Pietists affirm that human beings must be “born again” (John 3), and more than that, Pietists affirm that something happens to a human being when they confess Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5 17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” That is amazing good news! Life can be different. Life moves to a new path.
The Evangelical Covenant Church, growing out of the Pietistic movement explains it this way:
New birth in Christ means committing ourselves to him and receiving forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal life. It means being alive in Christ, and this life has the qualities of love and righteousness, joy and peace. New birth is only the beginning. Growing to maturity in Christ is a lifelong process for both individuals and communities of believers. God forms and transforms us—and it is through people transformed by Christ that God transforms the world.
Richard Peace in his excellent book Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve reminds us that conversion happens in a variety of ways. Some come to faith in an instant–a Damascus Road experience as in the life of Paul (Acts 9). Others come to faith over time, a process, which finally leads to an awareness of “Yes! I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
Whether sudden or over time, something happens to a person when they confess Jesus Christ as Lord–they are changed from the inside out. And this process of change, while becoming a new creation, still is lived out over a lifetime.
Traditions approach conversion differently: The revival stream asks the question–When did you become a Christian? The pietist stream asks: Are you still walking with Jesus? The first stream looks back–when was the moment when you became a Christian; when did you say the prayer; when did you walk down the aisle? The second stream is more concerned with today, this moment–are you alive in Jesus now; are you seeking to be his follower now; are you abiding in him; who is Jesus Christ for you today (Bonhoeffer)? Early Pietists asked this question of each other on a regular basis: Are you living yet in Jesus? It is a call to ongoing discipleship
The harder question to ask is the second.
Conversion is not just a past event. It is an ongoing journey. We become new people, changed people in Christ. But we live that out over a lifetime.