October 27 is an important date for me.
On that day, many years ago, I was a young kid walking alone under a starry sky in my hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. I was grappling with who I was and what my life would mean. And there, looking up into the vault of space up there overhead, I trusted a Stranger in the Night to forgive me, and to take me wherever he wanted. The gospel wasn’t new to me, and the teachings of Jesus weren’t new to me. Years and years of Sunday school and Baptist Training Union and Vacation Bible Schools were all back there. But, somehow, I just knew at that moment that the central point of all those things was true: the gospel. It was as though I heard a voice.
The reason I write this is because my story isn’t at all typical of most Christians I know, and many kind of feel guilty about that. Many believe if they really have embraced the gospel, they ought to have a moment, a date, they can point to as the instant they passed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
Sometimes our churches reinforce this misunderstanding. Preachers talk about assurance of salvation as though it were about remembering a past experience, and doing a mental autopsy on the sincerity of that. The people we allow to give “testimonies” in our churches and in our publications all seem to have a dramatic tale to tell.
That’s not what the gospel is about.
In our culture, we make a big-to-do about birthdays. Other cultures don’t. I could ask you right now, “When were you born” and you could probably tell me month, date, and year. But how do you know that? It’s because there were people there, usually your parents, who could tell you that information. You don’t remember emerging from the birth canal (and that’s probably a very good thing).
Other people, in other cultures at other times, don’t recognize dates but seasons. They might not know what day on the weekly calendar or what year in the solar calendar they were born. But do they then question whether they are alive? Of course not. How do you know if you were in fact born? You look to see if you’re alive…now.
It’s no accident that Jesus compares entrance into the kingdom of God to physical birth. There is a kind of helplessness that we experience in the biology and history of our births. No one can boast about an easy delivery. No one should feel guilty about prompting a Caesarean section. The important thing is that you’re here.
The same is true for the gospel. Some of you were brought to Christ suddenly and dramatically. Your past life as a prostitute or a drunk or a warlord gave way to a radically different direction as a disciple. In that, your situation is quite similar to the Apostle Paul’s. Others of you, though saved just as truly in some point in time, aren’t able to identify that time. Your memory is of a slow realization of the gospel, and you can’t necessarily pinpoint when you were converted in that time-frame. Your situation sounds more like that of Paul’s disciple Timothy. The point of the gospel isn’t celebrating an experience; it’s believing a Man who is your crucified, resurrected, reigning Life.
It’s important to mark dates as ways of prompting thanksgiving. If you know when you met Jesus, set up an Ebenezer of remembrance in your mind and be grateful. If not, be thankful for life in Christ and mark other dates when He showed himself real and faithful to you.
The crucial matter isn’t whether you remember when the Shepherd pulled you out of the thorn bushes. Maybe you were barely conscious. The critical thing is whether you hear His Voice, maybe somewhere out there in the dark in front of you, calling you forward, right now.
Dr. Russell D. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.