A few weeks ago I had a conversation with one of my close friends as our daughters played together. As she talked about how her daughter will grow up knowing the gospel in a way that she herself didn’t, and how her daughter will never have the memory of hearing it for the first time, she asked me about my experience of growing up in church. It got me thinking as I reflected on God’s work in my own life and later came across two blog posts, one about not having a dramatic testimony, and one sharing a testimony of a fifth generation Christian.
Here are some thoughts regarding salvation and growing up churched that I’ve had in light of considering myself and now our girls as they grow up in church:
1. Churched-background or not, salvation is about being brought back from the dead.
Being delivered from Satan, sin, and death is anything but average or boring. Having your sins forgiven and being redeemed and made alive is mind-boggling. The idea that anyone’s testimony of blood-bought salvation could be uninteresting or unspectacular is a defamation of the work of Christ…No testimony that involves the Son of God bearing your sins on the cross in order to bring you to God could ever be mundane or boring. (65)
Gloria Furman, Glimpses of Grace
I had the gospel explained to me for the first time I remember when I was around 7 or 8. And though I do have experiences in my life that marked drastic growth in my desire for God and understanding of his gospel, I don’t remember ever not believing in God. When I was younger, I used to wonder if that would mean I wouldn’t ever be passionate about his salvation or as grateful as other people who were more of the “younger son” in the prodigal story. But as I have come to know and continue to grow in knowing God more through the ordinary means of studying and hearing the Scriptures, my sense of awe and gratitude at his saving grace has grown too.
Because I know that I, by nature am a rebel against God, sometimes when I come to understand more deeply how great God is, how sweet his promises are, or how true his word is, I remember that without his intervention in my life to open my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to see any of it– and I am absolutely floored. The outward changes in my life may not seem so dramatic to others, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that without his saving work, I would be blind to his worth and reject his word, and I thank God that by his grace alone I am not and do not.
2. My salvation is much grander in scope than a story about me and my conversion experience.
Michael Horton writes in an article challenging the emphasis on individualistic, one-time, “radical” decisions in thinking about salvation:
So then, to queries concerning our salvation, we ought to reply:
1. When? Before creation, at the cross, in my lifetime, and in the future. Let this replace, “On July 10, 1965, during the eighth verse of ‘Just As I Am,’ when Brother Fred held a revival at our church.”
2. How? By God’s electing grace, redeeming grace, calling, justifying, and sanctifying grace, and by his glorifying grace (Rom.8:29-39). This can take the place of, “By raising my hand, going forward during the altar call, and praying the prayer after Brother Fred.” As John Murray writes, “It is necessary to guard against a wrong use of introspection. It is not by looking within, in the attempt to discover the movements of God’s regenerative grace, that faith is evoked. It is preoccupation with the glories of the Saviour that constrains faith. We do not rest upon that which is done in us, far less upon that which is done by us. Faith does not feed upon the saving experiences that it evokes” (Col.Writ.,vol.2, p.259).
3. Where? In the church, where the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) unite me to Christ and to his people. This is a more biblical response than, “In the privacy of my own heart.”
4. From What? From the guilt and control of our sins in this life, and from the presence of sin in the next. This stands in the place of, “Lack of self-esteem, unhappiness, sickness, etc.”…
5. Why? In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Let this replace, “So I could enjoy the happiness of the victorious Christian life,” or other explanations which have oneself at the center.
My testimony isn’t about a day “I decided to accept Christ.” And it isn’t even about my parents “raising me right” or my church doing a good job. It about the God who is able to bring dead people to life for his glory– of which I am an example. He chose me before I knew him, he worked in me before I could believe, he is continually saving and changing me, and I will be saved on that day when I see him face to face.
3. God is faithful not just to individuals, but to his people.
Michael Horton writes in the same article:
As the apostle Peter assured his audience that the gospel promise was still “for you and for your children,” so too we must challenge any conversionistic evangelism which ignores the covenantal context of conversion.In this way, the anxiety of Christian children about being converted or born again is removed. They are called to deepen their understanding and experience of God and their inheritance with the saints, but they are not to turn inward, searching for that one radical change in their behavior which they brought about one day when they decided to follow Jesus.
And Rachel Jankovic in the blogpost I mentioned at the beginning:
All of us who have faith have it as a gift – and how humbling it is to know that the very fact of your faith, as well as your life, is part of God’s faithfulness to others…My Grandpa Jim gave us all Valentines roses this year, my girls too, and in his very formal but increasingly shaky hand, right before he signed off, he wrote, “You are part of Exodus 20:6, ‘But showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.’”
My faith is a story of faithfulness – the faithfulness of our God. It is a story of God doing what He promised He would do. My life and my faith and my prayers for my children are all part of a beautiful and intricate story of God’s faithfulness to His people.
Today, Jeff asked me what I thought were the 10 most pivotal events of my life. I asked him if I had to answer limited to events that happened within my lifetime. He didn’t let me answer things like God’s choosing us before the foundations of the earth, creation, Christ’s life, death and resurrection, etc. etc., (can you tell I was giving him a hard time?) but allowed for out of those ten events to have happened before my birth. Both his and my first answers went back to when either our parents or great-great- great(?) grandparents first came to know Jesus. God has been faithful to them and we are a testimony of his faithfulness.
4. Boring testimonies are testimonies of his grace in forgiveness of sins as well as in his grace in being kept from sins. God’s grace in keeping us from sin hit me when I first read Augustine’s Confessions. In it, he writes:
Thou hast forgiven me these great and heinous deeds of mine, and hast melted away my sins as they were ice. To Thy grace I ascribe also whatsoever sins I have not committed ; for what might I not have done, who even loved a sin for its own sake? Yea, I confess all to have been forgiven me ; both what evils I committed by my own wilfulness, and what by Thy help I committed not.
The sins I have committed are pardoned because of his mercy and grace. And the sins I have not committed, I was restrained from by his mercy and grace.
How We’re Praying
Jeff and I are praying that even now, God would grant new life to our girls and that it would show in their lives as the fruit of faith in the coming years. We are praying that their testimonies would be a wonderful demonstration of God’s faithfulness to keep his promises to believers in generation past, and of his mercy to grant them new hearts to live in grace– grace to forgive them for and keep them from sin. We are praying that our girls would have a “boring” testimony that they would understand with all their hearts and minds is anything but boring.