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25 March, 2014 By Rev. Ted Pike

Editor's Note: This is the transcript of my recorded Bible study under this title at

Skeptics of Christianity claim that conversion is, at best, no more than an emotional experience willed by self-persuasion. Any change that follows is purely human. No One is on the other end of the new relationship.

How are we changed by trusting in Christ?

Few will deny that everyone enters this world with an ego that is self-serving and self-protective. This is viewed as healthy. Just as it is good to have two mountain goats vying for the right to breed the next generation, banging their heads together, so in business, the arts, and education, a strong ego is viewed as normal and actually necessary. Only a very weak, malformed or even mentally ill person will cry out, like an abused wife, to another and abdicate the right to direct their own destiny. Yet that strange, unnatural submission is exactly what the Sovereign God requires of us. And since He is Perfect Love, we actually enter true freedom and life by surrendering to Him.

But we cannot do this alone. Jesus said it is impossible to give our lives and wills in trust to God without the Holy Spirit’s aid. The self-centered, rebellious human will instinctively says, "I can save myself. I can be good without God. And I can have pleasure rather than pain if I direct my life intelligently." It is counter to nature itself when a soul does humble itself and cry out to God, "Lord, save me or I perish!" It is in fact a miracle. It is a reversal in the motivations of a human being—a reversal that is especially miraculous when it lasts beyond a crisis, when it lasts for years, for decades, even for a lifetime. This is a change made possible only by God’s firm hands molding us as we cooperate by deciding to trust only in Him, not ourselves.

Let’s go back to the original assertion by the world that there is no real change when someone is converted to trust in Christ. The simple fact is that when a person can deny themselves and trust in Christ, they have been changed.

As long as we continue to do what is atypical of mankind and cry out to God, seeking His will over our own, we remain transformed: a new creature in Christ. Of course, the same will that freely chooses to cooperate with God’s Spirit can reverse the decision. Apostate Christians may even go into a state of amnesia and actually deny they ever were changed or ever had a profoundly life-altering experience. But the fact remains that if you ever sincerely trusted in Christ, you were, at least temporarily, changed for the better. This is very important because Satan's desire is to cast doubt on the power of God to really change us. It is also to cast doubt on our own power to cooperate with God to effect lasting spiritual change. Satan will tell us that if we have sinned in the course of our Christian experience we can no longer be restored to Christ; we can no longer experience redemption even if we were changed in the beginning. We have to arm ourselves against these predictable accusations and insinuations of Satan that something is wrong with God's ability to change us or with our ability to be redeemed. Satan tells us there is some kind of deficiency in our unique situation which makes it impossible for us to stand on the fact that we have been changed by the power of God working with our will. Satan may say we are too bad to be saved. Maybe he will say we are demon possessed and therefore are in a different category than other people who can expect hope in life. Maybe Satan will tell us we somehow lack the necessary moral character to be transformed, or maybe we have sinned the unpardonable sin; we have sinned against too much light and therefore cannot be changed. Or we do not have the necessary sincerity to be different from what we are. Maybe because we cannot feel the necessary emotions or intense hatred against sin at this time in our lives, we are no different than we were and cannot be changed in the future. These are a number of predictable ploys Satan brings against the Christian who has been changed by Christ's power. Satan, above all things, hates the fact that we have sincerely cried out to God and continue to do so, and he will try every one of his arsenal of tricks to try to make us stop.

The apostle Peter was changed repeatedly as he came toward Christ, usually on a very bumpy road. He made many strong professions of faith, yet he had a persistent tendency to revert back to sight, reason, fear, human wisdom and basic desire for survival. When Nathanael came to Jesus, Jesus looked at him and said, "Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile." That was about the last mention of Nathanael. He was just too perfect to deserve a lot of attention. There exist Christians who through influences we do not know are precocious spiritually. Perhaps they are assisted by good genetics or benefit from the intercessions of others or have received great grace from God at an early age. In contrast, Peter was everyman for all ages. He was mortal, failing, weak like the rest of us. Yet the redeeming thing about Peter is that, though he failed, he always got up and cried out again to Christ, "Lord, save me!" Let's turn to Luke 22:31 where Jesus says:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat;32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”33 But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”
This is typical behavior of Peter, impetuous, quick to vow, quick to give advice, quick to hurl himself out of boats and walk on water in profession of loyalty to Christ. There is a mix in Peter of devotion, sincerity, idealism, courage, heroism, along with a great receptivity to fear, panic, fear of man and death. Knowing all this Jesus said,
34“I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

Jesus knows the weakness of human nature. He is no idealist. He knew what was in man and did not rashly believe in anybody. Turning to verse 54:
Having arrested Him, they led Him away and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance.

Peter had not gone entirely in the opposite direction, but we see his pattern of following Christ and being attracted to Christ and hoping in Him even if that hope is almost extinguished.
55 After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them.

Here Peter is coming near the flame of possible identification and even crucifixion with Christ.

56 And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with him, too.”57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.”58 A little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!”59 After about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.”60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed.61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.”62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

How does Peter respond to his great failure? Does he go off in self-hate, possible self-destructiveness? Does he lose all faith and all hope? His bitter tears reveal depth of contrition, and, in my opinion, another cry to God. Peter proved the necessary sincerity, even though he goes up and down throughout life, for God to continue to change him. He was originally changed by his quickness to leave the nets and follow Christ. Even though he falls, God knows a great deal about his basic sincerity, his basic quest for Christ and longing to please Christ, and this is taken into account.

Let's consider the opposite personality: Esau never came to a place of a change of heart at any time in his life. He was well into adulthood when he made the choice to trade his birthright for a bowl of soup; he served his own self-interest all of his life. He opposed his parents by marrying Canaanite women. Of course, he was deeply disturbed when his blessing was taken away. Was he disturbed because he had offended God? No, he was disturbed because he lost a huge physical endowment. He lost the honor, inheritance, and divine blessing. Paul describes his reaction, Heb. 12:15:

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

Gen. 27:33 describes Esau seeking diligently with tears to attain some remnant of blessing. After Jacob’s deception of his father Isaac in collusion with mother Rebecca, it tells us:
Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry…”

Esau's cry was not to God. It was a great mortal cry to his father for earthly blessing. He was not crying, "Lord, save me or I perish!" If a person sincerely cries out to the throne of God for mercy there is no way God Almighty will ignore him. God has never ignored or rejected a sincere cry for mercy from the beginning of the world. He has never mocked that by saying, "Your sins are too great." God never agrees with the list of accusations and doubts that Satan brings against a person who is crying, "Lord, I trust you. Save me or I die!" Scripture says God foreknows who will choose for Him. Because He knows ahead of time that against all odds and tremendous resistance this soul will ultimately humble himself in desperation before Him, God is ready to accept him. God will consider him justified, declaring him righteous.As long as that person continues to lift his cry to God, trusting in Jesus, he will remain a changed human being. Even the world must admit this is different from the usual progression of human behavior, which goes from high emotion and resolutions back to behaviors of the past.

Esau's great and exceedingly bitter cry does not go vertically but rather horizontally.

…and[Esau] said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father! 35 And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.”36 Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”

There is no mention of God. He seeks human approval and prosperity but shows no concern to reconcile with God.
37 But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to himas servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?”38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept.

We are in the middle of the passage to which Paul refers when he says Esau sought repentance with tears. Yet he seeks horizontally. In contrast, what did David say? "Against Thee only have I sinned," meaning that, regardless of what he had done to Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, whom he murdered, it was primarily in defiance of the laws of Almighty God. No matter how much the tears gush out when people are caught in the act or reproved, God looks to see where their attention is focused. True repentance says, "I don't care primarily about human beings. I have to get things straightened out with You, God!"
39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, “Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, And away from the dew of heaven from above.

Yet there has been no change of heart throughout Esau’s humiliating ordeal:

41 So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

Esau was not a changed man. The Bible says God hated him because Esau never turned his eyes up to his Maker. This was the supposed torchbearer of the holy birthright throughout the generations leading to Jesus Christ. God prospered the efforts of Jacob and Rebekah to wrest the birthright away from such a man. God thus abandoned Esau. It is a frightful thing to be abandoned by God. He does not want such a person anymore. If we cry to God, He will come to us. He will never, never abandon the person who can sincerely cry, “Lord, save me! I abandon my own way! All I have and am is Yours!” But if that person never lifts that vertical cry to God, God may hate him. It is well within God's prerogative to hate that person long before he goes to his earthly grave. That is exactly what Scripture says about Esau. God hated him and made his heritage desolate. (Rom. 9:13; Mal. 1:3) It certainly was not an economic desolation because we see Jacob and Esau uniting many years later. Jacob led flocks, herds, wives, and children. He vividly recalled the homicidal rage of his brother and worries this has probably only gotten worse over the years. When he finally meets up Esau, he finds a man enjoying life, who has forgotten his grudge. Loss of the spiritual birthright has been compensated by wealth. He is building a dynasty as a supremely rich man. Who cares about the birthright? Thus, when God says He will make Esau's heritage desolate, He means spiritually desolate -- utterly unable to keep himself from going into the fires of hell.

Sometimes when people have ignored God and never been changed by Him, Satan prospers their lives. They feel better about themselves than they ever have. Satan gives them a glow of cockiness, optimism, pleasure loving, carefree abandon that is almost pathological in its lack of any moral convictions. Not only can people who have been abandoned by God feel great about themselves; they can also involve themselves in tremendous evil such as slander and sexual immorality, without remorse. Like Esau, they are spiritually desolate and their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (I Tim. 4:1-2) Satan wants to sear our consciences with participation in the great evils of this world. Immoral sex, pornography, drugs, violence and occult practice are points of entry for Satan to sear our consciences so we no longer can feel any spiritual concern.

Throughout history, soldiers have been deliberately propagandized and desensitized to the humanity of their enemies, so they can commit atrocities. Campaigns of rape and brutality can occur when the natural conscience is seared. Tragically, young people today through watching violence and pornography can similarly become desensitized. It is a top priority to keep our conscience sensitive, to remain shockable, because out of the sensitivity of our conscience we become angry against sin. As Scripture says, “Be angry and sin not. Let not the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph. 4:26) When we look to God, He helps us take action against the flesh that is both outside and inside, seeking dominion.

Christ wants to change us even beyond the point that we will do the impossible and cry out to the Lord. He wants to transform us as Scripture says, "from glory to glory." The whole miracle of redemption resides in the power of the Holy Spirit not just to lead us to Christ but to continue to renew, deepen, and sanctify us throughout our entire lives so we literally become complete, or “perfect,” as Jesus commanded. (Matt. 5:48)

Saul had some amazing encounters with God. As a young man he experienced prophesying because of the Holy Spirit. (I Sam.19:24) He was the passive recipient of divine infilling. But being a vessel for God’s Spirit and will was not his heart’s desire. There is no record of Saul crying out to the Lord, "Save me or I perish!" Saul instead constantly promised obedience yet delivered disobedience. In his dying hour, with a Philistine arrow in his ribs, he revealed religious and ethnic pride, asking not to be captured by his “uncircumcised” enemies. But he would never submit his heart and life to God. When he was reproved or humbled by emergence of a truly godly potential ruler in David, like Esau he was not only envious and suspicious but murderous in his heart and behavior.

Unlike Esau, however, in the process of time, Saul did not become happy-go-lucky. He did not become overwhelmed with the pleasures of his kingdom. Instead, he became gloomy, bitter and suspicious. If we look at people in the world who have sinned away their day of grace, we find similar but very divergent ways. Some are almost psychopathic in their charm, confidence and worldliness. Others, sin has turned toward bitterness, depression, cynicism, etc. If Satan cannot delude a person through pleasures, he will often come upon them with the evil and gloomy spirit that came upon Saul. Yet in his gloom and bitterness, even in his vacillation (for example, when he cried across the ravine to David, "Oh, David, my son, my son!") and seeming professions of repentance, Saul never came to this miraculous place where he cried out to the Lord. Instead, he ended life seeking consolation not from God but from the witch of Endor. The consolation from man for a tormented soul is always empty. There is never anyone to provide a drink of cold water spiritually for the hellish torment he feels.

Judas is another example of a person chosen by God like Saul. He was a part of Christ's inner circle, but do we ever have an account in the Gospels of Judas crying out to God? Clearly, he was never willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by crucifying his natural pride. Yes, he went to the Pharisees and said, "I have betrayed innocent blood." He did what was right in admitting that and throwing down the blood money at their feet. But he did not have it in himself to cry out in sincere repentance to the Lord. He found this impossible and killed himself.

The greatest reality in the entire world is that Christ hears the sincere cry of despair of the sinner or even the lapsed saint; He will in no way cast him out. (John 6:37-40) God is our only security. When we cry out to Him and give Him our imperfect best, God responds. The change He offers is not subjective. It is not emotional; it is not transitional. It is the collaboration between tremendous power on high working with our cooperating free will to say, "Lord, here I am floating down the river of life toward a Niagara of destruction that awaits me. Please rescue me and I will do my reasonable service, which is to no longer resist You.”

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Ted, today - photo: John Pike, October 2019
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