Salvation Experience!?

I am not a big fan of personal testimonies.  One of the big ideas in modern evangelism is to share your personal testimony with people.  Most of the time when you hear people tell their testimonies it is an embellishment to make them appear worse than they were before they were saved, and better than they are now, but that is beside the point.  When people want to talk about their moment of salvation it usually comes back to some time when they heard the word preached, were at a revival, in a conversation with another believer, in the backseat of a car, or whatever.  I have heard testimony after testimony like these, and I think that every one of them is wrong about their moment of salvation.  I can think of a few significant moments that I can remember when I became acutely aware of the work Christ did for me, but those were not the moments I was 'saved', and the reality is that memories change, and I probably do not even remember those moments exactly as they were.  Moreover, at my baptism I was inaugurated into the covenant community that professes belief in the work Christ did for us, so in some sense that was a salvific experience because in that moment I was identified with my salvation experience (please I am not saying baptismal regeneration here, but I most certainly am not rendering baptism a simple rite of passage either).  Nonetheless I was not 'saved' at my baptism.

There is a huge misunderstanding in Christian testimony, and the sharing of testimonies often misses the Gospel altogether.  I am not against the community of faith sharing various personal testimonies, but I am against the sharing of 'salvation testimonies', I will explain why, after I share my salvation testimony.

So here is my testimony:
Jesus, the son of God, 2000 years ago in real history lived a legally, ethically, morally perfect life which led Him eventually to a garden.  Jesus knelt in that garden called Gethsemane in prayer and agreed to the eternal plan of the Father to drink 'the cup'.  The cup was indeed the cup of wrath against all sin (Psalm 75:8).  After Jesus prayed he was led out of the garden, put on trial and sentenced to die on a Roman cross.  On the cross Jesus endured the punishment for the sin of the world and drank down that cup of wrath.  As he consumed the last of that cup the rocks tore into pieces (because the world is held together in Christ) and the veil temple was torn (because Christ is our protection/mediator in the holy of holies).  When done, he proclaimed 'It [the cup] is finished'.  Jesus died, the wrath of God was consumed by Him.  On the third day after his death Jesus rose again, validating that He is Son of God, and that He was victorious over sin.
The question that will be asked is "how can you share your testimony without mentioning yourself?"  I guess what I wonder is why other people's testimonies contain so much about themselves.  I only contributed one thing to my salvation, and that was the sin that necessitated it.

Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is my salvation experience.  It is my experience because my sin was in Christ as he was enduring the wrath of God.  It is my experience because Christ rose victoriously over sin on my behalf.  It is my experience, because his perfect righteousness has been given to me.  It is my story because it was His body, given FOR ME.  It was His blood, shed FOR ME.  That is my experience.

Here is why I do not like 'personal testimonies', because the historical salvation experience I shared above is the salvation experience of everyone who has ever believed whether they know it or not.  Personal testimony should give way to corporate testimony!  We all share the same testimony which is why we are united.  We have all been adopted by the same Father, through the same means.

Now, is there a place to celebrate the effects that the Gospel has had on our lives?  Absolutely!  If personal testimony is the sharing of Gospel fruit, the edifying of one another because of what Christ has done for us, and celebrating how that has affected our families, our lives, our peace, then great!  However when it comes to salvation experience, we all have the same one, that happened at the same time, through the same person.

If someone asks you to point to your moment of conversion, point them to the true historical narrative of your salvation.... which occurred nearly 2000 years ago.

1 comment:

Dawn K said...

Great post, Jay...the one criticism I have is that you seem to be trying very hard to distance yourself from any hint of baptismal regeneration. :)

One one hand, Scripture affirms that Baptism now saves us (1 Peter 3:21) and that we are buried and raised with Christ in our Baptism (Romans 6:1-4). Yet I would agree that Baptism doesn't save us in the Reformed/Evangelical sense of the word "save." In that context the word "salvation" seems to mean "point where we receive/exercise true faith from which there is no return/possibility of falling away." Thus one can speak of a subjective "moment of salvation" or "salvation experience."

I do like your emphasis on the objective moment of salvation - 2000 years ago when Christ died on the cross. But Baptism definitely plays a role in how Christ's death is applied to each one of us personally.