August 28, 2014

Another Look: The Day of Salvation?

OutdoorRevival

This was first posted in April, 2010.

I remember the day I changed my thinking about when I was “saved.”

I had grown up in a mainline Protestant denomination, was baptized and confirmed, attended worship and Sunday School, and dabbled with youth group. However, in my teen years, I was not deeply involved.

Then the big change came.

At the beginning of my senior year in high school, our family moved across the country, an event that precipitated a personal crisis in my life. The foundations were removed from beneath me. For a time, I struggled with depression, drugs and alcohol, loss of meaning, purpose, and direction.

In the midst of my wandering, God graciously brought me into contact with some fellow students who attended a local Baptist church. I saw a real difference in them, and their joy was attractive. I became part of the group, though I hesitated to come forward and confess my faith as a Christian. Eventually, however, I responded to an altar call, went forward and expressed my desire to be baptized as a new follower of Jesus. From that point on, through his gracious preserving power I have never turned back.

For many years, if you had asked me when I “became a Christian,” I would have answered, in true revivalist fashion, that the day I went forward” was “the day of my salvation.” That was when I “met Jesus,” “got saved,” and was “transferred from darkness to light.”

Then I met Joe.

KneelCommunionThis was during my seminary days, when I pastored a Bible church in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Joe worked at the college affiliated with our seminary and started attending our church. One day in my Sunday School class he shared his testimony. To my surprise, he said he had attended a United Methodist church in one of the towns where I had lived. He shared how the pastor helped him become a Christian, enter the process of living as Jesus’ disciple, and discern God’s calling for his life.

The story shook me, because I had attended that church and had sat under that pastor in worship and confirmation classes. After my experience at the Baptist church altar, I had always looked back upon that Methodist church and its minister and considered them “liberal,” not faithfully proclaiming the Gospel. Now here was someone giving testimony to how he had met Jesus there!

As I pondered this dissonance between the narrative that Joe spoke and the one that had been running through my head for years, a few memories began to resurface. In particular, I recalled the night before our class was confirmed in front of the congregation. The pastor gathered us in a small chapel and led us in a service to prepare our hearts for the event. To this day, I don’t remember a word he said. However, I do recall that he shared a personal story of his own encounter with Jesus and that I was deeply touched. Specifically, what I remember was a sense of great weight and seriousness descending upon me as I participated in that service.

“It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer” (Isaiah 65:24). It was several more years before I answered the Baptist invitation.

From the day I heard Joe’s story, I began to think about my “salvation” differently.

  • Who knows how many times God had gotten my attention, spoken to me, touched me, blessed me, or helped me in the past?
  • Who knows how many times my heart had been impressed and had responded with a form of faith consistent with my age and understanding at that point in my life?
  • In the midst of all my wanderings, who knows how many times I turned in the right direction at the hidden impulse of the Spirit’s voice? God had been savingly active in my life long before I answered an altar call.

American revivalism insists that we pinpoint a date, a time, a moment of decision — “the day of your salvation.” But is the Bible this reductionistic?

  • Did all the disciples have sudden conversion experiences?
  • Even those believers who did — say Paul — was his a matter of a “personal decision”?
  • What about many of the other extraordinary experiences of Scripture, when God meets a person and changes his or her life in an instant? Are all these stories necessarily about “salvation” being transferred in that moment from darkness to light, from one eternal destiny to another?
  • You may ask, what about the Gospel preaching in the Book of Acts? Though Acts reports many “at the moment” transformational experiences, we must remember that Acts is a book of missions, dealing with first generation Christians, many of whom had no background in Biblical teaching whatsoever. Is their experience meant to be the template for everyone who comes to believe in Jesus?
  • What about all the people of faith who are simply presented to us in Scripture as such, with no reference whatsoever to a moment of decision or conversion (Mary, Simeon, Anna, etc.)?
  • And what do we do with the story of someone like John the Baptizer, of whom it is said he was filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb?

CathedralCeilingRevivalist theology cannot adequately explain the intricacies of God’s dealings with us.

The revivalist mindset wants it simple and clear. We want it black and white. We want to know who is in and who is out. We want to mark the sheep and goats now. We want to be able to define, distinguish, and properly deal with the haves and the have-nots. We want it to be as clear as the “I do” of a wedding ceremony. We want to collect the forms and know precisely who has checked the right boxes. We want to have and give assurance of salvation based on something we can see with our own eyes and measure with our own tools. We want to be able to give the clear testimony, “Yesterday I was lost, today I’m found.”

For example,

  • The revivalists among us don’t like to think that God can work through infant baptism, as the pastor applies the Word of the Gospel mixed with water, to bring that child into his family and begin the process of “by grace through faith” that brings us salvation. (Infant baptism is NOT the focus of this post, so forget about it if you want to make that your issue in the comments!)
  • We can’t grasp salvation as something that occurs over time, not in an identifiable “moment,” and that its workings may be entirely mysterious to us in terms of specific dates, times, and experiences.
  • We don’t like to admit that a person might have several “conversions” over the course of a lifetime, and that we may not always be able to define exactly what each one entails.

One weakness of the revivalist approach is that it separates a person’s life into two distinct periods, one “without God” and one “with God”. It cannot tolerate nuances in that black/white division. God’s work before that “day of salvation” is discounted, especially if “conversion” involves moving from one form of Christian faith to another, as happened with me.

In a post on Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight writes,

Converts develop an anti-rhetoric for their former theology and faith. This anti-rhetoric denounces their old faith and forms into an apologetical defense of their new narrative.

Ask a strong evangelical who was formerly Catholic what Catholics believe and you will often hear something that has little do with what you find in the Catechism or in the official statements. Instead, you will get a powerful rhetoric that caricatures RC theology and beliefs: you will hear terms like superstition, magic and popery. You will get terms about worshiping Mary and idolatry and works salvation. Sometimes this anti-rhetoric is vile. I’ve heard it hundreds of times. You can try but you will rarely succeed at getting such folks to see the positive gospel within Catholic theology.

With me, it wasn’t Catholicism, but my mainline Protestant roots that I rejected as anti-Gospel. Of course, every branch on the Christian tree has its problems, some more serious than others, but I didn’t criticize from the standpoint of a theologian. I had developed the “anti-rhetoric” syndrome McKnight describes above. My “conversion” experience led me to denounce the whole of my life before that day as “B.C.” (before Christ). It was only upon deeper, more mature reflection later in life that I understood I had never lived a day without God, and that he was savingly active long before I recognized it, had an experience, or made a decision.

This is one reason I identify myself as a “post-evangelical” today. American evangelicalism has its roots sunk deeply into the ethos of revivalism. It’s about preaching for decision. And it’s the decision that gets it done. In a moment.

In my humble opinion, it is God that gets it done, and his ways are not our ways.

Comments

  1. To me, the trouble/problem with the “B.C.” position is that it denies the work of what John Wesley termed “prevenient grace”–the grace that comes before. Mr. Wesley asserted that God is always at work wooing us into relationship with Jesus. That puts the emphasis on the work of God and the Holy Spirit, not us. The story would be different, although maybe similar, in all lives.

  2. Wow. Did you guys just tell my story, or what? After leaving the UMC, the church of my youth, I “got saved” in a Baptist church, and was force fed the idea that basically all other denominations had it wrong. Now that I’m older (I won’t say more mature), I understand that I was a covenant child…My parents raised me in the faith, and I never remember a time when I didn’t understand that I was a sinner, and Christ died for my sins. Today, it’s funny to me that my Baptist brethren, who claim to be so Bible-based, put so much stock in “the sinner’s prayer”, which is nowhere to be found in Scripture. They adhere to this ideal, but reject the idea of salvation as a covenant phenomenon, though Scripture is rich with the concept of covenant.

    This post describes one of the many reasons that I also consider myself to be post-evangelical. I believe in dramatic conversion, but God saves in different ways (see Acts). If he’s limited to saving through magic words, just how big a God is He, really? Thank you, God, for opening my eyes.

  3. I guess I am somewhat like Lee. I have gone to church all my life. From a very young age I believed that Jesus was my Lord and Savior. I can’t tell you the the exact moment I was saved. I am glad to find out I am not the only one with that kind of salvation experience.

  4. I am saved. I am being saved. I shall be saved.

  5. Well said. I’ve often wondered why I’ve never felt lead to “Go Forward” at a church or rally. It is because from the time of perhaps 4 or 5 I always knew that Jesus loved me and that I loved Him. I knew that if I believed John 3:16 that I would have eternal life. I added a link to your blog on a post I wrote about Evangelism–What is a Christian to Do? I’ve always attended WASP churches and have never been led to dance and clap during worship. One of my daughter’s boyfriends tried to get a congregation of British, Swedish, and Norwegians to clap while a Gospel group was singing. But some have broken out of the mold and have enjoyed the drums and rhythms of South American and African worship songs. It is only the heart that counts!

  6. What Lee said. Also what Dan said.

  7. And what Flyaway said too. Only with me it was Acts 16.31 — I heard it when I was 4, even before I ever heard John 3:16….

  8. I went from the ultimate revivalist body, the Assemblies of God, to the ultimate whitewashed tomb, the Orthodox Church [although most people would say the Catholics are worse - if they only knew] The surprising thing is how few feathers were ruffled by it. Only my Assemblies of God pastor asked me if I still believed in the Rapture. I told him I never believed in it, not ever, and he looked at me as if I had grown horns and split hooves.

    The one thing that going back to being once-born is that it gave me back to me. The “old me” was supposed to have been replaced by a “new creature”, ergo, I continually thought of the pre-conversion me as the “bad me” who was always trying to throw a wrench into my Christian walk when I put on John McLaughlin instead of Phil Keaggy. The “bad me” wanted to read Harry Potter to find out what all the fuss was about when I should have wanted to read Frank Peretti instead. Now, I realize that the ‘bad me’ was the one Jesus wanted to save all along. He couldn’t do anything with this ridiculous harlequin I had patched together over the years.

    Unfortunately, the old me bothers my wife. I think she married the harlequin, and now she wonders where he’s gone. That does bother me.

    • I hear you regarding “once born” but talk to us, please, about John 3:3-8 from an Orthodox perspective. I can’t get past Jesus’ words, “You must be born again.”

      During the 1980 presidential campaign in the U.S., Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois, a self-proclaimed “born-again” Christian — this was right after Jimmy Carter’s presidency, remember — ran as an independent. His wife was Greek Orthodox, and when one of the magazine reporters asked her if she was born again too, she said, “I was born right the first time.” I think that’s what you are saying too, but I am always a little in shock when I hear it.

      I’m serious about asking you to give us your thoughts on the meaning of John 3:3-8.

      • If I might chime in here, Bob. I think Jesus was directing Nicodemus, a teacher of the Jews, to his own Scriptures. He challenged him, after all, with these words: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet do not understand these things?” (3:10)

        Compare John 3:5 — “Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” with Ezekiel 36:25-27 — “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.”

        Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the New Covenant has arrived and is inviting him to recognize it in Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles enter this covenant by grace through faith in the act of baptism, of which Paul writes:

        “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

      • There is a real, present danger of Elder-Brotherism in Mrs. Anderson’s response, but I believe it’s the proper one. I remember explaining to a Russian parish priest about my evangelical testimony where I was awash in drugs, alcohol and violence then got “zapped” by the Jebuz ray and turned into a Jesus Freak, although if I ever shared my full “testimony” here, most of you guys {and gals] here would besoil your pants. God used a very imperfect instrument. Think Ted Bundy, but younger victims.

        ANYWAY, the ‘hallelujah” phase lasted about a year and a half and if God hadn’t worked through Providence what He couldn’t do by grace I would have lost interest and gone my own way like so many thousands of others. In fact, some people would see my move to Orthodoxy as doing just that. I even think that from time to time. It really is exhausting being born again and pretending to have changed so dramatically, and I’m glad to be just Mule 1.0 again. Well, maybe Mule 1.01c.

        ANYWAY, the priest told me. “Iss good t’ing you find Jesus. Jesus seyff sinners, yas? But we all haff Jesus when we baptize. You stay in Church, we no let it get so bad again.”

        • “Iss good t’ing you find Jesus. Jesus seyff sinners, yas? But we all haff Jesus when we baptize. You stay in Church, we no let it get so bad again.”

          Mule – *love* this, especially the ending of the final sentence! It kind of sums up where I am right now, as a revert to my Lutheran upbringing.

  9. Now about infant baptism . . . just kidding.

    Seriously, McKnight’s comments are one target. There’s no one more obnoxious than an ex-smoker, an ex-drinker, an ex-Catholic, or in my case, an ex-Baptist!

    One of my dearest friends is from Cameroon and is probably the most committed Christian I have ever known (has a Ph.D. in nuclear physics and passed on a lucrative career to found an economic-development-based mission foundation). I asked him once when he became a Christian. He said he didn’t know. He had grown up in a Christian family and faith just came to him as a natural part of his life. Some of my Baptist friends would question whether he was really ‘borned again’ but I have no doubt of his faith, or his faithfulness. I’m afraid that many who profess faith in Christ might in fact have more ‘faith’ in their ‘coversion experience’ (time/date/place/preacher/prayer) than in Christ himself.

  10. I have always felt that I was saved 2,000 years ago when Christ died on the cross. It has taken me these 60 years to begin to understand the implications of that event. Through grace and failure my faith is bringing me ever closer to his kingdom.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Yes. And I usually take it one step further (or maybe “backwards”), David. Not only was I saved 2,000 years ago, but my sins of yesterday, today and tomorrow mean I was there 2,000 years ago nailing his hands and feet to the cross.

      Grace indeed.

    • Yes! That’s it! Thank you for posting.

    • Christiane says:

      perhaps much of our salvation is hidden within the mystery of the Incarnation: ‘and the Word was made Flesh’

      ” . . . Be folded with us into time and place,
      Unfold for us the mystery of grace
      And make a womb of all this wounded world.
      O Heart of heaven beating in the earth,
      O tiny Hope within our hopelessness
      Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
      To touch a dying world with new-made Hands
      And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.”

      (excerpt from Malcolm Guite’s ‘Emmanuel’)

  11. Pastor Bill Metzger says:

    Ephesians 2:1-9. Colossians 2:13. We were dead. God made us alive by grace. Any questions? :-)

    • If I have to pinpoint a day when that happened for me, it was the day of my baptism — as an infant. My later “conversion” awakened me to the reality of grace given me on that day.

  12. “In my humble opinion, it is God that gets it done, and his ways are not our ways.”

    It’s more than just the opinions of men and women. It’s biblical. “Faith is a gift of God.” “Who were born… not by the will of man…but of God.” (amongst others)

  13. This is something I struggle with. I am a member of a SBC church and the pastor reinforces every Sunday that we need to remember when it happened. I can’t say for sure when if happened for me. I also worry because my husband doesn’t really know either. Neither of us were raised in the church as covenant children. But I do know that we both have placed all our bets on Christ as our only hope for salvation. Is it okay that we don’t know for sure when we were converted? Is this required ?

    • I’ve just recently started reading here and am enjoying the content. Thank you.

      Jessica, I used to struggle with the same question. It was always taught to me that if you don’t remember a specific time/date, then you’re likely not really saved. I remember once, as a young teenager who had believed in and loved Jesus ever since I could remember, just saying a rote “sinner’s prayer” all by myself so I could have a date to write in my Bible and refer to. Even then, though, I knew that felt wrong, false, somehow. When I became a little older I was able to understand the silliness of the whole premise. I knew that I had loved Him for a very long time and no one could take that away from me by trying to put qualifiers on it. When we as humans do this, we are adding to the gospel, piling on requirements that Christ did not give us.

      The question is, do you, today, love and believe in Him? If yes, then why worry about when it first began? If the date is so important to God, I’m sure He’s got it written down somewhere for you ;)

    • Of course it’s ok. Think about this: if your salvation is ultimately dependent upon your own certainty, who could be saved? Salvation is God’s act, the goodness of grace poured out on us; it is not the result of a magic incantation or our personal feelings.

    • Let me say as strongly as possible: NO. It is not necessary to know when you were converted. My counsel would be: if you need assurance, look to the time when you were baptized, and remember these words: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

      • I to got saved over and over again. But I worry more about my husband. I have scrupulosity. It makes it so hard. I pretty much obsess over it every day because I can’t know WHEN he got saved. He has told me different things. I think he has a vague rememberance of getting saved as a child but hes not certain. When we joined our church he was baptized. I’ve been baptized twice. He knows I constantly doubt his salvation because of my OCD. I’ve asked him a million times if he’s saved. He hoped his baptism would help me believe him but the mental illness makes it hard for me. And then when I sit under preaching that talks about remembering the day and time that you were saved it makes it all the worse for me. I’ve begged God to give me peace about this and let me just trust and believe my husband. In the short time that I’ve known him he has transformed not necessarily dramatically but there’s changes and I know that his love for the Lord has grown. I just don’t know exactly when the moment his salvation occurred and baptist teaching is so against this I can’t wrap my mind around it being okay.

        • Maybe it’s time to sit under some different preaching.

          • AMEN! It seems Baptists in particular (and their preachers in the extreme) are hung up on the ‘day and hour’ thing. The irony is that that kind of preaching inherently instills doubt, which is the opposite of faith! As I alluded to in my post above, that kind of preaching tells people that the ‘crisis event’ is what counts, so people end up putting their faith in the event rather than Christ himself – ‘I know I’m saved because I said a sinner’s prayer on such and such a date at this place, therefore I’m saved’ (and I might even record the date in my Bible just to be sure) rather than ‘I humbly put my trust in Christ, fall on his mercy and grace and accept what his Word says – “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved”‘. Like CM, I’d definitely recommend you find a healthier church that will nurture your faith rather than cause you to constantly question it (and your husband’s).

    • Jessica,

      I’m truly saddened by your situation. Any emphasis on knowing the exact moment of one’s salvation is a fabricated one, not found in Scripture. There is no basis for demanding that people know this. This is basically a later corruption of the faith.

      Preaching that blows up minor issues (like knowing the exact moment of one’s conversion) into major ones is likely to be ignoring the TRULY major issues, and thus is probably eroding the capacity of the church to be firm in the Gospel, and to see Christ clearly.

      Don’t look for Christianese. Don’t look for people who “remember the moment.” Don’t look for people who are at church whenever the doors open. Don’t look for people who pepper their speech with Bible quotes. Look for Christ formed in people. Know Christ more and more from the Gospels, and you will begin to recognize him wherever he can be found, and you’ll be transformed into his image. Without that, everything else is snake oil.

      • I just worry because we aren’t covenant children. He was baptized when we joined our church. We had been meeting with the pastor to discuss getting married there. It wasn’t a deciding factor for me. It was an option and I let my husband decide if he wanted to be baptized and join the church. Prior to that he admitted he needed to be baptized but this was the first real opportunity as we were seeking a church home. I don’t m ow that he fully understood what his baptism meant. I’m not sure if he had saving faith prior to or after. I just wonder if it matters and if I should urge him to do it again.

      • Christiane says:

        JESSICA, I hope you find Christ’s peace as you sojourn in this life
        . . . here is a psalm of comfort for all sojourners:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Px12gtcZvg

        remember:
        your peace of mind does not rest in your own ability to ‘remember’ a date that an event occurred,
        your peace rests within the care of Our Lord Who will lovingly brings you on your journey out of darkness into His light

        you may find some comfort in this prayer:
        ‘Jesus Christ, I trust in You.’

    • Jessica–In my case I have rededicated myself to the Lord at least three times. When I was little, then when I went to church camp as a teen, and then when I was 30. Every day I pray that God will fill me with His Holy Spirit and teach me from His word. I think in my case I’m a slow learner but God is patient. Maybe your pastor wants you to think of when you admitted you were a sinner.

  14. This post makes me think not only of “prevenient” grace, but also of what one might call “postvenient” grace.

    When I tell someone my faith story, I actually count three separate conversion experiences. By this I don’t mean that I backslid and then returned to the faith. Not at all. Rather at three separate points in my life, the Holy Spirit confronted me so directly with my spiritual need and with God’s provision for that need in Jesus that the experience each time was a kind of conversion. Each time, but the grace of God, I turned and moved deeper in that grace.

    The first was at the age of 7, soon after which I was baptized in a lake in central NH. Then again at 19, God faced my latent skepticism with his own authority. At that point I became certain that God had sealed me and that like Jonah, I could not escape his love — even if I wanted to. Then one more time at age 45 when God destroyed the edifice of self-righteousness I built by forcing me to face the real sin behind the facade. I came to a completely new understanding (or so it felt) of the radical scandalous nature of God’s love for us.

    At each of these turning points, rather than feeling MORE righteous, I have come to see that I am LESS righteous. At the same time, I see that God is both more righteous and more loving than I ever knew to enfold me continuously into his presence.

    I guess I figure if I need that much saving AFTER being saved, then who am I to question how God works to bring others to him. The concept of before and after seem to mean less and less. Since God exists in all times at once now, he sees his work in us as completed and done. He sees us (in what seems to us as now) in the eternal now of our completed redemption. It’s not really ‘before Christ” or “after Christ.” It is “in Christ.”

    Thanks for reminding me of all this.

    • Brilliant, Dave. Should be required reading for all Christians!

    • Josh in FW says:

      Loved reading this testimony, thanks for sharing.

      • Dave D., I love what you posted here, especially the part about “postvenient” grace. I think it’s the reason why I continue to pray for the salvation of my deceased parents, who to my knowledge were merely nominal Roman Catholics who evidenced no living faith in Jesus Christ. God’s ways and times are not ours; I tend to believe that he can use the present to change the past and the future to change the present just as he uses the past to change the present and future, because, although the day of salvation is today, to God every day is eternally present and the dead themselves are fully alive.

        It’s not that I believe in some specific doctrine of purgatory; it’s just that both salvation and time are deep mysteries, and it would be unnatural, maybe unsupernatural, for prayer as an expression of love for my loved ones to end merely because of death. I don’t ask my dead loved ones to pray for me, as the saints are invoked in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but I pray for them; I like to think that they are praying for me, too, without any prompting needed from me. And I don’t think their eternal well-being is dependent on my prayer, since I don’t believe that God needs human agency to reach his ends either in this world or the next; but I do believe that he allows me, allows us, the joy of being the means he sometimes uses to bring about his ends.

        I’m not sure how this relates to sacramental baptism as practiced by the churches; I would pray for my deceased parents even if they had never been baptized. But the fact that they and I were baptized as infants into the mystery of salvation by a community charged with embodying this mystery gives me tremendous hope and comfort not only for them but for myself, my wife and all others I love, or should love, living and dead.

  15. Allow me to be a little contrarian. Sometimes we get too hung up on technicalities.

    I know the day I responded to the altar call. I was under heavy conviction and yet I rejoiced to know that there was salvation in Christ. Was I “saved” that day? Was I saved the first Sunday we attended this church and I first really understood the gospel? Does it really matter? I do know that, now that I remember the sense of being lost without Christ and the joy of being found in him, I keep wanting to remember that first love and my faith isn’t just something I learned about but something I have experienced.

    Maybe not everyone needs that. But God knows I did, and put me in a church where I heard about Salvation clearly for the first time.

    This was in a Southern Baptist church. But it was different from the previous Southern Baptist church, where my parents were saved, and where I grew up in Sunday School. I learned the Bible stories but I didn’t really understand why my fourth-grade peers were “going forward” and getting baptized. I’m really glad my parents didn’t pressure me into following along when i didn’t understand it, just to be part of my peer group.

    Now I see that the Holy Spirit was shepherding me through a series of experiences in fourth, fifth and sixth grade with my family and their families and their churches, that made me start questioning and looking for what this religion thing was about. So, when we attended this other church, and I first heard that although I was a hopeless sinner (I had already figured that out) God offered *me* (and all sinners) salvation through Christ, it all clicked. I knew all the Bible stories but until that day I didn’t know why.

    Since that time God has led me through many experiences, churches, and life events. And while there was a LOT of dysfunction in that church (I could tell you stories that would curl your hair) God has preserved me and my faith to the present day.

    One last thought: it was a big revelation and relief to me when I realized that the Holy Spirit worked in people whose theology was different from mine. It all really comes down to Jesus, Son of God, crucified, risen and coming again, and anything else is not as important.

    My 2 cents.

  16. We are all basically unbelievers at heart…no matter how long we have been in Christ.

    I’m a Christian now for 56 years and I still wander off for more attractive words, all the time.

    St. Paul says, “For those of us who ARE BEING saved…”

    It’s not a one time event or a legal transaction. It’s a lifelong process of repentance and forgiveness. But it is NOT dependent on what ‘we do’…but on what He has done, is doing, and will yet do for us…the sinner.

    When was I saved? 2,000 years ago on the cross. In my Baptism. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    There’s no gospel in looking inward..to yourself…to your decisions for Christ. That’s all law. All stuff that we do, or say, or feel, or think.

    If you are in a church that asks you (often) when you were saved and they want a date and time…don’t walk towards the door. Run.

    • Amen.

      I am always not enough, and always will be He is always enough, and always will be.
      And physical death changes precisely nothing in that equation. I expect the values of the variables in that equation to persist for all functions of time.

  17. In order to be the son of my parents, is it imperative that I know the date/time/place I realized they loved me and called me their own?

    • With Christians, that took place (our adoption by God) in our Baptism.

      But since Baptism is not merely a one time event that we move away from…but the way God carries us through life (we return to our Baptisms daily, Luther said) we live in Baptism.

      How do you know (how can you know?) that you truly do belong to Him? You ARE Baptized!

      __

      I know this is radical for many who are not familiar with this theology. But give it a chance. Read more about it. Study it. It is liberating and assuring. It is the external Word of God. Pure gospel.

      • Methinks in an effort to be succinct my point was lost (or mis-read).

        What I was trying to express is that I have no recollection of being born to my parents yet, I was. That makes them my parents and me, their son. Over time I learned who they were and that they were different than other adult males and females. It didn’t occur in some instant that I can pinpoint the time/date/place and flavor of ice cream I was eating when it indelibly struck me, ‘hey, these are my parents’. However, I believe it even though my memories don’t log an entry for it. I don’t need to recall the details of being born to them. It is sufficient know THAT I was born to them.

        Same for my baptism, I cannot relive a memory for that beautiful day; who was there, what I was wearing, what the weather was like, etc. But I was taught that it did indeed take place. And I believe it.

        My apologies for being too cryptic in my initial post, hoe this clarifies.

        • Josh in FW says:

          You weren’t too cryptic. Steve was just taking an opportunity to preach about Baptism.

        • Some of both. I’m dumber than I look (trust me…that’s pretty dumb)

          Good points, J Shot.

          And you are right, Josh in FW. I try and take every opportunity!

  18. I guess it’s hard fore to wrap my brain around it all since neither of us are covenant children. I know that when we were engaged we looked for a church to marry in. We had visited a lot but I wasn’t ready to join per se. We met with our current pastor and he encouraged us to find a church home and for my husband to be baptized. He knew he needed to be before this happened but the opportunity had not presented itself. At that time he also told the pastor he didnt know when he was saved but that he was sure be was. I let him decide what he wanted to do. I was adamant that he not be baptized unless he felt he should. I don’t think he really understood it completely then. Is that okay? I’m not sure he had saving faith prior to or after his baptism. I’m just wondering if I should encourage him to do it again.

    • One Baptism is enough. But I would encourage you to read about the sacrament of Baptism to have a better understanding of what God has done for both of you in your Baptisms.

      It’s a good bet that those denominations and so-called “non-denominations” that deny the real presence of Christ in Baptism, won’t give you much comfort there. I’d steer clear of them when you are learning about Baptism.

      There are many good sources of information on Baptism and just what God does for you in Baptism.

      Under the category of “Baptism”, I have 48 written pieces, sermons, or pastor’s classes at your fingertips (keyboard):

      http://theoldadam.com/category/baptism/

      We happen to have one of the strongest views of Baptism that you’ll be able to find. But there are many, many more good places to learn about it, as well.

      • I read quite and listened to a couple of your classes. It does seem so much more freeing then having to rely on anything we have done. The only problem is I’m greatly conflicted. My husband likes our church. He is growing and learning. He isn’t going to understand my desire to uproot and move to a radically different denomination. My whole family is pretty much Baptist as is his, although all non-practicing except us. My sister is Methodist but still hasn’t had her children baptized. I think she is confused. I wonder, if its okay for me to just accept that my husband is saved and just move on. Can I survive with differing views of uncertainty about theology/denominations and be at peace? Just knowing that he is saved all the while not knowing when it occurred or how it fits into my theology? I’m afraid. Can I just let it go and rejoice we are both heaven bound and let God work out the rest? I fully believe there will be those of every denomination in heaven. I pray for peace. Finally. That I no longer have to question but can have true peace. I guess I’m afraid of basing my beliefs/theology on my circumstances just so I can survive with this mental illness. Thank you to all here. Please keep me in your prayers. My marriage and the future of my son (still in the womb) are in need of them! God bless.

        • Honestly I keep getting caught up in the idea that a person should know the moment he or she believed. This is haunting me. Not just that, but that it would be a big conversion experience. I cant seem to be comfortable with the fact he may not know when he was saved. How do I accept this and move forward? And is it okay as a baptist not to know when. Even if we became active in our faith later in life

  19. Robert F says:

    The experience of how the first Christians became believers, as it is related in Acts, is no more a template for how conversion should work for all later generations than the fact that they chose to own all property in common is a template for how all Christians of all time periods are to arrange their social and economic life together.

  20. Wow.
    CM you have delivered a slam dunk and hit me right between the eyes.

    I first heard of Christ at about age 4 or 5 in an Anglican church and felt warmed. I heard the message again through various means as I grew up. At age 14 a young lady did bible studies on our air base for us kids. At age 16 I was challenged very hard by one of the Jesus people to forsake my counter culture lifestyle.
    I finally got really serious and surrendered. Yet my revivalistic tradition I ended up pointed to that one day.

    The hound of heaven was on me for years.
    Thanks for tying that altogether!

  21. Yes, Paul says we have been saved, we are being saved, we shall be saved. There are many aspects of salvation. There was a time when God called me and I look back to it. But it wasn’t going down an aisle, even though people have come to Christ that way, it isn’t the only way to do it.

    btw, we hear a lot of the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ There is nothing wrong with it, Martha or Damaris or those in the Catholic tradition would call it an ‘act of contrition.’ but it isn’t what saves us, it is the faith. It is good to start with, as is the ‘Jesus Prayer’ of Orthodoxy, yes, I’m nodding to you as well, Mule!

    If we’re looking to the prayer to save us instead of Christ, we’re already on the wrong path. I have heard too many who said, “Well, I ‘accepted Christ,’ who are as mean as snakes. Makes me wonder what Christ they accepted.

    But there’s a song by John Fischer which goes, “Jesus is the only way to heaven, but there are many ways to Jesus.” I wish I could find that song.

    • It’s “Jesus Is the Only Way, But There’s More Than One Way to Jesus,” but I can’t find it on Youtube, and I have no idea where our old album is. It was a good song.

  22. I was raised in a fundamentalist setting that focused on altar ‘savings’ and have spent most of my adult life gently resisting that, based on my reading of Scripture. Life is so much simpler when we give things like salvation back to God…

  23. I can remember the stuggles I had as a young boy stuggling with a wonderfull God who made it known to me that He was involded in my life.I fought and refused to believe that He was real.At the age of 23 I found my self a broken man with no hope…a life in shambles and Jesus was there for me.Salvation is a process that start before your trip to the alter and continues afterwards.The grace that we receive , how sweet it is.