by Magdalena Teske
Until I started college, I went with my family to the Arkansas State Fair every year, if the weather allowed. One time, when I was about 13 or 14, my sister and I had gone on the Tilt-A-Whirl with my father and were rushing across the fair to meet the rest of my family. Amidst all the noise and voices of vendors, excited children and people on scary rides, one man who was advertising his church from behind a booth called after us, “What have you done for Jesus this week?”
My father, being a good Lutheran, turned around and said, “What’s more important is what Jesus did for me.” The man, probably surprised to have someone respond to him at all, said, “That’s true, Sir, but what have you done for Jesus this week?”
What followed was a brief, but interesting exchange in which the other man repeated his question and my father repeated his answer. When my father finally mentioned that he was a pastor, the other man seemed satisfied that my father was, in fact, a Christian. His next question was, “What about your daughters? Do they know Jesus?” My father said that we did, and the man gave us free “Smile, Jesus Loves You” pencils and we left, glad to hold to a faith in which we understand that Jesus loves us and has saved us because of His grace, not because of our works. At the time, I found it surprising that the man from the “What Have You Done for Jesus?” church needed to ask if my sister and I “knew” Jesus. I was baptized as an infant into the Lutheran faith, and the idea of not “knowing” Jesus, when my family was a Christian family, was unthinkable to me.
Since then, there have been many times when I have encountered the unbiblical view that faith must come to a person at some specific point of decision, and that they cannot already have it, especially by infant baptism. I specifically remember one incident in which I suddenly realized fairly late in a discussion that, while the people I was talking with agreed with many of the points I was making, we meant different things when we used the word “saved.” When I said saved, I meant saved, and when they said “saved”, they meant “having had a specific conversion experience at a precise point in one’s life.”
For this reason, I believe I should deny being a “born-again Christian.” When people talk about being born again, they usually mean that they had some sudden spiritual awakening and decided that they were a Christian. They may believe that in order to be a Christian, people must have a personal experience in their lives in which they officially became a Christian and God shows His presence in their lives. Oh, wait. That sounds familiar. That actually has happened to me. But I don’t call it a “conversion experience.” I call it “Baptism.” So I guess I am a born-again Christian after all. (Of course, in adults, the Spirit works through His Word to bring a person to faith and the baptismal font, but this, too, is still only God’s work.)
I find that there is a common objection to the second birth that I and many other saved Christians have had. You see, I was baptized when I was one month old. How could I have faith when I was one month old? How could I know Jesus when I was a baby?
No, I didn’t perfectly understand God and the Bible when I was baptized as an infant. Even now, I don’t understand absolutely everything about God and the Bible, because I am a sinner as well as a saint. But that doesn’t matter, because I am saved by grace through faith, which was given to me by grace. Faith is a gift. My salvation does not come through my own knowledge and understanding, and my salvation is not lost through a lack of knowledge and understanding. It is good to know a lot about theology, but that doesn’t mean that a baby or young child who has not had time to accumulate that knowledge doesn’t have real faith.
So I am a born-again Christian, and I do know Jesus. That is not because I sought out Jesus Christ. It is not because I went to the store and bought myself some Christianity. I know Him because He came to me and introduced Himself and told me that He was my savior, and He did this so long ago that I can’t remember a time when I didn’t “know” Jesus.
Magdalena Teske is a senior at Birmingham-Southern College and attends Hope Lutheran Church in Birmingham, Alabama. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.