9Marks at Southern Seminary expounds on conversion
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (SBTS) — Healthy churches understand conversion is impossible apart from God, said pastors and leaders at the 9Marks Conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Feb. 26-27.
“Conversion is an even greater work of God than creation,” said Mark Dever, president of 9Marks and senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. “Because at creation God had to do something with nothing, but when God comes to make the heart believe, he finds opposition and rebellion, he finds man against himself. As we read in the New Testament, we are at enmity with God. Christ therefore must … give new life.”
“The Conversion” was the fourth annual 9Marks Conference at Southern and explored why truly understanding conversion is essential for building healthy churches.
Speaking on “Calling and Conversion,” Dever examined Joel 2:28-32 to show the power of the Holy Spirit in conversion. He challenged Christians to consider their need for grace and God’s choice in giving grace.
Dever said the Bible supports God’s choice to elect. Election, Dever said, displays God’s initiative in pursuing his people: instructing Noah to build the ark; promising to make the pagan Abram a great nation; revealing himself to Moses and leading his people out of Egypt; and Jesus calling his disciples to follow him.
“The whole story of the Bible is this,” Dever said. “Friend, either God takes the initiative or we’re done for; we’re lost. This is not a subpoint that’s minor; this is the trunk of the Bible. God saves us. ... All of the examples in the Bible show God taking the initiative.”
While God initiates his relationship with his chosen people, that does not mean people do not have the responsibility of responding. God spoke in the Old Testament – to Noah, Abraham, and Moses – but God required of them a response of faith. Dever said this narrates the beauty of conversion.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, evaluated how evangelicals describe Jesus’ evangelistic conversation with Nicodemus in John 3:1-21.
“The first thing we should think of when we hear about Nicodemus is, here is one of the most serious God-followers imaginable in first-century Judaism, and he is also a leader recognized as a leader of the Sanhedrin. This is a man with incredible respect amongst his peers. Not only that, he is a teacher of Israel, he is a rabbi as well,” Mohler said.
Evangelicals may have a preconceived notion of Pharisees. Knowing their character development in the New Testament, Christians understand the Pharisees did not want to please Jesus, and, in fact, they hardened their hearts toward his teaching. Mohler explained Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus as one of urgency and understanding.
“What we should note here, more than a sense of stealth, is an incredible statement of urgency,” Mohler said. “Nicodemus, even in the darkness, goes to Jesus.”
In Jewish culture, nighttime was the separation between the personal and the public, and going to a neighbor’s home in the dark was seen as a disruption of domestic peace, Mohler explained. Nicodemus went to Jesus because he understood he was sent from God.
Jesus tells Nicodemus no one can understand God apart from knowing the Son and being born again is an impossible task for man. Jesus is the key to knowing God and being born of the Spirit of God, Mohler said.
Mohler also noted how evangelicals tend to end John 3 without showing that Nicodemus bears the fruit of the Spirit as seen in John 19 when he helps prepare Jesus’ body for burial.
“The impossible [became] real,” Mohler said. “Having seen the kingdom of God because he was born again, he helps prepare the body of the crucified Christ for burial and for resurrection.”
Greg Gilbert, SBTS alumnus and senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, discussed the spiritual reality that lies in the center of conversion from Romans 6.
He explained that life is only found when a Christian is “intimately and vitally” connected to Christ, both in life and in his death, using the biblical imagery of the vine. The fruit from this life humbles, empowers, transforms, unites, and encourages the body of the church.
“Conversion … is not just a decision that you make, it’s not just a matter of turning over a new leaf,” Gilbert said. “Conversion is actually a miracle of God in which he creates life in a place where there had been only death before.”
Additional speakers included Curtis Woods, associate executive director for convention relations for the Kentucky Baptist Convention; Zane Pratt, vice president for global training for the International Mission Board and former dean of the Billy Graham School at Southern Seminary; and John Onwucheckwa, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
Audio and video from the conference will soon be available at sbts.edu/resources.