My ConversionA Fool for Christ's Sake
"If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise" (1 Cor. 3:18).
At age 17 I was interested only in politics. It was 1971, and I had plans to become either an elected official in high office somewhere, or a pundit with a nationally syndicated newspaper column.
Actually, the newspaper column was by far more appealing to me. I couldn't think of anything better than getting paid to write opinions that would infuriate other people.
I was politically conservative (unlike most young people in my generation). For example, I had helped start a chapter of the ultra-conservative Young Americans for Freedom at my school. I was also fairly religious, having been raised in churchthough it was an extremely liberal United Methodist Church. I was sure God would accept me because I was a basically "good" person. I was also convinced He was the Ultimate Political Conservative, so I figured He would surely cut me a lot of slack on any minor points where I might be wrong.
One afternoon (April 13, 1971) a fellow student named Rob Holtzinger challenged me on this. "God won't accept you on the basis of your political views," he said. "You place entirely too much emphasis on politics."
"That's nonsense, Holtzinger," I said. "Jesus Christ is the ultimate politician. He's coming back to rule the world, for heaven's sake! What could be more political than that?"
Holtzinger had no reply. I had won that argumentor so I thought.
That evening I picked up my Bible to read (something I almost never did). I was annoyed by Holtzinger's suggestion that I wasn't good enough to be acceptable to God. So I decided to do something religious, and the only thing I could think of was reading the Bible.
Not knowing where to begin, I opened at random. My Bible fell open to the first page of 1 Corinthians. I decided to read the entire book. I'd never read a whole book of Scripture at once, and this seemed a good way of earning God's approval.
But as I began reading, I started encountering statements like this:
"It is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (1 Cor. 1:19).Why would God say that? I wondered. Why doesn't He condemn the foolishness of the world? Then I saw this:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence (1 Cor. 1:25-29).I'm in trouble, I thought. Then I saw 1 Corinthians 2:5-6:
"Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought."I heard Holtzinger's words ring in my ears: God won't accept you on the basis of your political views. Now I found even Scripture was against me.
Finally I ran headlong into Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."
Now I saw for the first time that I stood condemned before Godnot just because of the bad things I had done, but because He hated even the best things about me. I had always thought my own goodness and wisdom would make me acceptable to God. Now I saw that "we are all as an unclean thing, and [even] our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6, emphasis added).
The Word of God gripped my heart and wrung it until I despaired of all hope. Then as I read on, it was as if God opened my eyes and showed me the Christ revealed in Scripture for the first time in my life. I continued reading until I reached these words: "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 12:3).
I knew that whatever was wrapped up in that verse, it meant I needed to yield to Jesus as Lord and acknowledge His right to rule my life. So I turned, left my own plans and ambitions behind, and followed Him. My life has never been the same.
I followed falteringly at first, and stumbled through a lot of confusion and the debris of my shattered philosophy and religion. But a year later I enrolled at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (an interdenominational evangelical school) and there learned the basics of biblical truth and acquired the tools to study Scripture. In 1976 I graduated with a bachelor's degree in theology. (To this day that is the only academic degree I have ever received.)
The more I have anchored my thinking in Scripture, the more my thinking has been drawn to the same truths that were highlighted by all the Reformers. As I studied the Scriptures I developed a deep appreciation for the doctrine of justification by faith, and became more and more convinced of God's absolute sovereignty over all the events of history. The basic Reformed doctrines of justification by faith, Calvinism, and the absolute authority of Scripture are the doctrines most responsible for deepening my walk with Christ.
Something to think through carefully. . .To those reading this who do not trust Christ as Lord, I urge you to consider these truths with an open heart:
1. You cannot please God through your own efforts or your own intelligence:
The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7-8).
2. If you continue in sin and unbelief, there is nothing in your ultimate future but God's wrath:
"There is none righteous, no, not one . . . . For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:10, 23).
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9- 10).
[Jesus said,] "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5).
3. Nevertheless, God offers salvation freely to all who turn to Christ in faith:
"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely" (Rev. 21:6).
"Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live (Isa. 55:1-3).
4. Salvation is possible only because Christ's perfect righteousness is imputed to all who believe. This righteousness cannot be earned by any religious works or meritorious efforts. It can be ours only because God graciously imputes it to us by faith:
"To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness . . . God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Rom. 4:5-8).
[We are] "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).
5. Only this imputed righteousness of Christ is good enough to make us acceptable to God. Even the apostle Paul said he did not want to stand before God with a righteousness of his own. This great apostle knew that despite his own faithfulness, despite all the accumulation of good works in his life, the only hope he had for being justified before God was a perfect righteousness imputed to him from a source outside himself. He found that justifying righteousness in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which is imputed by faith to believers. Therefore, he said his great, driving desire was to
"be found in [Christ], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9).
My prayer for you is that you will trust Christ alone for the righteousness that can make you acceptable to God. Don't make the mistake of those who, "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3).
Copyright © 1995 by Phillip R. Johnson. This article may be freely copied and distributed, provided the message is kept intact and unedited.