An unbeliever becomes a believer in Jesus Christ by the miracle of conversion. This supernatural act occurs on the front end of a person’s relationship with God. (Acts 2:41; 8:12; 15:3; 16:29-34; 17:12; Romans 5:1,2; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:4-7)
No one gets converted by being religious, yet that doesn’t stop many people from trying. Man naturally assumes he can earn salvation by being good enough and jumping through certain religious hoops.
Many people choose to rely upon their religious efforts for salvation rather than upon Christ's sacrifice on the cross. This insistence on trying to work your way to Heaven is the biggest indicator that a person is spiritually dead. (Galatians 3:10; Ephesians 2:1, 8-9)
Unconverted religious people are tragically mistaken to assume they are saved. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). The fact of the matter is that man’s religious deeds cannot wash away even one of his sins.
Fallen angels also hinder people from getting converted. Demons constantly oppose the proclamation of the Gospel, (Ephesians 6:10-12) which “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Satan works to distort the message and has actually "blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
In addition, false prophets lead hordes of unsuspecting people astray. Scripture describes how churches in Galatia were infiltrated by false teachers who claimed that circumcision is necessary for salvation. This unbiblical teaching created spiritual havoc and utter confusion.
The Apostle Paul addressed this deadly error head-on:
“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the Law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:1-3)
If man could save his soul by doing religious deeds, do you honestly think God would have sent his only Son to suffer what Jesus endured on the cross for our sins? Paul wrote: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the Law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21)
The Law has never brought a single soul to Heaven. In fact, “All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). That’s right. A curse! God has made it very clear in his Word that it is impossible for man to earn eternal life in Heaven by his deeds. Salvation is a free gift that is received through faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26; 6:23)
Conversion is not a work of man, but a miracle of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). Attending church services does not make a person a Christian and religious practices cannot save your soul.
The New Testament uses a variety of words to describe those who have been converted: saved, redeemed, born again, justified, and forgiven. Jesus never told anyone, “You must be religious.” But he did say, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
The miracle of conversion takes place when a sinner trusts Jesus to wash away his sins. Have you been converted? Perhaps you are not sure. You could resolve the uncertainty right now. Simply ask the Lord in faith: “Wash me, Jesus, with your precious blood.” And believe in your heart that Christ died to redeem your soul from sin and death, and that the Messiah rose from the dead on the third day.
The Pharisees assumed they knew God. But Jesus told them, “You do not know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 7:19). Most of those religious leaders remained unconverted because they refused to receive Jesus the Messiah.
The Apostle John wrote,
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12,13).
Have you received Jesus as your Savior? Are you saved, redeemed, born again, justified and forgiven? Or are you merely jumping through some religious hoops in hopes that you can do enough to gain God’s acceptance and forgiveness?
“A man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law” (Romans 3:28). “Clearly no one is justified before God by the Law, because, ’The righteous will live by faith.’ (Galatians 3:11). Forgiveness of sins is only given to those who trust in Christ alone.
Don’t be surprised, however, if you find yourself resisting the Gospel message. Believe it or not, people often have a hard time accepting the free gift of salvation. ”I did it my way” describes man’s natural determination to try to save his own soul. Pride keeps many people out of Heaven.
Are you currently too proud to be converted? If so, will you transfer your confidence away from your “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and place your faith in Christ alone? After all, what makes you think you are good enough to get into Heaven on your own merits?
God’s Word reminds believers: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Regardless of your religious history, you would be wise to repent of your sins and place your faith in the death of Jesus for the salvation of your soul. Receive Christ by faith. (John 1:12) Trust him to forgive your sins. (Romans 10:11) "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.