The Deeper Conversion of the Converted

To: Mr. Reggie Kelly,
How are you?
I have a question. Upon reading “Apostolic Conversion” and having understood what “Many saved, few converted” meant, I raised a statement during one of my class discussion at a university I am attending at the moment in my Church History class, when asked by the professor: “Was Constantine ever saved?”. Many people answered both sides, some said that he was saved and some said that he was not saved. The topic for discussion for that day was, “The Conversion of Constantine”. I raised my hand and made the statement that there are perception of “many saved, few converted”, perhaps to state that Constantine was maybe saved but not fully converted. When I made this statement, the professor pointed out that she kind of understood where I was going with this, but strongly stressed that that was not Biblical, expressing that the New Testament’s definition of “repent” meant a 180 degree turn from the previous lifestyle apart from Christ and that the Old Testament in the Shema was simply to believe on the Lord and nowhere in the Bible does that term or concept of “many saved, few converted” existed. Can you fully explain how I am supposed to answer others when faced with this dilemma?

Thank you.

Your servant in Christ,

Although knowing and appreciating Art’s meaning in that title, I used to tell him that it might have been more accurately entitled “FEW saved and even fewer converted,” that is, converted in the sense that Peter was ‘turned’ after the great blow to his presumption. I wrote an article entitled “the deeper conversion of the converted,” in which I showed the evidence that Peter was indeed regenerate (the common meaning attached to the word ‘converted’), but was not as yet completely ‘turned’ (broken and emptied of self-reliance) in the sense that Jesus uses the word in that instance.

When Peter asked “will those who are saved be few?” Jesus said the gate was exceeding straight and the way narrow, and only the few and not the many ever find it. The NT example of this truth is embodied in the episode of the ‘rich young ruler’. The Lord’s answer to the young man evokes an astonishment of despair in the disciples raising the question, “who then can be saved?” Rather than soothing their fears, Jesus presses the dread implications to their divinely intended conclusion with the statement, “with man this is impossible.” But lest despair of man end in despair itself, He adds the cheering and gracious good news that “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

So manifestly, biblical salvation is something much more than commonly assumed. Many have written on the distinguishing traits of true christian character, perhaps the classic on the topic is Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections.” Whatever might have been lacking in Edward’s theology, he was a bright light on this issue. Most cannot bear to read a Bunyan or an Edwards because the fear of God burns so deeply in their writings, but also the sweetness of comfort shows through in Bunyan as few since Paul.

As to Constantine, if the story is true that he put off baptism till his death was certainly imminent (because of his belief in the early heresy of ‘baptismal regeneration’), then I have little hope of his eternal condition, despite any great works to his credit (Mt 7:21). I say this because this leaves little question that he did not understand the gospel at all. There is no difference between what Constantine does here with baptism and what the Galatians did with circumcision. A mixed gospel is no gospel at all. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” And the gate gets even more narrow when we understand that even a right intellectual grasp of the gospel (though itself rare enough) is not by itself sufficient apart from a living revelation quickened by the Spirit. It is the ‘quickened’ Word that saves, the Word that divides between soul and spirit. This alone puts pride and human self-reliance to death, so that the humbled (slain; Ro 7:11) sinner might be raised by nothing less than the power of God, as “revealed” in the gospel (Ro 1:16-17). In fact, the only real knowledge of God that counts is to know Him as “the God that raises the dead.” And as Paul shows, this knowledge comes only at the end of human self-reliance (2Cor 1:9). In the earliest church, only fruits giving evidence of authentic regeneration (Mt 3:8; Acts 8:37; 10:47) made one a candidate for the public seal of his confession in baptism. Otherwise, baptism avails nothing (Gal 6:15).

So I say that wherever the gospel is confused or distorted, hope of salvation is proportionately dimmed. This is where I see Constantine’s great danger. But as to the tile of Art’s booklet, I agree that even beyond initial regeneration, though true and vital (more rare than we know), there often remains a yet deeper work of the Spirit, where, through a personal ‘Jacob’s trouble’ – like experience (Gen 32:24-31; Jer 30:7), the residue of our ‘power’ and false dependency is more deeply shattered (compare Deut 32:36; Dan 12:7). Where, and to the measure this has occurred, there will be a proportionate incarnation of resurrection life in the now more deeply converted (broken) believer. An example would be the corresponding devastation and transformation that takes place only when Isaiah “SAW the Lord … (Isa 6) showing again the primacy of God’s sovereign initiative to reveal himself in the resurrection event of true regeneration (see 2Cor 3:18 with Jn 6:40 with Gal 1:15-16; Zech 12:10). So regardless of Constantine’s role in Christianizing the empire, and even his personal reformation after the sign at the Milvian Bridge, if he was as beclouded on the gospel as suggested by this account (I’ve not verified the story), then no amount of humanistic optimism can circumvent the evidence of scripture that such a view betrays a fatally misplaced trust (if Paul’s letter to the Galatians means anything). “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.” The greatest grace is an undivided, undistributed trust in the completeness of Christ work for us, and the faithfulness of His work in us. But this is comparatively rare; because “with man this is impossible.”

Your brother in Christ, Reggie Kelly

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