Saturday, December 29, 2007

A new creation

At Christianity Today, Erik Thoennes addresses the question "How can I know I'm a Christian if I can't remember when I first responded to the gospel?" A portion of his answer:
Much of American Protestantism has been influenced by revivalism, which places great emphasis on "making a decision for Christ" in a public, definitive way. These "moments of decision" often become the crucial evidence that one is saved. Other Protestant traditions, less influenced by revivalism (including some Reformed and Lutheran churches), may be content to leave the conversion experience unclearly identified, putting the focus on identification with the church. Both of these traditions have benefits, as well as potential problems.

The decision approach rightly emphasizes the need for a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and the idea that regeneration takes place at a specific time. The potential downside is that this view can lead to a simplistic, human-centered understanding of being saved, where one depends too heavily on the specific act of trusting Christ as the primary evidence of conversion. As a result, one can doubt the "decision" was real, leading to numerous journeys down the aisle (just in case). Also, one can depend on the walk down the aisle alone, even in the absence of spiritual fruit.

On the other hand, Reformed traditions appreciate the sovereignty of God and the role of the church in the salvation process. Yet they can leave conversion so vague that the need for personal trust in Christ and a changed life is neglected.

We must allow for the varied experiences God uses to bring people to himself. As C. H. Spurgeon said, "The Spirit calls men to Jesus in diverse ways. Some are drawn so gently that they scarcely know when the drawing began, and others are so suddenly affected that their conversion stands out with noonday clearness."

For those who question their salvation, the best evidence is not the memory of having raised a hand or prayed a prayer. Nor is it having been baptized or christened. The true test of the authentic work of God in one's life is growth in Christ-like character, increased love for God and other people, and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25; James 2:18). A memorable conversion experience may serve as an important referent to God's saving work in one's life. But the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in making a person more like Jesus is the clearest indicator that one has been made a new creation in Christ. [more]
Update 1/1/08: Michael Spencer understands "The true test of the authentic work of God in one's life is growth in Christ-like character, increased love for God and other people, and the fruit of the Spirit" as substituting "works" for "revivalism":
The “best evidence” is “growth” in “love” and “fruit.” Being more “like Jesus.” Good grief. Can anyone spell “despair?” Seeking assurance through a measurement like “growth in Christlikeness” is not reformation Christianity. It’s the other team, where justification and sanctification are two words for the same thing. It’s obliterating the crucial distinction between justification and sanctification in the matter of assurance.

This stuff matters, folks. It matters at the moments you really need the Gospel to matter most: moments of great sin, attacks of doubt/despair and deathbeds- a place where I understand the active righteousness of Christ can be very comforting.
If that is what Thoennes meant, then Spenser is surely right. I, perhaps based on my own untutored preconceptions, understood it differently. I don't for a moment believe that anything I have done has contributed to my salvation. And I know that, by God's grace alone, I am His. But when I reflect on what I might be today, not having come to know Him, it seems to me that I can discern the work of the Holy Spirit in making me better than I would have been.

Hour of Decision | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:03 AM

    Amen. Looking back over time I think the same thing. For me, I have grown more aware of my failures and had it not been for my absolute trust in Christ's completed work on my behalf I would be in despair.
    "I believe in a hill called Mt. Calvary. I believe whatever the cost. And when time has surrendered and earth is no more, I'll still cling to the Old Rugged Cross." (Gaither)


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