What is Biblical Conversion?: One Coin, Two Sides

Thinking about the way God saves serves Christians in three ways.

Firstly, when Christians think deeply about the elements of salvation, it deepens our appreciation and gratitude of God’s grace. This leads us into more passionate worship.

Secondly, when Christians think deeply about the elements of salvation, our motivation for evangelism is refreshed and enlivened. The more we are amazed at God’s grace in our lives, the more we will desire to see God’s grace in the lives of others.

Thirdly, when Christians think deeply about the elements of salvation, we will better understand what it means to be a Christian and what genuine believers look like. We will be more effective in recognizing things like true conversion when we know what biblical conversion actually is.

Biblical conversion is the step in the overall process of salvation that a guilty sinner simultaneously repents of his or her sin and believes in Jesus Christ alone. This is a glorious two-sided coin comprised of repentance on one side with faith on the other. The two are inseparable.It is impossible to have one without the other. Conversion is both a turning from a life of sin (repentance) and a turning to Christ (faith). The Bible is clear in both the Old and New Testaments that biblical conversion is the meeting of repentance with faith.


Repentance in the Old Testament carried the notion of both sorrow, as well as a turning back from something and to something else (positively, turning to the Lord). One example of repentance caring the element of sorrow is found in Job 42:6: “[T]herefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This carries a very remorseful tone. Therefore, repenting is something that is full of remorse and sorrow. At the same time, there are examples of repentance used in the sense of turning back.

When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them (1 Kings 8:35).

In this passage, repentance can be seen as turning from sin. In many prophetic passages, the condition of repentance is usually placed on a pronouncement of judgment. God proclaimed judgment on Ninevah, but promised not to destroy them if they would repent, which is the message he entrusted to Jonah. God first grants spiritual life in regeneration and then it is the revived heart that repents (Ezek. 11:19-20). Godly sorrow that leads to repentance from sin is totally God-given.

The New Testament is also clear on repentance. Repentance is recognized as a gift from God (Acts 11:18) that brings with it the notion of changing a sinner’s heart. A sinner’s heart is changed, which enables repentance in the New Testament. There are numerous commands to “repent” and repentance leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). This imperative usage in the New Testament and emphasis placed on “change” demonstrates that without transformation in one’s life, there is indeed no evidence of true conversion.

Spiritual transformation precedes conversion. In fact, conversion is evidence of God’s relentless grace. A person is not truly converted if there is no repentance because God initiates the application of salvation through regeneration. This is also noticeable in the New Testament correlation between fruit bearing and repentance (Matt. 3:8). There are also many cases in the New Testament in which repentance directly refers to turning back (Luke 1:16; Acts 15:19; 1 Thess. 1:9; James 5:20; etc.).

Repentance is thus a change of mind, heart, and will. It is typically used as a change from sin or wickedness unto God or godliness.

Saving Faith

Biblical faith can be seen in both the Old and New Testament as being comprised of (1) knowledge, (2) assent, and (3) trust.

1. Knowledge

Faith is not blind as some might assert, but it is instead full of factual, historical knowledge. Before one can have biblical faith, one must know what or who they have faith in. An example can be seen in Genesis 15 as Abram is entering into covenant with God not out of blind “faith”, but instead out of a faith resulting from what he knew. Abram doubted God, but then God promised him an offspring that would outnumber the stars above his head. This encounter with God led him to believe.

Faith is full of content. Faith is also more than this.

2. Assent

Faith is an assent of the mind and heart. Biblical faith is not merely knowing some great facts about Jesus. Rather, it is assenting to the truth of those facts personally. Even the demons know about God and even believe some true facts about him (Jam. 2:19). However, biblical faith is much more than this. It is assenting to the truth of these facts personally. The fact that Jesus is Lord becomes a personal joy to the individual in genuine faith.

3. Trust

Finally, faith is trust. Faith is trusting Christ, submitting to Christ, and abiding in Christ on a daily basis. This type of faith is a faith that saves.

Repentance and faith are inseparable. This is why Jesus came preaching “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15 cf. Acts 19:4; 20:21; Heb. 6:1). They are two vital sides of the glorious coin of conversion. One who does not repent of sin is not converted. One who does not have faith in Christ is not converted. And if one has repentance without faith or faith without repentance, there is still no conversion; for biblical conversion includes them both. There is no easy-believeism taught in the Bible. Biblical conversion is filled with both repentance and faith.

When you call sinners to Christ, call them to repent and believe. Through this gospel call, the Spirit regenerates hearts to run from sin into the trustworthy arms of the Christ who worked on their behalf.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.


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