A good question for all Christians to ask themselves sometimes is ‘Why am I a Christian?’
Atheist writers have sometimes challenged us by saying, “Your faith is predetermined by the fact that you grew up in a Christian country. If you’d been born and raised in Saudi Arabia, you’d be a Muslim”. Well, there’s some truth in this, of course, but it isn’t working too well these days. Anyone seen the church attendance statistics in the ‘Christian countries’ of the west lately? Yeah – that’s a thing of the past! Obviously the Christian countries were good at making people who went along with conventional Christianity, but not actual disciples of Jesus.
Being raised in a ‘Christian country’ (actually, I don’t believe there is any such thing) definitely didn’t make me a Christian. Being raised in a Christian country meant I was subjected to ‘Christian worship’ at school, much of which was led by people who weren’t Christian. My first year of high school Religious Education was taught by a man who self-identified as an atheist.
Nor am I a Christian because I was baptized as a baby. Many, many people were baptized as babies when I was growing up, and very few of them went on to follow Jesus. Infant baptism wasn’t enough to bring them to a living faith in Christ; something else was needed. Even those who went to church didn’t necessarily ‘catch’ faith; I’ve talked to many lifelong churchgoers who readily admit that they don’t really know God in any personal way.
No: the main reason I am a Christian today is that, when I was a young teenager, I had a conversion experience. It began with reading Dennis Bennett’s Nine O’Clock in the Morning, and reached its fruition a few months later when my dad gave me a gentle challenge: ‘You’ve never given your life to Jesus, have you?’ Later that night I sat on my bed in my room and prayed a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus. Not long after that my dad taught me how to have a daily prayer and Bible reading time, and I started attending a midweek prayer and study group.
These were the events that brought faith alive for me. I haven’t had dramatic mystical experiences in my faith life, but I do regularly experience a sense of the presence and peace of God. I have also experienced the guidance of God in terms of ‘hunches’ about what I should do (which have almost always worked out well). So I’m happy to say ‘God is a living presence in my life’ (although I don’t want that to sound more dramatic than it really is).
So far, of course, I’ve answered the question in the past tense – not so much ‘Why are you a Christian?’ as ‘How did you become a Christian?’ It’s a valid way to answer the question – how I became a Christian has a lot to do with why I am a Christian today – but there’s more to it than that. Come back tomorrow for the second part…