Recounting Your Conversion (Or Not!)

In evangelical circles where personal testimonies are emphasized, Christians sometimes get a little bit concerned if they can’t vividly recount their conversion.  As a pastor of a historic Reformed church, I’ve had to discuss this very issue with Christians coming from evangelical backgrounds to Reformed theology.  John Flavel’s discussion of this topic has helped me explain it to those wrestling through the issue.  This discussion is found in Flavel’s book, The Mystery of Providence.  Immediately before this quote Flavel wrote about God’s amazing and providential way he brings his people to himself.

“But lest any poor soul should be discouraged by the display of this providence, because he cannot remember the time, place, instruments and manner when and by which his conversion was wrought, I will therefore premise this necessary distinction to prevent injury to some, while I design benefit to others.

Conversion, as to the subjects of it, may be considered two ways: either as it is more clearly wrought in persons of riper years–who in their youthful days were more profane and vile–or upon persons in their tender years, into whose hearts grace was more imperceptibly and indiscernibly instilled by God’s blessing upon pious education.

In the former sort, the distinct acts of the Spirit–illuminating, convincing, humbling, drawing them to Christ and sealing them–are more evident. In the latter, these are more obscure and confused. They can remember that God gave them an esteem and liking of godly persons, care of duty and consciousness of sin, but as to the time, place, instruments and manner of the work, they can give but a slender account of them. However, if the work is savingly wrought in them, there is no reason they should be troubled simply because the circumstances of it are not so evident to them as they are to others.

Let the substance and reality of the work appear, and there is no reason to afflict yourselves because of the lack of evidence of such circumstances.”

Well said.  Sometimes God changes a heart, mind, and life in an unforgettable instant.  But sometimes he works more slowly.  Sometimes he draws his people to his side in infancy, sometimes in youth, sometimes later in life.  The point is not to highlight our experience, emotions, or feelings, but truth that God graciously brings his children to himself – in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  No matter when this happens or how long it takes, God receives all the glory, honor, and praise!

The above quote is found in John Flavel, The Mystery of Providence, p. 61.

shane lems

4 Replies to “Recounting Your Conversion (Or Not!)”

  1. The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel has been a long-time favorite of mine. There are so many today who stuggle in the area you mentioned, Shane. There are some who even teach that if you don’t know the date, time, place, and circumstances of your conversion, you are not saved. This teaching is tragic! Our salvation is not based upon an experience or some goose-bump feelings, but upon the finished work of Christ – what He has already done for His people. How God draws an individual to Himself is God’s business. For me, it was after years of sin and worldlines. For my pastor, it was mostly gradual and indiscernable. That is the mystery of providence. God works when, how and where He pleases.
    For anyone who is a lover of the writings of the Puritans, The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel is excellent, and it comes in a very inexpensive paperback.


  2. I was blessed to be drawn to him in infancy. I can’t recall a time growing up when I didn’t believe. It was certainly nothing I did and that will always keep the emphasis off me.

    It’s dreadful to hear subjective testimonies in church where the person only mentions temporal salvation.

    Shane, you review some of the best books I’ve ever heard of. Hope to read some of them someday.


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