True religious experience is very important. As a matter of fact no one can be saved without it (except for "elect infants, dying in infancy"). We see this, for example, in what Jesus said to Nicodemus, who was supposed to be a teacher of the one true religion. Jesus said no one can see or enter the Kingdom of God except by being born again (or born from above, Jn. 3). It is to this subject that we now turn in this section of our study. But, before we do this there is one thing we must emphasize. It is the fact that there is something far more important than our own experience. That far more important thing is God's covenant promise. Any true religious experience that we may have must always rest back upon this as its solid foundation.
Most of us were baptized as infants. When we were baptized we did not realize what was happening. We did not know, for example, that when we were born into the world we were born in sin, that we needed the precious blood of Jesus to save us, or that we needed to be born again from above. Why then were we baptized? The answer is simple: this is what God commanded. The command was given back in the time of Abraham. At that time God instituted his covenant, saying: "I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your seed after you, throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and your seed after you" (Gen. 17:7). When God made this covenant, he appointed circumcision as its sign and seal. And he not only required Abraham himself to be circumcised, but also all his male children (Gen. 17:12). It was also made clear that this covenant would stand forever (Gen. 17:7, 13). This much is quite obvious from the text quoted above. But is it not also self-evidentwe askthat no one could ever annul this covenant? No, not even God could annual it, becauseif He didhe would have to deny his own word. And the Bible says God cannot deny himself. Now add to this the fact that nowhere in the Bible has the Lord, who included children in his church from the beginning, at a later time made them outsiders. To the contrary, the New Testament clearly teaches that this covenant that God made with Abraham is still in effect (Gal. 3:14, 29). Even though we are not Jews "by nature" we are engrafted into God's covenant nation (Eph. 2:11-22, and Rom. 11). Peter said, at the very beginning of the New Testament era, "for the promise is to you and to your children." In saying this he made it abundantly clear that God's covenant remains in force. And that is not all. We certainly see the reality of it constantly. Is it not true, for example, that most Christians today were themselves children of Christian believers? (Yes, this is true of the Baptists too, even though they fail to acknowledge the rightful place of their own children in the church?) As Orthodox Presbyterians we thankfully acknowledge that we are included in this covenant that God made with Abraham. We baptize our infants because of what God commanded from the beginning. There is a difference, of course. At the present time in history baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant (Col. 2:11-12), just as the Lord's Supper has replaced the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7). Since baptism is called circumcision in Scripture (Col. 2:11-12), it is clear that it has the same meaning and purpose. This sign, then, marks out our children as born to privilege. No covenant childbeing brought up in the faithstands in the same situation as a child of unbelievers. Baptists may say there is no difference between the children of believers and the children of unbelievers, but the Bible says there is (1 Cor. 7:14). One big difference is this: covenant children are taught the way of salvation in Jesus Christ from earliest years. They are taughtat least the parents promise that they will be taughtthat the promise is for them! They, of course, must respond in due time. But even this is not in doubt because God has promised to call many of them to eternal life by the power of his Holy Spiritand that is just what He does. The writer was converted as an adult. But why did this happy event come about? The answer is: it happened because God brought it about. Long before the time of his conversion the writer, as an infant, had received baptism. Then, as he was growing up, he heard the Bible story from his parents. Baptismreceived in infancyis all the more wonderful exactly because it reminds us that God's work in our lives comes first, and our experience comes second. As the Apostle John truly says: "We love him because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). Our first need, then, is to understandand confessthat we owe our conversion to God's covenant sovereignty and faithfulness.
But again we repeat it: there must be saving religious experience. The person making the second vow (lesson 3) aright must know what it means to be converted (Mt. 18:3). But what is conversion? It has been defined as a radical change that takes place in the heart or mind of a person who was, by nature, dead in sin, but has now been awakened by the work of the Holy Spirit. As the above diagram tries to show, it consists of two distinct (but never separate) parts. These are faith and repentance. These are simply two sides (or aspects) of the same great change of mind and heart that always takes place in those who are saved by the Lord Jesus. We must note, further, that there are three distinct elementsor, perhaps we could say "levels"in this process of radical change. There is (1) first, the level of knowledge, (2) then a yet deeper level of feeling, and (3) then finally (out of this ling) comes an act of the will, or a decision. In the illustration be sure to look up the texts of Scripture.
A man who is "born again" (or, in other words, regenerated by the Holy Spirit), is enabled to understand the message of the Bible. He therefore begins to realize that he sinned in Adam and fell with him in his first transgression. He becomes aware of the fact that his own nature has been corrupted by this fall, and that heas a consequence of all thisdeserves God's wrath and damnation. At the same time, however, he begins to understand that Jesus came to the world in order to die as a substitute for unworthy sinners! He also comes to see that all thoseand only thosewho trust in him will be counted as righteous. He is enabled to understand what Paul meant when he said God made Jesus to be sin, for us, that we might be made righteous in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). This is the first element. We must come to know. The second element is a sense of conviction. He begins to feel the awesome reality of these truths. He begins to feel, deep within his heart, that he really is what the Bible says he is. He begins to a sense of awe and reverence toward Jesus, and amazement that he was willing to come to the earth to die for such hell-deserving sinners as he knows himself to be! The third element is a change in the will. The regenerate man determines that he will flee from the wrath which is to come. He resolves to forsake his sin, and to come to Jesus. This coming to Jesus is not by any physical actsuch as raising the hand, or going forward in a revival meeting. No, it is a radical change that takes place within "the mind or heart" of such a person.
So conversion involves the whole personalityknowing, feeling and willing. It is important at this point, however, to make one thing very clear. The Bible does not say that there is just one type of conversion. The Bible does not say, for instance, that we everyone has to be able to state the exact date of his, or her, conversion. Some people we learn about in the Bible had a rather sharply defined conversion. This is probably true of such people as Abraham, Jacob and Paul. It is probably for this reason that they received new names during their adult lives. Others, however, did not have such this sudden type of conversion. Think of Isaac, or of John the baptist (who was filled with the Holy Spirit even while yet in his mother's womb, Lk. 1:15). The Lord did not change their names, and the probable reason is that they were already regenerated from an early time in life. Such persons as these would never be able to name a specific time when they first began to repent and believe. So the important thing is not the ability to say when we were regenerated, or converted, but to be sure that we are repentant believers right now. If it is true that I now repent of my sin and I now trust in the Lord Jesus, then I can answer the second question in the form for public profession.