Alistair Begg on the miracle of conversion
I recently reread Surprised by Joy which records the shape of C. S. Lewis' early life. The front page of my issue has a subtitle: A remarkably frank and beguiling portrayal of a conversion.
Towards the end of the book he writes: "The things that I assert most forcefully are those that I long resisted and late accepted."
It made me think of Saul's conversion from Tarsus. We are introduced to him on the day Stephen became the first Christian martyr. Luke tells us that the executioners laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul, who consented to Stephen's execution. Saul then continued to devastate the church, going house by house, dragging men and women and putting them in jail.
This is the same man who wrote to the Philippians who stated, "To me, life is Christ and death is gain." How do we explain the radical change in his life? The short answer is that he had a life changing encounter with Jesus. He realized that the Messiah who suffered was the risen Lord.
Outside of the resurrection itself, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is perhaps the most powerful excuse for the Christian gospel. While his story is unique, there are elements that apply to any real conversion. First, he had a completely new view of Jesus. Instead of rejecting his claims, Saul declared him master. Second, his view of Jesus' followers was radically changed. Instead of persecuting them to death, he joined them in worship. And third, he was no longer proud of his position and achievements because he now understood God's mercy – so much so that he described himself as the chief of sinners.
We could say that Saul's world has been turned upside down, which means it has been turned right upside down. These elements will be part of the story of anyone who really converts. In Newton's words, they explain: "I was once lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see."
As the Easter story takes hold of our lives, we find that Jesus paid a debt he didn't owe because we owed a debt we couldn't pay. We can say that we will live too because he lives.
Elsewhere, C. S. Lewis tells his readers that he believes in Christianity as he believes in the rising of the sun: not just because he can see it, but because it allows him to see everything else.
As we continue to live in a culture that is increasingly confused and struggling to understand the story of the gospel, we should renew our prayerful commitment to living of joyful endurance, thereby making the good news attractive.
I thank each of you for the letters of encouragement, guidance and correction. (I take care.) Without your community, I would not be able to do what I was called to do. I write on behalf of the entire team when I say that we rejoice with you and also try to enter into your sadness when you share it with us.
As always, this month's materials are of great use. The book Alive: How Christ's Resurrection Changes Everything examines the historical and biblical evidence for the truth of the resurrection. It is a helpful book to share with a skeptical friend. We also recommend Nancy Guthrie's new book "God Does His Best Work With Empty" this month. It encourages us to trust that God will fill us with hope and joy even when we are discouraged. I hope you add these two books to your library.
With my love for the Lord Jesus