What Is Conversion?

Quick Answer

It is turning from the carnal things of this world and turning to God. It is a change of heart. It choosing to go a different direction in life.

"True conversion is a radical change. The very drift of the mind and bent of the heart should be turned and life become new again in Christ." {4T 16.4}

Bible Answer

Psalms 51:13 "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;
and sinners shall be converted unto thee."

Matthew 18:3 "And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Acts 3:19 "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;"

John 3:1-16 "There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10 Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Matthew 9:9 "And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him."

Inspired Answer

What Is Genuine Or True Conversion?

"If there is nothing more in all the Scriptures which point out definitely the way to heaven [John 3:1-16 had just been read by Mrs. White], we have it here in these words. They tell us what conversion is. They tell us what we must do in order to be saved. And, my friends, I want to tell you that this strikes directly at the root of the surface work in the religious world. It strikes directly against the idea that you can become a child of God without any particular change. There is a decided change wrought in us if the truth of God has found a place in our hearts, for it has a sanctifying power upon life and upon character. When we see the fruits of righteousness in those who claim to have advanced truth, as we claim to have it, then there will be a course of action which testifies that we have learned of Christ. {FW 63.2}

"Genuine conversion is a grand and noble thing. It means leaving childish things behind, and being a man, one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father, the faith clinging to Christ, the friend of sinners. When you acknowledge Christ as your very best friend, when you are entirely satisfied with Him, you will be a happy man. You will put away childish things." {Lt66-1899.6}

"Genuine conversion is transformation of character. New purposes, new moral tastes are created. Defects of character are overcome. Truth, with its sanctifying power, brings the entire man into obedience to Christ." {TSA 30.2}

"True conversion is a change from selfishness to sanctified affection for God and for one another." {1SM 115.1}

"Real conversion is a decided change of feelings and motives; it is a virtual taking leave of worldly connections, a hastening from their spiritual atmosphere, a withdrawing from the controlling power of their thoughts, opinions, and influences."—Testimonies for the Church 5:82, 83 (1889). {1MCP 349.2}

"There are few really consecrated men among us, few who have fought and conquered in the battle with self. Real conversion is a decided change of feelings and motives; it is a virtual taking leave of worldly connections, a hastening from their spiritual atmosphere, a withdrawing from the controlling power of their thoughts, opinions, and influences. The separation causes pain and bitterness to both parties. It is the variance which Christ declares that He came to bring. But the converted will feel a continual longing desire that their friends shall forsake all for Christ, knowing that, unless they do, there will be a final and eternal separation. The true Christian cannot, while with unbelieving friends, be light and trifling. The value of the souls for whom Christ died is too great." {5T 82.5}

"Conversion is a work that most do not appreciate. It is not a small matter to transform an earthly, sin-loving mind and bring it to understand the unspeakable love of Christ, the charms of His grace, and the excellency of God, so that the soul shall be imbued with divine love and captivated with the heavenly mysteries. When he understands these things, his former life appears disgusting and hateful. He hates sin, and, breaking his heart before God, he embraces Christ as the life and joy of the soul. He renounces his former pleasures. He has a new mind, new affections, new interest, new will; his sorrows, and desires, and love are all new. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, which have heretofore been preferred before Christ, are now turned from, and Christ is the charm of his life, the crown of his rejoicing. Heaven, which once possessed no charms, is now viewed in its riches and glory; and he contemplates it as his future home, where he shall see, love, and praise the One who hath redeemed him by His precious blood. {2T 294.2}  The works of holiness, which appeared wearisome, are now his delight. The word of God, which was dull and uninteresting, is now chosen as his study, the man of his counsel. It is as a letter written to him from God, bearing the inscription of the Eternal. His thoughts, his words, and his deeds are brought to this rule and tested. He trembles at the commands and threatenings which it contains, while he firmly grasps its promises and strengthens his soul by appropriating them to himself. The society of the most godly is now chosen by him, and the wicked, whose company he once loved, he no longer delights in. He weeps over those sins in them at which he once laughed. Self-love and vanity are renounced, and he lives unto God, and is rich in good works. This is the sanctification which God requires. Nothing short of this will He accept. {2T 294.3}

"When the sinner sees Jesus lifted upon the cross, dying that he might not perish but have everlasting life, he realizes something of the enormity of sin, and longs for pardon for all his transgressions, and for the favor of God. As the Holy Spirit impresses his mind, he prays most earnestly, and believes that if he asks he shall receive. {Ms40-1894.23} He presents the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1:9.] He rejoices in the pardoning love of God, and his sincerity in the service of God, the reality of his conversion, is made manifest by the vigor of his endeavor to obey all of God’s commandments. The soul who has found the Lord will renounce every evil work, will cease to do evil and learn to do well, because Christ is formed within the hope of glory." {Ms40-1894.24}

"A man is no sooner converted than in his heart is born a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. The Spirit of Christ illuminating the soul is represented by the light, which dispels all darkness; it is compared to salt, because of its preserving qualities; and to leaven, which secretly exerts its transforming power."—Testimonies for the Church 4:318, 319. {PaM 154.3

"Candidates who have grown to manhood and womanhood should understand their duty better than do the younger ones; but the pastor of the church has a duty to do for these souls. Have they wrong habits and practices? It is the duty of the pastor to have special meetings with them. Give them Bible readings, converse and pray with them, and plainly show the claims of the Lord upon them. Read to them the teaching of the Bible in regard to conversion. Show what is the fruit of conversion, the evidence that they love God. Show that true conversion is a change of heart, of thoughts and purposes. Evil habits are to be given up. The sins of evil-speaking, of jealousy, of disobedience, are to be put away. A warfare must be waged against every evil trait of character. Then the believing one can understandingly take to himself the promise: “Ask, and it shall be given you.” Matthew 7:7.544 {CCh 297.3}

"One of the strongest evidences of true conversion is love to God and man. Those who accept Jesus as their Redeemer have a deep, sincere love for others of like precious faith. Thus it was with the believers at Thessalonica. “As touching brotherly love,” the apostle wrote, “ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.” {AA 262.3}

"True conversion is a radical change. The very drift of the mind and bent of the heart should be turned and life become new again in Christ." {4T 16.4}

"Thorough conversion is necessary among those who profess to believe the truth, in order for them to follow Jesus and obey the will of God—not a submission born of circumstances, as was that of the terrified Israelites when the power of the Infinite was revealed to them, but a deep and heartfelt repentance and renunciation of sin. Those who are but half converted are as a tree whose boughs hang upon the side of truth, but whose roots, firmly bedded in the earth, strike out into the barren soil of the world. Jesus looks in vain for fruit upon its branches; He finds nothing but leaves." {4T 155.3}

Is Conversion A Daily Matter?

"None are living Christians unless they have a daily experience in the things of God and daily practice self-denial, cheerfully bearing the cross and following Christ. Every living Christian will advance daily in the divine life. As he advances toward perfection, he experiences a conversion to God every day; and this conversion is not completed until he attains to perfection of Christian character, a full preparation for the finishing touch of immortality." {2T 505.1}

"Stand in God, work with full confidence in God. Daily a genuine conversion is needed. Unite your heart with God by clinging faith. He is the friend of sinners. You are invited to join your weakness to His strength, your ignorance to His wisdom, your nothingness to His merits, your frailty to His enduring might. Will you do this?" {Lt92-1896.5}

"Genuine conversion is needed, not once in years, but daily. This conversion brings a man into new relation to God. Old things, his natural temper, natural passions, and hereditary traits of character pass away, and the man is renewed, converted, sanctified. But this work needs to be continued, or else the heart will become estranged from God, for just as long as Satan lives, he will make an effort to carry out his will. The human agent will constantly encounter a strong undercurrent. His heart needs to be barricaded by faithful watchfulness and unceasing prayer, else the embankment will give way, and like a mill stream, the undercurrent of natural and cultivated tendencies will sweep away the safeguard. Then the old objectionable traits of character will assert their sway. No renewed heart can keep in a condition of sweetness and grace without the application of the salt of the Word. Divine grace must be applied daily, else no man will stay converted." {Lt97-1896.56}

Is Conversion An Ongoing Work?

"Let no one suppose that conversion is the beginning and end of the Christian life. There is a science of Christianity that must be mastered. There is to be growth in grace, that is constant progress and improvement. The mind is to be disciplined, trained, educated; for the child of God is to do service for God in ways that are not natural, or in harmony with inborn inclination. Those who become the followers of Christ find that new motives of action are supplied, new thoughts arise, and new actions must result. But they can make advancement only through conflict; for there is an enemy that ever contends against them, presenting temptations to cause the soul to doubt and sin. Besides this ever vigilant foe, there are hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil that must be overcome. The training and education of a lifetime must often be discarded that the Christian may become a learner in the school of Christ, and in him who would be a partaker of the divine nature, appetite and passion must be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. There is to be no end to this warfare this side of eternity, but while there are constant battles to fight, there are also precious victories to gain, and the triumph over self and sin is of more value than the mind can estimate. The effort put forth to overcome, though requiring self-denial, is of little account beside the victory over evil. {CE 122.1}

"Until the heart is surrendered unconditionally to God, the human agent is not abiding in the True Vine, and cannot flourish in the Vine, and bear rich clusters of fruit. God will not make the slightest compromise with sin. If He could have done this, Christ need not have come to our world to suffer and die. No conversion is genuine which does not change both the character and the conduct of those who accept the truth. The truth works by love, and purifieth the soul" (Letter 31a, 1894). {5BC 1144.2}

How Do We Experience Conversion?

"Now, God wants His converting power to come on this occasion. There are some that come to our meetings—they will sit all through the meetings; they have borne a few words of testimony now and then; they have gone home and done just exactly [the same as], if not worse than, before. Why? Because they had not the new heart. What is the new heart? It is the new mind. What is the mind? It is the will. Where is your will? It is either on Satan’s side or Christ’s side. Now it is up to you. Will you put your will today on Christ’s side of the question? That is the new heart. It is the new will, a new mind. “A new heart will I give thee.” Then let us begin right here. {1SAT 210.1} Conversion is simple, very simple. Let us commence right here to come into the kingdom of heaven. How? As a little child. Just as simple as simple can be. You may get all your mysteries of the new birth, and you cannot make anybody understand it, or understand it yourself. But the best way for you is to give your mind to Jesus Christ. And the mind is the will to put it on, and do just as Matthew did. {1SAT 210.2} The Lord Jesus came to Matthew. He was in a very unpopular business, and all the Jews looked upon them [publicans, as people] to be despised, and Christ said to Matthew, “Matthew, follow Me.” Did he say, “O Lord, when I get good enough I will follow you”? Did he say, “O Lord, when I have this agony, this awful agony for my sin, then I will come”? {1SAT 211.1}

"Now, we want at this meeting, if it is possible to understand what true conversion is. It is simply taking God at His word and it is following out the teachings of Jesus Christ, lest you should make a mistake, to follow His Word, study it with your family, study it with your children, lest some of your children shall not understand it." {Ms130-1909.21}

Who Brings About Conversion?

"Christ gave His life to redeem transgressors, to save men from Satan’s power, to enable them, by obedience, to vindicate the immutability of the law of Jehovah. He designed them to declare, by lives of consecrated service, that the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. He died to make it possible for them to be partakers of the divine nature. To them He gave the privilege of being sons and daughters of God, joint-heirs with Christ to an immortal inheritance. He pledged Himself to conform the nature of fallen man to the laws and authority of the kingdom of God. When in faith and love man submits to Him, He will fill his heart with His divine life. He will make him one with Himself, so that the thoughts and aims will be identical with the thoughts and aims of the Saviour. The man will be born again, not of flesh, but of the Spirit, and to obey will be to carry out his own will. {Ms37-1900.3}
This work of conversion is a work which Christ alone can do. “Other sheep I have,” He said, “which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” [John 10:16.] {Ms37-1900.4}

What Is Our Role in Conversion?

"Let us not forget that in his conversion and sanctification, man must co-operate with God. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” the Word declares; “for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” [Philippians 2:12, 13.] {Ms131-1903.5} A man sees his danger. He sees that he needs a change of character, a change of heart. He is stirred; his fears are aroused. The Spirit of God is working in him, and he works for himself, seeking to find out his defects and to see what he can do, with fear and trembling, to bring about the needed change in his life. His heart is humbled. By confession and repentance he shows the sincerity of his desire to reform. He confesses his sins to God, and if he has injured any one, he confesses the wrong to the one he has injured. While God is working, the sinner, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, works out that which God is working in mind and heart. He acts in harmony with the Spirit’s working, and his conversion is genuine. {Ms131-1903.6} ... Let the sinner co-operate with His Redeemer to secure his liberty. Let him be assured that unseen heavenly agencies are working in his behalf. Dear souls in doubt and discouragement, pray for the courage and strength that Christ waits to give you. He has been seeking for you. He longs to have you feel your need of His help. He will reach out His hand to grasp the hand stretched out for aid. He declares, “Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out.” [John 6:37.] Let mind and heart be enlisted in the warfare against sin. Let your heart soften as you think of how long you have chosen to serve your bitterest foe, while you turned from Him who gave His life for you, who loves you, and who will accept you as His, even though you are sinners. Step out from under the rebel flag, and take your stand under the bloodstained banner of prince Emmanuel. Instead of feeling ashamed that you are standing under the banner of loyalty, you should feel that you are highly honored in being allowed to serve the Lord of the whole earth. He owns the world. All the gold and the silver are His. “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee,” He says; “for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” [Psalm 50:12.] {Ms131-1903.8}

Is It Possible To Have A Half Or False Conversion?

"Unless painstaking efforts are made, every new revival will bring into the church converts whose conversion is a spurious one, who have a form of godliness without the power. Earnest educational work needs to be done for these souls, that they may know what it means to be a Christian; for unless the foundation is laid in faith and practice of the truth, storm and tempest, beating upon their house, will cause it to fall. The character of such is like a bowing wall and a tottering fence." {Lt80-1907.4}

"There should be a solemn importance attached to the testimonies the Lord gives His messenger to bear concerning the Word which calls us to come out from the practice of the world and be separate. A half conversion is only a snare to betray other souls into the same divided service. Every truly converted soul shows a transformation in character, and a marked change takes place." {Ms173-1903.19}

"We shall be brought into close places in religious matters. Discord among church members is one of the most difficult things to deal with. Pride of opinion, selfishness, ambition enfeeble spirituality. There are those who seek for as much power as possible. The difference between true and false conversion is continually being shown right in our institutions. Day by day character is being tested, and cases are being decided for eternity. The Lord Jesus is weighing moral worth." {Ms107-1908.32}

"There are many who do not make an entire surrender. They do not die to self that Christ may live in them. They adopt His name, they wear His badge, but they are not partakers of His nature. They have not overcome their unholy ambition and their love for the world. They do not take up the cross and follow Christ in the path of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Almost Christians, yet not fully Christians, they seem near the kingdom of heaven, but they can not enter there. Almost, but not wholly saved, means to be wholly lost." {ST January 6, 1904, par. 3}

Is Reconversion Ever Necessary?

"Those who suppose that they are cemented to the man who brought them the truth, and tie up in separate bundles, need a reconversion as soon as possible, else their claimed conversion is a stumbling block to sinners." {Ms130-1901.25}

How Should We Share Information About Conversion?

"The more plain and simple the truth in regard to true conversion is made to appear, and the oftener it is repeated, the greater power you will have with the people. We must make them understand their relation to the law of God. This is a vital question." {Lt44-1900.5}

"Ministers need to have a more clear, simple manner in presenting the truth as it is in Jesus. Their own minds need to comprehend the great plan of salvation more fully. Then they can carry the minds of the hearers away from earthly things to the spiritual and eternal. There are many who want to know what they must do to be saved. They want a plain and clear explanation of the steps requisite in conversion, and there should not a sermon be given unless a portion of that discourse is to especially make plain the way that sinners may come to Christ and be saved. They should point them to Christ, as did John and with touching simplicity, their hearts aglow with the love of Christ, say, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” Strong and earnest appeals should be made to the sinner to repent and be converted."—The Review and Herald, February 22, 1887. {Ev 188.1

Further Study

Work Of The Holy Spirit In Conversion

This is a very helpful article by Ellen G. White in the Signs of the Times.

What Is The Difference Between Conversion And Being Born Again?

This is a compilation of quotes that highlight the similarity between these terms.

Key Words For Further Study

"true conversion," "true conversions," "superficial conversion," "superficial conversions," "genuine conversion," "thorough conversion,"