It was a long walk down the aisle from where I sat, a 7-year-old boy struggling to find the courage to let go of the pew I held tightly. To make my way to the front where the preacher stood was a giant step for such small feet, but it was what everyone said I must to do to get saved. The minister, Sunday school teacher, mom and dad, granny and papa, everybody said this is how it works. This is what is expected. Not to let anyone down, with a large lump in my throat, I made my way to where the pastor stood, placed my trembling hand in his, and said the words he wanted to hear. With that, it was done. Immediately following, I soaked up the congratulatory handshakes and welcome-to-the-family expressions like a sponge as the congregation paraded by in customary form.
What happens next? Where to from here?
My memories of that day almost 60 years ago are rather vague, but my recall of the years that followed are vivid. Having answered the questions asked of me to the pastor’s satisfaction, a week or two later I was baptized. To be honest, I don’t actually remember the event, but over the next 10 years, I would personify the old saying, “He went down (into the baptistry) a dry sinner and came up a wet one.”
The authenticating mark of a true follower of Jesus evidently missing from my life was the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Writing in Romans 8, Paul makes it unmistakably clear that of necessity, the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer:
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
— Romans 8:9
The Spirit’s ever-abiding presence enables and empowers the believer to live godly, exhibiting the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Admittedly, even after coming to genuine faith in Christ at 18, I struggled. I slipped and sometimes fell. I still do. But as a Spirit-filled believer, when I am weak, he is strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). When I stumble, he lifts me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. He sets my feet on a rock and gives me a firm place to stand (Psalm 40:1–2).
And get this: there was nothing magical or mystical attached to my being filled with the Spirit. I simply asked for forgiveness of my sins, acknowledged Jesus as my Lord and Savior and presto, it was done. Out with the old man, in with the new. It was a package deal. The same can be true for you today:
If you [will] confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. — Romans 10:9