Monday, September 27, 2021

Anonymous Asks (164)

“Is is possible to be born again without knowing when it happened?”

I was once confronted by an older Christian who wanted to know the exact time and circumstances of my salvation. Apparently he asked many others the same thing. He was convinced the experience of becoming a believer only comes about in one way, and that it is impossible not to know how and when it occurred. If you can’t tell people when it happened, he insisted, it’s because you’re not saved.

That is not what Jesus taught.

Who Has Seen the Wind?

You may remember the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus, the ruler of the Jews who came to him by night and received unexpected insight into the new birth. During that conversation, the Lord gave him an illustration from nature to help him understand it:

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Whatever we might say about this, it does not appear to describe a process easily analyzed or dissected. William MacDonald comments:

“The new birth is very much like the wind. First of all, it takes place according to the will of God. It is not a power which man holds in his own control. Secondly, the new birth is invisible. You cannot see it taking place, but you can see the results of it in a person’s life. Just as no one can fully understand the wind, so the new birth is a miraculous work of the Spirit of God which man is not able to comprehend fully. Moreover, the new birth, like the wind, is unpredictable. It is not possible to state just when and where it will take place.”

It would be difficult to top that. I won’t try. The important thing is not whether we can remember the exact moment in which we began to trust Jesus for our salvation, but whether knowing Christ has made any difference in our lives.

Differences Large and Small

Sometimes the difference is drastic. We have all heard testimonies like that. You know: the drunken biker who became an evangelist, or the ex-prostitute who turned to the Lord, married a believer and now has three wonderful children. I’m sure either could come pretty close to pinning down their “moment of truth” if asked.

For others, there is not so much to tell. I recently had the privilege of speaking at the memorial of a man I remember as a really fine human being even before he came to know the Lord: hospitable, charitable, generous, pleasant, hard-working and loving to his family ... a real pillar of the community. When he became a believer, the difference in him was most evident in his priorities. He and his wife devoted themselves to serving their fellow believers for a period over thirty years. He had entered into exactly the same sort of life-transforming relationship as the biker or the prostitute. The changes in his life were subtler, but equally pervasive. Nobody who knew him doubted his love for Christ.

Crossing Over the Line

My own engagement with the Lord came in several stages and I could not tell you at what point I crossed over from death into life; I just know that I did.

As a child, I believed Jesus is the only way of salvation because I was told it by people I trusted. I cannot recall ever not believing it. I remember being so thankful for it I cried, and I was probably only six at the time. Later on, I asked to be baptized because I wanted to be publicly identified with Jesus in his death and resurrection.

However, submitting to God’s will was a long struggle for me. Anyone who knows me would be entitled to ungraciously point out that it’s probably not over yet. There was a moment in my early twenties when I surrendered in principle and began living a much more visibly “Christian” life. I stopped doing a bunch of things I had been doing which were varying degrees of unprofitable, and started doing the things I believed the Lord wanted me to do.

There have been many mini-surrenders since, often in areas of my life about which I had no particular conviction of sin until my conscience was awakened by reading scripture for myself and the Holy Spirit applied his word to me directly.

Evidence of Life

So, no, I can’t tell you exactly when I was saved, or when I came to believe this or that precisely. I can tell you what I believe today, but I can’t point with certainty to the moment I learned and accepted each of those precious truths. In this, I suspect I am a lot like other children who have grown up in Christian homes.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound. The new birth is invisible, unpredictable and even incomprehensible, but it is always accompanied by evidence of life.

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