Chapter 2—Conversions—Fake or Real
Power of the Word
Wherever the word of God has been faithfully preached, results have followed that attested its divine origin. The Spirit of God accompanied the message of His servants, and the word was with power. Sinners felt their consciences quickened. The “light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” illumined the secret chambers of their souls, and the hidden things of darkness were made manifest. Deep conviction took hold upon their minds and hearts. They were convinced of sin and of righteousness and of judgment to come. They had a sense of the righteousness of Jehovah and felt the terror of appearing, in their guilt and uncleanness, before the Searcher of hearts. In anguish they cried out: “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” As the cross of Calvary, with its infinite sacrifice for the sins of men, was revealed, they saw that nothing but the merits of Christ could suffice to atone for their transgressions; this alone could reconcile man to God. With faith and humility they accepted the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. Through the blood of Jesus they had “remission of sins that are past.”
A New Lifestyle
These souls brought forth fruit meet for repentance. They believed and were baptized, and rose to walk in newness of life—new creatures in Christ Jesus; not to fashion themselves according to the former lusts, but by the faith of the Son of God to follow in His steps, to reflect His character, and to purify themselves even as He is pure. The things they once hated they now loved, and the things they once loved they hated. The proud and self-assertive became meek and lowly of heart. The vain and supercilious became serious and unobtrusive. The profane became reverent, the drunken sober, and the profligate pure. The vain fashions of the world were laid aside. Christians sought not the “outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but ... the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:3, 4).
Revivals brought deep heart searching and humility. They were characterized by solemn, earnest appeals to the sinner, by yearning compassion for the purchase of the blood of Christ. Men and women prayed and wrestled with God for the salvation of souls. The fruits of such revivals were seen in souls who shrank not at self-denial and sacrifice, but rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer reproach and trial for the sake of Christ. Men beheld a transformation in the lives of those who had professed the name of Jesus. The community was benefited by their influence. ...
This is the result of the work of the Spirit of God. There is no evidence of genuine repentance unless it works reformation. If he restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, confess his sins, and love God and his fellow men, the sinner may be sure that he has found peace with God. Such were the effects that in former years followed seasons of religious awakening. Judged by their fruits, they were known to be blessed of God in the salvation of men and the uplifting of humanity.
Counterfeit Revivals—What's the Difference?
But many of the revivals of modern times have presented a marked contrast to those manifestations of divine grace which in earlier days followed the labors of God's servants. It is true that a widespread interest is kindled, many profess conversion, and there are large accessions to the churches; nevertheless the results are not such as to warrant the belief that there has been a corresponding increase of real spiritual life. The light which flames up for a time soon dies out, leaving the darkness more dense than before.
Popular revivals are too often carried by appeals to the imagination, by exciting the emotions, by gratifying the love for what is new and startling. Converts thus gained have little desire to listen to Bible truth, little interest in the testimony of prophets and apostles. Unless a religious service has something of a sensational character, it has no attractions for them. A message which appeals to unimpassioned reason awakens no response. The plain warnings of God's word, relating directly to their eternal interests, are unheeded.
With every truly converted soul the relation to God and to eternal things will be the great topic of life. ... Before the final visitation of God's judgments upon the earth there will be among the people of the Lord such a revival of primitive godliness as has not been witnessed since apostolic times. The Spirit and power of God will be poured out upon His children. At that time many will separate themselves from those churches in which the love of this world has supplanted love for God and His Word. Many, both of ministers and people, will gladly accept those great truths which God has caused to be proclaimed at this time to prepare a people for the Lord's second coming.
The enemy of souls desires to hinder this work; and before the time for such a movement shall come, he will endeavor to prevent it by introducing a counterfeit. In those churches which he can bring under his deceptive power he will make it appear that God's special blessing is poured out; there will be manifest what is thought to be great religious interest. Multitudes will exult that God is working marvelously for them, when the work is that of another spirit. Under a religious guise, Satan will seek to extend his influence over the Christian world.
Why Be Deceived?
In many of the revivals which have occurred during the last half century, the same influences have been at work, to a greater or less degree, that will be manifest in the more extensive movements of the future. There is an emotional excitement, a mingling of the true with the false, that is well adapted to mislead. Yet none need be deceived. In the light of God's word it is not difficult to determine the nature of these movements. Wherever men neglect the testimony of the Bible, turning away from those plain, soul-testing truths which require self-denial and renunciation of the world, there we may be sure that God's blessing is not bestowed. And by the rule which Christ Himself has given, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), it is evident that these movements are not the work of the Spirit of God.
In the truths of His word, God has given to men a revelation of Himself; and to all who accept them they are a shield against the deceptions of Satan. It is a neglect of these truths that has opened the door to the evils which are now becoming so widespread in the religious world. The nature and the importance of the law of God have been, to a great extent, lost sight of. A wrong conception of the character, the perpetuity, and the obligation of the divine law has led to errors in relation to conversion and sanctification, and has resulted in lowering the standard of piety in the church. Here is to be found the secret of the lack of the Spirit and power of God in the revivals of our time. ...
Can God's Law Be Changed?
Many religious teachers assert that Christ by His death abolished the law, and men are henceforth free from its requirements. There are some who represent it as a grievous yoke, and in contrast to the bondage of the law they present the liberty to be enjoyed under the gospel.
But not so did prophets and apostles regard the holy law of God. Said David: “I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts” (Psalm 119:45). The apostle James, who wrote after the death of Christ, refers to the Decalogue as “the royal law” and “the perfect law of liberty” (James 2:8; 1:25). And the revelator, half a century after the crucifixion, pronounces a blessing upon them “that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). The claim that Christ by His death abolished His Father's law is without foundation. Had it been possible for the law to be changed or set aside, then Christ need not have died to save man from the penalty of sin. ...
Alienated and Reconciled—How Does It Happen?
It is the work of conversion and sanctification to reconcile men to God by bringing them into accord with the principles of His law. In the beginning, man was created in the image of God. He was in perfect harmony with the nature and the law of God; the principles of righteousness were written upon his heart. But sin alienated him from his Maker. He no longer reflected the divine image. His heart was at war with the principles of God's law. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). But “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son,” that man might be reconciled to God. Through the merits of Christ he can be restored to harmony with his Maker. His heart must be renewed by divine grace; he must have a new life from above. This change is the new birth, without which, says Jesus, “he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
The first step in reconciliation to God is the conviction of sin. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (1 John 3:4; Romans 3:20). In order to see his guilt, the sinner must test his character by God's great standard of righteousness. It is a mirror which shows the perfection of a righteous character and enables him to discern the defects in his own.
The law reveals to man his sins, but it provides no remedy. While it promises life to the obedient, it declares that death is the portion of the transgressor. The gospel of Christ alone can free him from the condemnation or the defilement of sin. He must exercise repentance toward God, whose law has been transgressed; and faith in Christ, his atoning sacrifice. Thus he obtains “remission of sins that are past” and becomes a partaker of the divine nature. ...
Is he now free to transgress God's law? Says Paul: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” And John declares: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (Romans 3:31; 6:2; John 5:3). In the new birth the heart is brought into harmony with God, as it is brought into accord with His law. When this mighty change has taken place in the sinner, he has passed from death unto life, from sin unto holiness, from transgression and rebellion to obedience and loyalty. ...
Sanctification—Who Does the Work?
Erroneous theories of sanctification, ... springing from neglect or rejection of the divine law, have a prominent place in the religious movements of the day. These theories are both false in doctrine and dangerous in practical results; and the fact that they are so generally finding favor, renders it doubly essential that all have a clear understanding of what the Scriptures teach upon this point.
True sanctification is a Bible doctrine. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonian church, declares: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.” And he prays: “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly” (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:23). The Bible clearly teaches what sanctification is and how it is to be attained. The Saviour prayed for His disciples: “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” (John 17:17, 19). And Paul teaches that believers are to be “sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:16). What is the work of the Holy Spirit? Jesus told His disciples: “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). And the psalmist says: “Thy law is the truth.” By the word and the Spirit of God are opened to men the great principles of righteousness embodied in His law. And since the law of God is “holy, and just, and good,” a transcript of the divine perfection, it follows that a character formed by obedience to that law will be holy. Christ is a perfect example of such a character. He says: “I have kept My Father's commandments.” “I do always those things that please Him” (John 15:10; 8:29). The followers of Christ are to become like Him—by the grace of God to form characters in harmony with the principles of His holy law. This is Bible sanctification.
This work can be accomplished only through faith in Christ, by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. Paul admonishes believers: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13). The Christian will feel the promptings of sin, but he will maintain a constant warfare against it. Here is where Christ's help is needed. Human weakness becomes united to divine strength, and faith exclaims: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
The Scriptures plainly show that the work of sanctification is progressive. When in conversion the sinner finds peace with God through the blood of the atonement, the Christian life has but just begun. Now he is to “go on unto perfection;” to grow up “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” ... [Philippians 3:13, 14 and 2 Peter 1:5-10 quoted.]
No Room for Boasting
Those who experience the sanctification of the Bible will manifest a spirit of humility. Like Moses, they have had a view of the awful majesty of holiness, and they see their own unworthiness in contrast with the purity and exalted perfection of the Infinite One.
The prophet Daniel was an example of true sanctification. His long life was filled up with noble service for his Master. He was a man “greatly beloved” (Daniel 10:11) of Heaven. Yet instead of claiming to be pure and holy, this honored prophet identified himself with the really sinful of Israel as he pleaded before God in behalf of his people: “We do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousnesses, but for Thy great mercies.” “We have sinned, we have done wickedly.” He declares: “I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people. ...” (Daniel 9:18, 15, 20).
When Job heard the voice of the Lord out of the whirlwind, he exclaimed: “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). It was when Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, and heard the cherubim crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts,” that he cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone” (Isaiah 6:3, 5). Paul, after he was caught up into the third heaven and heard things which it was not possible for a man to utter, speaks of himself as “less than the least of all saints” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4, margin; Ephesians 3:8). It was the beloved John, who leaned on Jesus’ breast and beheld His glory, that fell as one dead before the feet of the angel (Revelation 1:17).
There can be no self-exaltation, no boastful claim to freedom from sin, on the part of those who walk in the shadow of Calvary's cross. They feel that it was their sin which caused the agony that broke the heart of the Son of God, and this thought will lead them to self-abasement. Those who live nearest to Jesus discern most clearly the frailty and sinfulness of humanity, and their only hope is in the merit of a crucified and risen Saviour.
Counterfeit Sanctification—Is It “Only Believe”?
The sanctification now gaining prominence in the religious world carries with it a spirit of self-exaltation and a disregard for the law of God that mark it as foreign to the religion of the Bible. Its advocates teach that sanctification is an instantaneous work, by which, through faith alone, they attain to perfect holiness. “Only believe,” say they, “and the blessing is yours.” No further effort on the part of the receiver is supposed to be required. At the same time they deny the authority of the law of God, urging that they are released from obligation to keep the commandments. But is it possible for men to be holy, in accord with the will and character of God, without coming into harmony with the principles which are an expression of His nature and will, and which show what is well pleasing to Him?
The desire for an easy religion that requires no striving, no self-denial, no divorce from the follies of the world, has made the doctrine of faith, and faith only, a popular doctrine; but what saith the word of God? Says the apostle James: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? ...Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? ... Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:14-24).
The testimony of the word of God is against this ensnaring doctrine of faith without works. It is not faith that claims the favor of Heaven without complying with the conditions upon which mercy is to be granted, it is presumption; for genuine faith has its foundation in the promises and provisions of the Scriptures.
Let none deceive themselves with the belief that they can become holy while willfully violating one of God's requirements. The commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the soul from God. ...Though John in his epistles dwells so fully upon love, yet he does not hesitate to reveal the true character of that class who claim to be sanctified while living in transgression of the law of God. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected” (1 John 2:4, 5). Here is the test of every man's profession. We cannot accord holiness to any man without bringing him to the measurement of God's only standard of holiness in heaven and in earth. ...
The claim to be without sin is, in itself, evidence that he who makes this claim is far from holy. It is because he has no true conception of the infinite purity and holiness of God or of what they must become who shall be in harmony with His character; because he has no true conception of the purity and exalted loveliness of Jesus, and the malignity and evil of sin, that man can regard himself as holy. The greater the distance between himself and Christ, and the more inadequate his conceptions of the divine character and requirements, the more righteous he appears in his own eyes.
The sanctification set forth in the Scriptures embraces the entire being—spirit, soul, and body. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians that their “whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Again he writes to believers: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1). In the time of ancient Israel every offering brought as a sacrifice to God was carefully examined. If any defect was discovered in the animal presented, it was refused; for God had commanded that the offering be “without blemish.” So Christians are bidden to present their bodies, “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” In order to do this, all their powers must be preserved in the best possible condition. Every practice that weakens physical or mental strength unfits man for the service of his Creator.
And will God be pleased with anything less than the best we can offer? Said Christ: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” Those who do love God with all the heart will desire to give Him the best service of their life, and they will be constantly seeking to bring every power of their being into harmony with the laws that will promote their ability to do His will. ...
A Changed Life
The world is given up to self-indulgence. “The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” control the masses of the people. But Christ's followers have a holier calling. ...
To those who comply with the conditions, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, ... and touch not the unclean,” God's promise is, “I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18). It is the privilege and the duty of every Christian to have a rich and abundant experience in the things of God. ...The bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness shine upon the servants of God, and they are to reflect His rays. As the stars tell us that there is a great light in heaven with whose glory they are made bright, so Christians are to make it manifest that there is a God on the throne of the universe whose character is worthy of praise and imitation. The graces of His Spirit, the purity and holiness of His character, will be manifest in His witnesses. ...
No Longer Condemned
While the Christian's life will be characterized by humility, it should not be marked with sadness and self-depreciation. It is the privilege of everyone so to live that God will approve and bless him. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should be ever under condemnation and darkness. There is no evidence of true humility in going with the head bowed down and the heart filled with thoughts of self. We may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame and remorse. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
Through Jesus the fallen sons of Adam become “sons of God.” “Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11). The Christian's life should be one of faith, of victory, and joy in God. “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). Truly spoke God's servant Nehemiah: “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). And Paul says: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Such are the fruits of Bible conversion and sanctification.—The Great Controversy, 461-478. (Chapter titled “Modern Revivals.”)