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What Is True Conversion? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith) Paperback – February 9, 2005
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"This little booklet could help solve one of the greatest problems in churches today--confusion over what it means to really become a Christian. With the sure touch of a humble Christian and a faithful pastor of many years standing, Steve Smallman has served us all well by giving us a brief and biblical treatment of conversion." --Mark Dever, senior pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.
About the Author
Stephen Smallman served for over forty years in pastoral ministry. He is an urban missionary serving with CityNet Ministries.
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Smallman's work is somewhat autobiographical as he recounts his conversion experience. He notes the impulse to "reform myself so that I would feel better about my relationship to God." His transparency proves helpful at the outset as most people have struggled with a similar experience. However, the author admits that he discovered he had no power in and of himself to change. He learned of his powerlessness before a holy and omnipotent God.
The author takes time to carefully develop the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unconverted. Each one of God's elect is effectually drawn by the Holy Spirit in an irresistible and compelling way. It is the Holy Spirit who carries out the unique purpose of God. "He comes to us while we are spiritually dead, ignorant, indifferent, lost, blind, sinners, and he gives us a heart for God that did not exist before. When the call comes, we have ears to hear because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit."
Smallman rightly distinguishes conversion (which involves human response) and regeneration (which is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of people). We must be born again - we must be regenerated. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he "must be born again" (John 3:5-7) he does not issue a command. Rather he "makes a statement of what God must do in our hearts if we are to enter God's kingdom."
Smallman utilizes the excellent definition of conversion in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "True conversion is embracing Jesus Christ as he is freely offered to us in the gospel." While he stresses God's exclusive role in regeneration, he also rightly emphases the human role at the point of conversion, namely, sinners must believe/embrace Jesus in order to be saved. Again, the role of the Spirit is essential. Smallman writes, "The gospel message is only a string of words until the Spirit applies it to the heart."
The author emphases the role of repentance and the vital role it plays in true conversion. "Conversion is rightly defined as a turning to a new direction ... repentance is understood as a turning from sin in order to turn to Christ." This stress on repentance is necessary in this discussion - for without repentance one has not experience true saving faith.
Finally, Smallman points out that when one is truly converted life change takes place. "Conversion assumes turning to walk on a new path." True conversion does not result in lawlessness. Rather, true conversion results in bearing fruit to the glory of God (John 15:8).
What is True Conversion? is a necessary resource that should be fully utilized in the local church. Smallman includes helpful study questions at the end of each section that can and should be utilized in small groups.
The book is simple and easy to read and would be a good gift to anyone either feeling that the Lord is pressing on their hearts or having recently given their life to Christ. One small issue I had with the book is the concept that Smallman shares about the assurance of one's conversion. He writes, "We can be assured that we are converted because we continue to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel." And following that statement, Smallman quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism this statement: "Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him." To me there seems to be two divergent concepts given here on the issue of assurance of salvation - one is that we continue to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, the other is that we are sealed with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and that this is our assurance regardless of our actions. Now, some may say that since we have the presence of the Holy Spirit, our walk is now thus directed by him and this answers the issue of Smallman's point. But, I see the two being a little confusing to most people and I wish that Smallman would have clarified his position on this concept.
Nonetheless, the book is intended not for deep theological debate and discussion, but for clarification for the new believer to understand this conversion and the new life and new path that follow. For that purpose, the book is valuable and well done.