Augustine’s Conversion

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What did you learn about Augustine’s conversion?

Augustine played a huge role in the advancement of Christianity and was commonly referred to as the “Architect of the Middle Ages.” As Everett Ferguson points out, “Augustine has continued to be a major influence in theology for both Catholics [in their view of sacraments] and Protestants [in their views regarding grace and salvation.]”

Due to his extensive writings and the biography written by his disciple Possidius, we know more about Augustine’s life and the development of his understanding and teaching of scripture than any other person in the ancient world. Upon examination of all the resources available pertaining to Augustine’s life and conversion, the overwhelming requirement to overcome one’s need for significance and appetites of the flesh are the resounding themes. It was true for Augustine and it remains true today. God is continually trying to speak to everyone and while Augustine’s conversion experience seems miraculous, it is no more of a miracle than simply obeying God’s command to read His Word and then by our actions, if we truly love Him, we will obey what it commands. In Augustine’s City of God, he portrays there being two cities: one just and one wicked and as Fergusson illustrates, “Through their love, human beings adhere to either the one or the other: to God or to self… [Ultimately,] God’s judgment consists in giving people what they love most, [everlasting] life with Him or [eternal] separation for Him.”

In Augustine’s conversion, he came to understand the mercy and grace of God. As a result, he wanted his life to be a living sacrifice that was pleasing to the Lord. He allowed God to transform his life through the renewing of his mind, which came from a deeper understanding of God’s word. Augustine recognized the work of the Holy Spirit and allowed the Spirit to work not only in him, but also through him. He recognized the errors of his ways and then sought to help people avoid making the same mistakes while also helping those currently struggling with the same issues. He took on the humility of Christ in his walk and continually rejoiced in the salvation of his soul and in the God he served. His method of showing teachers must continually be learning and that mentors must always be disciples is the model the church should still strive for because as Christians, we must always be learning and growing in our faith.

Who witnessed to him?

Augustine was born in Tagaste, North Africa to a Christian mother, now named Saint Monica. His father, Patricius was a pagan, but would convert to Christianity and be baptized before his death. While his parents were split on religious views, they both wanted their son to receive the best education and as a result, he would become one of the most renowned professors of rhetoric due to his gifting in communication. Despite this gift, he was unsatisfied by his current teaching in Africa and would ultimately become engrossed by the radical dualistic teaching of Manichaeism because it presented itself as the Christianity for intellectuals. Over time, Augustine began to have doubts and when Faustus was unable to answer his questions, Augustine turned his attention to magic and astrology. Soon after this, Augustine and his mother moved to Rome where his skepticism led him to Neoplatonism where he learned from Plotinus that all beings are good and that there are spiritual realities.

In 384, Augustine became the professor of rhetoric in Milan and during his time there, he went to hear a famous public speaker named bishop Ambrose. It was under Ambrose that Augustine first heard a much more intellectually respectable interpretation of the Bible. Shortly after this, the presbyter Simplicianus would take on Augustine as a personal project and during this time Augustine began to wrestle more with action versus belief. While it was apparent Augustine had undergone an intellectual conversion, his spiritual and moral conversion were not yet complete.

What other factors led to his coming to faith in Christ?

Above all else, it was Augustine’s understanding of philosophy that would lead him not only to faith, but would also make his contributions to academia and literature timeless. His official conversion experience took place in 386 after he heard a little girl singing, “Pick up and read.” When he walked over to where the voice was coming from, he found a book on the letters of Paul, which read, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.” Augustine believed this encounter to be divine and that the Lord was speaking directly to him because of his own personal struggle with sexual self-control. After contemplating this encounter with God and its significance in his life, he enrolled for baptism, which he received from Ambrose on Easter Sunday the following year. Fergusson illustrates how, “He had found his way back to the faith of his childhood and turned his back on his oratorical career.”

Augustine also recognized the burdens and baggage of this world were weighing him down; on his own, he was powerless to do anything, but when he surrendered them to Christ, he was set free. His conviction to the truth of God was the lamp unto his path and the redemptive work God did in his life led him in his service to the church. His devotion and dedication to God is much Paul’s model, as he encouraged believers to follow him as he followed Christ.

Bibliography

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume One From Christ to the Pre-Reformation 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

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DiscipleShift: What should a disciple look like?

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The question everyone should ask is are they following Jesus, or are they asking Jesus to follow them; the answer to this question will define if they are simply a convert or truly a follower of Jesus. Jim Putnam shows how, “Conversion is [merely] the first step in the discipleship process.” Putnam then contrasts the two states by claiming, “Conversion is the beginning of a journey, whereas discipleship is ongoing.” This essentially means at the point of conversion, a mental decision is made to follow Jesus, but in addition to that decision there is also a spiritual response to the Holy Spirit and an acknowledgment of our God-given purpose. Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey illustrate, “A disciple is someone who seriously considers the cost before following Christ… [And] is totally committed to Christ, [meaning] our love for Christ is so great, so consuming that, in comparison, it feels like hatred (disdain) for others” (Luke 14:26).

To live we must die; to save our life, we must be willing to give it up: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus was and is the model for us to follow as we are now called to fulfill the Great Commission by way of the Great Commandment. Dr. Rod Dempsey gives a great definition of a disciple as, “Someone who knows Christ, grows in Christ, and goes forth in Christ,” meaning they have surrendered completely to God and to the calling God has placed on their life. Anyone who claims to be a disciple, but does not show God in his or her words and actions is not one.

Putnam offers three characteristics of following Jesus as: “1. Accepting Jesus as Lord, leader, and master of our lives, 2. Being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed by the renewing of our minds, and 3. Action, which leads to a change in what we do with our hands after we have made the decision to follow Him in our heads.” Essentially being a disciple means: Following Christ (head), being changed by Christ (heart), and being committed to the mission of Christ (hands).” As a disciple of Christ, we are on a mission to love others to Christ by sharing our life experiences and what God has done in our life with them (John 13:35). This is why it is so important that we reflect the image of Christ in our words and our actions. As a disciple we are to abandon the things of this world because they are only temporary and will pass away, but everyone’s soul is everlasting and it is up to disciples through the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure others spend eternity in heaven and not hell.

Earley and Dempsey take a similar approach in defining a disciple by extracting the principles, which should be evident. A disciple must be, “1. Sacrificial: submitting to Christ no matter the cost (Luke 14:28), 2. Relational: loving God, loving neighbors, and loving other disciples, and 3. Transformational: understanding spiritual growth is directed toward becoming like Christ in word, thought, attitude, and action.” The more a disciple emulates Christ’s nature and character, the more they will live their life according to His values. Earley and Dempsey close with an important fact: “You cannot be a follower of the person of Christ without being a follower of the mission of Christ.” You also cannot serve Christ without totally surrendering to Him by carrying your own cross and surrendering your will to God.
Great Commission of Disciples This writer’s personal definition of being a disciple begins first with 1. Accepting Christ into one’s life (John 3:16), 2. Recognizing Jesus as Lord, master, and Savior forsaking all else (I Corinthians 8:6), 3. Submitting to His will, word, and purpose by changing one’s ways and transforming their minds by loving others (John 8:31-32 and I Corinthians 5:17), and lastly 4. Reproducing other disciples by showing them the way of the Lord so they too can lead others to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Relationships and bearing fruit is paramount in being a true disciple (John 15:5-8). Ultimately, true disciples of Christ must die to themselves daily and live to bring as much glory to God as possible while thanking Him for all the blessings and giftings He has provided.

Bibliography
Putnam, Jim, et al. Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2013.
Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is… How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2013.