A Religious Experience VS True Conversion Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away…2 Timothy 3:5
Before I was truly born again, I fit the criterion that Paul the Apostle spoke of in 2 Timothy 3:5, as “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” I had a quote unquote, RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. Many times, a false conversion can look almost identical with a true one. It’s the different between wheat and tares that Jesus spoke of in the parables. As they begin to sprout, until they’re full grown, you can barely tell the difference between the two. The major difference is one is useless and has to be burned; the other is gathered for the harvest and stored to provide food. My experience before salvation was that I looked the part, and everyone thought I was such a spiritual person. When in reality, it was all about what I could do to make ME look good. But I did it in the name of God.
I was religious, and basically passed judgment on every else who didn’t believe like me. It was my church that had the corner on the truth. I was baptized, sang gospel music, preached and taught at church, and even helped with VBS and other occasions for the church. I knew a lot about the Bible. I even modified my behavior that made me look even more spiritual. The truth is, I was twice dead and plucked up by the roots, and didn’t even know it. I was baptized, dressed for church, went to nursing homes and hospitals, but was absolutely devoid of a relationship with Jesus Christ. There was a part of me that hungered for God, and knew there was more than what I’d known and/or experienced.
I was as narrow minded as they came. I had little tolerance for things I didn’t believe in. I wasn’t as rigid in my belief as some in the church I attended, but you couldn’t reason with me on the Bible very easily. I had all the answers because I attended the “RIGHT” church. It wasn’t until age 34 that I realized there was more the Christianity than just looking the part. First of all, God had to show me that there is nothing I can do to earn my salvation. It is a gift of God, given to us freely by His divine, unmerited favor. We obtain it as an act of our faith in what Jesus did on the cross, and His glorious resurrection after His death. How did I know that I was born again, and Jesus entered my heart? It was because my life changed, and I knew I was a different person after I prayed a prayer of repentance and submission to the will of God. On my knees, before a holy God, is where I surrendered my heart to Jesus.
I learned some things about the difference between a religious experience and a true conversion. A religious experience is an outward change; a true conversion is a transformation of the inward heart of a person. True conversion doesn’t automatically make someone perfect the day they give their heart to Jesus. It deals first of all, with the guilt of their sin, and washes them clean. God doesn’t begin the cleanup job until AFTER a true conversion. In a religious experience, one has to clean up BEFORE he/she can say they’re saved. Everything done out of merely a religious experience is nothing more than BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION. Usually such conversions don’t last, and drives a person further into secret bondages, that at one time, they may have had a hope of overcoming. A religious experience puts a person in the mode of having to impress others to show they are truly changed. And there is a certain amount of gratification in a religious experience, but at the end of the day, it leaves a person totally devoid of any lasting peace. In a religious experience, if others think well of them, then they must be ok. If not, then they need converted all over again. It weighs a person down with a continual sense of low-grade, and sometimes high-grade condemnation.
True religion is of God. God is not totally mad with religion. As a matter of fact, God’s people could use a little more of it. In some churches, there is little fear of God, or conviction of sin. You have supposed believers living with each other without being married, and the church acting as if everything is ok, when in reality, the cancer of sin has invaded that church like a plague. That said, true religion must come about in the right way. That is when someone’s inward man, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, gives him or her the ability to walk in God’s holiness. Their outward actions are a result of an inward transformation of the heart. It’s not to look good to others; it’s to please one’s heavenly Father. True conversion is a heart broken before God because of one’s own sinfulness. As a believer, the Word someone upholds renews a person’s inward man day by day. True Christianity is about “WHO”, not do. Do is important, but do is as a result of who, and that who is Jesus. It’s about God working through us; it’s not about us working for Him. He becomes the master of our destiny. It’s just we get to live it out. The world says we are masters of our own destiny, but it’s a big lie birthed straight out of the bowels of the prince of darkness.
There’s not a man on this earth that could have done what Jesus did for me. When I got saved, it wasn’t me and my father, the preacher, or anyone else. I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t save myself. My life before then was a stench in the nostrils of almighty God. His wrath abided on me before that day, and I was destined for a devil’s hell. When we become a child of God, there is not a thing to fear. The sting of death is sin, and God took the stinger right out of that “bumblebee.” The victory of the grave is to stand before a holy God justified. Just as if I’d never sinned! Just as if I’d never committed a wrong in my life. Jesus bore my punishment on the cross. What I should have got, Jesus bore in Himself on the cross. The chastisement of my peace was upon Him (Isaiah 53). To be truly converted, a person must humble him or herself under the almighty hand of God. He is the secret place and shelter you seek. There is none other. We seek other things because they are what we can see. We can’t see God with our natural eye, but He’s done everything so we can sense His presence, and know His transforming power.
Many people get the narrow way and their narrow mind confused. The Pharisees did that, and therefore our Lord condemned them. They elevated the traditions of men and church doctrine over the Word of God. Many are guilty of this today, hence is why our churches are filled with unsaved people. Have you had a religious experience, or true conversion? Has Jesus Christ transformed your inward man? Jesus said, “We must be born again!” Being born again entails becoming a babe in Christ. It’s becoming AS a little child in innocence and purity. We put off the old man, and all things in our life are made new. The dark clouds of despair in our life gives way to the bright sunshine of God’s transforming presence. He wants to change us and bring us into His kingdom. That is being truly transformed by the power of His marvelous gospel.
Written on Randy Gene Foncree on Wednesday, July 17, 2008
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Randy, thanks for this straight-shooting, enlightening article! I share your experience; I recited the sinner's prayer at a very young age, and did all the "right" things. Convinced that I was saved, I ignored the fact that my heart was secretly full of religious pride and rebellion. At age 24, after a pile of deep heartbreaks, Jesus finally conquered me with His love. Your words need to be heard. God bless you and your wife's precious ministry!
Thank you for your honesty. It takes courage to look at ourselves without making excuses. I find it very helpful when I am talking to others to use myself as an example of failure, rather than the more typical habit of pointing out the failure in others. Fortunately (or unfortunately,) I have all the weaknesses and have committed most of the sins (give or take a few) that a man can commit, so it isn't difficult for me to point out something stupid and selfish that I've done. SOmetimes, I think one of the worst sins is vanity. It's a sin that we never completely conquer, but with Christ's help, we can at least keep it in check.