To convert is to change from one character, type, or purpose to another. Our bodies convert food into energy. We can convert inches to centimeters, pounds to kilograms, and dollars to euros. Our hearts can undergo similar conversions. We can change direction morally, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. We are what we think (Proverbs 23:7). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated “converted” means “to turn back or return.” It is also translated "restore," as in Psalm 23:3, "He restores my soul." The picture the Bible paints of the word convert is to return to what we were initially created to be.
Since the fall of mankind, every human has been born with a sin nature. Our natural tendency is to please ourselves rather than God. Our human attempts to be good fall far short of the perfection of God (Romans 3:10, 23; Isaiah 53:6). We cannot please God through our own efforts and are destined for eternal separation from Him (Romans 6:23, 8:8; John 3:16-18); we cannot convert ourselves. That’s why Jesus came to earth, died in our place, and rose again to conquer death and sin (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). He took the punishment our sin deserves. He offers to trade His perfection for our imperfection so that we can be seen as righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When we admit our helplessness apart from Christ, we are ready to embrace Him as Savior and Lord (Acts 3:19; Romans 10:9). Conversion happens when we trade our old sin nature for the new nature Christ provides. When we come to Him humbly, confess our sin, turn away from it, and seek His ways, our entire perspective changes. The Holy Spirit moves into our spirits and transforms our entire way of life (Acts 2:38; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are converted—restored to the relationship God intended us to have with Him. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." This is more than a human attempt to "clean up your act." It is a wholesale change of direction. You were going east; now you are going west. Conversion changes the human heart from sinful to righteous, from hell-bound to heaven-bound.
The Bible has many examples of people who were converted by the grace of God. The Christian-hating Saul became Paul, who devoted the rest of his life to serving the church he once tried to destroy (1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:7-8). The impetuous and condemning John was transformed into the “apostle of love” (see 1 John 4:7-21). The demoniac of Gerasene, after meeting Jesus, was “dressed and in his right mind” and begging to follow Jesus (Mark 5:15-18). The Holy Spirit has lost none of His power. Modern conversion stories include the amazing transformations of John Newton, Mel Trotter, David Berkowitz, and Chuck Colson.
This is all accomplished through faith. Faith is placing your whole life into the hands of Someone your spirit recognizes but your physical senses cannot confirm (Hebrews 11:1). Hebrews 11:6 says that "without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." We are saved from our old sin nature and the penalty of that sin through faith in Jesus Christ. But even that faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). God gives us the faith to believe in Him, but we must receive it and act on it. Exercising that gift of faith results in conversion.
Conversion begins in the heart and radiates outward to affect everything we think, say, or do (James 2:26). Merely stating that conversion has occurred does not make it so. Real conversion is obvious as a person switches direction, changes allegiance and moves from self-worship to God-worship. As the heart is transformed, the actions follow until the entire life has been converted from sin-filled to God-honoring (Romans 6:6-7).