One Moment in Time—and Beyond


I believe it was an International Bible Society study that showed that nearly all people who become Christians do so by age nineteen. That figure stunned me at the time. We've got to get people young, folks. That's why bringing young people to Christ is so astonishingly important.

But another figure hidden in that survey speaks just as loudly. If the average American today lives to at least eighty, the IBS survey also tells us that the person who comes to Christ at age nineteen will spend sixty years or more in discipleship.

Think about that figure—sixty years of following Christ after conversion.Real life sliced and diced

The image at right puts this in perspective. The slice of pie that comprises a person's pagan life before Christ consumes about a quarter of life. Following after Christ takes up three-quarters. The moment of conversion, though crucial, is but a mere slice.

Yet you would think that conversion, that one moment in time, is all there is to the Christian life. Given how we Evangelicals devote so much time, energy, and angst to conversion, you'd think that the sixty years afterward are a drop in the bucket. In the Godblogosphere, the handwringing over conversion (and the theology behind it) weights it even more. Discipleship may seem an afterthought.

I'm saddened when I get e-mails from folks saying all their church ever talks about is getting people saved. Don't get me wrong; it's excellent that churches preach the salvation message. But most of the people in the church are already saved, so what help do they get in actually living out their conversion if they hear the same salvation message over and over again?

The Bible says this:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
—John 17:3 ESV

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
—2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

I didn't know my wife the first time I met her. In many ways, I still didn't know her even on our honeymoon. Learning who she is will take me the rest of my life because the depth of her personhood will only be revealed in time.

The same goes for Jesus Christ. Most of us have barely scratched the surface of what it means to know Him. Yet the Bible says that knowing Him IS eternal life! It's not escaping hell, it's knowing the person of Jesus Christ. Deep calls to deep. If Jesus Christ and a hundred Jesus impersonators were put into a lineup, would we be able to pick the real Jesus out of the crowd of imposters? Think hard about that question.

Likewise, our conversion to Christ does not end our growth as Christians. Too often, though, our churches act like they have no more to tell us once we say yes to the Lord. "Just don't do bad things now" is the extent of the post-conversion advice.

But the Bible says that we're supposed to be changing from one degree of glory into another, a process that will take our entire lives. That is if we surrender to that process of Christ making Himself in us. For it's His glory that shapes us over those sixty years.

Too often, our discipleship is self-centered. Life becomes nothing more than the avoidance of pain and the accumulation of comfort. But we can't walk the narrow path staring into our navels; we'll wind up in a ditch.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
—Ephesians 2:10 ESV

And as you go, proclaim, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. You have received freely, freely give.
—Matthew 10:7-8 MKJV

For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He shall reward each one according to his works.
—Matthew 16:27 MKJV 

If you're a Christian, you're a new creation. And what were you created for? Good works in Christ. The real disciple of Jesus Christ spends his or her sixty years after conversion walking out a discipleship that is other-centric. It's centered on the Lord and on the ones who are dying around us. Yes, we can read great treatises on theology, accumulate vast libraries of Christian thought, attend Christian conferences one after the other, but if we're not freely giving away what we freely received, then we'll spend sixty years wasting God's mercy. Instead, we must be focused on others to ensure that the reward we have in heaven is great.

We all know "Away in the Manger." There's not a three-year-old out there that doesn't learn this Christmas carol first. As a result, few think of it in terms of theological depth. The final stanza says it all:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.

Our sixty years of discipleship is meant for one thing: to fit us for Heaven to live with Christ eternally. What you and I are doing right now in this moment of time is shaping our eternity. Don't be deceived. Following Christ was never intended as fire insurance. Instead, it's meant to remake citizens of Earth into citizens of Heaven.

Are we giving away our life here so we can take on new life? Can we with all certainty pick Jesus out of the lineup? He may not look like an itinerant rabbi, but the homeless man drunk outside our office building. How then will we know Him unless we do the good works that encounter Him? Are we spending all our time looking at our conversion when we should be focused on our inheritance?

Sixty years is at once quite long, yet so very short in the eyes of eternity. In truth, our lives are not so much like a pie chart, but a never-ending timeline that began a breath ago. In a flash comes conversion, but then we live out the eternal consequences of our discipleship.

It's about learning to be a disciple, giving away freely what we were freely given: love, mercy, and grace. Let's not waste our sixty years.

14 thoughts on “One Moment in Time—and Beyond

  1. Francisco

    I got saved at 26. So for me, I almost wasted a 1/3 of my life. All my high school and college life when I could have been more fruitful. But again, I am forever grateful that God crushed His Son on the cross as my substitute. I agree with the thought that we are not to think we already have fire insurance and then go ahead and live like the devil. That’s not God intent for us. As with the fig tree, Jesus is looking for fruit to eat from us. Sacrfices of praise and worship. Sure. But separated from Him we can not bear fruit. We can not do it ourselves.
    Now, we have saved from death, our sins and hell to what? As a famous catechism said it
    “Q: What is the chief end of man?
    A: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever”
    I agree with your post. That we are to know Jesus Christ. I wholeheartedly agree. But I might be wrong but some people get ‘bored’ with God. WHy? Because they are told to do this and that, whatever happened God-glorifying joy?
    Putting joy back into the Christian life is what we need! (Some ministries like DGM and SGM are doing this in a way that has been so influential, benefitial and exciting in my life). And sure if you enjoy God, wouldn’t want to share fellowship with others and strive to make Him known among the heathen?

  2. Good stuff here.
    Very good stuff! The Holy Spirit has convicted me of trying to live a self-centered life more often than I care to admit, but fortunately God won’t let me stay there. I’ve never been more blessed than when I am giving my life away. Your blog is my new daily must read! Thank you for being a blessing. I am off shortly to disciple a large group of 15-17 year old Christian girls for the weekend. I pray that I will speak “Rivers of Living Water” into their lives.

    • Ooopss….I obviously messed up on the quote thing in my last comment. Please correct it for me. I meant to include a quote for you: Life becomes nothing more than the avoidance of pain and the accumulation of comfort.

  3. Excellent post.

    My dad tells me that I have unique oppertunities while I am young to bring the younger generation to Christ that most adults just don’t have, due to their age…to put it simply, young people listen better to people their age, sad as that is.

    However I find that there seems to be a huge empty space where discipling teenagers comes into play. Youth groups don’t count….in general they do everything but disciple teens. And although many may be converted by the age of 19, I would be interested in seeing the statistics on those who are actually serious about their faith by the age of 19, because at least in my experience those charts would be pretty low.

    Teens who consider themselves Christians walk into church and receive the immediate impression that they don’t have to do anything different or be anything different from the world. The girls wear immodest clothing, the guys act like jerks instead of gentlemen, and the church’s response is to shower them with something they call “grace” by barely speaking a word about it, if anything at all! The teens are taught watered down bits of the bible, but it all delivered in a way that’s “fun” in order to keep the teenagers coming back. None of the seriousness, the urgency, the potency, none of that is comunicated to teens in the church these days.

    Oh wow, I’m sorta ranting, aren’t I? Sorry about that. My point is that they might be saved by 19, but the discipleship often does not really begin until later. I know I am generalizing and I have met teens that are serious about their faith and churches who disciple their teens. Still, I believe that the urgency of the statistic you showed is in discipling teens. That’s where it’s most important.

    *Climbs off soapbox* =P

  4. Jesus said to go and make disciples, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19-20 In my experience, many churches drop the “to obey” and just teach the commandments, and the difference is not just semantics.

    As for wasting time, I know Christians of twenty and thirty years who have barely progressed past the initial spurt of growth after conversion. In light of the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14-30), and especially the one servant who buried his talent, that is not a good place to be in. The master expects more from the investment he’s made in our lives, and he will call us to account.

  5. While I have reservations about the 19 year old split, believing it has more to do with how we go about evangelizing than anything else, I do agree with the substance of the message: The way we work with existing believers sucks.

    There should never be a stop to teaching, discipling, and studying. For Christian parents this means that the onus of christian education in on their shoulders, not the church’s. For those who are in positions of authority in the church, that means that they are to be teaching the word, not planning programs.

    I agree with Heidi about the attitude of todays church (yesterdays as well) as being one of replacement therapy. We are too often trying to entice children and teens to our doors by being exciting replacements to the world, attempting to show “relevance” but instead being merely imitators of the world. We are the way that Jesus chose to ram the gates of hell and lead forth the prisoners within. Instead, we are a sideshow, interesting for a while, but tossed aside when something more interesting comes along. We are shallow soil, where seeds sprout rapidly, then wither and die in the heat of the sun.

  6. “If Jesus Christ and a hundred Jesus impersonators were put into a lineup, would we be able to pick the real Jesus out of the crowd of imposters?”

    Good question… and the book of Revelation suggests… no. This always sends me with great urgency to read my bible… too often, I want to know God without hearing the pulse of his thoughts, the beat of his heart, as recorded in the lovely, complex Word. I think I am not alone.

  7. Dan,

    Outstanding thoughts. If I may add another element to the mix I would suggest that part of the problem is the notion that conversion is something different than discipleship and that conversion takes place in a moment in time.

    The conversion takes place in a moment idea is, I think, a missapplication of the born again metaphor. We tend to look at being born as somethning that takes place in a moment, after all, we can all point to the date and time we were born by looking at our birth certificates. But, we need to be careful not to read too much into that metaphor. Steve Smallman points out in his book “Spiritual Birthline” that if we are going to use the born again analogy we need to realize that there is a period of gestation that happens before the birth. We tend to look at conversion solely in terms of the time of delivery, not all the stuff that happens before and after.

    Thus, we ought not to think that conversion precedes discipleship and that discipleship is a process we engage in after conversion. Discipleship is unto conversion.

    Also, in his book “Conversion in the New Testament,” Richard Peace points out that Paul is the only person in the New Testament that we can really point to who has what we might call a datable conversion. Yet we have made his conversion experience the model. The truth is that neither Jesus nor the apostles ever talked about conversion the way we do. Other than Paul, none of the other disciples had an event they could point back to as evidence of their conversion – they just followed Jesus.

    Well, this comment has gone to long and I have imposed too much on your kindness, but hopefully some of this is helpful – I think it would be a big help if we would do away with the distinction between conversion and discipleship and just focus on following Jesus.

    • David,

      Thanks for commenting.

      As to your points, I absolutely agree. I’m in the camp of “we are BEING saved,” actually. If we better thought of conversion as an ongoing process, I think we’d cure ourselves of some of this problem.

      That’s not a popular position to have, though, especially in Reformed circles; it smacks of what some people believe is Arminian thinking.

  8. Something that tickles the back of my mind regarding the “one moment” concept, is that we are not saved by the sinners prayer. We can say “Jesus come into my heart” a million times and it won’t happen unless there is true repentance and a true change of heart. I wonder how many will stand before God on that great glorious day and hear “depart from me I never knew you.” David Wayne makes a valid point when he says we have misapplied the concept of being born again as a moment, rather than a process. Gestation, rebirth, and then living out that new life in fear and trembling. The bible is written so we may know these things are true. We needn’t be unsure of our salvation, rather we must be sure.

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  11. Barb Rader

    If you truly believe in Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of the Father in Heaven and that he died for the sins of the world that in hopes we might be saved through him and admit to others then you. are saved never doubt this,he will come into your heart ,confess though sins unto him and you shall receive him,never doubt this,ask for his forgiveness ask him to guide you he is always there 24/7 he turns no one away he is the Church the love,and the truth,turn all of your problems to him and trust in him to help you with what ever problems you are having,prayer is your hope through Jesus Christ. Man cannot give or fix all problems one has, only the Father in Heaven has the Powers man does not have,trust in him for he cares for you,he knows we all fall away at times from our faith in him,but he will hallways be with you to carry through and pick you back up on your feet ,you may not see it happen but think back when you thought it couldn’t happen and it did,you just did not realise that it was God in heaven who got you to that happy moment,so never loose your trust in him.

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