Choosing to Believe
I became a Christian on the morning of April 4, 1997. It took a second, maybe less, but that moment has become the defining moment of my life. To the extent that I now view my life in terms of before and after with that one single moment being the dividing line. I was thirty-seven years old in 1997.
In my last blog I used the illustration of a picture hidden inside a picture as an allegory for conversion. Most people have seen those hidden picture illusions and can relate to the experience. Not “many” can relate to a conversion experience.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
When I say not many can relate to spiritual conversion I’m not trying to be offensive or controversial. I have absolutely no idea who is redeemed and who isn’t. It’s not my job to know, I’m not the final Judge. I’m merely going by what the bible says. Jesus did not preface this statement by saying “unless something changes”, nor did He say “maybe” this is how it will be. Frankly, this is one of the most frightening passages in Holy Scripture in my opinion.
Arguably the most popular and encouraging verse in the bible was written by the Apostle John:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
“… that whoever believes in him should not perish…” That certainly does sound encouraging does it not? How can anyone who professes to be a Christian hear that verse and not feel a sense of comfort, maybe even relief? I know I have always found comfort in it. I don’t ever remember a time in my life when I did not “believe” I was a Christian. My parents were both Christians; I grew up in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday, and even attended a Christian school for a while. As far back as I can remember I “believed” in God; I “believed” in Jesus, I “believed” I was a Christian and I “believed” I would someday be in heaven.
So what was that moment on the morning of April 4, 1997? Well, I’ve spent a good deal of my time over the past seventeen years trying to figure out that very thing for myself. Prior to that morning my knowledge and understanding about God, Jesus and Christianity was very basic, at best: minimal would probably be a better word. I never owned a bible and I honestly don’t think I ever even opened one before that day. Since that day I’ve had an unquenchable thirst for truth.
I once heard someone compare trying to explain conversion to describing a rainbow to a blind man. I’ve always thought that was a pretty good analogy. Immediately following that “experience” I couldn’t think or talk about anything else. I knew every word out of my mouth made me sound like one of those bible-thumping, Jesus-freak, religious fanatics I had always been leery of – but I couldn’t help myself. That fanaticism only lasted about six months, which I’m sure my family and friends were thankful for.
The frustration, to use a cliché, is that there are no words to describe it. I think every metaphor that could possibly be used has been used, and most of them have become clichés in and of themselves: “I was blind but now I see” – “I was lost, now I’m found.” I’ve never been blind and I didn’t really “see” anything . . .
The hidden picture inside a picture analogy is as good as any. At first you can’t see the hidden picture, even with someone standing there giving you hints and clues. When you do finally see it you’re amazed you couldn’t see it before. You can’t look at it and not see it afterwards.
What I’ve learned since my “conversion” is that for the first thirty-seven years of my life I made a choice to believe in God: like making a choice to believe there’s a hidden picture even though you haven’t seen it yet. That moment in 1997 was like the moment when you finally see the hidden picture – it wasn’t my “choice.” I specifically remember these things about that experience, and I remember them as vividly today as I did then. It all occurred in my mind, obviously, but I knew it wasn’t coming from within me. When you look at a tree you know the tree is real. You know you’re not just imagining a tree there. If someone were to ask, “How do you know that tree is real?” you’d probably say something profound like, “I don’t know how I know – I just know.” That’s how I felt. I knew I wasn’t imagining things, I knew it was real. In fact it was more real than anything I had ever known up until then. I also had an overwhelming, indescribable sense that Jesus was real and nothing else mattered. All the problems I thought I had in my life, even the huge insurmountable ones I could see no way around, suddenly, in that instant, seemed so trivial and insignificant.
I’ve come to believe that that was the moment I was born again, which was a change in my thinking in itself. For me, the term “born again” always had a negative connotation attached to it. Like I said, my biblical knowledge and understanding up until 1997 was extremely limited and flawed. In my mind there were Christians, and then there were “born again” Christians. The “born again” variety were those bible-thumping, Jesus-freak, religious fanatics I had always been leery of. I’m not sure where that mind-set came from.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:3)
I suppose it’s a bit ironic that this verse is part of the passage that is leading up to the popular and comforting John 3:16. In retrospect I could say that I still believe there are Christians and there are “born again” Christians. The word “Christian” isn’t as important as the term “born again.”
Jesus could have used any analogy to explain salvation to Nicodemus and He specifically chose being born. There’s a lot of debate in our culture today about how important our role is in all of this. I was reading something by Dr. R.C. Sproul today where he stated that “Even truth itself is regarded as subjective rather than objective. Therefore, truth is whatever you want it to be. This is the most narcissistic generation in the history of the human race.” I couldn’t have said it any better, (which is why I used his words).
I had no choice in the matter when I was born. I didn’t choose the time, or place, or my gender, or who my parents would be. It was all God’s choice. By using the analogy of being “born again” I think Jesus makes it crystal clear how much of a choice we have in the matter. And if it’s not clear enough there the Apostle John quotes Jesus again later saying:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)
When I first began to study the bible seventeen years ago there were a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me. Over time I’ve discovered that it makes a lot more sense when I read it from God’s perspective instead of mine. That’s not to imply that I can put myself in God’s shoes, by any means. In the immortal words of John the Baptist:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
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