Writings on Christianity

Must I Have a Dramatic Conversion Experience To Know That I Am Saved?

churchMust I Have a Dramatic Conversion Experience To Know That I Am Saved?

The church is not a mere building, but the people of God who are redeemed by Christ.  Yet not everyone who attends worship services or even claims to be a Christian actually is a Christian; the terrifying reality is that on the last day, some who ‘profess Christ’ will be told “depart from me, I never knew you” by Jesus (Matt 7:21-23).  Such a reality leads some to hyper-anxiety and uncertainty over their own salvation–‘Am I really saved?’ ‘What will Jesus say to me on the last day?’  The same reality leads others to be extremely critical and judgmental of everyone else–condemning all who do not meet particular criteria in practice or conversion, standards which are usually arbitrary and extra-biblical.

On the one hand, the Bible does call us work out salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-14) and to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).   We ought to look honestly at our own hearts and life–‘Do I hate sin and love Christ?’ ‘Is my life showing evidence of true faith in Christ and obedience (remembering that in this broken world our best obedience will never be perfect).’  The Bible also urges us not be naive and assume that everyone who says they are a Christian is actually a Christian–there are many false prophets and teachers in the world (Matt 7:15-20).  We are to be discerning, but not hypocritically judgmental.   This means we shouldn’t try to find the speck of dust in our brother’s eye while we have a log in our own; it also means that we should throw away our treasures to pigs and dogs, but must use discretion and prudence (Matt 7:1-5; Jude) [for those interested, I preached on Matt 7:-5 last year and the sermon can be heard here].

One helpful distinction for us is to remember that the church is actually made up of two realities: the visible church and the invisible church.  The visible church is the collection of believers here on earth (those who profess Christ, repent of their sins, are baptized, part of the local church, filled with the Holy Spirit).  The invisible church on the other hand is the true Church (those who are genuinely Christians and not just going through the motions). In practice, we do not have access to know who is truly part of the invisible church, only God does.  We deal with the visible church.  Theologian Edmund Clowney’s word here are relevant:

“The Westminster Confession defines the church as visible and invisible, recognizing the two aspects, but speaking of them as distinct.  The invisible church ‘consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof’ (XXV.II).  The visible church ‘consists of all those throughout the whole world who profess the true religion; and of their children’ (XXV.II).  The sharp differentiation indicates that we can deal only with the church visible.  By recognizing that, we will avoid the mistake of demanding dramatic conversion accounts from believers to prove their regeneration.  Yet we must also recognize that it is God’s knowledge that finally determines church membership.  The hypocrite who reveals his fraud can take no refuge in his outward membership, much as its privileges may increase his judgment”
Clowney “The Church” p 110

Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

By Tom Schmidt

Christian, husband of Rach, Church Planter,musician,

2 replies on “Must I Have a Dramatic Conversion Experience To Know That I Am Saved?”

This still doesn’t seem to answer the question: must someone have a dramatic conversion experience to consider themselves truly saved?

Mickey, thanks for the comment!

I think the answer is no, you do not have to have a ‘dramatic conversion experience.’

Some people have more of an outwardly ‘dramatic’ conversion (from drugs, crime, etc.), while for others the change has been internal while the outside actions may look very similar, and also others have believed in Christ as long as they can remember, having been raised in the church. Yet of these three examples, if the person is professing faith in Christ and repenting of sin, we are unwise to discount the faith of the person who did experience a ‘dramatic’ conversion. In this post I’m warning of the error of being overly critical of those whose conversion experience was not as ‘dramatic’ externally.

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