True And False Conversion

When you first pick a book to read, you will probably read the blurb first to get a gist of what the book is about. You may also read  the introduction, preface or foreword all with the aim of getting the central idea or motif of the book. Now, every book must necessarily have these information. We have been looking at the book of John for the past weeks and the central idea or motif of John’s gospel is “belief in Jesus Christ”. John states this motif clearly in John 20:30-31:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John is explicit here about why he wrote his gospel: that people may believe that Jesus is the Christ–The Anointed One, The Messiah. Not only believing, and that that belief will lead us to eternal life. Considering this therefore, there appears to be what I consider a challenge. People believed in Jesus but He saw through their heart and didn’t entrust Himself to them.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

What is happening here? We are told anyone who believes will have eternal life. Christ Himself said “…whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). But why is it then that Christ didn’t  entrust Himself to people who believed in Him? John MacArthur explains that, “Verse 24 indicates that Jesus looked for genuine conversion rather than enthusiasm for the spectacular. The latter verse also leaves a subtle doubt as to the genuineness of the conversion of some.”¹ So we are presented with two kinds of belief in the narration: True and False Belief or what I will call True and False Conversion.

True Conversion 

True Conversion is simply faith or conversion which is genuine. It is conversion which produces a change of heart and life. Faith can be superficial and shallow based on the spectacular and that is what we clearly see here. The crowd believed Jesus because of the miracles they saw. They didn’t have a true change of heart. If we contrast v.22 of John 2 with vv23-24, you may see the reason for this false belief.

When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (v.22).

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing (v.23).

The difference between v.22 and v.23 shows God’s ordained means of bringing people to salvation: the preaching of the gospel, i.e., the death and resurrection of Christ. This is exactly what the disciples believed in v.22. After the resurrection, they believed the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. Where the gospel is revealed through faithful preaching of Scripture lives are changed, genuinely.When the Jews asked for a sign, Christ gave them the sign of His death and resurrection, which is the gospel: “So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body (John 2:18-21). For converion to be genuine, it must be grounded in the gospel and in Scripture. It is in Scripture we see the gospel. The disciples “believed the Scripture”.

False Conversion

Where conversion is not grounded in Scripture, we have false conversion based on the spectacular. False conversion is half-hearted commitment to Christ. Unfortunately, many people equate the spectacular with spirituality. If it is not spectacular, they conclude God is not in it. God doesn’t always work through the spectacular. In previous lessons, we learnt that miracles or the spectacular were not the order of the day even in Biblical times. They were rare and occured in clusters (Matthew 12:38-42).

Those who make miracles their grounds for faith actually don’t have faith I have argued before. If you cannot believe what has been revealed in the word then your faith is false (John 19:28-29).

What Does This Mean For Us?

A Call To Self-Examination

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you ?— unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2Corinthians 13:5).

Are you truly saved? We see in the text that Christ is Omniscient–“he knew all people” “He himself knew what was in man. This is a divine attribute. God knows our heart and we cannot deceive Him. Are you truly saved? A great deception one can live with is when one is not saved yet count themselves as saved (Matthew 7:21-22).

Salvation Is A Work Of The Holy Spirit

When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:22).

It is the Spirit of God who brings conviction to sinners for salvation. Without the work of God’s Spirit, no one will be saved. Jesus’ disciples believed when they remembered the words He had spoken. This is precisely the work of The Holy Spirit Jesus promised the disciples in John 14:26 (KJV): “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”.

I conclude by pointing out that faith must be a whole hearted commitment to follow Christ. A mere profession of faith built on the spectacular is empty.


1: Notes on John 2:24 by John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study  Bible, 2006 by Thomas Nelson (kindle edition).

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