"Saved!" "Born again!" are two terms that are synonymous with "salvation." These terms are used interchangeably. They define and describe the process of God-man reconciliation which became necessary after Adam disobeyed God's instruction which forbade him to eat from a certain tree in the Garden of Eden. The result was the fall of man. Every person at birth is separated from God. The Christian position or belief is that during many thousands, maybe millions, of years after the fall, man had no way to be reconciled with God. But about 2,000 and a decade years ago God sent Jesus into the world and in His Advent on earth, for the first time since the fall of man, man had the opportunity to be reconciled with God. Both Christian exclusivists and Christian inclusivists subscribe to this belief regarding man's salvation. Christian pluralists also agree with this view but maintain that people of faiths other than Christianity have paths to salvation.
I was reared in a Christian home, not a Christian nation or hamlet, (where African Americans could not worship in the hamlet's "white churches.") In this hamlet there were two churches for African Americans, one Baptist and the other Methodist. My parents were Baptists as were most of the confessing Christians in that hamlet. Each year, near the end of August, as far back as I can remember, a week-long revival that featured a guest preacher was conducted at the Baptist Church. The revival was advertised, by word of mouth, as having the primarily purpose of saving sinners or, in the words of the first pastor of this church that I remember, "to get people saved."
During these revivals, unsaved people, who wanted to be saved and others who wanted them saved, some wanted them saved more than the unsaved wanted to be saved, would sit on the mourners' bench which was the first row of seats, nearest to the pulpit. The mourners' bench was quite a focus point. Men and women especially those who were leaders in that congregation, would pray, sing, shout and give testimonies aimed at getting the unsaved saved. They told stories of how they were saved. Some testified that when they were being saved they saw a bright light, brighter than any light they had ever seen, and that their hands and feet looked new. Others spoke of how they were unable to eat for several days and how during that period they cried and with joy praised and thanked Jesus for saving them. They tried to assure the unsaved that they will have a similiar experience when they get saved and will go to Heaven when they die.
The last night of the revival was more charged with intensity than the preceding nights. The saved were determined to see to it that the unsaved got saved that night even if it meant extending the length of the service, as it usually did. Usually there were people who confessed that they were saved on the final night during overtime. But always someone was left on the mourners' bench. For four or more years, I was among the unsaved who didn't get saved during revival. I cannot say for sure how old I was when I first sat on that mourners' bench but I think I was 12 years old. Some Christians held a belief that a person was innocent until he reached the age of 12. After that he was responsible for his own salvation. I was 16 years old the last year I sat on the mourners' bench. My siblings, some younger than myself, my cousins and some others, confessed that Jesus Christ was their Savior before or when they were 13 years old. But when I was that age I didn't believe that I was saved. I had not seen a bright light, my hands and feet hadn't looked new, nor had I heard the voice of Jesus speak to me as some Christians had testified would happen to let me know that I was saved.
About a half year after my fifteenth birthday and several months after the revival that year I confessed first to myself and next to my mother and siblings that I was saved, that I had accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. My mother suggested that I join the church the next time I attend church. I told her that I wanted to confess that I was saved during the next revival which I did when I was 16 years old. No, I didn't see a bright light, have new looking hands and feet, or hear the voice of Jesus. But I knew that I was saved. I sensed and felt a presence that came over me which I continue to feel. Sometimes it is more powerful than at other times, but always I am impacted by it in a delightful way. The truth is, I had felt that presence years before I made my confession. I had been preaching before I knew I was saved. At first, I emulated my father who was a preacher. (He died when I was 14 years old.) My father could be heard preaching while working in the field or doing carpentry work. Later after I knew I was saved I knew I was called by God to preach.
After confessing my salvation, I realized that I was saved years before I made that confession. How long before I cannot say. Neither do I remember how old I was when I was not saved. I do know that I was save years before I knew I was saved. "Saved! But didn't know it."
In contrast to the mourners' bench experience I had which typified the experience of other sinners attending revivals at that time is the contemporary approach to getting saved that is typified by the practice of TV-minister Joel Osteen, pastor of one of the largest, if not the largest, church in America, both in church membership and size of the church auditorium which before it became a church was a football stadium where national football teams played football. At the close of Osteen's sermon he extends an invitation to the unsaved to be saved with these words: "I never like to close a service without giving you a chance to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior. Just say, 'Lord Jesus, I repent of my sins, come into my heart, wash me clean, I'll make you my Lord and Savior.'" He adds, "If you said that prayer, we believe you got born again. Get in a Bible-believing Church."
Were the people who sat on that mourners' bench like me, some who later admitted they lied about being saved in order to get off the mourners' bench, or were the people who followed/follow Osteen's approach and are told by the preacher that they were saved, lied?' With both approaches or groups there are those who do believe they are saved. Could it be that people in both groups are saved and like myself before I confessed salvation didn't know I was saved?
Yes, I was saved and didn't know it. But being saved is not the single important issue. Being saved is a prerquisite to faithfully practicing right actions. James, the brother of Jesus, puts it this way: "Faith without work is dead." Salvation like the air we breathe is available to and for all. A person must work out, more correctly, live out his salvation in fear and trembling in a world that at times is a crucible. In the common vernacular of everyday communication, "that is where the rubber meets the road." After a person becomes aware that he is saved, he is able to access knowledge that will assist him in self-discovery and enable him to make a commitment to live a righteous life and be productive. Salvation is a process that may appropriately be referred to as "born again." Nicodemus who visited Jesus by night was told by Jesus that he must be "born again." Born again is not a one-time occurrence that follows natural birth. It is an ongoing process that happens again, again and again. Maybe day after day like the cells of the body that continue to "rebirth" as long as a person is alive.
There is a penalty for not knowing that you are saved as well as knowing you are saved but failing to exercise faith in living. In contrast there are rewards for being saved and living in love which "bears all things."
I am saved. I know that I know that I know that I am saved. I was lost, but I do not remember when. I do not say these words of a popular hymn: "I once was lost but now I am found." I sing, " I once was saved and didn't know it, but now I know I am saved. Hallelujah!" Because I know I am saved I am aware that I am perpetually blessed in the eternal now. Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." That's what it means to be saved and know it.
Copyright 2011 by Uriah J. Fields
Please visit: www.uriahfields.com to read other enlightening writings by Uriah J. Fields