My birth certificate is a yellowing document, frayed at the edges. But the vital information it contains is still legible and clear. Among other things, it shows clearly the exact date and time I was born. I have no equivalent document for my spiritual birth. I can’t tell you the exact day and time I became a Christian. I think it was late 1969.
This used to bother me a lot. Most of my Christian friends could say with certainty the exact moment they “PRC,” prayed to receive Christ. I could not. But that was a long time ago. I am no longer concerned about the fact that I can’t tell you the exact moment I became a Christian. I decided some time ago that the best proof of birth is life. If you hold a baby in your arms you know it must have been born sometime though you may not know when.
In his book The Jesus Creed (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2004, pp 94-96), Scot McKnight asks when was the apostle Peter converted.
1. When Peter was introduced to Jesus (John 1:40 – 42)?
2. When Peter confessed he is a sinner (Luke 5:1-11)?
3. When Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20)?
4. When Peter encounters the risen Christ and confesses his love for Him (John 21:15-19)?
5. When Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and preaches with power (Acts 2:1-41)?
“No one doubts that Peter is converted, but we may not be sure when the ‘moment’ occurs, when he gets his birth certificate. And therein lies the mystery of conversion. Conversion is more than just an event; it is a process. Like wisdom, it takes a lifetime.”
Coming from a believers church tradition, I find McKnight’s summary a bit wimpy. In our tradition, people need to be led to a point of decision in response to a clarion call to follow Christ. But McKnight is right to conclude that Peter must have been converted at some point because that is evident in his life.
Maybe the ability to produce a spiritual birth certificate has been overrated. As the apostle James would say, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:26 TNIV) The proof that conversion has really taken place is that today, now, I exhibit the fruit of salvation in my life.
I may or may not be able to give you the exact date that I responded to the grace of the Lord. But if it really took place, today, in real time:
1. I regularly confess all known sin to the Lord.
2. I live my life under the authority of Jesus my Lord and Saviour.
3. I seek to love the Lord with all my heart, my soul, my strength and my mind.
4. I seek to be empowered by the Spirit so that I can live for Jesus.
Perhaps the weakness in discipleship that we see in many churches is that we have put too much emphasis on the point of conversion and not enough on the life of the converted. We were so concerned to get as many people to “PRC” as possible we gave the impression that the point of conversion was the climax of the conversion process, rather than its beginning.
Our intentions were good. We were fearful that if our friends died without Christ they would go to an eternity without God. We wanted to make sure that their spiritual passports were ready, just in case.
The trouble was many people didn’t die on the evening of their conversion. Many lived long after they “PRC.” And many of those who “PRC” didn’t seem to understand that true life was to: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ” (Luke 10:27 TNIV)
I am not saying that we shouldn’t take note of the date we embraced Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. But some of us cannot recall the exact time that it happened. I am saying that it is ok because if you had really said yes to the Lord at some point in time, you will continue to say yes every subsequent day of your life.
Knowing the exact moment you chose to follow Jesus as your Lord and Saviour is important. But it is more important that you are following Christ today. A life given to loving God and neighbour is the living proof of our spiritual birth. And that is a birth certificate that never yellows.