In April last year I underwent a profound conversion experience. Prior to April 2008, I was stressed—very stressed. I had many different spheres of life that seemed to be conflicting and drowning me; my family, my work and my friendships were full of what seemed like an endless array of commitments, requirements and open loops. It was causing sleeplessness and a general overall anxiety that was difficult to pin down, but that was very draining.
But in early 2008, a close friend of mine introduced me to a productivity management system that promised to reduce stress and still enable me to get things done in life. I’d heard of this system before; in fact, one of my own colleagues was a devotee. But it took a bit of insistence from my friend to actually look into the system for myself. And when I did, I liked what I saw. The system gave me a whole new way of thinking about life. Previously, I’d tried to concentrate on the big picture: put first things first, prioritize the main things, and let the little things worry about themselves. But I realized that those habits are soooo last century. In today’s hectic world of constantly filling e-mail inboxes, instant messages and changing decision criteria, you need much more than a list of priorities, a diary and a To Do list. To truly be stress-free and productive (not to mention faithful), you needed a highly adaptable and comprehensive system to ensure that all the little commitments in your life—no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, and no matter where they come from—are filed away in a workable system that you can trust to remind you when you need to deal with them. Only then can your brain forget about them, and free you to concentrate on the big things.
I read a book (well, at least, most of it). I looked at some websites. I bought some software. I got all my commitments down and into the system. More importantly, I adopted ongoing and realistic habits to ensure that things stayed stress-free.
My life has never been the same since. It’s changed (for the better!) the way I think and act minute by minute, day by day. No sphere of life has remained unaffected. I started sleeping again. My wife is happier. I’ve been able to more easily take control of what I do and when I do it—to make realistic commitments and stick to them, and to have time to enjoy being with my family, being with people I love and being with God. I frequently recommend the system to colleagues and trainees, and insist that they check it out. I’ve also discovered that there’s a whole blogosphere full of devotees to this system, committed to honing their own personal productivity habits and sharing the results with others. Personally, I’m more of a private believer, and have written very little about my experience until now. Nevertheless, I find these numerous blogs encouraging, affirming and comforting.
I have to admit that the system to which I have converted is quite well suited to my slightly obsessive personality, so it wasn’t a huge leap of faith for me. Nevertheless, I’m not perfect; I still have a long way to go to get some areas of life under control. I still get stressed out at little commitments. But I’m working on it, and I’m confident that, given time, I’ll be able to get even more things done with less stress.
I guess by now you can see that this conversion experience of mine looks remarkably like the testimony of a person who has become a Christian. If you did a search-and-replace on what I have written above, replacing ‘stress’ with ‘sin’, and ‘the system’ with ‘Christianity’, and so on, then with a few minor edits, you’d probably come up with a testimony that would be quite at home at your next evangelistic dinner.
This all goes to show why it is vitally important to grasp that our conversion experience is not the basis of our eternal salvation. We are not saved by being converted; we are justified and saved, as Paul says in Titus 3:4-7, through the “goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior”, through “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”.
Theologically, regeneration is distinct from conversion. Regeneration is the work of God in our lives, bringing us in a moment from death to life—from condemnation to salvation—through the application of the person and work of Jesus Christ to our beings. Christian conversion, on the other hand, is part of our experience of the effects of regeneration. Conversion often closely accompanies regeneration, but not always. Sometimes it is difficult to pin down a conversion experience: sometimes it is so slow, it can’t be identified; sometimes (as above) we can have profound conversion experiences that have nothing to do with the gospel at all and that are completely irrelevant to our salvation. True regeneration will, of course, have measurable effects in our experience. But our confidence for eternal salvation does not have measurable effects in our experience. Instead, our confidence lies in the goodness of God, who himself regenerates us, justifying us by his grace so that “we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).