So when does the moment of regeneration occur anyhow? Fortunately, the answer to that one is simple . . . who knows? who cares? none of our business!
Perhaps I should explain.
What I am contending for is an affirmation that such a transformation must occur at some point in the lives of those who are going to spend eternity with God. But because every person’s story is different, we should not be surprised that the moment of transformation varies, and is known only to God. How could it be otherwise? The Spirit blows as He wishes, and we cannot contain Him.
Some people have a story that makes it pretty clear to them when they were regenerated, give or take five minutes. Convulsive experiences, of a Damascus road type, do happen, and so it is relatively easy to read the time stamp. But, as David Wells points out in Turning to God, the tendency of some evangelicals has been to make such experiences normative (p. 29). But there is absolutely no basis for doing this. Why would Paul’s experience be normative, as over against Timothy’s (2 Tim. 3:15)? As I am fond of saying, you don’t have to know what time the sun rose to know that it is up.
But also, as a matter of logic, if I know that it is up, then I must also affirm that it rose at some point. I don’t have to know what moment that was exactly, but I do need to affirm that there was in fact such a moment.
During our sabbath dinner liturgy, the grandkids are asked a bunch of questions, and among the questions I ask are these — “do you love God? are you baptized? is Jesus in your heart? will you take the Lord’s Supper tomorrow?” Now looking at the fifteen kids who are answering those questions, if someone were to press the question “but when did Jesus come into their hearts?” the answer is that it is absolutely none of our business.
It could have been in the womb, or when they were born, or when they were baptized, or six weeks, three days, and ten minutes after their baptism. We have no way of knowing that. We can’t see hearts, and God does not ask us to conduct our parental or pastoral business as though we could see them. Our business is to support their parents as they bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, which is exactly what we are doing.
I have said earlier in these discussions that the works of the flesh are manifest (Gal. 5:19). We know that the works of righteousness are also manifest (Jn. 3:21). All this is simply to say that midnight and high noon are not that difficult to tell apart. “Is the sun up?” is an easy question to answer, and we must not get tangled up in the very few moments when it might be difficult to answer. My StarWalk app tells me that sunrise this morning was at 4:55 am, but what if I had driven east for twenty miles, and then went down in valley? Supposing I stood behind a tree?
But knowing that the sun is up is easy. Knowing that there had to be a moment when it came up is also easy — which is not the same thing as knowing when that moment precisely was.
What I am trying to avoid is a circumstance where folks are sitting around in the middle of the night trying to generate light by making superstitious use of their baptisms, or their decision fifteen years ago in a Child Evangelism bus at the state fair. The dark is what it is.
And what do I mean by superstition? Not to worry — if the sun is up, it is not superstition.