Five Types of Christian Conversion

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

One the mistakes that Christians often make is to assume that their own conversion experience is normative for how people come to Christ, generally.  The truth is that there are a variety of ways in which God the Father draws people to His Son Jesus Christ by the working of Holy Spirit.  Not everyone will experience the crushing burden guilty that Martin Luther did.  Not everyone will come to faith in a crisis moment, but some will come to faith more gradually.  In order to not impose our own experience upon other people, we must learn to appreciate the varied manner in which God works.  To that end, I found the following passage from Wilhelmus à Brakel to be an excellent summary of the different types of conversion.  I myself have not read à Brakel’s books, but a pastor friend posted this online and it was so good that I wanted to pass it on:

"(1) Some are converted in a very sudden manner, as in one moment. Such was the case with Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, many on the day of Pentecost, and the jailer. With others this transpires less rapidly.

(2) Some are converted by way of great terror and consternation caused by being confronted with the law, death, and condemnation, such as was the case on the day of Pentecost, and with the jailor (Acts 16:27).

(3) Some are converted in a very evangelical manner. The salvation and the fullness of the Mediator Jesus Christ overwhelm the soul, and the sweetness of the benefits of the gospel so fill their souls that they have no time to think upon their sins with terror. They are, as it were, swallowed up by the gospel, and as a Zacchaeus they receive Jesus with joy (Luke 19:3, 10).

(4) Some the Lord converts in a very quiet manner by granting them a view of the truth. Quietly they perceive their sins and their state of misery outside of Christ, the salvation of the partakers of the covenant, as well as the veracity of the offer of Christ by means of the gospel to them. In thus observing the truth they are gradually and imperceptibly changed, become obedient to the truth, believe in consequence of knowing the truth, and their heart is purified (1 Pet. 1:22). They do not experience much grievous sorrow or ecstatic joy, but find a delight in the truth and there is a sweet approbation of it. This is true in reference to their misery, salvation in Christ, as well as to their receiving of Christ and their trusting in Him. These are generally the most consistent and steadfast Christians.

(5) Some are converted in a very gradual fashion, with much vacillation between sorrow and joy, faith and unbelief, strife and victory, and falling and rising again. This is the common method which the Lord generally pursues in the conversion of most people. When I use the word “gradually,” I am referring to conversion in a comprehensive and broad sense; that is, from the first conviction until one consciously receives Christ. For it is otherwise a certainty that conversion [that is, regeneration] transpires in one moment, for the soul in one moment passes from death unto life. There is no intermediate state between being dead and alive.

We wish to preface this, however, by stating that no one ought to be concerned about the manner of conversion because the manner of his conversion has not been what he himself would prescribe it to be, nor agrees with the manner in which others are converted. If your conversion is a reality, all is well. Therefore, do not be unsettled as you reflect upon the manner in which your conversion has occurred, even if it is such that you have never read or heard of anything like it. The ways of God are mysterious and even in the common way of conversion the one experiences something with which another is not acquainted. One must, however, frequently reflect upon all the providences and ways whereby God has led us. This will give reason for adoration, for glorifying God, and for confirmation of one’s spiritual state."

from Wilhelmus à Brakel, "The Christian’s Reasonable Service", vol. 2, page 238.


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