Introductory Note:

You may find yourself struggling with this selection by E. Stanley Jones because his way of speaking of conversion is not common today. We are accustomed to hearing about conversion in the context of assenting to certain statements and reciting a certain prayer. Jones, on the other hand, sees conversion as the activity of God on our behalf that results in the transformation and reordering of the total life. That is, we accept Christ as our Life!

I would suggest to you that Jones has a fuller, more biblical understanding of conversion than that promulgated today in popular religion. Conversion does not make us perfect, but it does catapult us into a total experience of discipleship that affects—and infects—every sphere of our living. When we begin our pilgrimage of faith, we may not know all that conversion to Christ will mean, but we can be assured that no corner of our lives will be left untouched.

Richard J. Foster
Renovaré Founder

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

Recep­tiv­i­ty and Response 

Con­ver­sion is a gift and an achieve­ment. It is the act of a moment and the work of a life­time. You can­not attain sal­va­tion by dis­ci­plines — it is the gift of God. But you can­not retain it with­out dis­ci­plines. If you try to attain sal­va­tion by dis­ci­plines, you will be try­ing to dis­ci­pline an unsur­ren­dered self. You will be sit­ting on a lid. The result will be tense­ness instead of trust. You will wres­tle instead of nes­tle.” While sal­va­tion can­not be attained by dis­ci­pline around an unsur­ren­dered self, neverthe­less when the self is sur­ren­dered to Christ and a new cen­ter formed, then you can dis­ci­pline your life around that new cen­ter — Christ. Dis­ci­pline is the fruit of con­version — not the root. 

This pas­sage gives the dou­ble-sid­ed­ness of con­ver­sion: As there­fore you re­ceived Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, root­ed and built up in him and estab­lished in the faith” (Col. 2:6 – 7, RSV). Note, received” — recep­tiv­i­ty; so live” — activ­i­ty. It appears again, root­ed” — recep­tiv­i­ty; built up in him” — activity. 

The root­ed” means we take from God as the roots take from the soil; the built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a char­ac­ter and life by disci­plined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depend­ed on God and work as if the whole thing depend­ed on us. The al­ternate beats of the Chris­t­ian heart are recep­tiv­i­ty and response — recep­tiv­i­ty from God and response in work from us.

Sim­ple Habits 

The best Man that ever lived on our plan­et illus­trat­ed this recep­tiv­i­ty and response rhythm. No one was so utter­ly depen­dent on God and no one was more person­ally dis­ci­plined in his habits. 

He did three things by habit: 

  1. He stood up to read as was his cus­tom”— he read the Word of God by habit. 
  2. He went out into the moun­tain to pray as was his cus­tom” — he prayed by habit. 
  3. He taught them again as was his cus­tom” — he passed on to oth­ers by habit what he had and what he had found. 

These sim­ple habits were the foun­da­tion habits of his life. They are as up-to-date as tomor­row morn­ing. No con­vert­ed per­son can live with­out those habits at work vital­ly in his life. 

God Inter­pret­ing Himself 

First, the habit of read­ing the Word of God dai­ly, prefer­ably in the morn­ing. The New Tes­ta­ment is the inspired record of the Rev­e­la­tion — the rev­e­la­tion is the per­son of Jesus Christ. He moves out of the pages of this book and meets us with the impact of his per­son on our per­sons. That impact is cleans­ing. Now you are clean through the word which I have spo­ken unto you.” When you expose your all to his every­thing,” then you sub­mit your­self to a dai­ly cleans­ing of the mind, of mo­tive, of emotions. 

I know two bril­liant Chris­tians who come to the dai­ly morn­ing devo­tions with­out their Bibles. They can med­i­tate, they say. They are both shal­low, for they medi­ate God to them­selves through their own think­ing — they become the medi­um. They do not go to God direct as they imag­ine — they go through their own think­ing; they become the medi­a­tor. That is why we have to have the revela­tion of God through the Word. It is God inter­pret­ing him­self to us. His interpreta­tion of him­self is Jesus. When you expose your think­ing to him, you expose your­self to God. These words of the New Tes­ta­ment have been in such close con­tact with the Word that they are vibrant with Life. 

Dr. Howard Atwood Kel­ly, pro­fes­sor of gyne­co­log­i­cal surgery at Johns Hop­kins, says of read­ing the Bible, Such read­ing applied with an hon­est heart trans­forms the nature, enables the pros­ti­tute to love holi­ness and become an angel of mer­cy, and rais­es the beg­gar and the drunk­ard to set them among the princes of the earth.” He said again: The Bible vin­di­cates itself because it is such excel­lent med­i­cine. It has nev­er failed to cure a sin­gle patient if only he took his pre­scrip­tion honestly.” 

Take the pre­scrip­tion of the Word of God dai­ly. No Chris­t­ian is sound who is not scriptural. 

Peren­ni­al­ly Fresh with God 

Sec­ond, pray in pri­vate by habit. When we read the Scrip­ture, God speaks to us. In prayer we speak to God. Then God speaks to us, no longer through the Word only, but direct­ly in words to us.

Car­lyle says: Prayer is and remains the native and deep­est impulse of the soul of man.” Lin­coln said: I have been dri­ven many times to my knees by the over­whelm­ing con­vic­tion that I had nowhere else to go; my own con­vic­tion and that of those around me seemed insuf­fi­cient for the day.” 

Lin­coln prac­ticed prayer. A gen­tle­man with an appoint­ment to meet Lin­coln at five A.M. arrived fif­teen min­utes ear­ly. He heard a voice in the next room and asked the atten­dant: Who is in the next room? Some­one with the Pres­i­dent?” No, he is read­ing the Bible and pray­ing.” Is that his habit so ear­ly in the morn­ing?” Yes, sir, he spends each morn­ing from four to five in read­ing the Scrip­tures and pray­ing.” No won­der we can­not for­get Lin­coln. He is peren­ni­al­ly fresh with God. 

There is no expe­ri­ence of con­ver­sion which will make you immune against the lack of read­ing the word of God and prayer. When prayer fades out, pow­er fades out. We are as spir­i­tu­al as we are prayer­ful; no more, no less. 

The Con­vert­ed Convert 

Third, pass on to oth­ers what you have found. The third habit is the habit of pass­ing on to oth­ers what has been giv­en to us in the read­ing of the Word and prayer. It is a law of the mind that that which is not expressed dies. If you don’t share it, you won’t have it. 

Paul says, He who sup­plies seed to the sow­er” (2 Cor. 9:10, RSV). He gives seed only to those who sow it. If you don’t sow it, you will have noth­ing to sow. Those who do not pass on to oth­ers are them­selves emp­ty. The con­vert­ed con­vert, or they don’t stay con­vert­ed. Unless you are evan­ge­lis­tic, you don’t remain evangelical.

These three things are basic in the cul­ti­va­tion of the con­vert­ed life. With­out them the con­vert­ed life will fade out. In addi­tion to them cer­tain aux­il­iary sugges­tions must be made. 

Keep the Fire Burning

First, cul­ti­vate the new life by dai­ly dis­ci­plines. Com­mis­sion­er Bren­gle of the Sal­va­tion Army, a cen­ter of great spir­i­tu­al pow­er, sug­gests three things to keep the fire burn­ing: Keep the draught open; clean the ash­es out; keep putting in fuel.” 

Sec­ond, keep hon­est at any cost. A South African boy had won a swim­ming cham­pi­onship, but he was six months over age when he won it. Then he was con­vert­ed. He brought his beloved tro­phy in his hands and made a clean breast of it before the committee. 

Third, keep con­fess­ing your sins after con­ver­sion. Don’t be afraid to say: I am sor­ry. I was wrong.” The rule about con­fess­ing your sins should be, the cir­cle of con­fes­sion should be the cir­cle affect­ed by the sin. If the sin has been against an indi­vid­ual, con­fess it to that indi­vid­ual; if against a fam­i­ly, to a fam­i­ly; if against a group, then to a group; if against a church, to a church. 

Con­ver­sions, Unlimited 

Fourth, pray for those who have wronged you. That will be an anti­dote for resent­ments and bit­ter­ness. A the­o­log­i­cal pro­fes­sor keeps a card index of nasty let­ters he receives and prays for their writ­ers every day. No won­der his spir­it has an extra­or­di­nary sweet­ness. A friend of mine was shot at bv a youth, who because of it was sent to prison for twelve years. My friend kept in touch with him through those prison years, and now that his term of sen­tence is over, he has tak­en him into his home. 

Fifth, con­stant­ly enlarge the area of your con­ver­sion. Make your con­ver­sion take in more and more areas of your life. In the Sat Tal Ashram in India we gave the ser­vants, includ­ing the sweep­er, a hol­i­day one day each week, and we volun­teered to do their jobs for them. The sweep­er’s work includ­ed the clean­ing of the latrines before the days of flush toi­lets. No one would touch that job but an out­caste, but we volunteered. 

One day I said to a Brah­min con­vert who was hes­i­tat­ing to vol­un­teer: Broth­er C., when are you going to vol­un­teer?” He shook his head slow­ly and said: Broth­er Stan­ley, I’m con­vert­ed, but I’m not con­vert­ed that far.” Some of our con­ver­sions are Con­ver­sions, Lim­it­ed,” and some are Con­ver­sions, Unlim­it­ed.” Some take in the indi­vid­ual life, but not the social and eco­nom­ic. Some let their con­ver­sion func­tion with­in their class and race, but not among all class­es and all races. 

A lit­tle girl was kneel­ing on her fathers lap and was telling him how much she loved him, but she was look­ing over her father’s shoul­der and mak­ing faces at her lit­tle broth­er. The moth­er saw it and said: You lit­tle hyp­ocrite, you telling your father you love him and then mak­ing faces and stick­ing out your tongue at your lit­tle broth­er.” Chris­tians who hold race prej­u­dices do just that. They tell God the Father they love him and then look over his shoul­der and tell his oth­er chil­dren they de­spise them. How can we love God whom we have not seen unless we love his chil­dren whom we do see?

Sev­en Vital Virtues 

After par­tak­ing of the divine nature add these things: 

… sup­ple­ment your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowl­edge, and knowl­edge with self-con­trol, and self-con­trol with stead­fast­ness, and stead­fast­ness with godli­ness, and god­li­ness with broth­er­ly affec­tion, and broth­er­ly affec­tion with love. (2 Pet. 1:5b‑7)

Sit down every day and go over these sev­en things and ask your­self if you are adding them to your basic faith — virtue, knowl­edge, self-con­trol, stead­fast­ness, godli­ness, broth­er­ly affec­tion, and love. Check up to see whether you are going up or down in each of these qual­i­ties — espe­cial­ly the last one. All growth in Chris­t­ian liv­ing is a growth in love. You may add the oth­er six to your faith, but if you don’t add love, then you are going down as a Christian. 

Enlarge the area of your con­ver­sion, tak­ing in fresh ter­ri­to­ry every day. 

Excerpt­ed from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics, copy­right 1990 Ren­o­varé, with orig­i­nal text from Con­ver­sion by E. Stan­ley Jones, © 1959 Abing­don Press, renewed 1987 by Eunice Matthews.

Text First Published December 1958 · Last Featured on May 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

View Selections & Learn More >