What is the Nature of Conversion?

Mar 10, 2020 | Article, Bible Q & A, Podcast, Theology

As it turns out, many Christians are confused about how and what happens when a person “gets saved.”

This is Christianese language we’re all used to using, but sometimes, it can be hard to communicate to others what we mean. I’ve dealt with the distinctness of Christian salvation here.

In this piece, I’d like to discuss three elements of salvation. When does conversion take place in a person’s life? What evidence will be demonstrated when this happens? For how long is a person saved?


An unfortunate, yet common mistake many Christians make is expecting others to conform their moral ideals to ours. According to the Bible, this is not possible.

Actually, there’s quite an interesting tension here. Romans 2:14-15 declares that all will be held accountable precisely because God’s moral law has been written on the hearts of all he has created.

In other words, on judgment day, nobody will be standing in moral judgment over Yahweh, their Creator.

And yet, in apparent contradistinction, 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 reads:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

This passage seems to suggest that it’s no wonder the “natural” man doesn’t do things God’s way! To do things his way requires spiritual discernment, which is impossible for the unbeliever.

We often tend to legalism, unfortunately. Such is the human way.

When others don’t think, walk, talk, or act just like us, we treat them as outsiders. They’re not part of the club.

While in a certain sense this may be true, it should not cause us to lose focus on the real goal and approach unbelievers with faulty expectations.

As the old saying goes, “We catch ’em, God cleans ’em!”

When it comes to bringing others to Christ, let’s focus on our task. Our part of the mission is to sow the seed and introduce people to Christ. He takes care of the rest.

Before moving on, let me caveat the above just a bit: I am not saying we should stay out of socio-political issues that derive from a Christian view of morality. For example, I think Christians ought to do all they (ethically) can to lobby for legislation against abortion.

As sad as the case may be, it should not be surprising to us how many wish to celebrate their ability to control life and death. Frankly, they want to play God. Therefore, the best way to contradict their efforts is to bring them to the real God, that they might submit to him.

Everything—and I do mean everything—changes in the person who truly submits and surrenders to God.


Well if everything changes, that suggests there must be some evidence in the life of a person who decides to follow Jesus.

Indeed, this is precisely what we should expect. In a well-known discourse written to the church at Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes the following:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:19-26)

I think vs. 24 is a marvelous statement of what it means to turn from death unto life; from unbeliever to believer: And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

The Galatians were confused people on these matters. They were being influenced by a group who taught that salvation required works in order to be effective.

In contrast, Paul and others taught that works were a byproduct of salvation, not something that contributed to it.

So we have yet another arena of Christian theology where the concept of “evidence” comes into play. The evidence that a prophet was from the Lord was simply that the prophecy would come to pass (see Duetoronomy 17). The evidence that Jesus rose from the dead was that his was a bodily resurrection, recorded by multiple eyewitnesses and prophesied by biblical writers of old (see 2 Peter 1).

And the evidence that a person knows the Lord is the manifestation of the fruit of the spirit in his or her life.

It is in this sense only(!) that Christians are licensed fruit inspectors. Since we’re taught to mark and avoid those who teach contrary to the Scriptures (Romans 16:17), we must be aware at all times when there are “wolves” among us.

While this does not mean we should avoid unbelievers altogether, neither does it mean we should looking to find fault in everyone we meet, it does mean we are well within our rights to judge whether a person knows the Lord on the basis of their outward testimony.

The Lord alone knows their hearts, but we have been given discernment and the criteria needed to protect ourselves from those who teach contrary to the gospel.


Although I am a firm believer in the doctrine of eternal security, I’d like for my comments here to be taken as distinct from that debate. What I really want to hone in on is the concept of “believing loyalty.”

There is no shortage of discussion around how God’s people were “saved” in different periods of time. Covenantalists maintain that God deals with people over the course of history by making covenants with them, wherein each party agrees to uphold their end of the bargain to achieve the end of being in right relationship with him.

Of course, on their view, no covenant has ever been kept except for the covenant of grace, which is wholly executed by God. In contrast, dispensationalists maintain that God deals with people in different ways throughout the course of history, with specific emphasis on a sharp distinction between the Church and Israel.

I think there is some truth to be found in both positions. I personally prefer to express my view in terms of “believing loyalty,” which I believe captures what the Bible means to teach on the finality of salvation.

For one, this avoids the negative connotations of other views. Plus, it allows me to follow the biblical text where it leads with respect to ancillary details, without forcing me to fit my view of salvation into a pre-determined system.

So, what is “believing loyalty?”

In Supernatural, Dr. Michael Heiser writes the following:

The Law was not how Israelites achieved salvation—it was how they showed loyalty to the God they believed in. Salvation for an Israelite was about faith in the promises and character of the God of gods and about refusing to worship another god. It was about belief and loyalty from the heart, not earning brownie points with God. King David did awful things like commit adultery and arrange a murder (2 Sam. 11). According to the Law, he was a lawbreaker and deserved to die for his crimes. Even so, he never wavered in his belief in Yahweh as the Most High God. He never switched his loyalty to another god. And God was merciful to him. The same is true in the New Testament. Believing the gospel means believing that the God of Israel came to earth as a man, voluntarily died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and rose again on the third day. We must embrace that by faith and then show our loyalty to Jesus by forsaking all other gods. Regardless of what those other gods may say about salvation, the Bible tells us there is no salvation in any other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12) and that faith must remain intact (Rom. 11:17–24; Heb. 3:19; 10:22, 38–39). Personal failure is not the same as trading Jesus for another god—and God can tell the difference.

Again, many hours could be spent (and have been) sparring over whether or not one can ever lose their salvation and other fun theological questions.

The fact remains that, for those who never trade their loyalty to Yahweh, salvation is final. Though we fail him every day, he will never fail us.

And that is reason to rejoice!

Meet Steve

Meet Steve

Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

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