    Susanne from Bavaria

  8. Welcome to the blog Susanne and thank you so much for your comment and link. It’s always so encouraging to hear how people come to faith.

    Every blessing in Jesus,
    Emma

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