Editor's 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 con-ver­sion 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 trans-for­ma­tion 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, bur 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 Hook 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 lie 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 over- whelm­ing 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 our. Wc arc 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. 

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

Originally published December 1958