- Father David M. Knight
Conversion Can’t Make Sense
Acceptance of Jesus and his Gospel, like everything else that is human, is a live and growing thing. And
like all live things, it begins small. Christian conversion is a gradual process, precisely because it is never-ending. We can accept in one act of choice to live the infinite life of God, but it takes a lifetime of choices to grow into it.
It is like walking on water: we do it step-by-step.
The conversion that John the Baptizer called for was not a Christian conversion. He said: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
The response John called for was not walking on water. It was on the level of human morality.
The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”
In reply he said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
Tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”
Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:10).
By contrast, Jesus said: “If you wish to be perfect [that is, accept the perfect way of life, which is Christianity], go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:39).
This goes beyond human justice or generosity. Jesus himself said about the ideals of his New Law: “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
The acts that express conversion to divine life must be acts that don't make sense—acts that cannot be explained—except as responses of graced faith, graced hope and graced love given to the person of Jesus Christ and his message. The “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2Corinthians 13:14) is defined as “the favor of sharing in the divine life of God.” It is only made visible in actions that cannot be explained without it.
Christian conversion, to be authentic, can begin small, but it must be unambiguously empowered by the grace—the gift—of divine life. We walk on the water step-by-step, but it must be clear there are no stepping stones.
There are many reasons to be a Christian besides belief in Jesus Christ. In some societies church membership provides status, or at least a certain acceptance and belonging. For many people being a “Christian” is just synonymous with being a decent, conservative, neighborly human being. For those who approve of basic Christian ethics, as these are understood in our society, and who find churchgoing pleasant or even inspirational, it doesn't take any real faith to be a member of a church. People in this category might go to church their whole lives long, and keep all the rules of their religion, without ever knowing—in any deep or personal way, at least—whether they believe in Jesus Christ at all.
Real acceptance of Jesus is an unambiguous act of faith. It involves taking a stance toward this world—toward its values, customs and benefits—that simply does not make sense without belief in the teaching of the Gospel. Unambiguous conversion to Jesus Christ means accepting to live twenty-four hours a day in such a way that our choices do not make sense without him.
We are talking about lifestyle. There will be frequent failures in our behavior. But our overall, visible way of living must be something that raises eyebrows; something not consistent with what is taken for granted in our culture. That is the teaching” of Pope Paul VI:
The Gospel must be proclaimed by witness… Christians who… radiate faith in values that go beyond current values, and hope in something not seen, that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness they stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them?... Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News
One sign of authentic Christian conversion is that we don’t “fit in” anymore. Jesus predicted this:
If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you (John 15:18).
John said, “Produce fruit commensurate with the conversion you are professing” (Matthew 2:8). For us that means fruit that shows we are live branches on the vine that is Christ. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… apart from me you can do nothing.”
In the Hail Mary we repeat Elizabeth’s words, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). If our conversion to Christ is authentic, we should hear the echo every day, “Blessed is the fruit of your life.”
(See A Change Within, Chapter One: “Accepting The Call To Conversion,” www.immersedinChrist.org ).
Question: Does your lifestyle raise eyebrows? How much of it
cannot be explained without the Gospel?