(My mom’s testimony to a church group in the early 80’s.)
There are 5 topics or truths that I want to talk about.
1. As the title implies, becoming a Christian isn’t a one-shot, all-at-once experience, though sometimes, we get the impression that it is. Often, too much emphasis is placed on the initial conversion experience, and not enough on what difference it made in the rest of a person’s life.
I used to worry about not having a dramatic conversion story to relate. A 12-year old who went to church and Sunday school before and after conversion doesn’t quite make the TV talk shows. Not dramatic enough.
But I didn’t become a Christian that night during the summer revival, I only began the process. I didn’t know that then, I just knew I felt great joy the day I was baptized in the river along with my brother and my father, and I felt great relief thereafter at not feeling guilty when the altar-call was given. And that leads to the second point.
2. Becoming a Christian means more than just being saved from Hell. For awhile, I was happy just having that fire insurance. I grew up hearing nothing but fire-and-brimstone preaching—- how hot the flames were for sinners. It was some time before I gradually became aware of another aspect of being a Christian, my third point.
3. We are saved for something, not just from something. It was exciting to think that I, in all my uniqueness, was saved by God for something. I had a responsibility to him—- I was accountable to Him to keep His spiritual laws. And I planned what I would do for Him. I was committed, I was willing, I would serve, I would witness, I would live a good life, and I would do great things for God! The truth is, I did precious little for God. For we are unable to achieve in our own strength.
4. I had part of the story correct; I am responsible to God, I am accountable to Him to keep His spiritual laws, but the rest of the story is that it is only to the extent that God lives and works through me that my life counts for Him and I can fulfill my responsibility to Him.
God lives and works through my life by His Holy Spirit. The great interest in the “charismatic movement” several years ago stirred me to a greater realization of what being a Christian is. Hearing people pray in tongues and seeing them “slain in the spirit” left me bewildered and feeling a little “left out.” I became a seeker. I began a prayerful study of the Bible concerning the Holy Spirit. And I found Him—He was there all the time!
Scripture tells us that we are the temples, or tabernacles, of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the tabernacle has to be cleaned out before He can dwell in it. Some things that may clutter the tabernacle are hypocrisy, white lies, insincerity, cruel thoughts, whispered stories, gossip, hard criticism, jealous longings, pride and love of money. Mine was full of self.
If you are having a problem with the Holy Spirit living in your life, check your tabernacle, it may need cleaning out. God doesn’t dwell in smokehouses and wine cellars and He can’t dwell in an already full tabernacle. And another thing, not a pleasant topic to bring up, but one we can identify with— tabernacle-keeping is a lot like house-keeping. An annual cleaning won’t do. Monthly and weekly cleanings are good, but a daily tidying up is what is needed.
5. The last point is that God is there all the time. He works in our lives while we are just bumbling along, rolling with the punches and blowing in the breezes. He works His purpose through us when we allow ourselves to be used and He rewards us with joy and peace. That was something else I had to learn on my own, God’s joy and peace. He gives joy in the midst of pain, peace in the midst of chaos, and courage in all trials.
I didn’t become a Christian at 12 years old, I just started to become. I’m still becoming.
I have related to you some of the things I’ve learned over a span of thirty years. I’m a slow learner. Those of you who are also becoming, and especially beginners, I pray that your becoming will be more rapid than my own.
To summarize: Becoming a Christian happens over a long period of time. We’re not just saved from Hell, we’re saved for God’s work, not by our own effort, but through His Holy Spirit in us, and God doesn’t give up on us. He is there all the time. He is our strength.