Definition of a Christian
The word ʻChristianʼ has different meanings to different people (see Topic 11). The common cultural meaning of the term is a baptized church member who works hard to live a good life. According to the Bible, however, many people who think they are Christians by that criteria are really not Christians at all, and they are not qualified for heaven.
The Bible provides a very specific test for who is, and who is not, a Christian. By Godʼs definition, a Christian is a person who believes and acts upon this statement of faith:
Salvation is by grace alone through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
This statement is the succinct summary of Godʼs message in the Bible. The central message is not about being good, but about the need for a savior. God offers a savior (see Topics 54-59), and everyone who accepts his offer is a Christian.
Acceptance of Godʼs offer is a very specific act of faith (expressed as a prayer) made by the individual in a personal encounter with him.
Becoming a Christian is NOT something received from an organization as a privilege of membership or as an award for compliance or sacrifice. It is NOT a reward for good works. It is NOT the result of baptism. It is NOT bestowed by someone elseʼs prayer. It IS the individualʼs own decision to accept Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord (see Topic 45).
The decision to become a Christian is a specific, conscious act of the will, usually at a memorable time and place. Just as a marriage is consummated with a solemn ʻI do,ʼ a personal relationship with God is consummated with a solemn prayer to receive Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. This is spiritual birth – the way one becomes a Christian – and the beginning of a new and better life, including Godʼs promise of heaven after death.
How to become a Christian
When a person becomes a Christian, he doesnʼt just take a label to identify with a philosophy or group (like joining a political party)… he doesnʼt just determine to live a better life (like making a New Yearʼs resolution)… he doesnʼt just get help (like going to a counselor)… he doesnʼt just embrace a new religion (like becoming a New Ager). The decision to become a Christian is more profound and more important than any other kind of decision.
When a person becomes a Christian, he receives an amazing free gift from God which consists of three components: (1) pardon from all sin, (2) Holy Spirit within, and (3) eternal life in heaven. This gift causes such a positive transformation that the person is literally ʻborn againʼ (Godʼs words) and enters a new realm of spiritual life unknown to those who havenʼt experienced it.
Hereʼs how to become a Christian:
In prayer (aloud or silent, alone or with someone), in your own words from your heart, talk to God as follows:
- From what you learned in Topic 2, humbly acknowledge him as supreme creator and ruler of the universe.
- From what you learned in Topic 59, confess your sins (at least your general sin nature), repent of your sins (express sorrow for them), and state your sincere desire not to repeat them.
- From what you learned in Topic 54, thank him for his offer to exchange your sins for Jesus Christʼs righteousness.
- From what you learned in Topic 55, tell him that you gratefully accept his offer and that you take Jesus Christ as your personal savior and want his Holy Spirit to take control of your life.
This needs to be done only once. If youʼre not sure whether or not youʼve ever really done this as a clear and decisive act of your own will, do it again now to be absolutely sure. Repeating wonʼt hurt, but omission is fatal.
Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
I John 1:9
God will forgive our sins if we confess them
I Peter 3:18
Christ died for sins once for all, to bring us to God
No one can come to God except through Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ came so that we can have a full and abundant life
Whoever accepts Jesus Christ as personal savior exchanges his sin for Christʼs righteousness
Whoever accepts Jesus Christ as personal savior becomes a part of Godʼs family
John 3:16, John 5:24, I John 5:11-13
Whoever accepts Jesus Christ as personal savior receives eternal life
We are saved by grace through faith, not by good works
Jesus explains how to be ʻborn againʼ and experience a new and better life
For help, see Topic 29.