Where does the Bible talk about conversion?

Last updated on March 3, 2022

Conversion praise

The word ‘conversion’ occurs once in the Bible (although it does depend on the translation). The related word ‘convert(s)’ occurs four times. However, even though these words are infrequent, the concept of ‘conversion’ occurs much more often.

The word ‘conversion’ occurs in Acts 15:3. “So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers”. This phrase is used by Paul and Barnabas as they describe to the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria how the Gentiles elsewhere responded to the gospel.

Where can I find the word convert(s) in the Bible?

The word ‘convert(s)’ occurs in four places:

  • Acts 13:43: “And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas. Who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.” Here the word “convert” refers to people who had converted to the Jewish religion.
  • Romans 16:5: “Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.” Paul refers to Epaenetus as the first ‘convert’ in Asia, that is, he was the first Christian believer.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:15: “Now I urge you, brothers – you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia. And that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints…” As in Romans 16:5, the word ‘converts’ here also refers to the first believers in the Achaia.
  • 1 Timothy 3:6: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” In this verse, Paul is describing the qualities that a church elder must have; the qualification is that he must not be a recent ‘convert’, that is, a recent believer.

The word ‘convert’ is generally used as an alternative word for ‘believer’. However, in Acts 15:3 the word that is used in the original language for ‘conversion’ literally means ‘a turning’. When we understand this, we can then see that the concept of conversion is much more common in the Bible.

Related terms

Very closely related to the term ‘conversion’ are the words ‘repentance’ and ‘to repent’. This words occur 56 times in the New Testament. Repentance also means to turn, or to change your mind. Let’s have a look at a few of these occurrences:

  • Matthew 3 and Luke 3: In Matthew 3:2, John the Baptist says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. As can be seen in the rest of the chapter, John is calling people to turn from how they have been living.
  • Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach. Saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'”. Jesus’ message was fundamentally one of calling people to repent, to turn to God.
  • Acts 2:38: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'”. On the day of Pentecost, at the end of his sermon, Peter calls his hearers to ‘repent’, that is, to turn to God.

Every human being needs to repent

Why is this concept of ‘repentance’ so common in the Bible? Let’s read what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10:

“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The word ‘turned’ in these verses has exactly the same idea behind it as ‘repentance’ or ‘conversion’. Therefore, what does ‘repentance’ or ‘conversion’ involve? It involves recognizing that you have been serving idols (like the Thessalonians). And a rejection of that (a turning away from those things). Alongside, this turning away, there must also be a turning to God. As Paul says “you turned from idols to the living God”. This is the fundamental characteristic of repentance and of conversion. And this is common in the Bible, because the Bible teaches that by nature we worship idols (things that we make to be god) instead of worshiping the true God. Therefore, every human being needs to repent, to turn (to be converted) to the true God. Just as the Thessalonian Christians did.

So, if you’ve not yet repented or turned to God, now is a good time to do so. Repent, reject your idols your false gods, and turn to the one true and living God, seeking His salvation and submitting to His rightful rule over your life.

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