At our church we sometimes sing a song called, “Somebody Touched Me.” You are to stand on the day of the week in which you were born again. After going through seven verses for Monday through Sunday, we sing a seventh verse, “It was on a one day, somebody touched me…” About half our assembly stands on that verse. I am among them. Now here is a question from someone like me:
I am 26 years old, but I was a child when I first heard John 3:16 at Sunday School. I remember hearing it in the NIV: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’’
I believed the verse as I understood it, but I understood it to mean that whoever simply believes in the existence of Jesus (the Son of God), will not go to hell but will have everlasting life (go to heaven).
Although I now realize that I misunderstood when eternal life started—I thought eternal life started once I got to heaven, I believed I was going to have eternal life because I believed in Jesus.
Was I born again at this point, based on my understanding of the verse, even though I misunderstood it slightly?
That testimony sounds murky, but not totally off base. (Notice the statement: “I believed I was going to have eternal life because I believed in Jesus.”)
There is no verse which says that in order to be born again we must believe that we have everlasting life right now. While many verses say that the one who believes has everlasting life now, there are others which say that the one who believes is saved once and for all; others say the believer will not be condemned; others say the believer is justified before God; others say that whoever believes in Christ will be forever with Him in His kingdom.
First, we must believe that our eternal destiny is secure based on faith in Christ. If the questioner believed that as a child when he heard John 3:16, then he was born again then, even if he wrongly thought that everlasting life began after he died. The key is that one believes that his salvation is secure by faith in Christ.
We must have an accurate belief in the content of saving faith. Here is what the questioner believed as a child, “whoever simply believes in the existence of Jesus (the Son of God), will not go to hell but will have everlasting life (go to heaven).” That statement is not true. A person who believes in the existence of Jesus, but who believes in works salvation, will not go to heaven when he dies, unless at some point in the past he believed in the free gift of salvation by faith apart from works.
However, it appears the reader may have meant this: I was convinced that I was going to heaven when I die because I believed that Jesus guarantees that to all who believe in Him, the Son of God, apart from any works they have done or might do in the future.
There are billions of people on earth today who believe that Jesus existed and even that He is the Son of God. But most of them believe in works salvation of some type. Paul explained that he is an example for all who are going to believe in Jesus “for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16).
Second, more important than knowing when we were born again is being sure right now that we have everlasting life.
We do not have assurance of our eternal salvation by remembering something we believed or said or did or felt in the past. We have assurance today if and only if we believe the promise of everlasting life right now (1 John 5:9-13).
Let’s say you remember a time when you were sure you had everlasting life by faith in Christ, apart from works, but that today you believe in Lordship Salvation. Would your memory of that past belief give you assurance today? No. If today you believe that certainty is impossible, then you would look at your former belief as wrong.
If you can remember the exact date when you believed in Jesus for everlasting life, fantastic. But if you only know that it was during a certain month or season, then that’s okay too. And if you can’t even remember when you first believed in Him for everlasting life, that is fine too. The key is that you are sure now.
So, I’d advise the questioner and everyone to make sure you believe the promise of life right now. And, when you share your testimony, make sure you convey that you believed in Jesus for everlasting life. If you choose to use an equivalent expression like for eternal salvation, for an eternal relationship with God, for a guaranteed home in heaven, that is fine.
What about the person who can’t remember when he first believed in Jesus for his eternal destiny? Then say that in your testimony. It’s okay to share that there was a time in your life when you lacked assurance of your eternal destiny. It’s okay to say you can’t even remember when you first came to faith in Christ for your eternal salvation. The key is that you convey that you are sure now that you will be with the Lord forever simply because you believe in Him, apart from any works you have done or might do.