‘Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.’
For generations, the story of Ruth and Naomi has been treasured in Christian circles and beyond. It has been rightly seen as a beautiful narrative of sacrifice, kindness, and dedication. And aside from demonstrating the fortitude of the eponymous heroine of the book, it also uncovers a bit of the lineage of both King David and Jesus Christ.
However, beyond its historical and moral significance, the story affords a crucial theological significance. It unveils, however cryptically, the social dimension of conversion.
1. Conversion brings us to a definite God
Ruth was aligning herself with the God of Israel. She wasn’t embracing just any deity among the multitude that littered the ancient Mediterranean world. She was coming to Naomi’s God. And this was not a vague ‘Ground of Being’ or ‘Mother Nature’ or abstract ‘Divinity’. This was the God who had revealed himself in dealings with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who had confounded the Egyptians with miraculous signs when they stubbornly refused to release the Israelites; the God who took his people across the Red Sea unhurt, and led them across the desert for forty years; this was the God who gave the law to Israel, brought them into Canaan, and made them conquerors of mightier nations. Ruth was embracing a God who was not silent, like all the other pagan gods but was continually acting on behalf of his people. And this God would go on to take human nature and dwell among them.
True conversion brings us to the true God as he has revealed himself to us. And the conclusive picture which God has given of himself is found in Christ. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Everyone who is truly converted comes to Jesus Christ and not to any other cheap imitation. According to him, ‘No one comes to the father except by me’ (John 14:6). What could be clearer? A path which does not lead to God can never secure salvation from him.
At conversion, a person comes to this God, the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who has revealed himself in the flow of history and the pages of the Bible. We come to Jesus Christ.
2. Conversion brings us to a definite community
In our highly individualistic age, conversion is often seen as no more than a process or incident by which a person establishes a relationship with Jesus. Once she was astray, lost in sin and cut off from God. Then the call of the gospel comes to her heart, the Spirit quickens her, and she embraces Christ as Saviour. A new relationship thus begins, one that grows and grows until she gets to be with Christ for eternity.
Much of this narrative is true, yet sadly incomplete. While conversion does bind us to Christ, it does not connect us to only Christ. Christ has a body, and everyone who believes in him becomes a part of this organism. And this organism is not a mere spiritual entity; it has a living embodiment on earth. It is found wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in the name of Christ. It is a global body, connecting individuals from lands as diverse as China and Zambia, Mexico and Russia. Yet it is local enough to include believers in the same compound. If you look carefully, you probably have a group on your street. Perhaps you would not have even known Christ, were it not for one of these groups. And while they have helped you to know the head, he asks you to become a part of his body.
The church is not a mere collection of individuals merely coming together to have a good time. She is the body of Christ. She plays a crucial role in God’s programme of redemption. Not only are souls saved through her, they are also baptized, discipled, and trained. They discover their gifts and callings under her care and go forth to do good works in Christ’s name (Ephesians 2:10). And through the love that the members of this community demonstrate for one another, they collectively testify to the truth of who Jesus is.
Ruth realized this, and so should we.