- Love and Liberty
Who Converts Sinners?
Conversion is said to be the work of God (John 6:44; 2 Timothy 2:25;), the work of man (Acts 17:30; Ezekiel 18:31), the work of the Word (Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23), and the work of preachers (Romans 10:14-15; James 5:19-20). These are not contradictions.
Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. We speak of changing the mind of someone about something all the time. At one time I did not eat mushrooms. I didn’t eat them growing up, I thought they were not worth eating, and the broccoli casserole that contained mushrooms that my wife started making when we were first married did NOT result in me liking them (I did not tell her that for a long time!), but as time went on, I started to eat them on many different things. My wife will saute them with onions and I eat them on steaks, baked potatoes, and with other meals. What happened? I changed my mind! But it is also true that my wife changed my mind. She “converted” me into an eater of mushrooms.
If man A changes his mind because of something man B teaches him, who changed the mind of man A? Man B changed the mind of man A. But it is also true that man A changed his own mind. He was influenced by man B, but man A wasn’t forced to change his mind, he did so voluntarily. So both are true. It is also true that the information presented to man A changed his mind.
When a man’s mind is not right, truth must be presented to him so he can renew his mind.
When a man is converted, it is God’s grace, his divine influence upon the heart through his spirit, that brought the man to repentance through truth presented to his heart by creation, an innate witness to the natural law, and written revelation. When a man is converted, God did it. But it is just as true that the man himself did it. The man changed voluntarily. God changed his mind through influence, not force. God commands all men everywhere to repent, but God does not repent for us. God does not do for us what he commands us to do. People often pray for lost sinners, asking God to “save them”, but this is not how it works. God is commanding them to repent and repent they must. So how will they be converted? By a concerned family member or friend teaching God’s truths and seeking to convert them (James 5:19-20). But this is not enough - the man by his own free will must repent. In this we see that God converts sinners, that witnesses convert sinners, and that sinners convert themselves, by means of the truth being presented to their minds.
Contrary to the teaching of those who say that God must regenerate a man before he can repent, we see the Bible teaches that man can repent, and we should be calling on him to do so. Imagine accusing God of commanding people to do something they are unable to do. It sounds unreasonable. Man is naturally able to respond to and obey God, and the Bible never teaches otherwise. Being “dead in trespasses and sins” is not an inability to follow Christ, it is figurative speech referring to being relationally (perhaps proleptically) dead to God. To be born again is to repent, to turn to the Lord, to submit to his rule, to choose obedience to him over self-rule and self-gratification. Therefore, regeneration is not a change in the abilities of a person, but the beginning of a person rightly using the abilities God created him with.