Christianity 201

January 3, 2012

Belief is Just the Beginning

I remember years ago there was pop music star who was rumored to have become a Christian.  Later on however, the report was nuanced a little finer with the news that he simply undergone “an intellectual conversion.”  I guess he had worked out all the claims of Jesus Christ and accepted those as being true, but wasn’t about to let it change his life.  Or something. Perhaps he was simply astute enough to realize that true Christ-following was going to cost something; or that one really has to be all-in to accept Christ’s invitation.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci gets at this in an excellent blog post at Cost of Community titled Convinced is not Converted.  As we still are in the early days of a new year, we need to make sure that all those things we give intellectual assent to are also finding application in our lives. 

I have an odd intolerance for certain foods.  I’m not allergic to them, but I’ve also discovered that it more than mere pickiness.  Unfortunately, the foods I am intolerant of are the ones that I most need to be eating for health and nutrition.  While I am working on overcoming this problem, it never fails that someone learns of my eating habits and begins to lovingly lecture me on the necessity of eat better than I do.  I nod patiently as I hear for the umpteenth time the basics of nutrition we all learned in grade school.  Recently, when someone began this lecture, I quickly interrupted them and said: “Oh, I agree!  I’m convinced, just not converted“.

This off-hand turn of phrase has stuck with me ever since.  Let’s briefly look at the terms in question here:

Convinced: To be moved to believe, through logic, argument or evidence, that something is true.

Many Christians, especially in West, have come to faith through being convinced — that is, we have been moved to believe differently about something through a compelling argument, presentation or even relationship.  This ushers us into active relationship with God as we make a choice to identify as His follower.  Growing up, this is what I was taught about what it meant to be converted.  While there is overlap, I think that we have confused being convinced with being converted.

Converted: To be changed from one form, substance or state, to another.

Without question being convinced is a significant part of the conversion experience (at least for many).  That being said, we can see by the definition that conversion is far more than simply being convinced- it encompasses and surpassed it.  To be converted is to be transformed- to be changed from one thing to another.  It is holistic and all-encompassing.  The emphasis of rationalism in Western Christianity, while bringing us many gifts, has all too often led us understand belief as primarily (and at times exclusively) as cognitive.  Yes, it demanded change in us, but it was as though we believe that the transformation would occur because of the changed understanding.  In other words, the primary means of conversion was the change of ideas.

True conversion does not occur because of us.  Yes, we participate through our will.  Yes, our minds- that is our understanding and ideas- should be changed as well.  But the source of that change is not the result of anything in us, but instead it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Further, if Jesus is to be believed, then how we live out this transformation is more important than what we think about it.  The changed mind is a product of the transformed heart, made possible through Christ.  The fruit of that transformation must be made manifest in how we live.

Don’t settle for a changed mind.  Jesus is not someone who had some ideas He wanted us to be convinced by.  Rather, He invited (and invites) us into Himself to experience true and whole transformation to become, together, His Body for His kingdom and His glory.

(To explore what I believe it means to live the fullness of what Christ calls us into, see “The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom”)

~Jamie Arpin-Ricci


  1. You point out an important difference…great article.

    Comment by Jessica — January 3, 2012 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

  2. Greetings friend. I enjoyed your blog and you make a good point.

    In England folks call themselves “Christian” but less than percent go to church. Then less than 2 percent are born again the Jesus way according to John 3:5. I think the book of Acts defines conversion as Jesus gave it. Acts 2:38 “repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus for the remission of your sins and ye shall recieve the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The same gospel was given in Acts 10 to the gentiles. Now that both convinced and converted me!

    The Lord bless you and have a fab year in 2012.

    Comment by Paul — January 4, 2012 @ 4:40 am | Reply

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