Do you remember the date you were "born again?" Is it really necessary for a believer to know their spiritual birthday?
At age 13, I asked God for forgiveness of my sins…er, sin. That is to say that I got in trouble for making a poor decision and feeling guilt and shame, I did the only reasonable thing I knew to do. I put my best foot forward, so to speak, and “accepted” God’s forgiveness, basically declaring that I wanted a new start. But, alas, that was really just salve on the wounds for my loved ones, it didn’t actually do anything for my soul - I don't think. My rebellious heart had not changed; while I stayed away from that particular sin, the list of offenses over the next several years would be long and colorful.
God, however, was not deterred - it seemed he followed me everywhere I went. When I left home for college at 18, he came with me. Even though my folks were no longer right next to me, forcing me to “act” like a Christian (by going to church, et al.), I felt compelled to be a part of a church and to participate in the “campus college ministry”. But on Friday night you could usually find me participating at the party that was definitely contrary to the way a “Christian” should behave. If I was a believer, and I would have said I was, I was a terrible one that would have been better off being quiet about it.
Every now and then, in my journey, God seemed to sink the proverbial hook into me and drag me toward him. I quit college to get out of a bad atmosphere and moved home where I became a leader, so to speak, with the youth group in the church I grew up in. Interestingly, I was at a summer youth camp, at which I was one of the “counselors”, when God did this thing in my heart. He told me, through one of the teaching sessions, that I had been “sitting on the fence” for too long and I needed to choose one side or the other (Matthew 6:24). I turned a corner then, in some respects, but still wanted to hold back some areas in my life for myself.
Not long after that camp experience, God moved me again. My pastor, probably in conjunction with my parents, encouraged me to go back to school (i.e. I was, to frame it nicely, "let go" of my position at the church). I enrolled, at the last minute, in a small Christian college and over the next three years God began to work in me again; drawing me toward Him. But it was never too long before the old nature would raise its ugly head. After graduating I moved back home where the environment was not conducive to growth. Temptation was great and I made regrettable mistakes, public mistakes; mistakes that would mark me like never before. In spite of my poor choices God never stopped His pursuit. Life moved forward, I was led to another church where I met my wife to be, but still through it all, I held back pieces of my life, never giving myself completely to God’s plan - always the resister.
Our first child came twenty-five years after that first time that I asked for God’s forgiveness as a young teenager. Having a child was really the marker that I can look to as the time when I decided to let go and finally put God first. I still don’t always put God first, I am still a sinner in the process but I have had a genuine heart change. I truly hate sin…my sin, and recognize it for the offense that it is and the price that was paid so that I could live.
So, when was my spiritual birthday? Whether it was at 13, 38 or somewhere in between, I’m really not sure. What I can say with surety is that today I stand a forgiven child of God. If a man loses his memory and thereby forgets on what date he was born, it doesn’t negate the fact that he exists; he is alive. And likewise, while only God knows the exact date of my new birth, I know that I am alive. Praise God for pursuing me when I didn’t deserve it and for the assurance of faith I now possess.