And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.Matt. 18:3
Two Key Words
In this Bible study called what does it mean to be converted, you will note two key words in this passage of scripture. They are the conditional word, except, and the word, convert, or be converted. On these, hang the entire message from this Bible passage in which Jesus is placing a prerequisite for gaining entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He is not saying, you should be converted, he is not saying it is recommended to be converted, he is saying, except ye be converted. This point needs to be at the forefront of this scriptural message from Jesus. It is not an option, it is a condition, and while some may not like being told what to do, the Lord Jesus is making this a clear and unambiguous mandate for seekers of faith.
The Inquisitive Pharisee
Jesus once conversed with a religious leader, a Pharisee, named Nicodemus. This lofty fellow came to Jesus at night and started the conversation by acknowledging that Jesus came from God because of the miracles Jesus performed. But there is a deeper meaning and intent was implied on why Nicodemus came to Jesus. It is also noteworthy that this event took place at night and not in the daytime inside a synagogue. Perhaps a more private time and discussion took place so as not to ruffle any of his religious colleagues’ feathers so to speak.
The Eternal Response
The deeper meaning and intent however did not slip by Jesus since he responded with a direct message about conditional conversion in order for people to even see the kingdom of God. This ensued as noted in John, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [John 3:3] There is that word except again as a condition to the second part of the message. There is no way of bypassing the word except. It again is not left as an optional add on in the quest to get to heaven because it is the very process to have eternal life.
Still not sure? Well, Jesus reiterated the point just a few verses later, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” [John 3:7] Again note the mandate, ye must, or in today’s words, you must. Not you should, or maybe consider it, or how about, but, you must. In short, Jesus is making the point that being born again is the gateway to heaven. Being born again, or born from above, is a spiritual conversion, thus the meaning behind the word, converted, from this week’s scripture reading.
It has nothing to do with mental aptitude, intellectual knowledge, or your standing and position in society or in a church. Hence the follow through on the verse with the phrase, “and become as little children”. This is where Nicodemus got it all wrong in his response by asking how a grown man can be born again in his mother’s womb. He was thinking of a physical rebirth but Jesus was referring to a spiritual rebirth. To be born a second time physically, if physically possible, would merely produce the same sinful state in which we were born into in the first place.
Born from Above
This is why the apostle Peter described the new spiritual birth as something that is incorruptible by saying in his letter, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” [1 Pet. 1:23] This is why when the disciples of Jesus were confused and perplexed over some of his preaching that he explained to them, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life. ” [John 6:63]
Quickeneth is an older word for what is now known as to come alive or to give life to something and in this case, Jesus is referring to the spirit. He emphasizes the futility of thinking we can do anything remotely like this in the flesh or in our physical bodies when he says this profits us with nothing.
Inheritance of Sin
This is the point for seekers of faith; the sin we have inherited from the first man Adam has resulted in a world of the walking dead spiritually. This is what people do not realize and when they are born again, or born from above, they are converted, they are quickened, they are given a new life spiritually.
The apostle Paul wrote of this, “And you [hath he quickened,] who were dead in trespasses and sins.” [Eph.1:23] The hard reality of the world is that outside of Christ, people are dead spiritually, lost in their sins. This is why Paul’s dissertation in his letter to the church in Rome outlines this, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” [Rom. 5:12] He is referring to a spiritual death in this passage. We are all spiritually dead without Christ.
Yes, we could conceivably blame it all on Adam for sinning in the garden of Eden, cursing us all with the inheritance of sin but more importantly now it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that brings us new life as Paul shared, “Therefore as by the offence of one [judgment came] upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [the free gift came] upon all men unto justification of life.” [Rom. 5:18]
Paul also declared in his letter to Rome about the fateful condition of mankind, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” [Rom. 3:10-11] In our sinful state before coming to Christ we are condemned before the eternal judge of heaven and earth and the only path of redemption is through the Lord Jesus as stated, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” [John 3:18]
Penalty for Sin
Now we see another word introduced of crucial importance and that is believe, or from a Christian perspective to have faith in Jesus and his provision of atonement upon the cross at Calvary. Jesus paid the penalty for your sin and mine when he was crucified on the cross; this was the blood atonement that replaced all other sacrifices practiced in the Old Testament. This is the New Testament or new covenant between God and Man.
This is why Jesus made the proclamation that no other person could ever make when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” [John 14:6b] Some people may take offense to this but Christianity is an exclusive religion, often defined as a relationship with Christ. It is exclusive because there is only one way to get to heaven and Jesus is clearly stating in this passage that he is the way, the truth and the life. The life in this case, is in giving new spiritual life to people who are dead in their sins.
The Strait Gate
This is why Jesus preached the message of only one way for seekers of faith to get to heaven when he told people to, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” [Matt. 7:13-14] Jesus is the straight gate, Jesus is the narrow way and the way of the world is the broad way that leads to destruction and sadly many are going that way.
Notice how Jesus states the narrow way leads to life? This is the spiritual life being referred to in this Bible study. It is not physical life, it is being born again spiritually, quickened, converted through Christ the Lord. There is only one person who can do this and that is Jesus. As the apostle John declared, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” [John 1:12-13]
The Power of God
He is the one who has the power to convert us, not our willpower, not self help books, not spiritual gurus, no one but the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, take note of the reiterated message in this conversion of being born again in that it has nothing to do with being born of the flesh, or a physical birth. It has nothing to do with the flesh, it has nothing to do with man’s will. Always take note of the word “but” in scripture. It often negates that which is stated beforehand and in this case it is used after all of these futile attempts where John then states, “…but of God”. The Lord Jesus Christ is the life giver as further stated in the scriptures, “[That] was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [John 1:9]
In this study on what it means to be converted, let us also consider scripture from the Old Testament to further build the case upon the meaning of conversion. King David wrote of this in the Psalms when he spoke in great contrition in his plea to the Lord, “[Then] will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” [Ps. 51:13] He also stated in this passage on the premise of conversion from the Lord, “The law of the LORD [is] perfect, converting the soul.” [Ps. 19:7] Both verses mean one and the same about conversion.
The prophet Isaiah also prophesied on the need for conversion in his writings, “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” [Is. 6:10] Conversion involves healing of the spirit and soul as it is born again through Christ the Lord.
Notice in the New Testament how Jesus stated this same message during his earthly ministry as noted, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and [their] ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with [their] eyes, and hear with [their] ears, and should understand with [their] heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” [Matt. 13:5] Conversion is prevalent in both the Old and New Testament scriptures.
Similar messages of this nature can be cross referenced in John 12:40 and Acts 28:7. Jesus also proclaimed, “That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and [their] sins should be forgiven them.” [Mark 4:12]
Importance of Repentance
Note the importance of repentance in tandem with conversion for without conviction of personal sin within, there is little need or acknowledgement for a savior through the Lord Jesus. This is why Peter preached to the religious leaders after the resurrection of Christ took place by saying, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” [Acts 3:19] This is why the apostle James taught with a sense of admonishment by saying, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” [Jam. 5:19-20]
As Christians, we are to continue on the path of righteousness which is imputed unto us in Christ as shared four times by Paul in Romans chapter four. Paul also writes about how our converted life is to continue as a life that is transformed in Christ when he emphatically stated, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” [Rom. 12:1-2]
Time for Contemplation
Let us close off this Bible study by taking a pause and asking some thought provoking questions of ourselves. Do we see our need for repentance over our sin? Do we realize that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life as foretold in the scriptures? Do we see our need to be converted in Christ, to be spiritually born again from above, not by the power of men but by the power of God?
This is where Christianity begins dear readers. It is not through mere mental assent or head knowledge. It is not through taking a course or obtaining a degree in religious studies. It is not by following some self-proclaimed prophet of God, and it is not following the false and ill-fated belief that all roads lead to heaven or that being a good person will gain you access into heaven. It is by falling at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of your sins and believing upon him for salvation. Will you be saved today? Will you make this day the day where you will be with Jesus for eternity? Why not come to him in prayer now before it is too late.
Bible Study Questions
- If you have previously read the book of Matthew, do you recall if you stopped at this passage to think about the importance of it?
- The Pharisee named Nicodemus became instrumental in coordinating a respectful burial for Jesus, true or false? Hint John 19:39.
- Although the Bible often refers to our sinful condition as inherited from Adam, why do you think many people feel they are fine without Jesus and see themselves as a good person?
- Fill in the blanks from Matt. 7:13-14, , Enter ye in at the _________ __________: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to ___________________, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto ___________, and few there be that find it.
- Who was it in the scriptures that claimed to be the way, the truth and the life? Hint John 14:6.
- Repentance is not important to conversion, true or false? Be careful on this question. Hint Acts 3;19.
- Have you ever identified with the man noted in the last paragraph who trusted in his riches and possessions? If so, what can you do now to change that perspective?