Ques. 88. Of how many parts does the true conversion if man consist? 

Ans. Of two parts; of the mortification of the old man, and the quickening of the new man. 

Ques. 89. What is the mortification of the old man? 

Ans. It is the sincere sorrow of heart that we have provoked God by our sins; and more and more to hate and flee from them. 

Ques. 90. What is the quickening of the new man? 

Ans. It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works. 

Heid. Catechism, Lord’s Day 33.

Behold, he prayeth! 

This was said of Saul, who later was known as Paul the apostle, but who at this moment was stricken with blindness in Damascus after he had seen Christ on the way. 

You can be sure that Saul, the Pharisee, had piously mouthed many prayers during his life time. Even shortly before this he had thought that he was doing God a service by trying to wipe out the Christians. Undoubtedly he had been very satisfied with himself as he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, and as he watched the stoning of Stephen. 

Yet now Christ from heaven informs Ananias that Saul is on his knees for the first time praying a divinely acceptable prayer. This was the wonder of grace wrought by the Spirit in one who would become the apostle to the gentiles! 

What a wonder! 

When our fathers at Dordt spoke of this first work of grace in the heart of the sinner who is dead in trespasses and sins they wrestled to find words to describe it. Human language hardly suffices as they stammer: “But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect . . . he . . . powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man: he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable.” And later: “It is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and. ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or to the resurrection from the dead” (Canons of Dordt, III, IV, 11, 12). 

As we read this we are reminded that the fathers did not clearly distinguish between regeneration and conversion, but used the terms interchangeably. Scripture speaks of both regeneration and conversion. It speaks of regeneration as the very first work of the Holy Spirit in the dead sinner, who cannot see, hear, speak, or feel, any more than a corpse in the cemetery is able to do any of these. 

Nowhere does Scripture ever present an attractive picture of the sinner lost in sin and misery. Sometimes we are compared to a lifeless corpse that can only be resurrected by the almighty power of the living God. Sometimes we find our likeness in the demoniacs of Jesus’ day, driven by the irresistible power from within, which constantly works to destroy us. Only He that is mightier than Satan can storm his fortress and destroy him. Again, Jesus compares us to the blind, the deaf, the maimed, yes, and even to a leper. Jesus touched a .leper while He cleansed him. Touched the man with his ugly, putrid sores!. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows! Regeneration is God’s almighty power that implants new life, the life of Christ, in us, whereby children who bear the image of the devil are transformed into sons and daughters of the living God through faith in Jesus Christ. Amazing wonder! Boundless grace! For such a wretch as I!

Upon this regeneration conversion must follow. Just as when Jesus stood by the tomb of Lazarus power went forth from Him into that dead body, creating new life and enabling Lazarus to hear when Jesus called his name, to stir, to arise, and to come forth from the grace, so also Christ brings to consciousness the new life He has implanted in us. Just as birth follows conception, or as a seed sown into the soul sprouts forth into a plant that bears fruit, so also the first work of God’s grace in us results in a conscious life, evidenced in our conversion. 

By the indwelling Spirit we are become new creatures, ingrafted into Christ, living the life of Christ according to the new man. Our heart is renewed. Also our mind is renewed, from which issue evidences of that new life in our desires, thoughts, words, actions, and deeds. A radical change takes place in our lives. Sin no more has dominion. Grace abounds. Our pride is broken, so that we humble ourselves in dust and ashes before our God. That which we formerly delighted in now causes deep sorrow, sorrow that we have transgressed God’s commands and offended Him with our sins. In deepest shame we beg for mercy. Scripture uses two different words to describe this work of God in us. The one refers to an inner change, a turning about of the mind. The other refers to a resultant turning about in our outward life. 

Before our conversion we walked in darkness, our backs turned against God, our faces directed toward hell. We were hell-bound enemies of God, willing slaves of sin, delighting in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life. We craved sin, and sought it wherever we might find it. Daily we sank deeper into the mire of corruption, assuring ourselves that this momentary fling would have no lasting consequences. Yet sin, like an octopus, kept wrapping its powerful tentacles about us. Fools that we were! But God, who is rich in mercy, because of that great love wherewith He loved us even in the sacrifice of His dear Son for our sins, raised us up from the dead, and gave us grace to hear the voice of Jesus calling us out of darkness into His marvelous light! We are turned about, now with our backs toward the realm of darkness, our faces uplifted toward God and heaven, our eye of faith fixed upon the hope of everlasting communion with God in glory. The Spirit of Christ is now the power within us unto salvation! 

Even as a tree is known by its fruits, so we begin to bring forth fruits unto eternal life! As we read of Saul, Behold, he prayeth! 

A new life in a body of sin. 

Although our first reaction may be that the power of sin is completely broken, so that now we can live sinless lives on the mountain tops of faith, always rejoicing, thanking and praising God, we soon discover that the battle has just begun! To our chagrin we are soon faced with the reality that, as our fathers expressed it, the most holy have but a small beginning of the new obedience in this life! 

We are our own worst enemy! There is the new man in Christ, but there also still remains the old man of sin. This new man is I, the reborn saint in Christ. Yet it may never escape us that the old man is also I myself. Sin is not an evil force outside of me, some power over which I have no control, something foreign to me. No! I am evil, born in sin! Evil desires arise within me, often inadvertently. These are my desires. Evil thoughts within me are a part of my sinful self. Evil words, spoken so glibly, are my words. My eye is lured to sin, my ear reaches out to hear it. It is I who is sinning. It is the old man with all his character faults. Yet even while I sin my conscience condemns me. The new man in Christ hates sin and wants no part of it. Not as if I live in a sort of dualism, with two wills, two conflicting desires, two persons in one body. Thank God that this is not the case! Rather, the pure thoughts that issue forth from my renewed heart are always contaminated by the sin that wars in my members. At the same time the new man condemns the evil that is still present in me. Therefore, on the one hand, I cry out, “O wretched man that I am!” On the other hand, I can say: I thank God through Jesus Christ, my Lord! I will the good, even though sin is always present in me. And that will, by God’s grace, always triumphs! 

There is, besides the initial conversion, also a daily conversion, or growth in sanctification. Scripture describes this as a putting off of the old man and a putting on of the new man. Sometimes this is referred to as a crucifying of the old man, stressing how painful it is to give up our old habits, to condemn our character faults, to humble ourselves in shame and confess our guilt before God and before those whom we have offended. Our Catechism refers to this as a sincere sorrow for sin, hating it, and fleeing from it. 

This sincere sorrow stands in sharp contrast to a sorrow that is not sincere. The world also experiences a certain sorrow for wrongdoing. We think of Cain, of Esau, and of Ahab. One can be filled with remorse, even with deep remorse that ends in suicide, as was the case with Judas. This remorse arises from sinful pride—to think that this happens tome! It is a strong sense of shame at being exposed. It is often accompanied by anger, bitterness against others, mainly because we hate the horrible consequences of our wrongdoing. That kind of sorrow, Scripture says, can only work death. It is soon forgotten, and the sinner finds himself in another evil. The sincere sorrow is the world of God in us, the awareness that we have sinned against the Most High God! The remorse of the wicked works death; the repentant sorrow of God’s child bears a lasting fruit unto life eternal. 

Accompanying the putting off of the old man is the putting on of the new man in Christ.

This consists, according to the Heidelberger, of a sincere joy of heart in God through Jesus Christ. 

How different this is from the hollow laughter, the joy of the world. Their humor is often blasphemy, mockery of all that is holy, finding pleasure in the misery of others, enjoying the filth of the gutter, and all the while trying to drown the grief that gnaws at their vitals. 

The joy of the believer is genuine, a sincere expression of an inner peace with God, and an exuberant thankfulness with all the saints as the beginning of the eternal, heavenly joy! 

By grace we are able to walk in those good works, which God has before ordained for each of us, that we should walk in them! (Eph. 2:10)