You Are Being Changed for the Good of the Church
Converted From and To
When we are converted, we are not converted to Christ alone. It was Martin Luther who first spoke of three conversions: conversion of the heart, conversion of the mind, and conversion of the purse. He focused on what needs to be converted in man. It is also important to consider what man is converted to. The gospel converts our hearts, minds, and money, but it also converts us to something. When we are converted, we are converted to Christ, to church, and to mission.
New Testament authors repeatedly use metaphors for the church that reveal a need for three conversions. Each of the three conversions is present in the three primary church metaphors of harvest, body, and temple. These theological metaphors show us that the three conversions of the gospel are not three options, but three essentials that constitute biblical discipleship. Each conversion reflects an aspect of what it means to be a disciple. The relational aspect is present in conversion to community, and the missional aspect is present in conversion to mission. Let’s consider how the gospel converts us to Christ, to church, and to mission.
When we are converted to Jesus, we are converted into his church. Jesus did not die on a bloody cross to gather a loose collection of souls bound for heaven, but to create a new community as the proof of his gospel to the world. The church is naturally a community of gospel-centered disciples. The problem, however, is that we have a very unnatural, distorted view of the gospel. When we think of the gospel, we think primarily of individual conversion. On the contrary, the Bible typically presents conversion as a communal phenomenon.
Consider the biblical metaphor of the human body. When we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Head (Col. 2:6), we are immediately knit into his body (Col. 1:18; 2:2). The body is knit together with the ligaments and sinews of love and truth producing a unified, whole body (Eph. 4; Col. 3). Those who have been converted to Jesus are converted to his body. They speak the truth in love to one another (Eph. 4:15, 25), forgive and forbear with one another (Col. 3:13), and teach and admonish one another in wisdom (Col. 3:16). To reject our conversion to the church is to disobey the Head and distort his body. We are not converted to a disembodied Head; we are converted to an embodied Christ, which includes Head and body. Unfortunately, many of us have a disembodied Jesus, perhaps a bobble-head Jesus, all Head and very little body. When we practice discipleship that focuses on Jesus as a disembodied Head, we distort his body, and we distort his gospel. Jesus didn’t die and rise to rapture individual disciples, but to make a community that reflects his glory through dependence on one another. When we join Jesus, we join his family and his mission. When Jesus Christ is Lord, he integrates disciples into a missional church family.
Our Common Mission
Interestingly, when the church embraces the second conversion to community, very often the third conversion to mission follows. A Jesus-centered community is an attractive community—a community that encourages, forgives, serves, loves, and invites non-Christians into its community. The gospel reconciles people to God and to one another, creating a single new community comprised of an array of cultures and languages to make one new humanity (Col. 2:15). This new humanity reconciles its differences (Col. 2:14–16) in the commonality of the gospel. It is both local and global. As the body grows, a redeemed, multiethnic, intergenerational, economically and culturally diverse humanity emerges. When we act as the church toward one another, we display the gracious, redemptive reign of Jesus to the world. As Jesus’s redemptive reign breaks into this world, the church grows into the full stature of Christ.
When we are converted to Jesus, we are converted into his church.
In the New Testament, the word for “stature” is used to refer to both physical (Luke 2:52; 19:3) and spiritual growth (Eph. 4:13). In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul uses this imagery to refer to the historic and progressive work of the gospel in reconciling people to God and to one another. In other words, the full stature of Christ is the result of the gospel’s work inwardly among its members and outwardly in the harvest (Eph. 2, 4; Col. 2). It is the result of disciples who make disciples. Growing into the full stature of Christ is a missional growth.1 The body metaphor shows us that disciples of Christ are converted three times—to the Head, the body, and the full stature of Christ—to Christ, church, and mission. The family grows inwardly and outwardly into the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13–14). Our growth into the full stature of Christ is a missional growth.
- Although I have developed the “stature of Christ” biblically and theologically, I owe the initial insight to Andrew F. Walls, who writes: “The very height of Christ’s full stature is reached only by the coming together of the different cultural entities into the body of Christ. Only ‘together’ not on our own, can we reach his full stature.” Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies In the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002), 72–81.
This article is adapted from Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson.
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