WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?
Two thousand years ago this question was put to Peter – one of Jesus Christ’s closest friends and followers. His answer was: “Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit.”
In the Gospel of John Jesus answers this question many times over eg. “The work that God requires is to believe in the One he sent (ie Jesus).” (John 6.29) “What my father wants is that all who look to the Son (ie Jesus) and believe in him should have eternal life.” (John 6.40) “This is eternal life that they may know you the only True God and Jesus the Messiah whom you sent.” (John 17.3)
How to respond?
People come to believe and begin the journey of faith in many and diverse ways. For some the experience of finding Jesus Christ for themselves is a very subtle and gradual thing. For others it can be sudden and dramatic. For me it was a bit of both! But if you are asking how you might intentionally and consciously begin the Christian life,then let me offer a simple approach. It is one that helped me begin this journey thirty two years ago! Here is a simple ABCDEF approach to beginning the Christian life. I hope you might find it helpful.
A) ACCEPT the words and teachings of Jesus Christ – recorded for us by his closest friends and followers in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament.
At some point we each choose what source of information to trust the most – be it Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, SBS or CNN! When the New Testament writings were gathered together as a group in the 100s A.D. the churches only included those writings which ALL the churches worldwide accepted had a close connection with those whom Jesus had personally selected, trained and authorised.
Those criteria were chosen so that we can be confident that in the writings of the New Testament reside the closest written sources to the life and teaching of Jesus himself. That is why Christians relate to these writings as definitive of our faith. As Jesus once said to his twelve disciples, “I chose you and appointed you…whoever receives anyone I send receives me also; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (John 15.16, John 13.20)
B) BELIEVE in Jesus and make a deliberate point of acting on his teachings. Becoming a Christian most essentially means a decision to believe in Jesus – the way a child believes in his/her parents or an apprentice believes in their trainer, or a team believes in its coach or its best scorer. Believing in Jesus this same way will create changes in your life as you allow his teachings to take priority over your previous motivations, habits of thought and patterns of life. These teachings are unpacked in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament.
Jesus said “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. I too will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14.21) “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God – what is good and pleasing to him…” (Romans 12.2) This holistic kind of change is what Peter meant when he used that word “repent” in the answer I quoted at the top of the page.
C) COMMIT yourself publicly to Jesus Christ. A private decision isn’t really a decision at all. A public decision holds you to your word. That’s why, in the Gospels, Jesus tells us to be unembarrassed to speak about the trust we are putting in him. Jesus said, “Those who declare publicly that they belong to me I will do the same for them before my father in heaven.” (Matthew 10.32)
D) DO what the New Testament teaches. We will not transformed by simply changing our opinions! Transformation comes only as we allow the teachings of Jesus to begin to reshape our way of life, turning from former beliefs and habits and always preferring Jesus’ teaching as communicated through the New Testament.
Jesus’ brother James writes in his letter in the New Testament, “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead put it into practice!” (James 1.22) Jesus said “Anyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice is like foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded, the wind blew hard against that house and it fell. And what a terrible fall it was.”(Matthew 7.26)
E) EVERYDAY find a time and a place to be quiet, speak aloud with God, ask Him questions and read a bit of the Bible. Start with Jesus ie the Gospels and New Testament. And everyday find somewhere you can talk out loud to God. This is the life of prayer. It is sometimes called the “contemplative life”.
As you talk to God, thank Him for everything you can think of. Ask him for your needs. Ask him to place his Holy Spirit in your heart and mind. Speak to Jesus about your life and ask for wisdom to know what to do. Tell Him that you want to know Him for yourself and have Him always in your life. All this can feel strange at first and it can feel like you are talking to the wall. It may be hard to believe that the Creator of the Universe can hear you as you speak. But persist, and note in a journal anything you believe maybe God’s replies to your questions and concerns.
Jesus said “It is the asking one who receives.” (Matthew 7.8) “Bad as you are you know how to give good gifts to your children. How much more then will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”(Luke 11.13) “If anyone lacks wisdom he should ask God…” (James 1.5) Jesus teaches a pattern for prayer in Matthew 6.5-14 and Luke 11.1-13.
ENJOY seeing God respond to your prayers sending answers through other people, through revealing things to you through his Bible and in all sorts of amazing ways. Like the Psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34.8)
F) FIND others who are as serious as you are about allowing Jesus to transform you, lead you, bless you and befriend you. Find a group or household of people who you click with and who are willing to befriend you and encourage you in your journey of faith. Jesus’ teachings are meant to be followed not by lone individuals but by groups of people. The New Testament word “church” simply means “group”.
Read Romans 12.9-13 and Acts 2.44-47 for a picture of what Christian group-life can be like. “Let us be concerned for one another to help one another to show love and to do good. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together…instead let us encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10.24-25)
If you are embarking on this journey of faith for the first time, please let me know via firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to encourage you, pray for you personally and send you some resources to encourage you on your way. May God Bless You richly and lead you always. Amen.
PS Back in the day as I was first embarking on this journey of faith in Jesus, this was a song that spoke for me. It may speak for you too. Enjoy…