I was almost literally born and raised in the church. I was born around 9:00 am on a Sunday morning and my mother brought me to the 6:00 pm service that same day because my sister was receiving an award at church. The same day!
As I grew up in that church for the next 18 years of my life, I was surrounded by a community of believers, who raised me in the faith.
But one of the things that always bugged me as I got into high school and college was that I could never point to the moment that I became a Christian. I was actually kind of secretly ashamed that I didn’t have a really cool story. I had some friends who knew the exact day and time that they had decided to follow Jesus, and some even had a plaque on their wall commemorating what they called their second birthday.
I would get really nervous that one day someone was going to ask me point blank when I had been saved and I wouldn’t be able to answer!
This really bothered me.
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was a huge proponent of the idea called assurance of faith. This is simply the feeling that the Holy Spirit gives you to assure you of your salvation. Wesley talked about his heart feeling “strangely warmed” the day he knew he would spend eternity in heaven.
I had that. In my heart of hearts, I knew that I knew Jesus. I knew that I had a relationship with my Creator, but I could not tell you when I had crossed that line between not being a Christian and being a Christian.
I heard stories like Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, of lives being instantaneously transformed, and I felt my like my storyless story just didn’t measure up.
Until… I got to seminary, and I took a class on evangelism. The professor talked about the difference between the conversion experience of Paul and the experience of Jesus’ own disciples.
Whereas Paul’s experience was sudden and drastic, the disciples’ experience was gradual and messy. This professor used the Gospel of Mark to show how Jesus’ disciples slowly came to the realization that he was the Messiah. They didn’t start off knowing that. They simply recognized him as a Rabbi and decided to follow him. But the longer they followed him, the closer they grew to him, and the more they realized that this Jesus guy was waymore than they had initially thought.
And I bet, that if you were to interview the disciples at the moment that Jesus spoke his last words to them on earth and ask them, “So, when did you officiallybecome a follower of Christ? When did you make that transition between your former life and your new life in Christ?” they probably would have looked at you and said, “I don’t know… I knew he was important when I started following him, but I didn’t know howimportant he was. I can’t point to a specific day and time—I’ve just been following him and slowly realizing more and more that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world!”
And at that moment in that class in seminary, I finally had language to describe my experience. I didn’t have a story like Paul’s. I had a story like Jesus’ disciples! I had been following Jesus my whole life. And sure, there were times when I was following more closely than other times, but I couldn’t tell you the specific day and time that I made that transition from my former life to my new life in Christ because it had been slow and gradual.
Some of us have stories like Paul. And that’s awesome!
But some of us have stories like the disciples, and that’s okay too.