You may have gone forward at a Billy Graham rally and accepted Christ. You may have responded to an invitation at the end of a morning service. You may have prayed with a Sunday school teacher or parent years ago. You may have listened to a TV evangelist's appeal or read a tract such as the "Four Spiritual Laws" and prayed the sinner's prayer. You may have made a decision at a summer camp, or Jesus may have met you in a desperate hour as you cried out to him. But what exactly happened at that moment? You were delivered from Satan's kingdom and catapulted into the kingdom of God.
At the time this occurred, you probably had no idea that this was what was actually happening. It might even sound foreign to you now. Often, the gospel is presented simply as asking Jesus into our hearts, having our sins forgiven and receiving the assurance that were we to die tonight, we would "go to heaven." The Christian life is then spelled out as reading our Bible, learning to pray, finding a church where Christ is preached and sharing our faith with others. But conversion includes much more than this. The apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians that they had been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's Beloved Son (see Col. 1:13).
When Jesus began his public ministry, he announced that the kingdom of God was within reach and called his listeners to repent and believe in the good news (see Mark 1:15). Later, he said that the kingdom of God was in their midst (see Luke 11:20). He was the King and had come to bring God's reign into their history and into their hearts. He does the same today. When we submit to him, he enters in by his Spirit. Our conversion immediately depletes the population of Satan's kingdom by one as our little stories become a part of Jesus' big story, and we now participate in his purpose to re-establish God's reign throughout the universe.
Two problems must be solved for us to become Christians. First, we must be delivered from Satan's kingdom. Second, we must be delivered from God's wrath. But for many people today, these two problems are almost incomprehensible. Let me sketch it out.
Deliverance from Satan's Kingdom
The whole world system is under the rule of a powerful, supernatural being that hates God, hates all goodness, hates all absolutes (apart from his absolute evil) and hates you and me (see 1 John 5:19). He is God's unequivocal enemy. Once a great heavenly angel, Satan rebelled against God's kingdom in order to establish his own. He now hides behind our perceptions of reality (worldviews), assumptions, values and the political and religious systems of this fallen world order. He lies to us about our value and worth, the meaning and purpose of life, and our ultimate destiny. Often, he uses the arts and the media to warp our sense of reality and to turn us away from God. He thrusts other, false gods (idols) before us and seduces us into worshiping them, even to the point of addiction. He disguises himself as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). He manipulates our instincts—to eat, to not be eaten and to reproduce1—and our insecurities in order to market his false ideology and the promises and products of his kingdom.
The deepest emptiness in our lives—the hole in our souls—is the absence of God. Satan promises that we can fill that hole with substances, activities, products, ideologies and people. Yet the truth is that we are made for God, and without his life in us, we will remain spiritually dead and eternally lonely. In all creation, those beings closest to God are people. We have been created to love God and to love each other as ourselves. But apart from God, people become idols, too. We become codependent and addicted to each other, which ultimately perverts every relationship. In turn, our twisted relationships become an inroad for demonic assault, which ends up in death. Satan deceives us in order to kill us. He wants us to share in his doom, because he hates us and the God who loves us and made us in his image.