LCN Article
The Miracle of Conversion

May / June 2024

Richard F. Ames

God gave His people three annual pilgrimage Feasts, each of which can teach us awesome lessons. We recently kept the first by taking the Passover and observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread. In a few months we will keep the third, the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Ingathering. Between them comes the second, the Feast of Harvest, which we also know as Pentecost (Exodus 23:14–17).

The word Pentecost comes from a Greek word meaning fiftieth, since it is observed after counting 50 days, beginning with the day of the wave sheaf offering during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Among the many awesome lessons Pentecost teaches us is the lesson of conversion—the miraculous transformation Christians undergo from our inborn carnal nature to the divine nature God placed within us through the gift of His Holy Spirit, given via the laying on of hands of the ministry after our baptism.

When we look at the world and all its violence and carnality, it should remind us that before we were converted, we were no different. Those who grew up in the Church, as children of converted parents, had the special blessing of having the Holy Spirit with them (1 Corinthians 7:14). But even they did not have the Spirit within them until hands were laid upon them after their baptism. For every baptized Christian, Pentecost should remind us of the great miracle of conversion.

We understand from Scripture that the resurrected Jesus Christ became the first of the firstfruits. “But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Yes, we as Christ’s followers will be among the firstfruits in the Kingdom of God.

So, how does the transformation that will let us enter the Kingdom of God take place? It comes through the work of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, which we received just after baptism. On that first New Testament Pentecost, 3,000 new believers began that process, being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit.

It is worth noting one miracle of conversion that, though visible at that first Pentecost, often goes unnoticed. We read that among the approximately 120 believers present were Jesus’ mother and His brothers. Yes, even before the Holy Spirit descended, a miracle was at work. Here were Jesus’ brothers—unbelievers during His lifetime (John 7:5)—now among the disciples.

The Descent of God’s Spirit

Some professing Christians who call themselves “Pentecostal” have a practice of vocalizing a kind of “babble”—incoherent syllables that they believe to be some kind of divine language given to them. But that was not the miracle of Pentecost. Remember that the Jews of Jesus’ day were scattered across the Roman Empire and beyond. People came to Solomon’s Porch, just outside the Temple, from many lands, speaking many native languages. Here is how Luke describes the actual miracle of languages at Pentecost:

And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:5–11).

These people were not speaking or hearing gibberish, and God was not making them understand any one language that He favored—not Greek, not Aramaic, not Hebrew. They were hearing Christ’s message in their own native languages. And it should be no surprise that many were receptive to the message, as they had just a few weeks earlier seen a great heavenly sign that had been prophesied in Scripture. The Apostle Peter reminded them of that sign, foretold by Joel’s prophecy, of the sun turning into darkness (Acts 2:17–20).

We should note that this darkness wasn’t some regular astronomical phenomenon like an eclipse. When Christ was hung on a stake, Jerusalem for three hours experienced a supernatural darkness in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. The throng assembled at Solomon’s Porch knew that something awesome had taken place at that time, so they were receptive to Peter’s message. And what did he tell them? “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter said plainly that the people to whom he was speaking had killed Jesus Christ—as we all have, since we all are guilty of sin. And, in response to what they heard, 3,000 new believers called out to their Creator in repentance.

Many in that throng were the very same people who had called for Christ’s crucifixion—and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, had carried out their will. So, how did these Jews respond to Peter? “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart [they were convicted of their sins], and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (vv. 37–38).

Three thousand were baptized on that day—no doubt including many who had called for Christ’s death just weeks before. They began a miraculous process of transformation, despite their grievous sin. They repented and received the Holy Spirit, to begin the process of changing from carnal human nature to God’s own divine nature. Their example shows us that no sin is too great to be repented of—even the sin of killing the Savior. Yes, let us not forget that every one of us has killed Christ through our sins. Each of us is no less guilty than any member of that mob.

Pentecost opened the calling of the firstfruits of God’s master plan. And that first New Testament Pentecost typified the miraculous transformation from human nature to divine nature. How does that transformation take place? By our begettal through God’s Holy Spirit. James describes the beginning of that process of conversion: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:17–18, King James Version).

When we receive the Holy Spirit, we are begotten by God, and we begin to change from our carnal human nature and grow into God’s holy and righteous character. When we look around the world and see the evil from all corners of the earth, from South America to Europe to Asia, all throughout mankind—all around us—we see a world of carnal nature. But that is not our destiny. There are not enough words to give God the thanks for the abundance of blessings and grace that He has given us, especially the gift of being changed from carnality to divine nature, learning to radiate the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23).

Examples of Dramatic Conversion

As Christians, we are to be conformed to the image—the character, the mind, the nature, and the Spirit—of Christ. Baptism is a start, but then comes a lifetime of overcoming. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever” (2 Peter 3:18).

Our Christian conversion begins when God begets us with His Spirit. We need to be conformed to the image of Christ. We need to be transformed, not conforming to the world, but renewing our minds with the Spirit of God.

Scripture gives us some examples of dramatic conversions. Consider Stephen, one of the first deacons. He was accused of blasphemy against Moses and God. For 49 verses in the book of Acts, we read of him recounting the history of Israel, demonstrating that he was not a blasphemer. God gave him great boldness to deliver a powerful message to the Sanhedrin before he was stoned to death.

“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:51–56).

Amazingly, as Stephen was dying, he prayed for his enemies. “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (vv. 59–60). Stephen set us a profound example of genuine and deep conversion.

Furthermore, this set the scene for what would later become another example of such conversion. Near the end of the account of Stephen’s martyrdom, we find a sobering detail, describing how “they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (v. 58). Yes, Saul! When Stephen called out to Christ, the man who became Paul was there—a man who was infamous among the first Christians. He later wrote, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). But despite his evil conduct, even Saul could be converted:

And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life (1 Timothy 1:14–16).

Yes, the young Pharisee Saul, who had been a leading figure at Stephen’s martyrdom, would in time be converted. The same man who had fiercely persecuted God’s Church became a passionate preacher of Christ’s message, and God used him powerfully to serve the Gentiles.

The prominent Jewish leader Saul was converted after Christ’s resurrection. But did God convert any of the Jewish people about whom we read in the Old Testament? There were very few, but we read, “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10–11). Yes, the Holy Spirit was in some of the prophets of old, which means they will take part in the first resurrection. This includes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as all the men and women of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11.

Consider King David, who committed adultery and caused Uriah’s death. Despite David’s grave sin, Scripture records that his prayer reflected deep conversion. David came to understand the depth of his sin and his need for deep repentance: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4). And later he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit in me” (v. 10).

Of course, along with the examples Scripture gives us of dramatic conversion, many of you readers can recount your own dramatic examples from your own lives, and from those of your friends and family members. Conversion is an awesome gift from God, and it brings about a miraculous transformation from human nature to God’s very own holy and righteous character growing in our own lives. That transformation comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Power of God’s Spirit

But what is the power of the Holy Spirit? We read, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). This description is of what we call the recreation. It was the power of God that created all of the animals and the fish and all of the environment. Every Sabbath we should remind ourselves that God is the Creator of “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:11).

The extent of God’s power was a subject of David’s meditation, as we read in Psalm 8:3–8:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen—even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.

Truly, God upholds all things “by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). The Holy Spirit is the power of God. When David meditated on the vast universe, he understood God’s power, even if he did not know the scientific details we know today about the two trillion galaxies in this universe—at least—each moving at millions of miles per hour. And that is just a tiny portion of the vast power your Savior has through His Holy Spirit, the power of creation!

And even more amazing than such physical power is the power of begettal. We read, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been [begotten] not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Peter 1:22–23). Yes, God has begotten us as His children. He tells us, “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18).

The world does not understand that God is reproducing Himself, preparing begotten sons and daughters to become literal members of His family at the resurrection. We who are firstfruits today are awaiting the seventh trumpet of Revelation, when we will be born into God’s kingdom—when we will be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19). Of course, we won’t be filled entirely with God’s fullness until we are born into His kingdom as glorified Spirit-children.

Until then, He is working with us, using His Holy Spirit to help us grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, to help us become transformed and conformed to the very image—the character, the mind—of Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of creation, the Spirit of begettal, and the Spirit of the resurrection.

Characteristics of God’s Spirit

The faithful evangelist Timothy received this encouraging admonition from Paul, his beloved mentor: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6–7).

God’s Holy Spirit works in many different ways with very different characteristics, imparting godly life to us. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [that] dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). The life we live as Christians is not yet the resurrected life of Spirit-beings, but it is life in the spirit of that coming resurrection. We live our physical lives in godliness, anticipating the life of Spirit that awaits us.

God empowers us with the awesome spirit of love! We read that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5, Revised Standard Version).

Truth is another characteristic of the power of God’s Spirit. At the Passover service, we heard these words from the Apostle John: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). We understand, of course, that this description is a personification, a metaphor, just like the Old Testament personifications of wisdom, presented as if it were a person. A power does not literally speak or hear—we should not misunderstand personifications of the Holy Spirit.

But even though the Spirit is not a person, we must not diminish or discount it—it is the awesome power of God Himself, and we shouldn’t minimize that. What can that power do? “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Yes, the power of the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth. As Christ tells us, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

But how much of that power are we using in our own lives? It is the power to be renewed and to be encouraged. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

And, having received the Holy Spirit, we have a responsibility. We must “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24).

This means that we must conduct ourselves in truth and in God’s grace, as we read in Ephesians 4:29–32:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Christ promised that His Spirit would flow from believers as rivers of living water (John 7:38). He said, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8). I hope that each of us is staying close to God in daily prayer, beseeching Him to help us bear good fruit by radiating the fruits of His Holy Spirit.

Our Mission as Converted Christians

With God’s Holy Spirit in us, we have a mission. But we do not carry out that mission alone. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, it is Christ in us who gives us strength. “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

As humble disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to realize that we do not know everything God the Father knows. Yet, through His Spirit, we can do His will. “He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:7–8).

The miracle of conversion puts within us the power of the Holy Spirit. That power gives us strength to overcome our carnal human nature—and it gives us strength to do our part in carrying out the Work of God. As we yield to our Savior, learning to use more of His Spirit, we become more and more like Christ, developing in our own lives God’s holy and righteous character.

Let us never cease to pray that we can become more powerful lights to the world around us, and that through that power we can each do our part to support the Work as God’s Church preaches the Gospel of the Kingdom of God even to the very ends of the earth. Thank God for the miracle of conversion!