CONVERSION SUDDEN EXPERIENCE OR LIFELONG PROCESS?
By Herbert W. Armstrong
Almost everybody, it seems, is all mixed up on this matter of spiritual conversion. It's part of the missing dimension in knowledge. Let's make it clear and plain as God Himself reveals it.
Yesterday I was speaking before a packed house in the Ambassador Auditorium here at Pasadena headquarters. I had occasion, so I felt at the time, to sort of "bare my soul," so to speak, and relate the circumstances of my own conversion fifty years ago-not that it is typical of the manner and circumstances in which all people must come to conversion. Different ones will come to it in a large variety of circumstances.
Yet there is, after all, ONE WAY to real conversion, regardless of individual circumstances. But is it a single sudden experience one undergoes once in a lifetime-and then he is "saved," as it is often expressed, once and for all-or is it a gradual experience of CHANGE continuing throughout a lifetime?
At times I have expressed the idea I think many millions have come to believe and on which they are staking their eternity. It is this: You are on a journey on a railway train. It is your life's journey, whether long or short. At the end of the line, because of Adam's sin, the switch is automatically thrown to send you directly down to hell, where you will be burned alive-constantly burning, yet never burning up because you are an immortal soul that can't die. Or, as millions also believe, it will shoot you directly to "purgatory."
But, if at any point in your life during the journey you "accept Christ as your Savior," then at the instant of that sudden experience, in whatever manner such experience takes place, the switch at the end of the line is suddenly thrown to shoot you immediately up to heaven. And there you shall live FOREVER in idleness and ease, in glorious surroundings of splendor, with nothing to do-no responsibilities anymore- nothing but to be enraptured with the delight of gazing continually on the face of Christ your Savior. About thirty years ago a man said to me: "Let me see if I can define your belief as contrasted to what you claim many millions of others believe." Then he explained the belief of the many approximately as I have stated it just above.
"But YOU believe," he continued, "that after one is initially converted, accepting Christ, he must then live a life of obedience to God's way, struggling against himself to overcome all wrong ways and GROWING spiritually in Christ's knowledge and in grace-thus training himself and qualifying to carry an important RESPONSIBILITY in the next life. You believe that when he dies, he is DEAD, will not go to heaven or hell, but will come to life again by a resurrection from the dead, and he will be here on earth. Then he will have immortality, and he will be REWARDED according to what his works were in this life-the BIGGEST reward being to have conferred on him the HEAVIEST and most important RESPONSIBILITY. Is that what you believe?"
"Well, not exactly," I replied, "but you are not too far off."
"Well," he said, "I want the first way with the other millions. I DON'T WANT TO HAVE TO CARRY ANY RESPONSIBILITIES-if indeed there is any life after death. I'd rather go to heaven and be FREE from work and responsibility. I prefer the idleness and ease forever."
"Reward" of idleness and Ease
Well, today, thirty years later, now in his 70s, this man has been given his wish-so far as the idleness and ease is concerned. He long ago retired. He has nothing to do but just SIT, SIT, SIT all day long in his small and modest living room, morbid with gloom, frustrated with inactivity, wishing to die, but unable to die. He was sent to the hospital with cancer; the doctors did not give much hope he would survive the operation. But he did, and they sent him home to die. But he didn't die. A couple years later he was rushed to the hospital with an acute gallbladder infection. Peritonitis began to set in; the doctors gave him almost no chance to survive the operation-yet it was sure death in less than 24 hours unless they operated. But again his sturdy constitution survived, and he was sent home and recovered.
At a funeral of a relative which we both attended some two years ago, he said to me, "I'd give anything to have a responsibility such as you have that keeps you busy traveling all over the earth." He had discovered that idleness and ease for eternity would be indeed a poor "reward" of conversion.
When Is One Saved?
Just what is this thing we call "conversion"? What do we MEAN-"SALVATION"? Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized ... and ye shall.. ."- WHAT? Be saved? No. "... Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
When I was holding the six weeks' series of nightly meetings in 1933 in the country schoolhouse west of Eugene, Oregon, a local Bible "scholar" sought to catch me off guard and expose what he supposed was my ignorance of the Bible by heckling. He said, "Mr. Armstrong, may I ask you a question? Have you been saved yet?"
I replied, "If you know your Bible, you know that Jesus said, 'He that shall endure unto the END, the same shall be saved'" (Matt. 24:13).
So again I ask: Is CONVERSION a sudden experience, or a lifelong PROCESS?
I had to ask myself, IF we humans are destined to live an ETERNAL LIFE in HELLFIRE because of what ADAM did UNLESS we "accept Christ" at some time during this life's journey, then why-yes, WHY-were we ever put on earth in the first place? If we then get the "reward" of idleness and ease and NOTHING TO DO for all eternity in heaven, then WHY did God put us here?
That belief made no sense at all to me.
But I read in the eighth Psalm the question: "WHAT is MAN, that thou art mindful of him?" (Verse 4.)
Yes, what is a mere man? Why should God even CONSIDER us; have His mind on us? Of what importance are we? WHY did He put us humans on earth? Was there any reason-any PURPOSE?
This same question is asked in the book of Hebrews, where it is more fully answered.
Begin with verse 5, chapter 2, where we find the subject matter of the chapter: "For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection THE WORLD TO COME, whereof we speak." The context here is speaking about the WORLD TO COME. The implication is that there was a time when the world was in subjection to the angels. But the world to come will NOT be in subjection to angels. WHY? Continue on: "But one in a certain place [here referring to what I quoted above from the eighth Psalm] testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels [elsewhere translated 'for a little while lower than the angels']."
Yes, man, lower than angels. WHY should God be concerned about us? Even though man possesses the capacity to invent intricate machines and fly to the moon, he is really not much now. Puny man is filled with evil, always fighting, struggling, doing evil, bringing suffering on himself.
The Incredible Human Potential
BUT, now notice the incredible, fantastic, unbelievable future HUMAN POTENTIAL we can fulfill-if we are willing. "... Thou crownedst him with GLORY and HONOR, and didst set him over the work of thy hands" (verse 7).
What does "the work of God's hands" include? THE WHOLE VAST UNIVERSE-the PHYSICAL universe and the SPIRITUAL universe!
Unbelievable? Read on!
"Thou hast put ALL THINGS in subjection under his feet. [In chapter 1, 'all things' is translated by Moffatt as 'the UNIVERSE.'] For in that he [God] put ALL in subjection under him [man], he left NOTHING that is not put under him."
INCREDIBLE? But notice the next words: "But now we see NOT YET all things put under him." Verse 9 goes on to explain that NOW what we see is JESUS already crowned with GLORY and HONOR, and, as in chapter 1, UPHOLDING AND SUSTAINING THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE by the word of His POWER.
Yes, Jesus, as chapter 2 continues to show, is the pioneer who has gone on before, the captain of our salvation, the first to be BORN of GOD of MANY BRETHREN! (Rom. 8:29.)
Now the above passage from Hebrews 2 was speaking about the world to come, NOT today's world. Angels will not be in power over it. But angels WERE on this earth-the earth was in subjection to them- before the creation of Adam (II Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 28:12-17).
The angels sinned and became demons. Lucifer, then king over the earth, the supergreat archangel, became Satan. And NOW, God has placed MAN on earth and given to him the potential that was THE ANGELS' - if we "make the grade" where they failed.
The angels turned from, rebelled against, and rejected the GOVERNMENT OF GOD which then ruled the earth and the angels that inhabited it.
What about MAN? Man has also rebelled-SINNED!
But through Jesus Christ, who paid man's PENALTY of death in his stead, man MAY, if he will, REPENT- turn FROM Satan's way of "GET," of SELF-CENTEREDNESS and rebellion-and through Christ's sacrifice be reconciled to GOD.
Upon real repentance, turning to God's law of LOVE and FAITH in Jesus Christ, being baptized in His name, we may be reconciled to God, from whom our sins have cut us off, and we may then receive the GIFT of His HOLY SPIRIT.
That may rightly be called the experience of CONVERSION. I could write a whole book on that experience-what it means to receive the HOLY SPIRIT of GOD; what the HOLY SPIRIT really is, and MEANS.
It BEGETS us with the very life of God-for the Holy Spirit is His life, coming into us from His very Person. It begets us with GOD-life. We become HEIRS of God and joint-heirs with Christ, who has already had put under Him the WHOLE VAST UNIVERSE.
Not Yet Born of God
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of UNDERSTANDING-the very MIND of God which, with our spirit, opens our minds to UNDERSTAND God's KNOWLEDGE as He reveals it (revealed knowledge) through the Bible.
But we are NOT YET BORN of God-not yet POSSESSORS-only HEIRS; not yet BORN-only BEGOTTEN, as we once were begotten in our mother's womb before we were BORN. And just as we were first an embryo and a growing fetus in our mother's womb, so now we must GROW in the knowledge of Christ and in grace (II Pet. 3:18).
We start out the Christian life like newborn babies.
WHY were we put here on earth? To learn to OVERCOME and completely turn from the WAY the sinning angels (II Pet. 2:4) went, and to let Christ develop IN us His holy, righteous, spiritual CHARACTER-God's WAY OF LOVE! This we must do SO THAT WE MAY QUALIFY TO MAKE OVER-RECREATE, SO to speak-the ENTIRE UNIVERSE.
Insignificant as it may seem, HUMAN LIFE is endowed with the most fantastic, awesome potential possible even as GOD views it!