Conversion is the Transformation of the Heart by God

What happens when we are saved? That is the question that we want to answer over the next few weeks. We call this moment of salvation “conversion.” But what is conversion and what does it look like? Is it possible that some people might think that they have been saved but have not experienced biblical conversion? The only way to answer these questions is to find out what the Bible teaches about it. 

In this post, we will be looking at a passage in Ezekiel. You might say, “But Richard, isn’t conversion a New Testament doctrine, you know, something that started after Christ came (i.e., John 3—being born again)?” Well what we have here in Ezekiel is God’s future plan laid out for the why, how, and what of conversion. So what can we learn from Ezekiel about conversion? Here it is: Motivated by His glory among the nations and exercised through His grace towards us, God chooses to save us, and in doing so, He forgives us, fills us with His Spirit, and radically changes our wills.

Ezekiel 36:22-32 — 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[a] 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

God’s glory among the nations is the motivation behind our conversion. 

Notice with me verses 22-23. Here God says the reason that He is going to do what He is going to do is to “vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations.” Bottom line: God saves His people because He loves His glory! So God is going to do what He is going to, not because we are deserving of it, but so that He can bring glory and honor to His name throughout the nations, and therefore, show them that He alone is the one true God. 

You see, God is all about His glory! Yes, He is motivated to an extent by His love, mercy, and grace towards us, and we would have no hope of salvation apart from those things. But ultimately, God is doing what He is doing to bring glory to Himself, because He is God and there is no one else who is worthy of glory and honor. Listen to what He says in verse thirty-two, “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you.” So the supreme motivation behind our conversion is the restoration of God’s glory among the nations.  

To make the point even further, look through the book of Ezekiel and you will see the God Himself says this seventy times. For example, Ezekiel 24:27, “So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 25:7, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 25:11, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 26:6, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 28:23, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” Chapter 28:24, “Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.” Chapter 28:26, “Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.” Chapter 29:6, “Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD.” Then in verse 9, 16, 21, 30:8, 19, 26. Do you see the pattern? The supreme motivation behind our conversion is the global glory of God! 

God’s grace towards us is the means behind our conversion. 

The motivation behind our conversion is God-centered, and the means by which we are converted is God centered. It is solely by the grace of God that we are saved! According to Ephesians 2:1, we are spiritually dead before God comes into the picture. You know what that means? We are helpless unless God comes to save. There is nothing we can do to change ourselves or our situation. God has to step into the picture. We don’t deserve it; it is all because of His grace. So conversion takes place for the glory of God and by the grace of God. 

To prove this even further, let’s look at the passage in Ezekiel: 23—“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name…;” 24—“I will take you from the nations…;” 25—“I will sprinkle clean water…and from you all your idols I will cleanse you;” 26—“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone…;” 27—“And I will put my Spirit…;” 28—“I will be your God;” 29—“And I will deliver you…and I will summon the grain…; 30—“I will make the fruit…;” 32—“I will act…” That is thirteen times in eleven verses that God says “I will do this.” Conversion is the work of God! If He doesn’t step in and do something, we have no hope! So conversion takes place, why? It is for the glory of God to be seen among the nations. How does it take place? It is by the sovereign grace of God acting upon us in our spiritually dead state. But what does it look like? 

God forgives us of our sin and fills us with His Spirit at the moment of conversion. 

In verse twenty-five, the normal purification rituals of Israel are referenced. However, something different is said. God says that this is not just some ritual cleansing, but He will do this and in doing so, we will be clean from all uncleanness and idols. This is a forward look to the forgiveness that would come through the shed blood of Christ. We are forgiven of all of our sins at the moment of conversion, but this does not give us license to do whatever we want, as we will see in a moment. Now obviously, this is something that cannot be separated from genuine confession and repentance. 1 John 1:9 tells us that this forgiveness awaits only those who confess, indicating repentance as well. But in that case, we are promised that God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. This initially takes place at conversion when we are made righteous by the blood of Christ. 

But even more, we are given the Spirit of God within us. I don’t know about you, but forgiveness of sin is great! I mean, that is what we were dead in and enslaved by, and now we are told that we can be made alive and free from it. That is great news! But God doesn’t stop there. He puts His very Spirit within us. How awesome is that! We have the Spirit living within us and doing God’s work in our lives. As 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” That divine nature that we possess is the Spirit of God dwelling within us. So initially, at the moment of conversion, we are forgiven of sin once and for all, and we are given the indwelling Spirit of God. 

God radically changes our wills as a result of conversion. 

So we have seen what happens at the moment of conversion, but what happens after conversion? Well, where we were once opposed to God, we are now responsive to Him. How does this happen? God removes our hard, stony heart, and He replaces it with a heart of flesh. Also, don’t forget that He has given us His very Spirit.  

So let’s start with the heart, because that is where conversion starts. Notice that in this passage, God talks about the heart and our outward actions or obedience to His Word. I want you to notice which one comes first. It is God’s changing of our heart. Church, if the heart is not changed, all the cleaning up of our lives that we can do is of no good. Conversion starts in the heart and works its way out. Once the heart is changed, then our wills, thoughts, and feelings change, and then our actions begin changing. Notice that this radical change in our lives does not happen at the moment of conversion like the forgiveness of sin and the indwelling Spirit of God. It is a result of that. It is going to take time. But when we are given a new heart and the Spirit of God, we are told here that we will walk according to His statutes and obey His rules. When our heart changes and the Spirit comes to live inside us, our desires will change radically. 

Also notice how this change causes us to view sin. In verse thirty-one God says, “Then you will remember you evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.” Now I do not know about you, but that does not sound to me like we can live however we want and claim to be saved. Our radically new desires are not just positive in that we will follow the will of God and seek to live a life pleasing to Him, but they are negative in that we will no longer want to sin. I am not saying that we will never sin, but that we will not want to.  

The bottom line here is that after we are saved we are radically different than we were before. That means that profession of faith without transformation of life from the inside out is not biblical conversion. We cannot experience the power of God in salvation and still look the same as those in the world who haven’t. As one preacher said, “If someone gets hit by a Mack truck, they will look different than they did before they got hit.” In the same way, we will look different after we experience true biblical conversion than we did before it happened. 

Conclusion: 

God saves us by forgiving us of our sin, giving us His own Spirit, and radically changing us from the inside out completely by His grace and for His glory among the nations! 

So I just have to ask you, have you experienced what we talked about here? Has God stepped into the story of your life, changed your heart, forgiven you of your sin, and given you His Spirit? If not and He is working in your heart right now, respond to Him. He would love nothing more than to save you.  

Maybe you thought you were saved but realized that some of the things that I have talked about were not a reality in your life. Don’t be afraid to get that settled today. I would much rather you search your heart, realize you have been deceiving yourself into thinking that you are saved, and get it right today than to continue deceiving yourself and spend an eternity in hell.  

Maybe you are truly saved, but you are resisting the radical changes that God is trying to make in your life. Let go. Let’s be the people of God that He wants us to be. 

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