John 3 Might Not Mean What You Think It Does

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (NASB95; John 3:1–8).

What Jesus Said To Nicodemus

“I was saved in…” or “I was born again in…” are both sentiments regularly expressed by well-meaning evangelicals. They mean to testify to the power of the Lord to save and to the reality of salvation in our time. We should affirm that both statements are mistaken. First, all believers were saved when Jesus died and was raised from the dead. That is the decisive accomplishment of salvation. What people mean by the expression “I was saved in…” is “I was given new life in such and such a year” or “the Holy Spirit applied to me Christ’s work for me in such and such a year.” Now these expressions are more accurate but they remain somewhat problematic. The same applies to the expression, “I was born again in such and such a year.” Again, we trust that believers are affirming that they were given new life by the sovereign grace and power of the Holy Spirit. We should affirm this but the idea that a believer knows precisely when the Holy Spirit did his mysterious applying work is still a bit presumptuous. According to our Lord Jesus in John 3 and the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1–4, we know that the Holy Spirit has worked sovereignly, powerfully, wonderfully to raise us from spiritual death to spiritual life (to use the imagery to Ephesians 2), we know that the Holy Spirit has given us life from above or again (ἄνωθεν). The word our Lord uses in John 3 can mean both things and John regularly writes in a way that requires us to consider two senses at the same time. This may well be one of those cases.

From our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus (who came to Jesus late at night so as not to lose his social position in the Jewish leadership) we know without question that new life or regeneration is something that God endows. Our Remonstrant (Arminian) friends are, if you will excuse the pun, dead wrong. God does not elect those whom he knows will believe. We come to faith because we are elect. We believe only because we have been sovereignly, unconditionally given new life and true faith. Regeneration is the free, sovereign gift of God. This is a biblical basic. It comes from above, i.e., from the Holy Spirit. This we know from John 3 and many other passages (e.g., Romans 9).

The temptation, however, in asserting the sovereign grace of God is to go beyond what Scripture says, to go beyond what may be inferred by good and necessary consequence, to infer that we know exactly when the Spirit worked. According to the Lord Jesus, in fact, we do not know when the Spirit worked. This is why he said, “You do not know whence it comes and whither it goes.” In our enthusiasm to affirm the one truth we should not stumble into what I call “the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty,” which, in this case, is a claim of certainty where godly uncertainty, godly agnosticism, is the order of the day. The work of the Spirit is so mysterious we should not try to pin it down. We should and must affirm that it is, that new life has been given. We should and must affirm who gives new life (the Holy Spirit). We should and must affirm the necessity of new life. Our Lord could not be clearer: “You must be born again.” It is not possible to enter into the Kingdom of God without this sovereign, unconditional work of the Spirit. One in whom the Spirit has not so worked, upon whom the Spirit has not conferred new life, has no interest in God’s kingdom but we should not be more precise than our Lord. Rather, we should rejoice in the mystery of sovereign grace. We should say, “I do not know precisely when I was given new life but I know that I have believed for a time and that I believe now.” Some of us may even be able to say, “I know there was a time when I did not believe and did not have new life but now I do.” There are covenant children, i.e., the children of believing parents, baptized into the visible covenant community, raised in the communion of the saints, who do not remember doing anything but believing. Praise the Lord for the work of his mysterious sovereign grace in the lives of covenant children. This is the fulfillment in our time of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 17: “I will be a God to you and to your children” and of the promise God made through Peter in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is to you and to your children…”.

John 3 should also make us cautious about claims about baptism and the work of the Spirit. Nicodemus was circumcised, initiated into the visible covenant community. That was the typological sign of admission into the visible covenant community. Nevertheless, Jesus told him that he needed to be born again/from above. Some Christian traditions would have us think that God necessarily confers new life at the moment of initiation into the covenant community in circumcision or baptism. Evidently that is not so. The attempt to tie new life to baptism this way is a species of QIRC. It reflects an attempt to know what cannot be known, to tether the mysterious, free work of the Spirit to the moment of baptism. That is a mistake that should be resisted.

So far we have looked briefly at what John 3 says in distinction from the way it is often applied relative to our personal regeneration (awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life). In particular, we noted Jesus’ emphasis on the secret and mysterious nature of the Spirit’s working. In v. 8 our Lord says, “…you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Too often we have made that verse say, “We do know whence it comes and whither it goes and here the indicators…”. This is a temptation to be avoided. The Spirit is sovereign and mysterious. He operates through his ordained means, namely the preaching of the holy gospel to awaken his elect, in his own good time, from death to life and he uses the holy sacraments to signify and to seal his promises to those to whom he has given new life and true faith. On this see Heidelberg Catechism 65. According to Scripture as understood and confessed by the Reformed churches, there is no need to juxtapose the Spirit with the means he has ordained. It is the Spirit, not the means, operating sovereignly but the Spirit does use the means. On this see the 3/4 head of doctrine in the Canons of Dort (1619).

Another way to try to de-mystify the work of the Spirit is to try to identify his work with a particular great event. In American religious history scholars speak of the “First Great Awakening” in the 18th century and the “Second Great Awakening” in the 19th century. For a brief account and analysis of these events relative to the Reformed confession see Recovering the Reformed Confession.

Jesus Is Not Finney

In light of these episodes (and others like them, e.g., the nineteenth-century Reveil movements in Europe) evangelical and Reformed Christians have often assumed an identity between the work of the Spirit about which our Lord Jesus spoke in John 3 and the revival movements in the 18th and 19th centuries. Further, it is not uncommon to assume that anyone who criticizes the various revival movements is implicitly denying the necessity of being sovereignly regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Let me be perfectly clear: our Lord Jesus said, “You must be born again/from above.” It is not possible for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is contrary to basic Christian doctrine to deny the necessity of regeneration. It is contrary to the Word of  God to deny the necessity of regeneration. It is contrary to the Reformed confession. In Canons of Dort 3/4 12–13 we confess:

12. And this is that regeneration so highly extolled in Scripture, that renewal, new creation, resurrection from the dead, making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no way effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that, after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.

13.Believers in this life cannot fully comprehend the manner of this operation. Nevertheless, they are satisfied to know and experience that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and to love their Savior.

Of course the Synod said much more succinctly and powerfully what this essay is trying to say. It is God who regenerates. We must be regenerated. That regeneration is by sovereign, unconditional work of the Spirit. We know that it is, after the fact, but we do not know and cannot know precisely when it was. We confess: “we cannot fully comprehend the manner of this operation.” We ought to be satisfied to know that God has done it and that we now believe.

Nevertheless, the habit of associating the work of the Spirit with great social, religious, and even psychological events is deeply ingrained in the the American psyche. For those in the tradition of the Second Great Awakening associated with Charles G. Finney (1792–1875) et al. it is a given, a datum that those who “walked the sawdust trail” or responded to the “altar call” are believers. The walk to the so-called “anxious bench” is the first act of a Christian. For not a few with experience in this tradition, not to have walked the aisle may be a source of nagging doubt.

For those with roots in or who identify with the First Great Awakening, associated with the ministry of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) and George Whitefield (1770–70), on the Reformed side), there is a conviction that, in contrast to Finney, regeneration is sovereignly wrought by the Spirit but it is accompanied by certain experiences. Edwards wrote at length on these experiences and how to evaluate them properly. In contrast, rather than look to those, I have argued we ought to look for the evidence of the Spirit’s work in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–26).

The influence of the First Great Awakening and the paradigm it established is very strong among predestinarians of various ecclesiologies (Baptist, congregationalist, Presbyterian) and traditions. For some the association of the work of the Spirit with the sorts of experiences described in the First Great Awakening is so strong that to criticize the paradigm or the event is to reject the work of the Spirit itself. Of course, this move is not new. Both Whitefield and Edwards (among others) denounced as unregenerate even the orthodox Reformed and Presbyterians (e.g., the Old Side Presbyterians) who criticized the movement.

Again, in John 3, our Lord Jesus did not prescribe particular experiences nor large-scale social-religious events or movements. He prescribed new birth by the Holy Spirit. We have added the concomitant experiences and events. When we do this, in our own way, we are seeking to make a bit more reasonable and understandable the mysterious, sovereign, unconditional work of the Spirit. We may rightly criticize those traditions that so identify baptism with the gospel or the work of the Spirit so as to think that all baptized persons are (ex opere) regenerated but do not those who so identify the work of the Spirit with certain spiritual experiences do virtually the same thing or at least something like it?

Here is a plea to reconsider John 3 in its own context, on its own terms, and to let the power of those words shape us again. Let us think critically about our favorite events and experiences in the light of God’s Word. Let also think and speak a bit more charitably about those who, in light of John 3, do not see the First or Second Great Awakenings in the same way as those who see them as mighty works of God.

True revival is the sovereign work of the Spirit to wake the dead to new life, the granting of true faith and through it mystical union with Christ. It may or may not be accompanied by the sorts of phenomena associated with the Great Awakenings. That it is we may reasonably doubt.

God Has His Own Timetable

Above we looked briefly at what John 3 says in distinction from the way it is often applied relative to our personal regeneration (awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life). In particular, we noted Jesus’ emphasis on the secret and mysterious nature of the Spirit’s working. In v. 8 our Lord says, “…you do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Too often we have made that verse say, “We do know whence it comes and whither it goes and here the indicators…”. This is a temptation to be avoided. The Spirit is sovereign and mysterious. He operates through his ordained means, namely the preaching of the holy gospel to awaken his elect, in his own good time, from death to life and he uses the holy sacraments to signify and to seal his promises to those to whom he has given new life and true faith. On this see Heidelberg Catechism 65. According to Scripture as understood and confessed by the Reformed churches, there is no need to juxtapose the Spirit with the means he has ordained. It is the Spirit, not the means, operating sovereignly but the Spirit does use the means. On this see the 3/4 head of doctrine in the Canons of Dort (1619).

Another way to try to de-mystify the work of the Spirit is to try to identify his work with a particular great event. In American religious history scholars speak of the “First Great Awakening” in the 18th century and the “Second Great Awakening” in the 19th century. For a brief account and analysis of these events relative to the Reformed confession see Recovering the Reformed Confession.

In light of these episodes (and others like them, e.g., the nineteenth-century Reveil movements in Europe) evangelical and Reformed Christians have often assumed an identity between the work of the Spirit about which our Lord Jesus spoke in John 3 and the revival movements in the 18th and 19th centuries. Further, it is not uncommon to assume that anyone who criticizes the various revival movements is implicitly denying the necessity of being sovereignly regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Let me be perfectly clear: our Lord Jesus said, “You must be born again/from above.” It is not possible for anyone to enter the Kingdom of God without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. It is contrary to basic Christian doctrine to deny the necessity of regeneration. It is contrary to the Word of  God to deny the necessity of regeneration. It is contrary to the Reformed confession. In Canons of Dort 3/4 12–13 we confess:

12. And this is that regeneration so highly extolled in Scripture, that renewal, new creation, resurrection from the dead, making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no way effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that, after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.

13.Believers in this life cannot fully comprehend the manner of this operation. Nevertheless, they are satisfied to know and experience that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and to love their Savior.

Of course the Synod said much more succinctly and powerfully what this essay is trying to say. It is God who regenerates. We must be regenerated. That regeneration is by sovereign, unconditional work of the Spirit. We know that it is, after the fact, but we do not know and cannot know precisely when it was. We confess: “we cannot fully comprehend the manner of this operation.” We ought to be satisfied to know that God has done it and that we now believe.

Nevertheless, the habit of associating the work of the Spirit with great social, religious, and even psychological events is deeply ingrained in the the American psyche. For those in the tradition of the Second Great Awakening associated with Charles G. Finney (1792–1875) et al. it is a given, a datum that those who “walked the sawdust trail” or responded to the “altar call” are believers. The walk to the so-called “anxious bench” is the first act of a Christian. For not a few with experience in this tradition, not to have walked the aisle may be a source of nagging doubt.

For those with roots in or who identify with the First Great Awakening, associated with the ministry of Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) and George Whitefield (1770–70), on the Reformed side), there is a conviction that, in contrast to Finney, regeneration is sovereignly wrought by the Spirit but it is accompanied by certain experiences. Edwards wrote at length on these experiences and how to evaluate them properly. In contrast, rather than look to those, I have argued we ought to look for the evidence of the Spirit’s work in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22–26).

The influence of the First Great Awakening and the paradigm it established is very strong among predestinarians of various ecclesiologies (Baptist, congregationalist, Presbyterian) and traditions. For some the association of the work of the Spirit with the sorts of experiences described in the First Great Awakening is so strong that to criticize the paradigm or the event is to reject the work of the Spirit itself. Of course, this move is not new. Both Whitefield and Edwards (among others) denounced as unregenerate even the orthodox Reformed and Presbyterians (e.g., the Old Side Presbyterians) who criticized the movement.

Again, in John 3, our Lord Jesus did not prescribe particular experiences nor large-scale social-religious events or movements. He prescribed new birth by the Holy Spirit. We have added the concomitant experiences and events. When we do this, in our own way, we are seeking to make a bit more reasonable and understandable the mysterious, sovereign, unconditional work of the Spirit. We may rightly criticize those traditions that so identify baptism with the gospel or the work of the Spirit so as to think that all baptized persons are (ex opere) regenerated but do not those who so identify the work of the Spirit with certain spiritual experiences do virtually the same thing or at least something like it?

Here is a plea to reconsider John 3 in its own context, on its own terms, and to let the power of those words shape us again. Let us think critically about our favorite events and experiences in the light of God’s Word. Let also think and speak a bit more charitably about those who, in light of John 3, do not see the First or Second Great Awakenings in the same way as those who see them as mighty works of God.

True revival is the sovereign work of the Spirit to wake the dead to new life, the granting of true faith and through it mystical union with Christ. It may or may not be accompanied by the sorts of phenomena associated with the Great Awakenings. That it is we may reasonably doubt.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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65 comments

  1. I’m persuaded that “water and the spirit” connected to the concept of new life is an allusion to Ezekiel 36 which Nicodemus should have known as a “teaching in Israel”. Thus the fulfillment of this promise to the exiles is realized in Jesus’ person and work.

  2. Having grown up in a tradition that is hyper-experiential… I am well acquainted with the unhealthy emphasis on a time and place. It is true that many people, maybe most, have a hard time nailing that down and so to say you MUST know the time and place exactly is exactly as you say, going beyond what Scripture says.

    That said… this post seems a bit of an over-reach in the opposite direction.

    1. You pressed hard on John 3:8 about what we do not know, but even in that verse Jesus says we in fact DO hear the sound; that is an experience. While not saying everyone should or must know the exact timing, is there a text that says you CANNOT know? This would seem contradictory, no?
    2. Some conversions are more dramatic in circumstance than others. That doesn’t make them better; just is what it is. Even Paul’s experience on the road. Did he not seem in recounting the experience to say it was there that he was converted? Was he presumptuous?
    3. According to your post some can know there was a time when I was not and now I am… Are you suggesting that we definitely cannot perceive the change?

    Again, I think the point that not everyone will be able to nail down the exact moment is absolutely valid and much needed in my corner of the world, but me thinks you reached to far here, brother. I say that in respect and welcoming correction / clarification.

    • David,

      I think we agree on most of what I’m saying but I think we disagree on something important. We should resist the temptation/desire/impuse to know more than we can.

      It is tempting but incorrect to identify the “wind” with the “when.” It’s true that Jesus says we perceive the wind but his intent/point is to say that we don’t know where it comes or goes. In other words, we know that the Spirit is operating but we don’t know when.

      I remember gradually coming to faith but I know longer think I can say I know when I believed. Was it that morning when I said, “I give up”? I don’t know. I really don’t. I think that’s Jesus’ point. My revivalist friends and early evangelical context needed me (for their assurance about me) to give a time/date/place. That’s the QIRC. It’s none of their business nor mine.

      What is my business and theirs is that I do believe.

      To try to pin down what is essentially mysterious is to move the locus of trust from Jesus to a time. Our assurance is not “when” but whom” (Jesus) and what (the faith) and that (I believe).

    • You are correct in saying we by and large agree. It is INFINITELY more important to know THAT one has been born again than to know the precise timing.

      That said… and forgive me if it just seems argumentative, but how can you say Jesus says we can feel the wind and He meant we should not be able to tell when that is happening? Isn’t that implicit in saying you can feel it? That seems to me to contradict that detail He included. Again, larger picture you are right in that the text speaks to the Spirit being free and mysterious and we can in no way direct or predict His movement. It just seems an over-reach. I understand wanting to pull away from the revivalistic imbalance, but that’s the thing about balance isn’t it? It’s easy to pull too far.

      Just yesterday I shared Ligonier’s video of R.C. Sproul sharing his own conversion experience wherein he not only identified an evening, but also a specific text that was the final ‘straw’ God used to awaken him:

      “…But as I went to my bedroom that night and got on my knees, my experience was one of transcendent forgiveness. And I was overwhelmed by the tender mercy of God, the sweetness of His grace, and the awakening He gave me for my life.”
      http://www.ligonier.org/blog/rc-sprouls-awakening-christian-faith/

      Now, R.C. is not infallible, that’s not my purpose. He also never claims that everyone should be able to identify the same specificity as he. That said, he (and little old me) stand in a long line of believers who have a clear picture of those details for ourselves. Again, that’s NOT setting a standard requirement, just expressing an experienced reality.
      I thank you for your ongoing ministry. I only comment as a brother humbly hoping to be iron for sharpening one or both of us. I’m happy to continue, or leave it here.
      I’ll finish restating our agreement. Knowing greater detail around timing / setting is NOT grounds for biblical assurance. Looking to Christ is where we find assurance. Amen.

  3. *self edit*
    I typed feel when referencing John 3:8. I meant hear. Jesus said we could hear, not feel.
    Nevertheless, the point stands.

  4. As Martin Lloyd Jones would say time,mode,method and place doesn’t matter what matters is you in the kingdom? Do you believe?

  5. Can we be saved by trusting in Jesus plus something else? That is the danger of looking to our own experience.

    • Angela,

      I think this is a fair point. We are tempted to look to our own experience in a way that distracts from Christ ans his promises.

      Fred,

      Please check the comment policy. Pseudonymous/anonymous comments are not ordinarily permitted. Commenters must supply a real email address.

  6. I am in concord with all of David’s comments.

    RSC, I too do not want to be combative. And I concur with you that those who press converts to nail down the time of their conversion experience are going beyond Scripture.

    You said “Our assurance is not ‘when’ but ‘whom’ (Jesus) and what (the faith) and that (I believe).”

    Some of us (e.g. David, RC Sproul, & myself) testify that ‘when’ we experienced conversion we knew/heard/felt (choose whichever fits) Jesus Himself. I know in my own case that the ‘when’ and the ‘whom’ are if not the same, inextricably tied and intertwined and enmeshed — I’m speaking here only about my personal experience of conversion, I’m not trying to define the Second Person of the Trinity.

    I can name a number of times I felt the Spirit touching me and revealing God to me in a preliminary fashion, convicting me of sin, revealing Christ and His love for me like the curtain was being raised but then it draped over again and I went on living ‘ordinarily’ for a few more months. I can also name the time when those preliminary liftings of the veil were brought to a decisive epochal transition where, over a few days, I experienced being brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Kingdom of God and indisputably knowing Christ as my Lord, my Saviour, my God and my brother in whom I dwelt and Who dwelt in me. So I do speak about ‘when’, but the when is inextricably tied to the Whom. And the Whom is far more important than the when.

    And I know that many Christians don’t have a testimony that includes a definite ‘when’ or a series of ‘whens’ in their personal experience. In my observation, Christians fall on a spectrum: some of us have a definite ‘when,’ some of us have a less definite ‘when,’ and some testify that they cannot remember a time when they did not believe.

    • Barbara,

      I understand that I am pushing against the grain but I stand by my comment. We don’t know as much as we think we do. We are much better of starting with and sticking with the Word rather than trying to interpret our own experience, which is really the case that you’re making.

      I have this same argument with Pentecostals. They want to interpret their experience in a way that makes it apostolic and, of course, they want to interpret Scripture in a certain way. I want to start with the Word. My experience is real but it might not be what I thought it was.

      I am not denying that the Spirit is operating actively and powerfully today but I am urging caution in the way we talk about it or what we claim to know about his secret and mysterious operations.

      You may be right about your experience but you might be wrong too. What we know to be true is what the Word says.

      • RSC, the thing with the way you’ve pushed back against me (and against Matt) is that you are discounting or calling into question our experience because it is ‘experience’. But how do you then deal with the fact that Paul’s conversion was a definite experience and Paul talks about it in Acts 22:3-15 when he is defending himself against the Jews.

        You have cast doubt on Matt by saying to him, “Aren’t identifying your assessment of your experience with the Spirit’s work?” And you’ve done the same to me by saying ” You may be right about your experience but you might be wrong too.”

        You may if you wish doubt my interpretation of my experience. But because there is nothing in my experience that is out of concord with the Bible and I am not claiming apostolic authority for anything I say —I am only testifying my experience and how it is harmony with what the Word says — so I stand by my position.

        Doesn’t your view put you in the rather unfortunate position of being rather like the Jews who would not accept Paul’s testimony? … Acts 22: 17-18 “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ ”

        My testimony, and Matt’s testimony, is that we each had a conversion experience we can set a time to. That was Paul’s testimony too. Why is Paul allowed to have such a testimony, but we are being cautioned not to have such a testimony? Why, when we have such a testimony, are we blown off and discounted?

    • I understand your ability to point to a particular moment when you believed in the Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ. But why does that matter? It only matters that Christ is our Savior because what he has done on our behalf. Today we do a lot of sharing of our experiences so others can relate and be helped by our stories. And this is very helpful. But when it comes to the Gospel this is not helpful but occludes what Christ did for us. Our experience of how Christ “saved me” is not the Gospel. And it is not what our friends need to here. It’s interesting but not necessarily helpful. The “sharing” paradigm of our time is not transferrable with it’s attendant and endless blogs.

  7. Some groups teach Christians to share their testimony using the outline 1) my life before Christ, 2) how I came to know Christ, and 3) my life since Christ. This outline model pretty much requires us to have a dramatic conversion experience where we know exactly when we “got saved”.

    Don’t know if this might be helpful or not, but I’ve taught my kids and covenant children at my church to use the BASS model:

    The first B stands for Background: I was raised in the Christian home and…

    The letter A stands for Although: Although I was raised in a Christian home that doesn’t guarantee that I’m a Christian; a Christian is one who realizes a couple of things…

    The first S stands for Sinner: A Christian knows that he is a sinner in rebellion against God…

    The last S stands for Savior: A Christian trusts in Christ’s death on the cross to the payment for His sin and trusts in Christ’s perfect righteousness to make him right with God.

    Using this model allows someone to share the basic points of the gospel while telling somewhat of a “testimony” without having to have a specific day and time when they “got saved”

    • Thank you Michael.

      I think I’m with you but I would rather covenant children say, “praise God I was raised in a Christian home” rather than “although.” Biblically, I don’t think “although” does justice to the covenant promises that God make to Abraham: “I will be a God to you and to your children” nor to the way the prophets and apostles repeat that refrain through redemptive history.

      It is certainly true being born into a Christian home does not guarantee that one is a believer or even that one will necessarily come to faith (“Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated”) but we nevertheless ought to not discount God’s covenant promises while simultaneously calling our covenant children to close with Christ personally and to claim by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ, all that God has promised to his people in baptism.

  8. Dr. Clark,

    You are right to caution against a pietistic need to identify an exact moment. We don’t HAVE to know that, and Scripture doesn’t say we do. But neither does Scripture say we CAN’T know. In saying that we can’t, you also are going beyond what is written…and that seems like an illegitimate quest for religious certainty. You want to be certain that we can’t be certain. Experience is not experientialism. Ask Lazarus if he knew when he came from death to life. One Sunday morning before church, when I was nine years old, my mother explained the gospel to me and it “clicked,” and not just cognitively. I believed, repented, trusted. I know who I was before that moment, and I know who I’ve been after that. I came alive, and am alive. I do not think one needs to be able to identify a moment like that. But I can. If it is right for me to praise God for all his providential dealings with me, answers to prayers, deliverances from harm or evil, etc., then surely it is fitting for me to praise him for the day I KNOW I went from death to life, darkness to light, blindness to sight. And I will do so.

    -Matt

  9. Scott,

    I think that one must look at how γεννηθῆναι and ἄνωθεν are used. ἄνωθεν is used 13x in the NT (OT has it 23x). Of the 13x, 5x are in John 3:3, 7, 31; 19:11, 23. Of the 13x, only once is it used as an adjective, James 1:17; all other uses are as adverbs. This should cause one to pause since adverbs, by definition, modify the verb. Thus, ἄνωθεν is modifying γεννηθῆναι.
    In Jn 3:3 ἄνωθεν involves a play on the two distinct meanings of the word, namely, ἄνωθεν ‘again’ and ἄνωθεν ‘from above.’ In Jn 3:3 ἄνωθεν involves a play on the two distinct meanings of the word, namely, ἄνωθεν ‘again’ and ἄνωθεν ‘from above.’ γεννάω ἄνωθεν (an idiom, literally ‘to be born again’)
    γεννάω ἄνωθεν: ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν ‘unless a person is born again.
    .In verse 7, γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν, born again or from above is the same.

    Now, I understand that you are trying to get people to pay attention to the context of the text in which this “born-again” experience is in control by the Holy Spirit as when, where, whom and how. I think this gets too close to the “name it and claim it” position. It is the Holy Spirit that does the work NOT the believer. It is no accident that both γεννηθῇ (Aorist Passive Subjunctive) and γεννηθῆναι (Aorist Passive Infinitive) with the subject of the verb receiving the action of the verb. Thus, I “know” that I am born-again by the witness of the Holy Spirit with my spirit. The only the believer is to do is “believe.” Nothing more; nothing less.

  10. One more thing. Romans 8:16— ” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” Is this not an experiential statement? And there is nothing in the Word that says that this experiential principle never applies at a person’s conversion, it only applies at other points in the life of the Christian.

    • Barbara,

      Paul said,

      So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
      Beginning in 8:1 through the passage above, Paul is contrasting those who walk in the flesh and those who walk in the Spirit. Thus, it is the Spirit that gives testimony before God with our spirit that “we are the children of adoption, children of God, heirs of God and co-heirs or fellow heirs with Christ when suffer with Him (Christ) to be glorified with Him.

      Furthermore, experience is not the cause, but the result of the Spirit of God leading us. Experience can be deceiving. It is the Word of God, by the Spirit of God that validates our experience not our experience validating the Word of God. The Word of God not our experience is the sole authority of our faith and practice in all that it teaches.

    • Barbara,

      Yes, I am discounting our experience or better, relativizing it. I want to start with Scripture and leverage our experience with Scripture rather than the inverse (or converse or reverse, whichever is correct).

      Jesus says that we do not when we are regenerated. We must start with that as our baseline.

      We do have genuine experience of the Spirit but we should be careful about identifying our experience with the apostolic narrative. We aren’t apostles. We haven’t seen the risen Christ. We haven’t been taken into the 3rd heaven etc. Again, this is my argument with my Pentecostal friends, the easy identification of a Wednesday night “healing” service with the Spirit putting two to death via Peter or the apostles raising the dead etc. The Apostolic company had authority and power none of us now has. None of us is transported from place to place by the Spirit but at least one of the apostolic company was.

      I understand why people do this but we should consider that such ways of thinking may do more harm than good. For one thing, it creates two classes of Christians: those that have had “the blessing” (experience) and those that have not. What binds us together is not a common experience but a shared Savior and faith.

      So, yes, I have cast doubt and deliberately so. It is a well-meant but errant piety and reading of Scripture. Let us be content to be mere Christians muddling through this life between the ascension and Christ’s glorious return.

    • Barbara,
      This witnessing is ‘to’ our spirit by the Spirit that we are children of God! There is nothing experiential about this, at least in the sense of a feeling. This is the inner witness of the Spirit that renews the mind!
      As to the point of the article, knowing when is something we as fallen creatures focus on to give us assurance, when the assurance we ought to seek is from God Himself, the Holy Spirit like in the passage you site.

      Tim

    • RSC, Jesus does not say we do not when we are regenerated. He says, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit”.

      I still maintain you are going beyond scripture.
      What’s more, I feel hurt by the way you have cast suspicion on my testimony. Not that you are likely to care about my feelings because they are ‘only experiences’.

      I seldom tell others about my experience of being born again. I only do it when I am evangelising someone and feel led to tell that person some of my personal experience of being born again. I never expect my experience to convince that person. I know that a person is only born again by the monergistic work of God.
      But I also know that we are told to speak the truth in love and testify about what Christ has done for us. I am speaking the truth when I tell unsaved people about my experience of how God convicted me of sin and revealed Jesus Christ to me.

      Paul spoke about his experience of conversion; his testimony is recorded in the New Testament for our edification. I bet the Philippian jailer and his family, and Lydia, and Cornelius, and others in the early church also spoke about their experiences of conversion. Their speeches are not recorded in the NT. But you seem to be implying that no testimony of the experience of conversion is to be trusted except Paul’s, because his is in-scripturated. Is that what you are saying? If you were a contemporary and friend of Cornelius or the Philippian jailer or Lydia and they told you their experience of conversion, would you cast doubt on them too?

      There are many things I experienced in my conversion that I have never told anyone. I don’t go around drawing attention to myself for the experiences I have had. There are some parts of my experience which I have always felt led to keep quiet about; and I have obeyed that leading. I have never said that a believer must have a personal experience of conversion which they can locate in time. I am not the pentecostal types which you seem to be pushing back against.

      I strongly object to you casting suspicion on me and and on anyone who testifies to personal experience (which they can locate in time) in regards to their conversion. I urge you to reconsider and ask yourself whether you are going beyond scripture in this post.

      Christians who have personal experiences of conversion which they can locate in time and testify about are no better — no more authentic, no more to be trusted — than Christians who do NOT have such personal experiences they can testify about. But they are no worse either. RSC, you have cast suspicion on Christians who have such testimonies. May the Lord bring you to reconsider what you have said.

      When a person testifies about their experience of conversion, surely we must evaluate their testimony and authenticity-as-a-Christian in the way the Bible tells us to evaluate those who claim to be Christians: i.e., by their fruit. And if one is truly indwelt by Christ and one indwells in Christ, then one has the Spirit which helps one discern the true from the false and rightly divide the Word, neither adding nor subtracting from it.

      • Barbara,

        Forgive my delay in replying. I’ve been lecturing and preaching since 8AM and I’m under a writing deadline, so lots of things have been neglected.

        I’m sorry that you’re hurt. That’s not my intent.

        I don’t doubt your experience. What I do doubt is your interpretation of your experience and the significance you attach to it. I’m a Protestant. I’m committed to sola Scriptura. Our experience is normed by Scripture and not the reverse. Experience can illumine our understanding of Scripture but our experience is not normative. Our interpretation of Scripture isn’t normative and neither is it inspired or infallible.

        You may answer that my interpretation of John 3 is neither inspired nor infallible and you would be quite right. At that point, however, we are discussing the text of Scripture, which is what I hoped this post would stimulate.

        Warmly.

        rsc

    • Barbara, I recommend reading Dr Clark’s book “Recovering the Reformed Confession”. It will help understand where Dr Clark is coming from. No need to feel hurt as no one is attacking you. However, feeling uncomfortable about this is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact I once took your position but it was through people like Dr Clark making me upset that I was challenged and came to see the truth of the scriptures and the teaching of the church. Aimee Byrd might be a person to check with on this as well as D. G. Hart’s books. Dr Carl Truman’s books especially a little work titled The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Love to read your testimony.

    • There is a short video via YouTube by RC Sproul titled The difference between regeneration and conversion where Dr Sproul answers this question and specifically speaks to knowing when you are born again. Testifying about how we came to Christ as we believed the Gospel can be very encouraging. But confidence that we are saved lies not in recognizing when we went from death to life but in that we can point to Calvary where Christ died for our sons and was raised for our justification. We can have confidence in our Savior as his Church confirms us in this faith and through his Church seals us with the sacrament sign of baptism. When I was young man I “gave my self to Christ” but there were attendant years of “wandering”. It used to trouble me. I’d ask myself if I really was born again back then. Who knows is the conclusion I came to. What is important is I believe the true gospel as taught by the church, I have been confirmed in the Faith by the church, and I am under the ministry of Christ through his Church by the means of word and sacrament. I will never in this life know all about my past but I strive to know Christ and him crucified. And I am assured you do also. Thank you sister

  11. A baby doesn’t recognize the moment of its conception, but does recognize (experience) the moment of its birth. In using the birth analogy, is John 3 telling us don’t know when we are regenerated, but we do know when we are converted?

    • Allan,

      I don’t know much about a distinction between conversion and regeneration. I understand that, after the 16th century, some distinguished between the moment of regeneration and a subsequent act of coming to faith. They did that in order to respond to the Remonstrants/Arminians but I am not sure that 1) it explains Scripture very well; 2) that it isn’t speculative; 3) that apart from apologetics/polemics there is a good theological reason for it.

      I agree entirely that we do not know when we are regenerated. We should be content to let mystery be.

  12. We may argue about experience yet the gaiety, goodness, and unfetteredness of spirit which are the marks of those who have known/believed God are rare among us

  13. On the language of “being saved”: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith…” Athanasian Creed

    • Bill,

      Amen! Yes, whosoever will be delivered from the wrath to come, he must hold the ecumenical faith as summarized in the Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian, and Chalcedonian.

  14. Is going beyond the promises of the Word not a kind of spiritual pride, and a desire for my own personal revelation to prove to myself that I am in God’s favor? We may experience feelings of being close to the Lord, of being loved by Him and His foregiveness, that is all that it is. Only God’s Word is sure. Paul’s experience was a special case to confirm that God chose him to be an apostle. God’s wonderful revelation of His love for us in the giving of his Son should overwhelm us with feelings of love and gratitude, but to trust in those feelings as some sort of revelation of God’s favor and assurance is, I daresay to put my subjective, personal experience above God’s Word. It says I want more than God has already revealed to me in His Word. It is not enough for me!

    • Don, unless you are having Jesus physically appearing to you or are physically brought to heaven, and have an apostolic appointment thereby, I’d say there is manifestly obvious proof it’s special.

    • Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear. In the context of this discussion, what makes Paul’s experience *of being able to point to a specific event at a specific point in time as a conversion experience* special? Acts records Paul’s retelling of this experience several times; it’s not clear to me that this is an apostolic prerogative.

      • Good question Don. That’s the same question I have been trying to ask, but you put it in a better nutshell than I could!
        “what makes Paul’s experience *
        of being able to point to a specific event at a specific point in time as a conversion experience* special? Acts records Paul’s retelling of this experience several times; it’s not clear to me that this is an apostolic prerogative.”

        • Don and Barbara,

          Paul did not have a purely subjective experience. God the Son manifested himself in an extraordinary way to him on the Damascus Road. That is a unique experience. It should not be easily equated with a post-canonical “conversion experience.”

          As has been said, none of us has seen the ascended Christ etc. There’s a qualitative difference between what happened to Paul and what happens to us.

    • I’m not sure when or how the “purely subjective” modifier came to be added to this conversation. It’s not clear to me that would refer to anything much beyond a tent-revival type of altar call which resulted in no perceptible change in the individual. I don’t think that’s what’s mostly being discussed here in the comment section.

      What I would take from the recordings of (for example) the conversions of Paul and Cornelius and his family is that there are some people who can pinpoint rather precisely the time and place of their conversion. And furthermore, the telling of these conversion experiences can bring glory to God and can build up the church. (Luke could have said “Paul told Agrippa his conversion story,” but instead he chose to write it all out for a third time.)

      Is having such a remarkable conversion experience normative or even necessary? No. Should people base their assurance of salvation on that experience? No. Can people tell their conversion experience for self-aggrandizement rather than glorifying God? Sure. But no one here is arguing any of that.

  15. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I’ve thought that conversion involved Metanoia & thus was a known experience.

  16. Barbara, you are very defensive about your emotional experiences. Do you look to those experiences for assurance? Then you are going beyond God’s Word for assurance of salvation. Have you asked yourself if that puts you in very dangerous position of trusting your feelings? Salvation depends on resting and trusting only in the blood and righteousness of Christ.

    • Hello Angela Werner, You asked
      “Do you look to those experiences for assurance?”
      No I do not. I one hundred percent believe that salvation depends on resting and trusting only in the blood and righteousness of Christ.

    • Yes, I was referring to this as well as Acts 22.

      Is there something in this passage that you think would answer my question?

  17. RSC, Barbara,

    It appear that the discussion has delved into the realm of experience and non-experience with regard to conversion to Christ via the Holy Spirit.
    First, it is the God who saves us by belief in the work of Christ upon the Cross. That is abundantly clear from Romans 10:8-13 where the words, “heart” and “mind,” are used to refer to the emotional and rational part of man.
    Second, Repentance is described in the NT as the “changing of one’s mind or thinking.” Problem is we change our minds every day. μετανοέω; μετάνοια, metanoeo, metanoia, refers to the “change the way of thinking by an individual; an attitudinal change. ἐπιστρέφω, epistrefo, is used to refer to the “turning around from one direction and going back to the direction one came from.” Basically, “to turn from something or someone toward something or someone.” It is a complete about face. It is used in Paul’s description of his salvation by Christ. Thus, the one, “metanoia,” refers to an “inner or internal change in the mind in what one thinks about God, the things of God, the people of God, one’s standing before God, etc. It infers that there will be a corresponding change of behavior. Epistrefo, on the other hand, refers to the external change of one’s own behavior. It infers that a corresponding inner or internal change as occur in the mind first. The one, “metanoia,” refers to our justification positionally. The corresponding Hebrew terms, “nacham” and “shub(v),” are used the same way. In fact, Acts 3:19 uses both words, Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, …”
    Finally, John 4:24, God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” God is spirit. He has no physical body. Christ, as the Word, as God, became flesh. We must worship God in spirit (spirit and emotions) and truth (knowledge and certainty of mind). BOTH are required to worship God. It is an “aberration” to worship God one way more than the other. Furthermore, this worships is 100% in both spirit and truth NOT 50%/50%. It requires our minds and our experiences.
    Thus, Faith and knowledge are both intuitive, intellectual and experiential. The difference between faith and knowledge is that knowledge is limited in man’s world to what has been revealed in the past and present. Faith takes that revealed knowledge and projects it to the future.

  18. Bryant, thanks for the info but it is much too complicated for a dummy like me to understand. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves the child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of 9God does not have life. I John 5:1-12 That settles it for me.

  19. Don, did you read Dr. Clark’s explanation? We are not apostles called of God and commissioned for purposes of revealing new knowledge from God! Paul’s experience was real. It was not just a feeling or something that he imagined. Unless you have varifiable proof that you have seen the risen Christ and He has commissioned you to give new revelation of God’s word, you do not have an experience like Paul’s!

    • Before I respond further, I want to make sure I understand you: Are you claiming that my conversion is imagined? Thank you in advance.

  20. There is a short video via YouTube by RC Sproul titled The difference between regeneration and conversion where Dr Sproul answers this question and specifically speaks to knowing when you are born again. Testifying about how we came to Christ as we believed the Gospel can be very encouraging. But confidence that we are saved lies not in recognizing when we went from death to life but in that we can point to Calvary where Christ died for our sons and was raised for our justification. We can have confidence in our Savior as his Church confirms us in this faith and through his Church seals us with the sacrament sign of baptism. When I was young man I “gave my self to Christ” but there were attendant years of “wandering”. It used to trouble me. I’d ask myself if I really was born again back then. Who knows is the conclusion I came to. What is important is I believe the true gospel as taught by the church, I have been confirmed in the Faith by the church, and I am under the ministry of Christ through his Church by the means of word and sacrament. I will never in this life know all about my past but I strive to know Christ and him crucified. And I am assured you do also. Thank you sister

  21. Why is experience such a big issue? Does it contribute to the work of our salvation in anyway? or does it give us any right standing before God?

  22. Don, God’s Word tells us when conversion is real. It says that if we believe that Jesus is the Christ we are born of God. Believing God’s Word so that you trust only in Jesus blood and righteousness is what confirms that you are born again. If you are trying to give me some extra biblical evidence that you are trusting as proof that God has given you a special revelation and you want to convince me that you are born again because of it, I’m not buying it.

    • With apologies, let me be blunt: Where are you getting the idea that I am saying anything about special revelation? Was there something specific that I wrote that leads you to think so? I don’t see how the description of something God-related that happened in my life is so-called special revelation.

      If Paul’s status as an apostle is problematic, then let’s turn to Cornelius. The Bible records the exact moment he was converted. (As a side note, it seems clear that his regeneration had begun long before.) This was not a unique experience, at least insofar as it happened to his family at the same time. I assume you would further agree it was not a “subjective experience.” So if I may ask again: In the context of this discussion, what makes Cornelius’s experience *of being able to point to a specific event at a specific point in time as a conversion experience* special? Acts records Peter’s full retelling of this experience; it’s not clear to me that this is an apostolic prerogative.

  23. Don, all I am saying is that being born again is evidenced by trusting in Christ ALONE and that it will produce the fruit of love and gratitude expressed by striving to please God by obeying His law. Why is it so important for you to pin it down to a moment in time? God’s word says we know when we believe that Jesus is the Christ, why must you try to nail down the exact moment? When you are witnessing to people, it would seem much more important to tell them about Christ and what He has done than about yourself and what you believe you have experienced.

    • Please answer the question I have been asking first. Why do you think it is wrong and/or impossible for some Christians (not all) to be able to point to a specific time or particular event at which they became a Christian?

      • Don,

        I hope this discussion doesn’t become contentious.

        One difficulty I have with your argument is your method of reading Scripture. Your appeal to Cornelius is about the same as Barbara’s appeal to Paul. Both are extraordinary. A man in bright clothing stood before Cornelius. He had a special revelation. None of us is Cornelius.

        Further, the method of leveraging (controlling) the teaching of Scripture with examples (especially extraordinary) from Scripture is problematic. We are more bound to what Scripture teaches than the various redemptive episodes in Scripture. We have no literal Red Sea, no literal Damascus, Pentecost etc. What we do have, however, is the promises and the Christ promised therein.

        I think we should be content with those and let the Spirit’s work be both real and mysterious.

    • Dr. Clark,
      Actually I picked Cornelius specifically because his conversion WAS quite quite common. The guy in white did not convert Cornelius. He and his family were converted when he heard the preaching of the Word. Their conversions was a story worth repeating.

      — —

      I do hope, too, that this discussion remains noncontentious. And (of course) I agree the Spirit’s work is real. But I do not think either of those ideas are helped when terms like “emotional” and “imaginary” are used to describe conversions.

      • Don,

        What do you make of the methodological point, that we should prioritize a didactic passage over a narrative (and our interpretation of the narrative)?

        Further, you must admit that there are supernatural, un-repeatable elements to Cornelius’ story, right?

    • Dr. Clark,
      You draw from John 3 that no one CAN know the time of their conversion. If I may say so straightforwardly and humbly, I believe that is an overreaction to those who say one MUST know the time. It’s not clear to me that Jesus’ teaching regarding the mysteries of the Spirit necessarily extends to knowing the timing of one’s conversion.

      Regarding narrative vs. didactic, the most important thing to gain from the conversion stories in Acts is that no one is converted in the same way. Cornelius et al. had the Holy Spirit fall on them before baptism. The Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit until well after baptism, when the apostles laid hands on them. This I think is consistent with your point that there is no single conversion narrative that all Christians must fit into.

      The basic outline of Cornelius’ story is: Good man does good things, seeks after God, hears the gospel, believes. This is hopefully repeated very often. The supernatural elements are not necessary to convert Cornelius per se, but to break the Jewish believers’ belief that Jesus was the Messiah for the Jews only.

  24. The passage says, “the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the wind. We hear the gospel, but how, when, and where the Spirit regenerates us is not for us to know. What is sure is that the Word of God tells that we are born again when we trust in Christ alone and we respond in faith and gratitude by striving to obey God’s law. It is process that reveals what the Spirit is doing in us and we should respect God’sovereign, monergistic work without prying into it and trying to understand the secret things of God. We should be content with what God reveals to us in His Word.

  25. RSC — you and I both have busy schedules and I want to specifically thank you for responding to my comments on this thread. 🙂

    I too am a Protestant. I’m committed to sola Scriptura. I believe, like you, that our experience is normed by Scripture and not the reverse. Like you, I believe that experience can illumine our understanding of Scripture but our experience is not normative and our interpretation of Scripture isn’t normative and neither is it inspired or infallible.

    That’s our common ground.

    You told me that you don’t doubt my experience, but you doubt my interpretation of my experience and the significance I attach to it.

    How do you know my interpretation of my experience? How do you know the significance I attach to it? Are you making some assumptions about how I interpret my experience and the significance I attach to my experience?

    I have never said that I *interpret* my experience in such and such a way.
    I have never said that my experience is *significant* in this or that or the other way.
    All I have said is that I experienced a number of things around the time of my conversion.

    The experiences I had around the time of my conversion and the experiences I have had subsequently, have illumined my understanding of Scripture.

    You said: “Paul did not have a purely subjective experience. God the Son manifested himself in an extraordinary way to him on the Damascus Road. That is a unique experience. It should not be easily equated with a post-canonical ‘conversion experience.’ … none of us has seen the ascended Christ etc. There’s a qualitative difference between what happened to Paul and what happens to us.”

    RSC, please hear what I am about to say tenderly and with an open mind —
    What give you the right to speak for all Christians?
    What gives you the right to say, “none [NONE] of us have seen the ascended Christ”?
    You are not all of us. You are only you.
    I love you as a fellow believer in Christ.
    But you are not able to speak for each and every believer.

    I am not saying or wanting to imply that I, Barbara, have seen the ascended Christ.

    But you do not know what I or others believers have seen or not seen, RSC.

    Maybe I and maybe other believers have seen and experienced things you have not seen or experienced. Please do not assume you know what other believers may or may not have experienced or seen.

    As you probably know, many former Muslims are testifying that part of their conversion to Christianity involved having visions of Christ or dreams of Christ. Would you decry or discount them? Would you assume that they are interpreting their experience wrongly, or giving undue significance to their experience?

    And Thomas Schnable, you said you would love to read my testimony. I have not and probably never will publish my full testimony of conversion. I have seldom shared even bits and pieces of it with individuals. But I’ll be happy to recount it to you if we meet each other in the new heavens and new earth. 🙂

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