“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” II Corinthians 5:17
Once an individual has consecrated his life to God and accepts by faith that God forgives him, the next step is the test of discipleship, and then to grow in a relationship with God.
How do we know that we are truly disciples of Jesus—that our old life is gone and a new life has taken its place? Many look at the change that was wrought in Saul who, after his conversion became known as Paul. This kind of conversion is not the only true conversion.
“A person may not be able to tell the exact time or place, or trace all the chain of circumstances in the process of conversion; but this does not prove him to be unconverted.” Steps to Christ, 57.
Although Saul had a dramatic, immediate conversion, this statement outlines another conversion process that is every bit as genuine and effective. Jesus talks of this type of conversion in John 3:8 where we read about Nicodemus’ night interview in which Jesus told him that the Spirit was like the wind. We can hear the wind, and we can see the effects of its moving, but we cannot see it. This is an illustration of the kind of conversion that Jesus spoke about while here on earth. “Like the wind, which is invisible, yet the effects of which are plainly seen and felt, is the Spirit of God in its work upon the human heart. That regenerating power, which no human eye can see, begets a new life in the soul; it creates a new being in the image of God. While the work of the Spirit is silent and imperceptible, its effects are manifest. If the heart has been renewed by the Spirit of God, the life will bear witness to the fact. While we cannot do anything to change our hearts or to bring ourselves into harmony with God; while we must not trust at all to ourselves or our good works, our lives will reveal whether the grace of God is dwelling within us. A change will be seen in the character, the habits, the pursuits. The contrast will be clear and decided between what they have been and what they are. The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.” Ibid., 57, 58.
But there is some clarification needed here. Sometimes there is an outward change for the better that is not conversion. “It is true that there may be an outward correctness of deportment without the renewing power of Christ. The love of influence and the desire for the esteem of others may produce a well-ordered life. Self-respect may lead us to avoid the appearance of evil. A selfish heart may perform generous actions. By what means, then, shall we determine whose side we are on?” Ibid., 58. Here is the key. Here are concrete questions we can ask ourselves to determine if a genuine conversion has taken place in our hearts: are we truly a disciple of Jesus? Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. Remember God, Who knows all things, searches the heart. He will answer truthfully whether you do or not. “Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Of whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are Christ’s, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. All we have and are is consecrated to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.” Ibid.
We are told if that change has taken place, it will be seen in our lives. “Those who become new creatures in Christ Jesus will bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, ‘love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.’ Galatians 5:22, 23. They will no longer fashion themselves according to the former lusts, but by the faith of the Son of God they will follow in His steps, reflect His character, and purify themselves even as He is pure. The things they once hated they now love, and the things they once loved they hate. The proud and self-assertive become meek and lowly in heart. The vain and supercilious become serious and unobtrusive. The drunken become sober, and the profligate pure. The vain customs and fashions of the world are laid aside. Christians will seek not the ‘outward adorning,’ but ‘the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.’ I Peter 3:3, 4.”
“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 passed from death unto life.” Ibid., 58, 59.
And last, but certainly not least is the fact that once truly converted, these manifestations of change will not be a burden, but rather a joy. “When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness, becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness.” Ibid., 59. Jesus gives us joy in sins forgiven and confessed, the grace received. The resulting love, the duties fulfilled, and the sacrifices made on His behalf are a pleasure. We truly walk in the light of God.
If we have truly received the love of Jesus in our hearts it will flow out to others. How deep is this love? Well, of Jesus it is said: “So devoted was our Redeemer to the work of saving souls that He even longed for His baptism of blood.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 132. Have you considered Jesus’ “baptism of blood”? Have you contemplated what He endured that night in Gethsemane and the following day? Would you long for that experience if you knew that by it you could save a soul? Do you have that kind of love? That is the kind of love God wants us to have. First of all Jesus commands, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” John 13:34; John 15:12. And in the book, Our High Calling, 176, we read the same thing. “ ‘Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour.’ Ephesians 5:1, 2. This is the height of the love we are required to reach. And the texture of this love is not tainted with selfishness.” It was for the goal of saving souls that Jesus longed for His baptism of blood. That is love.
But before you get discouraged by the high standard, read these words of Inspiration: “There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Said the beloved John, ‘These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ I John 2:1. And do not forget the words of Christ, ‘The Father Himself loveth you.’ John 16:27. He desires to restore you to Himself, to see His own purity and holiness reflected in you. And if you will but yield yourself to Him, He that hath begun a good work in you will carry it forward to the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Pray more fervently; believe more fully. As we come to distrust our own power, let us trust the power of our Redeemer, and we shall praise Him Who is the health of our countenance.
“The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature. This is evidence that Satan’s delusions have lost their power; that the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God is arousing you.
“No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness. The soul that is transformed by the grace of Christ will admire His divine character; but if we do not see our own moral deformity, it is unmistakable evidence that we have not had a view of the beauty and excellence of Christ.
“The less we see to esteem in ourselves, the more we shall see to esteem in the infinite purity and loveliness of our Saviour. A view of our sinfulness drives us to Him Who can pardon; and when the soul, realizing its helplessness, reaches out after Christ, He will reveal Himself in power. The more our sense of need drives us to Him and to the word of God, the more exalted views we shall have of His character, and the more fully we shall reflect His image.” Ibid., 64, 65.
What hope, what confidence we can have in God and in Jesus. “Although the human soul may cling to Jesus with all the desperate sense of his great need, Jesus will cling to the souls bought by His own blood with a firmer grasp than the sinner clings to Him.” That I May Know Him, 80. He will never let us go. He is there to help and aid in our growth to Him.
But from here, from a true, genuine conversion and discipleship, there is a continuous process of growing. After all, we are told that, “The work of sanctification is the work of a lifetime; it must go on continually.” The Review and Herald, June 17, 1890.
We learn of the truths of this process through the illustration of nature. When we plant a seed, it is not a mature plant overnight. It has to grow. And just as there is nothing that we can do to make the seed germinate, or make the plant grow, but rather it is God that gives the life and the growth, so the same is true in the Christian life. Steps to Christ, 67, 68 says, “As with life, so it is with growth. It is God who brings the bud to bloom and the flower to fruit. It is by His power that the seed develops, ‘first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.’ Mark 4:28. And the prophet Hosea says of Israel, that ‘he shall grow as the lily.’ ‘They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine.’ Hosea 14:5, 7. And Jesus bids us ‘consider the lilies how they grow.’ Luke 12:27. The plants and flowers grow not by their own care or anxiety or effort, but by receiving that which God has furnished to minister to their life. The child cannot, by any anxiety or power of its own, add to its stature. No more can you, by anxiety or effort of yourself, secure spiritual growth. The plant, the child, grows by receiving from its surroundings that which ministers to its life—air, sunshine, and food. What these gifts of nature are to animal and plant, such is Christ to those who trust in Him. He is their ‘everlasting light,’ ‘a sun and shield.’ Isaiah 60:19; Psalm 84:11. He shall be as ‘the dew unto Israel.’ ‘He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass.’ Hosea 14:5; Psalm 72:6. He is the living water, ‘the Bread of God … which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.’ John 6:33.
“In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.” That is a promise. “All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t say maybe, or probably. It says “will.” That is a promise. “As the flower turns to the sun, that the bright beams may aid in perfecting its beauty and symmetry, so should we turn to the Sun of Righteousness, that heaven’s light may shine upon us, that our character may be developed into the likeness of Christ.”
How beautiful are these truths that as we turn our faces to the Sun of Righteousness, and drink of the “living water” that only Jesus can provide, but that in abundance, He brings about the growth.
What does it mean “so should we turn to the Sun of Righteousness, that heaven’s light may shine upon us, that our character may be developed into the likeness of Christ”? There is nothing we can do to “make” ourselves live right. Jesus Himself said, in John 15:5, “Without Me you can do nothing.”
“Our growth in grace, our joy, our usefulness—all depend upon our union with Christ. It is by communion with Him, daily, hourly—by abiding in Him—that we are to grow in grace. He is not only the Author, but the Finisher of our faith. It is Christ first and last and always. He is to be with us, not only at the beginning and the end of our course, but at every step of the way. David says, ‘I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.’ Psalm 16:8.
“Do you ask, ‘How am I to abide in Christ?’ In the same way as you received Him at first. ‘As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.’ ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Colossians 2:6; Hebrews 10:38. You gave yourself to God, to be His wholly, to serve and obey Him, and you took Christ as your Saviour. You could not yourself atone for your sins or change your heart; but having given yourself to God, you believe that He for Christ’s sake did all this for you. By faith you became Christ’s, and by faith you are to grow up in Him—by giving and taking. You are to give all—your heart, your will, your service—give yourself to Him to obey all His requirements; and you must take all—Christ, the fullness of all blessing, to abide in your heart, to be your strength, your righteousness, your everlasting helper—to give you power to obey.
“Consecrate yourself to God in the morning; make this your very first work. Let your prayer be, ‘Take me, O Lord, as wholly Thine. I lay all my plans at Thy feet. Use me today in Thy service. Abide with me, and let all my work be wrought in Thee.’ This is a daily matter. Each morning consecrate yourself to God for that day. Surrender all your plans to Him, to be carried out or given up as His providence shall indicate. Thus day by day you may be giving your life into the hands of God, and thus your life will be molded more and more after the life of Christ.” Steps to Christ, 69, 70.
When two people first meet each other, they can talk for hours about all kinds of things. What are they doing? They are getting to know each other. As they talk and get to know one another, often likes and dislikes are adjusted or changed.
In our relationship with God, the same principle takes place, only God is not the one who will change. James 1:17 says that God changes not. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” No shadow of turning; that means that He does not change. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” We are the ones who need to do the changing. This is the only logical thinking. Do you want to go to a heaven that is simply a continuation of what this earth is like? That thought is not even to be considered. Well, if we want heaven to be different from this earth, then those inhabiting it need to be different from those inhabiting this planet. In reality, it is other humans in our lives that make life like a heaven on earth, or like hell on earth. Our relationships are the most important part of what life is like.
Just think, if there were no greed, no selfishness, but rather generosity, concern, a thinking of others first, there would be no poverty, hunger, nakedness, or want. So what is necessary is that we do the changing and allow God to work the miracle in our lives of being brought into harmony with Him, with His character.
Do you remember the definition of the new covenant, the plan that established the kingdom of grace? It is simply “an arrangement for bringing men again into harmony with the divine will, placing them where they could obey God’s law.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 371.
We have studied this plan in previous articles, this kingdom of grace, sufficiently to gain some understanding of how deep, how broad, how beautiful and self-sacrificing it is. If we all had the same kind of love that fostered this plan, what a world it would be in which to live. In fact, that is exactly what has to happen in order for us to be prepared and fit so God can take us to be in His holy presence. This is what it means to “grow up into Christ.” It means to be changed into His likeness. How does this change happen?
“A life in Christ is a life of restfulness. There may be no ecstasy of feeling, but there should be an abiding, peaceful trust. Your hope is not in yourself; it is in Christ. Your weakness is united to His strength, your ignorance to His wisdom, your frailty to His enduring might. So you are not to look to yourself, not to let the mind dwell upon self, but look to Christ. Let the mind dwell upon His love, upon the beauty, the perfection, of His character. Christ in His self-denial, Christ in His humiliation, Christ in His purity and holiness, Christ in His matchless love—this is the subject for the soul’s contemplation. It is by loving Him, copying Him, depending wholly upon Him, that you are to be transformed into His likeness.
“Jesus says, ‘Abide in Me.’ These words convey the idea of rest, stability, confidence. Again He invites, ‘Come unto Me … and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28. The words of the psalmist express the same thought: ‘Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.’ And Isaiah gives the assurance, ‘In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.’ Psalm 37:7; Isaiah 30:15. This rest is not found in inactivity; for in the Saviour’s invitation the promise of rest is united with the call to labor: ‘Take My yoke upon you … and ye shall find rest.’ Matthew 11:29. The heart that rests most fully upon Christ will be most earnest and active in labor for Him.
“When the mind dwells upon self, it is turned away from Christ, the Source of strength and life. Hence it is Satan’s constant effort to keep the attention diverted from the Saviour and thus prevent the union and communion of the soul with Christ. The pleasures of the world, life’s cares and perplexities and sorrows, the faults of others, or your own faults and imperfections—to any or all of these he will seek to divert the mind. Do not be misled by his devices. Many who are really conscientious, and who desire to live for God, he too often leads to dwell upon their own faults and weaknesses, and thus by separating them from Christ he hopes to gain the victory. We should not make self the center and indulge anxiety and fear as to whether we shall be saved. All this turns the soul away from the Source of our strength. Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. Let self be lost in Him. Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. Say with the apostle Paul, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ Galatians 2:20. Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him. If you will leave yourself in His hands, He will bring you off more than conqueror through Him that has loved you.” Steps to Christ, 70–72.
Brenda Douay is a staff member at Steps to Life. She may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org