|Photo courtesy of IceYeti|
"Your saving encounter with Jesus may very likely have come with fewer flashes of light that Saul's did. Has this troubled you? Why should it not?"
Now, before I go any further let me say that I have strange feeling that I may have already addressed this subject matter in the past. So, if this is a repeat then I am sincerely sorry but it is what is on my heart and mind this morning and it is my blog so I'll write what I want to write. So there.
The thoughts that this question sparked in my mind focus on the idea that some believers have that if you didn't have a massive, lights flashing, emotional, amazing conversion experience then there is a strong chance that you are not saved. Indeed, I have heard it preached that if you do not remember the moment of your conversion then it never happened. I for one have trouble with this idea and I want to tell you why in as fair-handed a way as possible. Also, I want to point out what I believe are some potential dangers of this kind of doctrine or theology.
Let me say this also, there are many examples of people having drastic conversion experiences in the Bible and throughout Christian history. Paul stands as the prime example but we also have to look at the earlier accounts in Acts of thousands of people coming the Christ after the sermons of the apostles. Also, I think about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who put his faith in Christ on the road side and was baptized then and there.
On the other hand I think about the disciples. Was their moment of conversion the moment that Christ called them out of their boats and tax booths to follow Him? Perhaps so, but there was still a huge amount of misunderstanding and denial that would follow. Was their conversion moment Easter Sunday when they rushed to the empty tomb to be witnesses to the risen Christ? Maybe it was on the road to Emmaus when Christ walked with them and their hearts burned within them. My point here is that the conversion of the disciples may be a little more difficult to nail down than Saul/Paul.
Now let me get into why I think this doctrine can be potentially dangerous. What is our salvation based on? I would submit that our salvation is based on our faith in, and belief on, the finished work of Christ on the cross, on our behalf. The danger lies in that if we rest our salvation on an experience rather than Christ alone we are treading on very thin ice. Often times when we talk people and invite them to come to Christ we warn them that it is not about feelings or emotions but about trust in our heart, mind and soul. I believe the same can be said for our conversion experience or lack thereof. I wake up every morning knowing that my hope for salvation lies only in Jesus Christ. Can I point to a specific moment and date? No, I can get close and tell you about when I took hold of my faith as my own rather than something my parents or grandparents believe for me.
I have been pressed further on this matter (for which I am grateful by the way) and asked about a time when I came under conviction of my sinfulness. Yes, I do remember a time in high school when I was overwhelmed by the immensity of my sin and the suffering of Christ on the cross of me. However, if we insist on pin-pointing one time then we run the risk of forgetting that the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin on a daily basis in the process of sanctification. Furthermore, I believe we should never grow comfortable with the Cross of Christ. We should never find ourselves saying, "Oh yeah, I remember a time when I was really moved by the Cross." Does it not move us to this day? Have we enjoyed the salvation of Christ for one moment in our lives and then allowed sin to reign without any conviction because "we got saved way back when"? I should hope not.
Another thing I would like to point out. If we emphasize a moment rather than the person of Christ we run into what we see in the Church all the time; people who say "Well, I went forward when I was 12." but they've never darkened the door of the church since. Haven't we all heard of people who lived like Hell but at their funeral someone reminds us that they went to the altar for salvation 35 years prior? Now, I'm not making a judgement call on their salvation but this is what can happen when we encourage people to "get their ticket" because that is all that really matters.
What if, like Paul and the other New Testament writers, we emphasized a life lived in Christ rather than an experience? Aside from the examples given in the New Testament by the lives of the Apostles we are given little, if any, teaching on having to remember the exact moment of our salvation. Why? I can't say for sure but I wonder if it isn't because we are not to focus on the experience but on the Person of Jesus Christ and our daily dying and trusting in Him. Let me be clear on this. I am not discounting the memory that many believers have of their salvation experience. It is a beautiful thing to see a saint of God who fondly looks back on the years that have transpired in their service to God. The last thing I want anyone to think is that I am trying to demonize those who have had vivid conversion experiences. If I was that would mean I would have to demonize Paul and that would be ludicrous. Furthermore, many times a dramatic conversion becomes an integral part of someone's testimony, it sure was for Paul. This is evidence of the power of the Gospel. What I do want to expose is people who say, in the minds or with their lips, "If you didn't have an experience like me then you aren't saved," or "If you didn't have an experience like Paul, you aren't saved."
I think we need to understand a few things in order to have a more complete picture of our salvation in the year 2011. Without a doubt the means of salvation and the Gospel have not changed. God saved people through faith in Jesus Christ today just as He did 2000 years ago, this much is absolutely certain. How that all happens, though, may be different. Think about this, in the time of the apostles it was impossible for someone to grow up in a Christian home. They were the first generation of people to whom the Gospel was available. Peter and John and Matthew weren't raised by Christians, they couldn't have been. However, in our day children have the unbelievable blessing of being exposed to the Gospel from the time they are born. I, for one, cannot remember a time when I did not know who Jesus was and what He did for me. This is a product of being raised by godly parents and grandparents. Did their faith save me? Heavens no! It did provide an environment which was conducive to me working out my own salvation in due time. Also, for better or for worse, we have a variety of traditions within the larger scope of Christianity. Again, this was not the case for the early Church. In some traditions the emphasis is on "confirmation" and in some the emphasis may be on walking down the aisle and making that public profession of faith. My question is this: if we look at two people who are now 30 years old and both are dedicated followers of Jesus Christ does it matter how they got to that point? Is one more "Christian" because they had a tremendous salvation experience and the other found his or herself slowly morphing into this new thing called a Christian?
As I look across the landscape of the New Testament I simply can't find any place where the measure of someone's salvation is found in an event in their life. It is found only in the event of Christ's crucifixion and each individual's response to it. I think that the doctrine that says you must remember the moment of your salvation, at it's most sinister, can be nothing more than a way to make Christian's doubt their salvation and potentially pad the numbers because people are being saved repeatedly. I remember the day of my salvation, it was the first Good Friday. When that was finally applied to my life I could not say but I know I have today, that much I am sure of. The solution is, as I have said repeatedly in this post; let's start taking our eyes off of ourselves for salvation and put them on Christ as our hope. It is He who saves us and He who holds us firmly in His grasp not doctrine or man's opinion.
Let me say one final word and then wrap this all up. I do believe in what may be called "eternal security" or the idea of "once saved always saved." I think it is biblical and of sound reason. I will not go into why I believe this right now but maybe some other time. I say that because I don't want anyone to get the idea that we need to be saved each and every day. What I do mean is that we are saved forever whether or not we remember the moment that that was locked in. What we need to do is remember and act like we are saved every day when we wake up. If that was not the case then why would we be encouraged to put on the armor of God?
So there you have it. I may have ruffled some feathers or even made someone downright angry but this is the way I see things and I will not settle for the spiritual abuse that some people cause in Christian's lives.