Conversion a theological term, used to denote the "turning" of a sinner to God. It occurs in Ac 15:3 ("declaring the conversion [ἐπιστροφή] of the Gentiles"). The verb ἐπιστρέφω is used in the N. T, actively in the sense of turning or converting others (Lu 1:16, et al.); intransitively, in the sense of "turning back," "returning;" and tropically, to denote "turning to good," "to be converted" (Lu 22:32, "when thou art converted, strengthen the brethren"). In general, the word is used to designate the "turning of men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Ac 26:18.) In a general sense, heathens or infidels are," converted" when they abandon paganism or unbelief, and embrace the Christian faith; and men in general are properly said to be "converted" when they are brought to a change of life through the influence of divine grace upon the soul.
Specifically, then, conversion may be said to be that change in the thoughts, desires, dispositions, and life of a sinner which is brought about when the Holy Ghost enters the heart as the result of the exercise of a saving faith in the atonement, by which the sinner is justified. The process by which this great change is effected is this: The sinner is convinced of sin by the Holy Spirit; he exercises a penitent faith in Christ as his Savior; God immediately justifies him, the Holy Spirit attests to the penitent the fact of his pardon, and instantly sheds abroad the love of God in the heart, when all things are indeed new" (Farrar, Biblical Dictionary, s.v.).
The word is also used, in a narrower sense, to denote the "voluntary act of the soul consciously embracing Christ in faith;" and in this sense it is to be distinguished from regeneration, which is "a second creation," wrought only by the Spirit of God. Kling, in Herzog, Real-Encyklopadie (s.v. Bekehrung), gives the following statement of the relations between God and man in the whole work of conversion: "It is not a purely personal act of man (Jer 31:18, Turn thou me and I shall be turned), but includes both the divine act and the human. Conviction, calling, and justification are of God. The Word of God declares God's will convincingly in the law, and offers salvation through faith in Christ in the Gospel. In Christ law and Gospel are united. None of these divine acts preclude man's activity (Php 2:12, Work out your own salvation, etc.).... The truth lies midway between that extreme, on the one hand, which teaches that the will of man is entirely absorbed by the grace of God, and that false Synergism, on the other, which conceives man's will as capable of action, in the work of conversion, without the in working. of divine grace." Wesley (Letter to Bishop Lavington, Works, v. 368) remarks: "Conversion is a term I very rarely use, because it rarely occurs in the N.T." Lavington had spoken of Wesley's idea of conversion as "to start up perfect men at once." "Indeed, sir," replies Wesley, "it is not. A man is usually converted before he is a perfect man. It is probable most of those Ephesians to whom St. Paul directed his epistles were converted, yet they were not come (few, if any) to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." SEE REPENTANCE; SEE REGENERATION.