LAWSON: The issue is right now, at this moment, Are you saved or are you not saved? There are some people who cannot pinpoint exactly when they were converted. One reason might be that they were sitting under such shallow preaching that they weren’t receiving enough of the truth to have a strong enough sense to evaluate their own experience. Someone can be saved—and many people are saved—who cannot pinpoint that exact moment.
At the same time, there are people who pinpoint an exact moment who still are not saved. They are deceived about their past. They walked forward when they were eight years old with a youth group at the end of camp and they keep hanging on to that past experience, but there’s no present reality in their lives. I’m more concerned with the person who has a false assurance of a salvation that never occurred, but they had the evangelist sign the back of their Bible and put the date under his signature. The real issue is right now, today, at this very moment, Do you know Jesus Christ? Are you following Jesus Christ? Even more, Does Jesus Christ know you?
THOMAS: December 28, 1971, at about 11:30 at night—I can be as accurate as that. If you ask my wife, however, she doesn’t remember a day when she did not believe. I was raised in a very secular home. She was raised to go to church three times on Sunday.
Ask yourself: When was John the Baptist converted? When was Samuel converted? When was Timothy converted? The issue is that regeneration takes place at the level of the subconscious. What we experience is the result of regeneration, which may be many years later. One can be regenerate and not demonstrate a great deal outwardly, particularly if raised in a religious, evangelical community. But what’s important, as Steve is saying, is, Are you saved right now? Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ right now?
It’s a mistake to over-dramatize one particular experience of conversion. We tend to make Saul of Tarsus the model of conversion, but that’s only one model. My conversion was fairly like Saul of Tarsus, but my wife’s was more like John the Baptist.
CHARLES: I would agree with what Steve says about present-tense faith. The emphasis of the New Testament is, Do you believe now?
The New Testament emphasizes present-tense faith, but it also emphasizes a perpetual faith and perseverance. In John 8, Jesus says to those who claim to believe, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Even in the opening two verses of Romans 8, Paul uses mystical language about the intimate union of Christ in the believer: “You are in Christ Jesus.” By the time he gets to verse 4, however, this mystical union becomes quite pedestrian, literally—he uses the word “walk.” There is evidence in the path, direction, and progress of your life in the faith that is also tied to the assurance of salvation.