WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN?
In the Book of Acts
Two thousand years ago a diverse, international crowd of Jewish believers, who had gathered in Jerusalem for a religious festival, saw a group of people demonstrating a powerful and exciting connection with God. The crowd listened to the group’s leader explain the unfamiliar phenomena they were witnessing. At the end of his address, the crowd asks: “What then should we do?”
The question was put to Peter – one of Jesus Christ’s closest friends and followers. Peter’s answer was: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and your sins will be forgiven and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit.”
The word word repent means to go “beyond [your] mind.” Change your mind. Transform your way of thinking.
In the Gospels
The phrase “becoming a Christian” is not one you will find in the Gospels or the New Testament. However the Gospel of John records Jesus addressing the same “What then should we do?” question many times over:
- “The work that God requires is to believe in the sent one.” (John 6.29)
- “What my father wants is that all who look to the son 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 anointed one whom you sent.” (John 17.3)
Rather than use the language of “becoming a Christian, the Gospels simply put out information about Jesus and then ask, “How will you respond to Jesus and to his teaching?”
In the New Testament
The New Testament’s language for those who decide “Yes” to the above question is simply Believers.
People come to a place belief in all kinds of different ways. For some it can a subtle, gradual thing. For others it can be a sudden, dramatic change. (For me it was a bit of both!)
But if you are asking how to set out to follow of Jesus in a deliberate, intentional way, then let me offer this simple A,B,C,D,E approach to get started. I hope you find it helpful. It is one that helped me begin this journey 40 years ago!
A) Choose to 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.
In an era of propaganda and fake news, we are learning more and more to think carefully about which sources of information we trust, from the least to the most. Among the plethora of historic documents and spiritual texts, why would we trust the Bible’s collection of Gospels about Jesus?
When the New Testament writings were first gathered together as a group in the 100s A.D. the churches included in the official canon only those writings which ALL the churches worldwide agreed had a close connection with Jesus’ Twelve Apostles – those whom Jesus had personally selected, trained and sent to teach. This criterion was used to ensure that any reader can be confident that in those particular writings reside the closest written sources to the life and teaching of Jesus himself.
Jesus once said to his Twelve Apostles, “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)
The Early Church saw accepting to the Apostolic writings as the practical implication of accepting The Sender – ie Jesus.
NOTE: This is not to rubbish or irrelevance other ancient texts and traditions. The Gospel of Thomas and the “Q sayings” (shared by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke) represent the very earliest testament to the teachings of Jesus. Early Christian believers happily read a kaleidoscope of texts – including Plato, the Stoics and the Gnostic texts – as well as those texts that made it into the canon of the New Testament. Similarly, believers today should not be fearful of reading any literature outside of the canonical writings. Originally the purpose of identifying a list or canon for the New Testament was to underline the writings that were accepted across the whole of the Early Church as carrying the legacy of the original band of Apostles appointed by Jesus himself.
Transformation comes as we allow the teachings of Jesus to reshape our way of thinking and living. 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 Jesus said “Those who accept my teachings and follow them are the ones who love me. I too will love them and reveal myself to them” (John 14.21)”
Jesus’ famous follower, the Apostle Paul, said, “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)”
B) BE PUBLIC about your desire to follow the way of Jesus.
Being public about your intention brings a certain accountability for your choice. That’s why, in the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers to be unembarrassed to speak unashamedly about their confidence in Jesus. He 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)”
The mutual recognition Jesus talked about is an important aspect of the Christian rite of Baptism. It is a declaration of intent. It’s why the second part of Peter’s answer was “And be Baptized!”
Jesus himself taught his followers to “Go to all peoples everywhere and turn people into learners (disciples), baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching people to do all the kinds of things I have taught you.” (Matthew 28.18-20)”
If you would like to be baptized, find a follower of Jesus, or a pastor, who is willing to baptize you. If at all possible, invite some significant friends and family to share the moment with you and so make it a public and prophetic action in the spirit of the baptisms of the time of Jesus and the Apostles.
C) COMMUNE WITH GOD. Everyday find a quiet place to commune with God.
Speaking one time to an audience in Athens who knew very little about the Jewish or Christian understanding of GOD, the Apostle Paul found he had to define GOD from scratch. He said that by GOD he meant, “The Source of the Cosmos and everything in it…that in which we all live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17)
His words tell us that every one of us is intimately connected with GOD. We couldn’t possibly be closer or more intimately connected. It means you have no need to feel anxious about closeness to or distance from GOD your Source. It also means you and I can tap profund thoughts and information, and do powerful and transformative things – because there is no separation between us and the Source of the Cosmos.
So, as often as you can, take time to be alone and enjoy a sense of connection with GOD the Source of the Cosmos and Everything in it. Speak aloud, express your thoughts and desires. Look and feel for signs of GOD’s presence, assistance and guidance. Ask GOD questions and expect his answers to come quickly through your own thoughts, things read, seen and heard, and through the words and actions of others. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34.8)
Ask for wisdom and insight. Begin getting to know the Gospels and New Testament. Read, expecting to find answers to your questions. This communing is traditionally called the “contemplative life”.
Develop a habit of gratitude, expressing thankfulness for everything you have and enjoy. Ask GOD confidently for the universe to provide you with things you need. Invite the Holy Spirit of GOD to flow in and through your innermost being. The Biblical words for “spirit” mean “wind” and “breath.” This is the language of the New Testament for our personal connection with GOD-the-Source. Jesus said “It is the asking one who receives.” (Matthew 7.8) and “If anyone lacks wisdom he should ask God…” (James 1.5)
These habits can feel strange at first – like you are talking to the wall. It may be hard to believe that the Source of the Cosmos will notice or engage with you at a personal level. But form the habit and be sure to note in a journal anything you believe maybe Divine responses. When some time later you look back on your notes you will find it is easy to spot the Inspiration. (Jesus teaches a pattern for prayer in Matthew 6.5-14 and Luke 11.1-13.)
D) DIG DEEPER with others who are as sincere as you are about seeking truth and knowing GOD more genuinely.
Find people who you really click with and who are willing to befriend you and encourage you in your journey of faith without dominating or controlling you or taking over your life.
You might find such a group of fellow seekers in a home, in a traditional church building, or among a circle of friends. The setting is not important. Just be proactive in finding people you click with and who are as sincere as you are about knowing God and seeking the truth of things – and who encourage you in your faith and life. This is the real meaning of “fellowship” or “church.”
There is no obligation to join a church. Deciding to follow Jesus and deciding to join a church are not the same thing. So don’t feel any unnecessary pressure to commit to a particular group or organisation, and don’t let yourself be pressured. In the New Testament we encounter people as well as followers of Jesus as groups and as individuals. If you join a group, be careful not to let yourself fall into group-think. Never stop thinking for yourself. Always weigh carefully what others tell you and be ready to trust your own instincts. Don’t give away your personal sovreignty. (Only a cult will ask you to do that. )
“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)
Romans 12.9-13 and Acts 2.44-47 give a picture of how good Christian group-life can be at its best.
E) ENJOY EXPERIENCING this life – in which we “live and move and have our being” in GOD. (Apostle Paul’s words from Acts 17.) The message Jesus first toured with according to the Gospel of Matthew can be translated, “Go beyond your mind, because to realm of the cosmos (the kingdom of heaven) is available to you.” (Matthew 4:7) Jesus later said, “Anyone who believes in me will do the things I have been doing – these and even greater things!” (John 14:12) ENJOY EXPLORING the implications of this incredible invitation.
If you are just embarking on this journey of faith, please let me know via the Contact Page of this website. I would love to encourage you on your way.
May GOD, the Source of the Cosmos and everything in it, enrich you and lead you always. Amen.