The Decisive Experience

Romans 8:5

It is no accident that one story in the Acts of the Apostles is told three times over—that of the conversion of Saul. Yet though the story of the Apostle’s conversion is repeated but three times in the New Testament, it could have been that he told it many times more on his thousands of miles of missionary journeyings—told it until his traveling companions almost knew it by heart.

Now this matter of personal testimony has its own difficulties for we Salvationists of the second and third generation. We may never have plunged catastrophically into sin. Nor have we ever wasted our substance in riotous living in a far country. We might even feel it to be an exaggeration to describe ourselves as brands plucked from the burning. Most of the commandments have we kept from our youth up. Must our testimony then be less effective than that of our fathers? In other words, must sin abound before an experience of grace can much more abound? As the apostle himself said in another connection: God forbid!

The experience called conversion can express itself in different ways for different people. No two human encounters with the grace of God are ever exactly the same. To some, conversion is a drastic change. But to others among us, we have always believed in such general truths that God is love, that in His mercy sin can be forgiven, and that by His grace temptation can be overcome. But there comes a moment when these truths to which we have long given passive assent suddenly become compellingly alive. They demand that we live by them.

Outwardly there may be little change in the externals of our living. But inwardly that moment of illumination and dedication is never to be forgotten. We do not need to have been very bad in order, by God’s grace, to be made good—though at the crisis point we may doubtless feel bad enough. But while Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” gross habits had never mastered him. Like the rich young ruler he also had kept the commandments. And this is where many of us come in.

The new birth may well be that moment when, in an act of penitent self-surrender to Christ, the Lord becomes a living reality and His daily presence our all-sufficiency.

Frederick Coutts, Essentials of Christian Experience

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