Even though I identify as a ‘Christian,’ I don’t really believe in conversion anymore.
I grew up believing that people could convert into a new religion, especially when I grew up in a country like Malaysia. In Malaysia, your religious status is a thing. I remember how in primary school, we’d ask each other what’s your religion and when I find out a friend was ‘Christian’, in my head I’d be like ‘you’re like me’! Then I’d actually find out that they didn’t care for church or Christianity, but their parents just wrote down ‘Christian’ so they could get a ‘Western’ first name (which is fine, I get the hype behind anglicised names – I have one).
Religious conversion is a massive issue in Malaysia because your religious status reflects your social status (which is tied to racial and economic status) and has ramifications for potentially the rest of your life, for example: when you convert from Christian to Islam, the official religion of the nation, you can never convert back. And if you try to ever legally convert from Islam to any other religion, basically the general advice is: just go underground with your faith, it’s not worth a life-long hassle.
I used to believe in conversion because I used to put religion on a pedestal, because I used to put my ‘Christian’ status above all.
Is this the Christian thing to do? If I don’t put a Bible verse in my Instagram bio, am I still a good Christian girl? If I give this gift from a Christian bookstore, will I be able to convert my friend into Christianity?
I used to believe in conversion because it’s quantifiable and tangible. You can count the number of converts. The salvation count, as we have coined it in modern Christian churches.
Conversion makes being a Christian ‘easy’ – once you raise your hand after the swell of music and the aftermath of a convicting sermon, you are now a Christian! And on the surface, the process of religious conversion is a change of lifestyle choices. Just like how one would convert foreign currencies, you convert from going to a church to a mosque, or from burning incense to dipping bread in wine. One to the other as if both religious acts were of equal value.
However, life goes on after the altar call, habits are hard to break, mindsets are frozen in their own logic. Changing your life has been colloquially said to be a ‘mind over matter’ issue, but sometimes overcoming old habits and thoughts is impossible when the mind is unable to think optimistically or when the heart feels the blinding pain.
But you know what causes people to change?
I mean, if it’s conditional, it’s not love. But I want emphasise the part that love is without conditions.
When love enters your life, you change your habits, thoughts and schedule to create more room for more of the object of desire. That’s how I know someone has changed from being a ‘Christian’ to loving Jesus and following Him – the change isn’t about self-improvement. I see how Jesus’ love has changed individuals through their continued choices to love others over themselves again and again.
I believe that love is the key to breaking habits, opening hearts and eyes towards empathy, and changing lives.
I’m not necessarily saying changing your entire life is easy peasy lemon squeezy when you’re in love. But when you meet a human that you are inexplicably attracted to, that understands you to your core, that makes you laugh and smile like no one else – don’t you put all your efforts into knowing them, thinking of them, and spending as much of your waking moments with this person?
Yet the efforts to get closer to this person feel effortless.
And if all of that is what you would do for an imperfect human being, imagine doing that for the perfect Jesus?
Similar to how we fall in love with another human, we fall in love with God – sometimes we fall in love at first sight, sometimes its gradual and steady over sustained time spent together, sometimes it hits you like a ton of bricks when you least expect it.
Conversion is the hand-raise; falling in love is the heart-shift.
For some, the altar call is the actual moment they fell in love with Jesus. For those, they can remember the exact date and moment of the church service.
But falling in love with Jesus can happen when you’re learning about penguins and you’re just like ‘God’s behind this crazy bird sex.’ Or when you’re a teenage girl alone in her bedroom at her absolute end of the rope and you feel a small voice saying ‘you’re gonna be okay.’ Or when you’ve gone to church for years not really understanding anything or knowing why you kept going, and only with hindsight did your commitment make sense within the framework of love.
We fall in love when we need it the most, and usually we aren’t even conscious that we needed love – but our hearts were open to falling in love.
I’ve known about Jesus all my life growing up in a Christian home, but I first fell in love with Jesus when I was in 16 cycling through San Francisco. And at the top of a hill, I saw the perfect view of the entire city with the Golden Gate bridge.
And I heard God say to me: if I can make beauty out of this chaos, what makes you think I can’t do the same for you?
And my stubborn teenage heart swooned, melted, softened.
It’s been over 7 years since I first fell in love, and I’m still in love.
Because when you fall into true agape love that comes from the one who died for all of you, from the one who loved you first, you never want to fall out of love with Jesus. You want to stay in the warmth of love for eternity, and so you do willingly and effortlessly with all your efforts.
“For in issues of love, you must go yourself. This is the story of God: he pursues you with his love and pursues you with his love, and you have perhaps not said yes. And even if you reject his love, he pursues you ever still. It was not enough to send an angel or a prophet or any other, for in issues of love, you must go yourself. And so God has come.”Soul Cravings, Erwin McManus
Part 2 will be coming out next Friday, 1st of March 2019.
Stay tuned via my social media or the email list in the footer!
Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below, or slide into my DMs (: