The New Living Translation
What is Conversion?

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I remember some years back when I was just starting out in youth ministry, I was working at a church that liked to handle decisions for Christ in an altar-call sort of way. You know, where someone up front asks people to raise their hands and then perhaps come forward to pray and accept Jesus into their heart. Well, in the youth meetings I was working with, we did a similar thing, except we pulled people quietly to the side so as not to embarrass them, and took them off to a different room to explain the deal, and pray the prayer. After one of these sort of clandestine conversion moments, one of the girls who had just gone and “prayed the prayer” came up to me and said, “So how do I actually become a Christian?” The whole altar call, praying the prayer thing, hadn’t answered her deep heart questions about what it meant to follow Jesus.

As a young youth leader who had grown up in this tradition of altar calls and decisions for Christ, I remember being more than a little disturbed that it hadn’t really “worked.” And yet, the older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize that the decision to follow Jesus is a process, and the decision to continue thinking about what it means to follow Jesus is a process, and this whole “life with Jesus” thing is a process that won’t be complete until we graduate to the next life.

The idea that someone wanted to follow Jesus but didn’t really “get it” was disturbing to me, and yet now I realize that none of us will ever completely get it, because we are talking about a relationship with God here. God is a great deal bigger than we can ever get our finite minds around. As we follow him, and learn more about his heart and his will for our lives, we will see more and more of him revealed, but there will always be more that we don’t understand.

And that’s okay.

As I read through the Gospels, I find myself struck by Jesus’ willingness to work with the disciples who didn’t get a lot of what he was trying to tell them. In fact, it took them almost three years to get the idea that he was God, and then they still had no clue what he was doing by allowing himself to be crucified. And yet, while Jesus continued to teach them and while he wanted them to understand more and more about himself so that they could experience the abundant life he had come to offer (John 10:10), the most important thing was that they had made the rather improbable choice to follow him, and that they continued to do so even in the face of all the stuff they didn’t understand.

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