So how does one become a Christian then?
I am a Christian and I have penned nearly 6000 articles. Yet I am not sure if I have ever written about one of the most important things that I can write about: how one actually becomes a Christian. I am sure I have discussed it at various times and in various ways over the years, but perhaps not in an entire article. Thus this piece.
On an issue like this, one can simply offer a number of passages from Scripture. Yes, they may need to be teased out a bit further, but the best start for someone asking ‘how do I become a Christian?’ is to simply look to what the New Testament says about this. Here then are just some of the key texts:
Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Acts 2:38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Acts 3:19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.
Acts 16:29-31 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 10:9-10 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Titus 3:5 He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Yes, some of these passages speak about being baptised as well as repenting and believing. That would be the stuff of another article to properly deal with. But clearly numerous texts simply speak of things like repentance, belief and faith. Sure, those terms need to be expanded upon as well.
In a nutshell, repentance is agreeing with God that we are sinners, alienated from a holy God, and acknowledging that we must turn from sin and seek to please him. Faith and belief mean more than mere mental assent, but include things like trust, commitment and a willingness to obey God and let him be lord of our lives.
So the gospel message about salvation involves these basics:
-admitting that you are a sinner who has offended a holy and righteous God
-acknowledging that you cannot save yourself
-depending on the work of Christ at Calvary as he took the punishment we deserve upon himself
-believing and trusting fully in Christ and his finished work (justification), and allowing him to transform your life (sanctification)
Of course so much more can be said, and entire libraries are filled with books that have been written about all this. Moreover, different Christian traditions will have some differing emphases and the like. I write from an evangelical Protestant point of view, and those in the Orthodox, Catholic, and liberal Protestant camps would have other ways of looking at all this.
A few further reflections
As to what I just mentioned above, I would simply say that ultimately we must look to God’s word to decide these matters, even though discussion, debate and differences will likely always be with us as we seek to understand and apply those basic biblical truths.
But to finish this piece, let me share a few things that come up from a recent discussion I had with an online friend. He has said he is on a journey, and wanted to know more about my thoughts, especially given that I had just recently wrote a piece on Jordan Peterson and his spiritual journey.
I said in that article that Peterson is moving in the right direction it seems, but we cannot be sure where he is at. I mentioned that we do not hear him talking in terms of things like repentance and being born again. This online friend asked me about this.
I replied: “As to being born again, that is crystal clear: it of course comes from the direct words of Jesus in John 3:1-15 which you should have read somewhere along the line. It has to do with the need to be spiritually reborn.” Verses 3-8 say this:
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
My friend wrote back saying he was aware of the passage, and then asked: “Why do you think it’s important JP says he’s born again and what does being born again mean to you personally?” Here is how I answered him:
Thanks again. My concern for Peterson is of course the same concern I have for everyone else on the planet. Jesus said you MUST be born again. Not having a spiritual rebirth means we stay lost in our sins and headed for a lost eternity. The New Testament is fairly clear on how this is remedied: Christ took the punishment we deserved on the cross, so that those who come to him in faith and repentance can be made right with God and live with him forever.
Thus Protestants tend to use the same language that Jesus used of the necessity of being born again. But as I said in my piece, the exact terminology is not so crucial – but the reality of the actual experience most certainly is. So my prayer for Peterson and all others who may not yet have a saving relationship with Christ is that he does have that encounter. As I say, perhaps he has already taken some initial steps in this regard, and he is trying to get his head around it all. As such, he can only go so far with Jungian concepts and terms, but needs to now start thinking biblically.
At the end of the day only God knows the human heart perfectly, and knows those who are truly his. But just as Peterson can now say atheism is no longer viable for him, it is hoped that soon he can say what the former slave ship captain John Newton said in his old age: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.”
Speaking of which, my own personal story is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/
But having said that, it is not so much an issue of what being born again means to me personally – or to anyone else – but what God has said in his Word about what it means, why it is so important, and whether we have individually made that decision for ourselves.
So this article is not just for this fellow, but anyone who is wondering about Christianity, and how one can get right with God. At the very least, carefully consider the biblical passages I mentioned above. There is no more important matter that you will ever consider.
It really is a matter of life and death – with eternal consequences.
In a recent piece I spoke about how we are all different and how we are all of differing journeys. This includes Christians: they will grow in different ways, at different speeds, with different needs, and so on. But this is true of conversion as well. We are not all saved in the same way. Each conversion story is unique (although with some basic core features, as discussed above).
Here I simply want to briefly mention one book that is worth being aware of. Fuller professor of evangelism Richard Peace penned a book back in 1999 called Conversion in the New Testament: Paul and the Twelve (Eerdmans). In it he compares and contrasts the conversion of Saul in the book of Acts with that of the 12 disciples in the Gospel of Mark.
His thesis (elaborated upon in 400 pages) is that conversions differ. While Saul had a dramatic and instantaneous conversion, the 12 had a slow process of conversion that took place over some time. Simply think of Peter before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and before Pentecost, and after.
All that is something to bear in mind as we reflect on how people get saved, and how these things can so very much differ from one individual to the next.