Do I have to know the date?
Pastor John, I was greatly troubled in a service recently when the preacher said that unless each person could identify the specific day that they prayed "the sinner's prayer" they were not converted. He then said that if in fact they were not sure of the date, they should walk forward in the service, pray the prayer and then sign the date and time in the front of their Bibles. I feel sure I am converted but this preacher has unsettled me enormously. What are your thoughts on this?
Thanks for your question. My opinion? What the preacher told you was pure, unadulterated hogwash! Both you, and those in attendance in the service were victims of gross error and a total misunderstanding of biblical conversion perpetuated by this preacher.
Nowhere in Scripture are we told to record the day we pray a prayer and if we should somehow forget the date, we are not truly saved. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest such a thing. Instead, we are told to simply examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith - in other words, to look for signs of spiritual life.
The Scripture says, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" - 2 Cor. 13:5
If you have ever seen the movie "Crocodile Dundee" (which is set in a backwater area of Australia, very much unaffected by urban culture) you might recall an incident where the leading figure, Mick Dundee, recounts the story of him asking his tribal elder when he (Dundee) was born. The answer from the elder was simple, "In the summer time."
Because that is all the information he received, Dundee went through life never quite sure of how old he was. Yet as frustrating as that may have been for him, it would be totally erroneous to conclude that Dundee was never born (just because he did not know the day or even year of his birth). It is obvious that Dundee had a birth by the very fact that he was alive, living and breathing, in the present day.
In the same way, spiritually speaking, there are many Christians who although are very much spiritually alive, can only speak in vague terms about the date of their conversion. Some can indeed identify the day and the hour of their conversion, as it happened in a very dramatic way. Others however might say "I was converted to Christ somewhere between my 5th and 8th birthday." Another might say "it was somewhere around the age of 14."
The fact is that the New Testament does not tell people to look back on a date when a prayer was prayed as a ground for assurance, but the presence of spiritual life in the here and now.
Just as when paramedics encounter a person at the scene of an accident and immediately check to see if there are signs of physical life (by checking for a pulse, etc.) we are to look for signs of spiritual life.
I realize that this task is a subjective one, and none of us at any given time, live a single day with an absolute love for Christ, love for His word, or love for the people of God; yet if we understand what the Bible teaches about the spiritual condition of unregenerate man, we know that none of these components exist in the heart of stone. Only a truly converted (regenerated) person has any discernible love for Christ and His gospel. The stony heart is incapable of such love.
If someone is spiritually alive now because they show signs of spiritual life (they have a love for the Biblical Christ, and believe and embrace the Gospel), it is evidence of the fact that a spiritual birth has taken place, even if the day and the time of this birth are facts known only by God Himself.
My advice to you is to forget what the preacher told you you and instead, simply do what the Bible says and examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. If you believe the gospel and have turned to Christ in repentance and faith, and if your heart looks to Him alone to save you, that would be sure evidence of true conversion. We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and we know this based on the sure foundation of Scripture alone, all to the glory of God alone.