More about the Christian life

How to Become a Christian

You might be familiar with the yellow Four Spiritual Laws booklet or the older Romans Road technique that some people use for evangelism. Maybe you were trained in using them, or maybe someone approached you with them. I even knew someone who included the booklets in his Christmas cards one year, but later regretted it as having been in poor taste. Both of these techniques involve a series of Bible verses, and end in a prayer that is supposed to transform the potential convert instantly into a Christian, like turning a frog into a prince.

Recently someone flattered me by asking me for a technique like that and requested that I post it on my web site. However, I don’t really like using steps to become a Christian for these reasons:

The people who use these techniques to make converts often have to deal with the problem that there is no visible transformation in the person’s life, that the person does not start coming to church, or that the person complains, after praying, that they didn’t feel anything. They deal with this by saying that it is an inner transformation, and that it has nothing to do with behavior or feelings. I have to confess that I am skeptical that anything has changed when nothing has changed.

However, someone did ask me for the steps to becoming a Christian, and I had to answer it one way or the other. As I thought about it, I realized that it is hard to go somewhere without a road map, and that a list of steps can be very helpful to those who are seeking. So in spite of myself, I came up with some steps!

Since being a Christian is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we have to ask what form that relationship should take. Making Jesus into your imaginary friend misses the point; you should have gotten over imaginary friends when you were eight or nine years old. Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is founded on our faith in Him; that is, we trust Him. I observe that if you trust someone, you take his advice. If you say you trust him, but you do not take his advice, you are just humoring him. So we should ask ourselves if we are truly trusting Jesus or just humoring him. If we trust Him, we take His advice. Actually, Jesus didn’t give us advice, He gave us commandments. Our relationship is not founded in obligation, but in love. We should love Him so much that obeying His commandments becomes our highest priority and our greatest joy.

If you love me, you will obey what I command.
—John 14:15, NIV

So here are my steps for becoming a Christian:

Then repeat the following steps for the rest of your life:

Now I realize this isn’t as easy as the Four Spiritual Laws or as the Romans Road, and that it does not give instant results. In fact, it takes your entire lifetime to do it!

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
—Mark 10:24, NIV

For this reason, I am leery of the instant-Christian-just-add-a-one-minute-prayer method.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
—Matthew 7:13, NIV

Repent of your sins and be baptized

I said before that no one in the Bible ever asked anyone else to “make Jesus their Lord,” to “take Jesus as their savior,” or to “ask Jesus into their heart.” The reason is that we do not have any choice in these matters. Jesus is already our Lord, He is already our Savior, and He already knows the secrets of our hearts. It’s not a matter of making or taking or asking, it is a matter of resisting or confessing—confessing that even though we denied these facts in the past, they have been true all along.

Therefore Scripture does not ask us to make Jesus Lord, but to confess that He already is. On Pentecost, when the people in the crowd asked Peter how to become Christians, he did not whip out a little yellow book of spiritual laws:

Peter replied, “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 2:38, NIV

Notice that Peter does not say, “repent, receive the Holy Spirit, and be baptized.” The order is repentance, baptism, and then the Holy Spirit. For this reason, after converts were baptized in the ancient church, the bishop breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Peter says, “repent of your sins.” That means you have to admit all of the bad things you’ve done and promise Jesus that you won’t do it again. It’s more fun to skip this part, but in the long run, it is better if you do it.

Repeat these Steps for the Rest of your Life

Since it is the Christian walk, not the Christian wheelchair, or even the Christian been-there-done-that, there’s more to being a Christian than just walking over the threshold into salvation and sitting down. We do not walk up to Jesus and say, “You are Lord,” and then go about our business; we follow Him. We follow Him all the days of our lives, and that entails doing the remaining steps all the day of our lives.

Be connected with other believers

When I say you should be connected with other believers, I don’t mean that you should attend a church regularly, though that is a part of it. You are part of the Body of Christ, and you should be part of all of it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
—1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV

That means you should be part of all Christians:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
—Revelation 7:9a, NIV

Don’t stop with your church leaders, or your denomination. Don’t stop with the Reformation. Include Christians with different viewpoints than yours; include the early Church fathers, and the Eastern Orthodox. (I once told a parishioner not to get his theology from the Reformation, because it was an argument. The two sides didn’t discuss what they agreed on.)

And there is a purpose to being connected with other Christians:

So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.
—Romans 7:4, NIV

Notice he says, “bear fruit,” and that leads us to additional steps.

Develop disciplines of good deeds, prayer, and fasting

In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us three duties of a Christian: good deeds, prayer, and fasting. I’ve just quoted the beginnings of the three sections of this passage, because I want to make a point—but you should read the full text on your own:

So when you give to the needy…
—Matthew 6:2a, NIV
 
And when you pray…
—Matthew 6:5a
 
When you fast…
—Matthew 6:16a

Notice that Jesus does not say, “if you elect to give to the needy,” or “if you should happen to pray,” or “if you decide to fast.” Jesus assumes that we do them. He says, “when you give,” “when you pray,” and “when you fast.” Therefore we must develop a lifestyle of doing good deeds for others, praying, and fasting. Or we could say: social action, worship, and self-discipline.

There are people who keep prayer diaries, marking down what they asked for and how God answered it. Perhaps we should keep track of ourselves rather than God. Why not keep an obedience diary instead? Perhaps you could get together with some Christian friends and work out an agreement about how you will do this, then meet every week for mutual support.

Do not fight your enemies, love them

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
—Matthew 5:43-46, NIV

Now it is real easy to develop a discipline of doing good deeds for other people in your family or in your church, but Jesus isn’t impressed with that. Even people in the Mafia love each other. It is no credit to you that you love the people who love you. By all means love them, but don’t count that as obedience in your obedience diary.

When you develop your discipline of doing good things for other people, make sure you do them for people outside your family, who don’t go to church, who are total strangers, or who are even enemies. Imagine how transformative it would be if you did something nice for your adversary in office politics, or the neighbor that no one can stand.

Do not denounce sinners, love them

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
—Luke 6:37, NIV

It is all the rage these days—and the word “rage” strikes me as doubly appropriate—to denounce sinners. I think it is very dangerous to cordon off entire chunks of the human race and condemn them as a group. For one thing, it is very difficult to make a category of people without omitting some who should be in it, or including some who should not. There are always gray areas, too. It isn’t a right judgment. Most importantly, judging others makes you just as sinful as the people you condemn, because judging others is itself a sin.

We are allowed to have standards for members of our church, but we are not allowed to judge those outside.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
—1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NIV

Live in harmony with all

Occasionally people become “successes,” and suddenly none of their friends are good enough for them any more. They move in different social circles, and begin to treat waiters and janitors with condescension. That even happens to people when they become Christians! They forsake their friends and loved ones, pal around only with like-minded people, and treat people whom they think are not Christians with contempt. This is definitely not the way to go. If you remove yourself from your former associations, who is going to be a Christian witness to them? And by “witness” I don’t mean by what you say to them, I mean by the way you treat them.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
—Romans 12:16, NIV

Remain perpetually in a state of confession

Some people think that confessing their sins at the point of conversion is all they need to do. It would be nice if that were true, because owning up to faults and sins is hard and embarrassing to do. Face it, no matter what your theology teaches, you mess up after you become a Christian. If you don’t confess your sins to the Lord, but simply think of the mitigating circumstances and excuse yourself, your forgiveness does not come from the Lord, but from yourself.

John, writing to people who are already Christians, says:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
—1 John 1:9-10, NIV

From time to time, you should sit down and think about your life. Every time you remember something painful, something bad you did, something you’d rather forget, or something that makes you wince every time you think of it—confess it to the Lord. Make it your goal that when you come to the end of your life, you will be fully confessed. It isn’t fun at first, but it will do you a lot of good—you won’t be suppressing anything, and you’ll be at peace with yourself.

You should not restrict your confessing to God. If you have wronged someone, you should admit it and make it up to them; and if someone asks you for forgiveness, you should readily give it, because Jesus teaches us to pray:

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
—Luke 11:4, NIV

Let us not be found liars before God.

Perpetually Becoming a Christian

There was an ancient Eastern Orthodox saint who said that we should apply the blessings of Scripture to others and the warnings of Scripture to ourselves, because we do not know what is in other people’s hearts, but we do know what is in our own. I think that sums up things pretty well. It’s a great way to live.

If you do these things, you will not only be in the process of becoming a Christian, you will always be in the process of becoming truly transformed, from the innermost parts of your soul to the outermost tips of your fingers, into the glory and likeness of Jesus Christ.