The author of our Bible study lesson this past Sunday, Rev. Abby Thornton Hailey, made a point about her salvation experience that resonated with me. Our lesson focused on the apostle Paul's dramatic experience on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-9, 17-20). Rev. Hailey mentioned the first time she was ever asked to give her testimony, having heard those who had already shared their testimonies speak of their dramatic conversion experiences. She wrote:
"Having been raised in a Christian home, I claimed this faith for myself in baptism as an older child and reaffirmed it as a high schooler in a powerful summer camp experience. I had never had to radically change my path or renounce everything I'd previously done or believed."
I could relate with her experience. I became a believer when I was nine years old. At that early age, I believed that God sent Jesus to die on the cross and that I wanted to follow him. Like Rev. Hailey, I also reaffirmed my decision as a teenager. Yet, it was her next statement that really hit home:
"For me, conversion was a gradual process of growing into a sense of God's presence and God's call on my life."
I do believe that I was "saved" when I made a decision as a nine year old. However, I did not have a clue as to much of what I was being saved from or being saved for. It has been in those 40+ years since that decision that I have grown into God's presence and call on my life.
Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and even my seminary experience, so much emphasis seemed to focus on that moment of salvation.
I am afraid that all of these well intentioned methods of getting someone to a point of making a salvation decision might have been detrimental to the ensuing salvation process. I am convinced more than ever that, for some, salvation is more of a gradual process where they seek and experience God's presence through Christ in their lives. It might not happen at a given moment and it may not be dramatic at all. This is not meant to discount that moment for many of us when we "prayed the sinner's prayer." However, it seems to be in the process of salvation that we really become more in tune with God's presence and His ongoing call on our lives.
What about you? If you remember that moment of conversion, can you recount experiences in your Christian life since that moment that have shaped you in a much more dramatic way than that initial experience?
The process of salvation! What a wonderful, dynamic, ever-changing experience for the follower of Christ!
Chuck Strong is pastor at Olive Branch Fellowship Church