As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
For a couple years in high school, I was discipled within an evangelical ministry that emphasized teaching us how to “give our testimony.” This meant learning how to tell about the crucial moments in our conversion experience. At one point, I learned how to give 10-minute, 3-minute, and 1-minute versions of how Jesus had transformed my life. That training and experience culminated in a short-term mission trip where we did street evangelism in Budapest, Hungary—a trip that God would ultimately use to awaken within me a call toward ordained ministry.
A while later, one Christian conference speaker (whose name I now forget) borrowed from the end of the Prodigal Son story (Luke 15) and called our testimonies “but-theology,” as in “he once was dead, but now is alive!” While I have my concerns about some of the evangelistic methods I engaged in back then, I can still affirm the importance of talking about the transformation that took place when I first realized Jesus actually loved—and died for—me.
Through the great hymns, we sing in celebration of such testimonies. Some of them call us to remember God’s love by “telling the old, old story” of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ or by recalling the sweet grace found in “the hour I first believed.” Others convey the unfathomable depth of a soul that is well cared for in the tragic aftermath of a billowing sea. Though we don’t all have a powerful or decisive moment of conversion, there is still a deep taproot of assurance that strengthens and grows as we remember our first conscious moments of faith in God.
And yet I wonder if looking back is enough to nurture our faith. I publicly professed my faith when I was 16. I’m now 47. Nearly two-thirds of my life has unfolded since I first gave my testimony. In some sense, the faith I hold to today is the same faith I professed back then: As part of God’s cosmic reconciliation in Jesus Christ, God saved me from my sins and called me by the Spirit, joining me with God’s people everywhere, into God’s ongoing work of making all things new. But in other ways, neither I nor my faith are the same as we were 30 years ago. And that’s a good thing. Like saplings growing into vibrant, mature oaks, we are called to continue growing in our faith.
Rather than an exuberant testimony of unwavering faith, I find my story has had moments like the desperate father longing for Jesus to intervene: “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). But most of the time has really been an accumulation of thousands of mundane, rather ordinary days, and the transformation moments seldom have been as dramatic or remarkable as that first season of faith. Yet I can say with confidence that the Spirit continues to sanctify me—to make me whole and holy.
In that sense, the Spirit’s work in me is more often than not a slow series of micro-conversions. By the Spirit, I am becoming more “wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 1). Jesus saved me—yes!—and undoubtedly there’s still a lot of transformation that needs to happen within me. I am still being converted.
This recognition leads me into a new set of questions than I learned back in high school:
- What’s my most recent conversion experience where I see the Spirit leading me out of sin and into a new way of living because of Jesus Christ?
- How would I tell the gospel story now that I’m in my late 40s? What would be the same and what would be different than when I told the story for the first time in my teenage years?
- What could it look like to encourage a culture of ongoing, lifelong “professions of faith” in our congregations, instead of our traditional one-time public profession of faith?
Are we willing and ready to tell the stories of the hours we most recently believed?