We must never allow church history in general or any part of church history in particular to exercise a divine authority over our faith. Nevertheless, there are some persons and events of church history that are so close to the core of what historical Christianity is that to deny their legitimacy seems close to denying the faith. One such event might be the conversion of Luther via his understanding of justification by faith alone. Another such event is the conversion of Augustine. We may well say, “If Augustine was not a Christian, and if his conversion was not true conversion, then whose conversion is?” Thus, we may well ask, indeed, we must ask, What lessons about true conversion can we learn from Augustine’s conversion?
Our Fourth Lesson: The Centrality of the Word of God in Conversion
The words from Augustine’s Confessions cited previously remind us of another universal feature of all true conversion. They remind us of the centrality of the Word of God as the instrument of true conversion. It was the Word of God and specifically Romans 13:13-14 that God used to renew and speak peace to the soul of Augustine. Augustine’s conversion shows (in the language of Scripture) that men are born again (as 1 Peter 1:23 teaches) “not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.”
Our Fifth Lesson: The Sovereignty of the Grace of God in Conversion
Another great truth about true conversion underscored in Augustine’s conversion and to Augustine himself is the fact of the sovereignty of God in all true conversion. Augustine’s experience of his own helplessness in the face of his bondage to sexual sin made clear to Him that only the direct intervention of God in power and grace could free him from his sin. I think it is clear that this prepared the way for his later, mature views of the sovereignty of God’s grace and predestination. It was first in His conversion that Augustine learned the truth of Jesus’ words in John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Our Sixth Lesson: The Reality of the Change of Lordship in Conversion
What I am saying under this heading is really a truism. Conversion means conversion! That is, true conversion always involves a radical renewal of the life and conduct of the one converted. Augustine’s conversion is again paradigmatic in this regard. Augustine would have had no peace and no sense of having been saved without the confident awareness that in the moment of his salvation God had delivered him from bondage to his sins and especially the bondage he felt to his sexual sins. This liberation and release from bondage was essential to his conversion and it is essential to every true conversion. Yes, it may be that the outward manifestations of inward repentance may struggle for a period to fully take possession of the life. Yes, it is true that Christians struggle throughout life with the principle of sin, but this sin does not reign over them. It only remains in them. This is why the modern so-called free grace movements which deny that conversion entails such repentance and transformation are fundamentally at odds with true Christian conversion. The Christian doctrine of conversion is found in the famous words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.