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.

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 January 1959.