‘Conversion’ is described as ‘the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another.’ In spiritual language, the word describes what happens when a person’s religious beliefs are changed and, for example, the person becomes a Christian. The process can happen quickly but often involves a period of time and several stages.
In Acts 28, we read of Paul’s conversation with people even while imprisoned and stages in conversion are described when people have the opportunity to ‘see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.’ (Acts 28:27, quoting Isaiah 6:9, 10, a passage to which Jesus also referred on occasions.)
Conversion, therefore, seems to involve 4 stages:
1.Seeing – in the book of Acts, we often read of miraculous signs and wonders which seemed to act as the ‘gateway’ or ‘opening’ in the apostles’ evangelism. Healings or mirauclous signs not as Paul not being affected by a snake’s bit opened people’s eyes to the fact these people had a message worth listening to. We need to pray these signs and wonders will be seen in our evangelism too.
2. Hearing– the miraculous signs were explained by the apostles, who always brought the focus back to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. There is a place for preaching in evangelism. This can be one-to-one (Philip explaining the message of Isaiah to the Ethiopian, for example) or preaching to a crowd (as Peter and Paul frequently did), but the spoken word of proclamation is still necessary: how will people convert if they don’t hear the message? (Rom 10:14-15)
3. Understanding – understanding has to involve both the head and the heart. There is a place for rational explanation (apologetics) in our evangelism, but we need to understand that conversion involves the heart (emotions and will) as well as the head (reason and logic.) Conversion is a holistic process; if only one part is convinced, it’s more likely the person will not put down roots and may fall away.
4. Repentance – the final stage in conversion is when we trun away from our sin and turn back to God. This theme is stressed repeatedly in Acts and needs to be stressed emphatically today. We have to renounce our old ways of living and turn towards God so that times of refreshing may occur. When this happens, we become new creations in Christ. (2 Cor 5:17)