Now when they heard [Peter preach the Gospel], they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
— Acts 2:37-38 (NRSV)
There is much perennial consternation within Christian circles regarding experiences of conversion. There are liberal schools who think God accepts the plainest forms of ecstatic conversion, where altar calls claim, “One more for the Kingdom!” At the other end of the spectrum the conservatives require much more evidence that the transformation of salvation has actually occurred. These people can be very hard to convince, where only the Holy Spirit need be convinced.
Truly only God and the person concerned—ultimately at Judgment—can attest to the effectiveness of the conversion experience. However, we could say that a vital indicator that someone is truly converted to Christ is their approach toward their discipleship under God, as guided by more mature Christians of the cohort, after their conversion.
Now let’s break down the basic components of this particular conversion experience.
The Acts 2:37-38 Components of Conversion
The first process of conversion is conviction by the Holy Spirit—Peter’s listeners were “cut to the heart.” They suddenly realised how far from God they were. They had realised the scale and dimensions of their sin. A person can never be converted unless they are truly cut to the heart; a person’s recognition of themselves as a sinner needing saving.
Only the Holy Spirit can convict the heart of an unregenerate person. People cannot ‘lead’ people to this experience. The Holy Spirit needs to do that. Therefore, the people do not do the saving, but God’s Spirit does. People can teach Biblical truth with power, but it is the Spirit that saves.
The second process of conversion is the spiritual action and commitment of repentance. This, simply as can be put, is turning back to God—the central idea is a lifelong commitment of doing just that; of repenting by character, continually. Evidence of Christian growth and health, therefore, is the pervasiveness of honesty and repentance, toward integrity, in the Christian’s life. If the phenomenon of repentance is a rare experience for a Christian, how close can they be to the Spirit of God?
The third process of conversion is the outworking of the inner condition: baptism. It appears in the text that baptism and the forgiveness of sins are linked. So why would we put off baptism? It seems to be a vital component in the conversion experience. Baptism seems to be a necessary component toward the receipt of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The conversion experience is not a highly excited and emotionally overwhelming experience ‘at an altar call’—though that may be included—but the process of conviction by the Holy Spirit of one’s sin and distance from God, toward repentance, and commitment to follow God all the days of our lives, and then baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The gift of the Holy Spirit is then received.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.