When a person becomes a Christian, he becomes part of God’s large family.

WE DONʼT HAVE TO CLEAN UP FIRST

God will accept us just the way we are. We don’t have to clean up our lives to meet him. If we had to change our ways as a prerequisite to meeting him, then salvation would involve our own good works. But the Bible says clearly that salvation is a free gift and that good works has nothing to do with it.

A vivid example is the criminal who was crucified at the same time as Jesus. Hanging on an adjacent cross, he acknowledged that Jesus was God and asked for eternal life. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ There was no way the condemned criminal could rectify his life by himself. He simply came to Jesus as a needy sinner, but that was enough for him to receive the gift of eternal life in heaven.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Ephesian 2:8-9
New life is a free gift from God; good works is a by-product, not a precondition

Luke 23:40-43
Jesus says thief on the cross will be in heaven

I John 1:9
God will forgive if we will confess

Isaiah 64:6
Our righteous acts are like filthy rags

For help, see Topic 29.

The decision to become a Christian may or may not be accompanied by much emotion.

BIOLOGICALLY, NO ONE IS BORN A CHRISTIAN

A person may be born into a Christian culture, a Christian family, or the Christian religion, but no one is ever born a ‘Christian.’

A person becomes a Christian, in God’s definition, by personal decision, never by biological birth.

No one can chose the circumstances of his birth or upbringing, but everyone who has heard about God’s offer of new life must choose whether or not to accept the offer.

When a person accepts it, he becomes a Christian. As long as he rejects (or ignores) the offer, he’s not a Christian, even though he may espouse Christian principles, exhibit Christian virtues and become a baptized member of a Christian church.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 3:36
Indecision about Christ is a decision against him

John 14:6, Acts 4:12
Jesus Christ is the only way

John 3:16, John 3:36, John 6:40
“Whoever believes” are key words for eternal life

Luke 23:39-43
Jesusʼ conversation with thief on the cross, a gift of grace not a reward for good works

Titus 3:-4-7
Not saved by good things we do

Genesis 5:21-24, Hebrews 11:5-6
Enoch pleased God and in heaven even though he didnʼt know about Jesus

Genesis 15:6
Righteousness ʻcreditedʼ to Abraham even though he didnʼt know about Jesus

John 3:35, I Corinthians 15:27-28
God has now placed everything in Jesusʼ hands

For help, see Topic 29.

A person doesn’t become a Christian by living a good life.

AN OFFER IS WITHOUT BENEFIT UNTIL ACCEPTED

The best offer in the world is worthless unless it’s accepted. In legal terms, there’s no deal without offer and acceptance.

It’s of no consequence that a person is too busy to hear or fully understand the offer. If he has notice that an offer is being made, it’s his responsibility to investigate it. Failure to investigate means forfeiting all benefits that could accrue from it.

MOST FANTASTIC PRODUCT IS OFFERED BY GOD

It demeans God’s plan to make it ordinary and mundane, and to present it as a commercial product. That’s why, in awe and respect for the majesty of Almighty God, special theological terms are used to explain him and his dealing with us.

Jesus sometimes used illustrations from the commercial world of his day (sower, vinyard, shepherd, etc.) to help explain the plan. So, for just a moment, without being disrespectful, let’s re-state God’s offer in a format that would be common in our product-dominated world today.

“Salvation” is the respectful theological term and concept, but ‘New Life product’ is the way a secular person might think about it.

The first thing to notice about this product: How important is it? Very! Nothing is more important than our happiness now and our eternal destiny after death.

The second thing to notice: Who’s offering it? The designer and creator of the universe! If God is capable of designing an amazing universe which we personally observe and use every day, we have confidence that he’s capable of designing a good and durable life for us. No product carries a better name than this one.

The third thing to notice: What are its benefits? The benefits (in box above and explained throughout this handbook) are fantastic! Properly understood, everyone wants them. There’s nothing else that can do what this product will do.

The fourth thing to notice: What’s the price? Here it gets a little questionable. The ‘free’ part is good, but the ‘confession’ part is hard on the ego. It means saying that we can’t do these things ourselves, and we become totally dependent upon the product. That idea goes against our I’ll-do-it-my-way nature.

The fifth thing to notice: How do I get it? Even though the product is free, no one gets the benefits automatically. Individually, a person has to make a willful decision whether or not he or she wants this product, and if so, must then have a personal submissive encounter with God and ask for it (for salvation). That’s the hard part, and most people either don’t understand the need for this encounter or they postpone the pick-up because they think they have other more important things to do first. A product offered does no good until accepted.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 3:16, John 3:36, John 6:40
“Whoever believes” are key words for eternal life

John 3:36
Indecision about Christ is a decision against him

Revelation 3:30
God is standing at the door of our life, asking if we will accept his offer and let him in

For help, see Topic 29.

Baptism is not what makes a Christian. It’s an outer sign of an inner decision.

BAPTISM DOESNʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A person becomes a Christian by accepting God’s offer. The Bible says this is the only way.

Baptism doesn’t make a person a Christian, but baptism is the outward sign – a public declaration – that he is a Christian.

BIBLE SAYS CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE BAPTIZED

The Bible says clearly that everyone who accepts God’s offer of new life – everyone who becomes a Christian – should be baptized with water.

Baptism was practiced by religious people long before Jesus Christ came. For example, Jews baptized Gentiles who wanted to join the Jewish faith.

There is little detail given in the Bible about how baptism should be performed. The Bible was written at a time when ceremonialism and magic were very prevalent, and any strong emphasis upon baptism would have been taken in a magical sense and called too much attention to an outward physical act.

Baptism was demonstrated by Jesus when, as an adult, he and others were baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist in a public display. There are other baptisms reported in the Bible, but with different circumstances and even less detail. However, all appear to have occurred promptly after the new Christians accepted God’s offer of new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

BAPTISM OF HOLY SPIRIT IS ANOTHER KIND OF BAPTISM

The Bible also speaks of the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit,’ which means God’s spirit entering a person when he receives new life (see Mark 1:8, Acts 1:5 and Topic 44). In a narrower sense, that term is used by some people to refer to the experience of ‘speaking in tongues’ (see Topic 65).

BAPTISM IS DECLARATION OF NEW LIFE IN CHRIST

When a person is baptized, he publicly declares that:

  1. He has died to the old life. Water portrays the washing away of sin. Going into the water symbolizes his death to the sins of the past. Coming out of the water symbolizes the beginning of his new life.
  2. He has a new power for living. He testifies that his spirit is connected with God’s spirit (Holy Spirit).
  3. He is joining the Christian community. He becomes a part of the world-wide fellowship of people who have found new life in Christ and love one another.
  4. He is sealing a new agreement. It’s like a hand-shake in a deal or giving a ring in a marriage ceremony. This new agreement, initiated by God, is that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him and therefore he doesn’t have to pay the penalty for his own sins.

Baptism is especially significant in non-Christian cultures because it boldly plants the flag of faith for all to see. In environments hostile to Christianity, baptism is often followed by persecution.

SOME PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BE BAPTIZED TWICE

Some people who were baptized as infants – before personally accepting Jesus Christ as savior – choose to be baptized again as adults with full under- standing and testimony of what baptism means to them, as distinguished from, or complimentary to, what it meant to their parents.

Christians disagree on proper form of baptism

Because the Bible doesnʼt state specifically how baptism should be performed, and because the baptisms reported in the Bible donʼt fit a tight pattern, Christians often disagree over the proper form of it.

Immersion vs. Sprinkling

Baptism is expressed in the Bible by two Greek verbs (bapto and baptidzo) and two nouns (baptisma and baptismos). These same words are also used in other contexts in the Bible where they sometimes mean to ʻdipʼ or ʻwash.ʼ

Some say baptism must always be by complete immersion in water. They regard immersion to be more vivid and symbolic than baptism by sprinkling or by pouring, and they believe itʼs the correct way because thatʼs the way Jesus did it.

Others say baptism may properly be performed by immersion but that itʼs not the only valid way. They cite the varied uses of the above verbs and nouns throughout the Bible.

Also, they point to circumstances in some of the recorded baptisms in the Bible which make it seem unlikely that there was enough water for a person to be completely submersed.

Adult (believer) vs. Infant (household)

Some say that baptism is to be administered only to those who have made a clear personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and thus infants are excluded until they are old enough to comprehend and accept Godʼs offer themselves.

Others say itʼs proper for adults to be baptized as an expression of their faith in Jesus Christ but that their infant children can – and should – also be baptized as a sign that this is a Christian family (and part of the church). They cite statements in the Bible that refer to baptism as the Christian counterpart of Jewish circumcision (performed on infants). They also cite reports in the Bible where entire households – presumably parents plus children and servants – were baptized spontaneously.

Some say that infant baptism is valid only if the individual makes a ʻconfirmationʼ of it after heʼs old enough to fully comprehend and accept Jesus Christ as personal savior.

Most of what we know about the model Christian life is taught by Jesus and the Apostle Paul. We have no evidence that Jesus ever baptized anyone. Paul baptized people on a few occasions, but he said: ʻChrist did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospelʼ (I Corinthians 1:17). Both taught that Christians should be baptized as an outer sign of their inner decision, but both downplayed baptism enough, and left it nondescript enough, so we have no doubt that itʼs the personal faith, not the baptism, that gives new life.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Matthew 3:13-16, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22
Jesus is baptized

Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38-41
Christians should be baptized

Acts 8:36-39
Ethiopian treasury official is baptized

Acts 9:18
Paul is baptized

Acts 10:24,47-48
Cornelius and relatives and friends are baptized

Acts 16:14-15
Lydiaʼs household is baptized

Acts 16:31-33
Philippian jailerʼs household is baptized

I Corinthians 1:16
Stephanasʼ household is baptized

For help, see Topic 29.

A person becomes a Christian when he accepts God’s offer. This is spiritual birth.

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

John 14:6
No one can come to God except through Jesus Christ

John 10:10
Jesus Christ came so that we can have a full and abundant life

Romans 3:21-26
Whoever accepts Jesus Christ as personal savior exchanges his sin for Christʼs righteousness

John 1:12
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

Ephesians 2:8-9
We are saved by grace through faith, not by good works

John 3:1-21
Jesus explains how to be ʻborn againʼ and experience a new and better life

For help, see Topic 29.

God holds us accountable for the knowledge we have (or can easily get).

PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE:

IMPERSONAL PERSPECTIVE:

GOD SEEMS UNFAIR TO OTHERS

People usually don’t have trouble acknowledging God’s power, but they often have trouble accepting his justice. Common hang-ups about his justice are summarized in the following five objections:

OBJECTION 1. God brings us into this world as frail beings with a sinful nature, a condition beyond our control, and then he blames us for not being perfect, and condemns us to hell for it. That’s not fair!

OBJECTION 2. God offers salvation through Jesus Christ, but most people throughout the world and throughout history have been denied adequate information about him, and presumably they’ll go to hell for rejecting someone they haven’t heard about. That’s not fair!

OBJECTION 3. God allows bad things to happen to good people and good things to happen to bad people. That’s not fair!

OBJECTION 4. Someone can live a vile life but at the last minute before death accept Jesus Christ as savior and then have the same eternal benefits as others who have led good lives the whole time. That’s not fair!

OBJECTION 5. If salvation is a free gift and there’s nothing we can do to earn or enhance it, God has humiliated us and reduced us to helpless beggars. That’s not fair!

In the minds of many people, these objections prove that God is unfair in his dealings with us, and this perception makes it very difficult for them to respond to his offer.

However, these objections are only hypothetical arguments because we don’t know how God is dealing with every individual. For all we know, he may be dealing fairly with everyone on a personal basis just as he’s dealing fairly with you (see next column).

GOD IS FAIR TO YOU

The objections in the left column are valid ones, and they need answers. But answers make sense only when we understand that God is a personal God:

God has power and purposes beyond our comprehension, and therefore there are many things we’ll never understand. However, God is not a force or principle, but rather a divine person, with mind, will and emotion (see Topic 39). Everyone is made in his image (see Topic 7), and everyone is connected to him by a relationship, or disconnected for lack of one. A person doesn’t know about everyone else’s relationship with God, but he does know about his own, and to him that’s all that matters.

Therefore, because we lack facts and mental capacity, the real question is not Is God fair? but rather Is God fair to YOU?

Here’s how the objections look when you move from an impersonal perspective to a personal perspective:

With regard to OBJECTION 1, it’s true that you were born with a sin nature and destined for hell (see Topic 60), but there’s nothing unfair about it for YOU because others are in the same condition and because YOU can easily, instantly and freely accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior and thus be pardoned from all YOUR sin. Never mind what God may do for others, or how he may do it, this is what he will do for YOU!

With regard to OBJECTION 2, the concern about people who have been denied information doesn’t pertain to YOU because YOU have essential information about Jesus Christ. In ways you may not understand, God will deal fairly with people who haven’t had an opportunity to hear about Jesus.

With regard to OBJECTION 3, is it not fair that God gives YOU (and everyone) free will? When we live in community and everyone has free will, is it not inevitable that we will often get hurt? The things that happen in this earthly life are temporary and random, in a sin-scarred world (see Topics 47, 48 and 49). That’s why God offers YOU a savior and heaven.

With regard to OBJECTION 4, God’s justice is based more on love than on fairness, and thus his justice is more than fair (see Topic 51, where Jesus explains this principle in his own words). Regardless of the way God may express his love to others, he’s fair in his offer to YOU.

With regard to OBJECTION 5, YOU are a helpless beggar before Almighty God. That’s hard on the ego, but it’s the key point. Is it not fair for the creator to expect you to acknowledge him for his supreme majesty and holiness? Stubborn self- pride can be the deal-breaker for YOU and send YOU to hell. God is fair because he offers to adopt YOU into his own family, but it’s YOUR choice.

UNFAIRNESS ISSUES ARE USUALLY SMOKE SCREENS

People who have adequate knowledge of Jesus Christ but don’t accept him as personal savior because they say they’re hung up on fairness issues are usually just putting up smoke screens for their real reasons, such as: (1) too much pride to submit to God, (2) too busy pursuing personal ambitions, or (3) unwillingness to let God make life-style changes. The smoke screens may fool other people, but they don’t fool God.

WEʼRE ACCOUNTABLE FOR ACTING ON WHAT WE KNOW

Some people are privileged at this point in time to know more about God than others. God is just, and he takes this into account. ‘Progressive revelation’ is his method (see Topic 27).

God doesn’t ask us to accept him (Jesus Christ) as a world, as a nation, as a church or as a family, but as an INDIVIDUAL when we receive knowledge of his offer. It’s a personal thing.

It doesn’t matter what other people know or don’t know. What’s important is what we know and how we respond to our own personal knowledge.

Even if a person – like someone scanning this handbook – doesn’t have much information about the Bible and God’s offer, he’s at least been put on notice that an offer exists and should be investigated. God will hold him responsible for taking the next reasonable step in acting on the spiritual information he’s received so far.

WE MUST NOT JUDGE OTHER PEOPLEʼS SPIRITUALITY

In the Bible, God says that we must not judge other people with respect to the amount or quality of spiritual information they have received or with respect to what they are doing with that information. God alone is the judge, and it’s a personal matter.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

"Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him. But in the meantime, if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself."

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 5

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

I Corinthians 4:5
Leave the judging to God, who will bring to light everything thatʼs now hidden from us

Romans 14:9-13
Each of us will have to give a personal account to God for what we do with what we know; stop passing judgment about others

Romans 10:9-13
Everyone calling upon God in faith can be saved from hell

For help, see Topic 29.

Everyone can have new life now.

TRAIN ILLUSTRATION

to explain spiritual principles

The train is stopped at the station. You look out the window and see the signs. Youʼre on Track 1. You donʼt like the direction youʼre headed!

You get out of your seat fast, before the train pulls out. You cross the platform to Track 2. You present your free ticket and board the other train.

Your transfer was simple and easy… but you had to make a decision and make a move to get headed toward the right destination.

This illustrates how a person becomes a Christian.

Theological summary:

Godʼs ʻelectʼ (people chosen for heaven) are those who in ʻfaithʼ(trusting the signs) move from Track 1 to Track 2. God ʻpredestinedʼ (determined in advance) that they (group who choose Track 2) will go to heaven. He ʻforeknewʼ who (specific individuals) would choose Track 2, but his infinite wisdom did not affect anyoneʼs ʻfree willʼ (personal choice). With ʻgraceʼ (unmerited favor) he ʻjustifiedʼ (paid penalty for sin) and ʻglorifiedʼ (admitted to heaven) everyone on Track 2.

See next page for further explanation of these theological terms.

TRAIN ILLUSTRATES KEY

THEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES

Using analogies from the train illustration on the preceding page, here are technical words used by theologians to express important spiritual concepts:

ORIGINAL SIN: WEʼRE BORN INTO SIN
Everyone is born with a sinful nature. Everyone comes into the world on the track headed for hell and stays on it except for those who choose of their own free will to get off and change trains at the station.

PREDESTINATION: GOD HAS LAID THE TRACKS
Some people say there is really nothing we can do about our destiny… that God has determined it in advance (predestination). True, he has laid the tracks and our options are limited. But we have a choice of either of two tracks. He has predestined that all who stay on Track 1 will go to hell, and all who change to Track 2 will go to heaven. There are no other tracks, and no other destinations.

FREE WILL: WE CHOOSE OUR DESTINATION

God has predestined the routes, but we choose (free will) the track. Most people are too pre- occupied to look out the window and heed the signs. To change, we simply get off the train on Track 1 and walk across the platform to the waiting train on Track 2… and it’s a better train with softer seats and nicer passengers.

FAITH: WE TRUST THE SIGNS

We believe that the signs at the station (Bible, testimony of Christians, urging of the Holy Spirit) accurately identify the tracks and directions.

ELECTION: GOD CHOOSES SOME FOR HEAVEN

God’s plan is that everyone on Track 2 goes to heaven. He has chosen (election) what group of people will go to heaven, but each individual chooses (free will) whether or not he wants to be a part of that group.

FOREKNOWLEDGE: GOD KNOWS IN ADVANCE

God, in his infinite wisdom, knows in advance (foreknowledge) what track each of us will choose. He knows us that well! But his foreknowledge does not affect our free will in making our own individual choice.

JUSTIFICATION: JESUS PAID THE PRICE

By what right (justification) can someone simply get off the train headed for hell and get on the train headed for heaven? Because Jesus Christ offers a fully paid ticket, purchased by his death on the cross.

GRACE: WE DONʼT DESERVE IT

We didn’t have to pay for the Track 2 ticket with our own money or works. It was a free gift from God, more than we deserve.

GLORIFICATION: WEʼRE ADMITTED TO HEAVEN

Everyone on Track 2 goes to heaven. Each train runs in one direction only. It’s a one-way trip for everyone, for eternity. None of the passengers on Track 1 – not even the rich and famous – can come back to the station and change to Track 2 when they discover they’ve made a mistake. Once a train pulls away from the station (death), it’s too late to change.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Romans 5:12-19, Romans 7:14-20
We are born with a sin nature

Romans 8:29-30
God knows in advance how every person will respond; he predestines those who respond positively to his call and justifies and glorifies them

Ephesians 1:11-14
Those who believe Godʼs words are chosen and predestined for heaven

Romans 3:24-28
We are justified by Godʼs grace and our faith, not by good things we do

Ephesians 2:8
We are saved (from going to hell) by grace through faith because of the free gift (ticket to heaven) from God

Romans 5:18-21
Adam corrupted human nature but Christ justifies us through grace and gives us eternal life.

For help, see Topic 29.

God’s offer of new life requires only confession and a desire to turn from sin.

EVEN GOOD PEOPLE ARE SINNERS

Sin is not a thing. It’s a condition, a privation of something good.

To ask about the origin of sin is like asking about the origin of darkness or the origin of decay. Just as darkness is the absence of light, and decay is the absence of health, sin is the absence of goodness and respect (especially to God). Sin, like darkness and decay, is found in varying degrees.

Some people live very good lives with relatively little sin, and some live wretched lives with considerable sin. But, regardless of degree, the fact is that every person is a sinner in the sight of God.

Reading the Bible will reveal sin and intensify a person’s conscience, but even without the Bible, everyone has an innate sense of right and wrong. To violate our God-given conscience is to sin (see Discoveries 5 and 6). We sin by doing what we know we should not do and by not doing what we know we should do.

It’s useless to measure degrees of sin because the Bible says: (a) Any unpardoned sin, however small the sin, is enough to keep a person out of heaven. (b) Accepting God’s offer gives a person complete pardon of all sin, however large the sin. Therefore, the issue is not the degree of our sin but rather the receiving of God’s pardon.

BIBLE GIVES PRINCIPLES BUT DOESNʼT DEFINE EVERY SIN

Sin is essentially a relationship matter. It’s only incidentally a performance matter. God cares more about our heart than our deeds.

The Bible doesn’t list and categorize every sin, but it gives us principles and real-life examples of the kind of relationship we should have with God and with other people. Here are the principles for a model relationship:

TEN COMMANDMENTS: Listed in Discovery 38. (God to Moses, Exodus 20:3-17)

TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Jesus, Matthew 22:37-39)

GOLDEN RULE: ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Jesus, Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)

Sin is violation of these principles. Obviously, everyone is a sinner. By these standards, we can understand why the Bible says that ‘all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’ Consequently, everyone is bound for hell unless he receives a pardon, and God says he gives a pardon in only one way: upon confession of sin and acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal savior.

EVERYONE MUST CONFESS AND REPENT PERSONALLY

To get the benefits of God’s offer (see Topic 56), and to establish a relationship with him, the Bible says we must recognize our sinful condition and confess and repent to him – personally!

A person doesn’t have to name every sin but he must at least acknowledge his general sin nature, his disgust with it and his desire to change.

A prayer by a clergyman during a church service or mass imploring God to forgive the sins of the congregation is a good gesture of corporate contrition, but it’s not sufficient to forgive anyone’s sin unless the individual also prays it for himself – personally!

With God, confession and repentance is not a mechanical or corporate matter. It’s a personal matter, from the heart, direct with God. No one can do it for another.

REPENTANCE IS SINCERE SORROW FOR PAST SIN

Repentance means seeing our sin from God’s perspective and being sincerely sorry for it.

Our natural inclination is to justify sin and to minimize and make excuse for it. But in repentance we humble ourselves before God and repudiate our sin.

The keen awareness of the holiness of God and the indignity of our sin causes sorrow, but the presence or absence of tears does not measure genuineness of repentance.

REPENTANCE IS ESSENTIAL CONDITION OF GODʼS OFFER

Many people don’t take God’s offer seriously because it seems too simple to be believable. Human experience teaches us to be suspicious when something of great value is offered free of charge. Most thinking people usually dismiss such offers as bogus or ask, What’s the catch?

In a way, there is a catch to God’s offer: He will not give us new life unless we confess our sins and sincerely desire to turn from them.

This change of mind and intention away from sin and toward God is called repentance. It’s only through repentance that we can receive God’s forgiveness. We must sincerely desire to live a new and better kind of life.

SUPERFICIAL REPENTANCE DOESNʼT FOOL GOD

There must be genuine repentance, otherwise God won’t answer a person’s prayer for forgiveness. A person can’t fool God into thinking he’s sorry for his sins if he’s not truly sorry or doesn’t want to discontinue them.

 

Accounting illustration:

God credits our account

Some people think God has a big ledger sheet and records all of our good deeds and all of our bad deeds and, at the end of our life, ʻbalancesʼ our account like an accountant: if thereʼs more good than bad, we go to heaven; if thereʼs more bad than good, we go to hell. But thatʼs not what the Bible says!

Instead, the Bible says that if we ask him, God will ʻcreditʼ our account with Jesus Christʼs righteousness. Only a perfect life (Jesus) has enough merit to balance against all our sins. Without Jesusʼ righteousness, we donʼt have enough merit in our account, regardless of how many good things we do. Without his righteous- ness, weʼre spiritually bankrupt and canʼt get to heaven.

The Bible says that Jesusʼ righteousness will ʻcoverʼ all our sins (not ʻcoverʼ as to hide under a blanket, but ʻcoverʼ as to fully satisfy or forgive a debt).

The Bible says that Jesus, by his perfect life and sacrificial death, paid the debt of all our sins. If we acknowledge and accept him as our substitute (savior), all that he DID (paid penalty for all sin) and all that he IS (perfect in Godʼs sight) will be credited to our account.

The Bible says, however, that God doesnʼt credit our account automatically. Very important point!! Each of us must personally ask him to credit our account (see Topic 62)… and if pride or busyness prevents us from asking, we donʼt get the credit.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Romans 5:12-19
We are born in sin; Adamʼs sin corrupted his human nature and the human nature of all his descendants

Isaiah 64:6
Our righteousness is like filthy rags before holy God

Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12
Everyone is a sinner

Romans 6:23
Result of sin (without Christ) is eternal separation from God

I Timothy 1:15
Jesus Christ came to save sinners

Romans 4:24-25
Christʼs death is ʻcreditedʼ to us for our sins

For help, see Topic 29.

God loves every individual, and he makes his offer to us just the way we are.

How do we know all this?

This handbook makes bold assertions about how God thinks and acts. To a person who doesnʼt understand whatʼs happening here, it sounds like bigotry and arrogance. How can anyone possibly claim to know so much about God?

Whatever view a person holds about God must necessarily arise from two sources:

(1) objective fact and (2) personal experience, our own and/or the testimony of others. The statements in this handbook rest upon both sources:

OBJECTIVE FACT. Topics 18-26 are essential underpinnings for everything stated in this handbook. Evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the Bible is our most authoritative source of spiritual information and is in fact Godʼs message to us (see Topic 26). This handbook simply states what the Bible says and provides references in the margins so that the reader can go direct to the Bible and read Godʼs statements personally.

EXPERIENCE. This handbook incorporates the personal spiritual experiences of thousands of people, particularly their positive testimony regarding a radically changed life after accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior and regarding the way Bible principles have been proven true in their lives.

SIN IS BARRIER TO RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

The central message of the Bible is that God is more than just a remote, unknowable power in the universe. He’s a divine person – with mind, will and emotion (see Topics 39-49) – who wants to have a personal relationship with us. But our sins get in the way.

He designed us so that our relationship with him and with others is good when we live by principles outlined in the Bible. When we pursue selfish interests, however, we often disregard those principles and offend God and others in the process, and the result is blocked relationships. The offenses are called ‘sins,’ and our sins separate us from God (see Topics 5-6).

The way to correct a blocked relationship with God is not unlike the way we correct it with other people. If a child disobeys his parent… if a worker contravenes his employer… or if someone wrongs his friend… it isn’t money, penance or ritual the offended party wants, but rather sincere repentance. Repentance means being truly sorry for the offense and determining not to do it again.

God doesn’t demand or expect perfection from us, but he does expect us to acknowledge our offenses, be truly sorry for them, and determine not to repeat them.

The Bible says (I John 1:9):

‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 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.’

NO LIFE IS TOO BAD FOR GOD TO TRANSFORM

There is no sin, or combination of sins, or quantity of sins, so bad that they can’t all be forgiven immediately.

WE DONʼT HAVE TO CLEAN UP FIRST

God will accept us just the way we are. We don’t have to clean up our lives to meet him. If we had to clean up first and live a good probationary life before meeting him, then salvation would involve our own good works, but the Bible says clearly that salvation is a free gift and that good works has nothing to do with receiving it.

The criminal who was crucified at the same time as Jesus is an example. Hanging on an adjacent cross, he acknowledged that Jesus was God and asked for eternal life. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ There was no way the condemned criminal could rectify his life by himself, and certainly not in his last moments of life. He simply came to Jesus as a needy sinner, but that was enough for him to receive the gift of eternal life in heaven.

God wants us to come to him out of our need, recognizing our great difficulty in living a good life without his Holy Spirit within us. We get his Holy Spirit (see Topic 44 ) when we accept Jesus Christ as personal savior.

Putting good works before salvation is like putting the cart before the horse. Good works (more of them) is a result of salvation, not the cause of it (see Topic 64).

GOD DOESNʼT TELL US TO BECOME RELIGIOUS

Some people mistakenly think that new life in Christ means becoming religious, faithfully attending church meetings, performing rituals, giving money and following many rules.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that this is a part of salvation. In fact, some of Jesus’ harshest words were for clergymen who make human rules and then tell people this is what God demands.

Being religious means obeying rules and performing rituals in an attempt to impress God with our goodness. But this won’t impress him. In fact, the Bible says that ‘all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’

What God wants from us is to humbly acknowledge that we’re sinners and that we need a savior. Such an acknowledgment offends the pride of people holding a humanistic view of life – where prime importance is given to man and human values – because it requires man to bow before God. This this is exactly what God demands.

It’s at this point that many people reject Biblical Christianity and turn instead to cultural Christianity (see Topic 11) where they can practice religion and get a sense of well-being from their own performance.

God doesn’t ask for religious performance, but rather for contrition and acceptance of his offer.

CONTINUAL REJECTION HARDENS THE HEART

God’s offer of new life is a standing offer to every person for his entire earthly life. If the offer is rejected or ignored on one occasion, it may be reconsidered at any other time.

However, this is dangerous business because not only is there risk of unexpected intervening death, but also repeated rejection or procrastination hardens a person’s heart so that it becomes increasingly difficult for him to make the decision to accept Jesus Christ as personal savior. Eventually he will become cynical and calloused and will no longer even hear the message.

This is particularly a problem in ‘Christian’ America where everyone hears so much about salvation through Jesus Christ and where the real message of the Bible is often badly distorted and poorly presented. It’s easy for a person to become inoculated to spiritual talk and to dismiss it as old rhetoric.

Every time a person encounters and ignores God’s offer, he increases the spiritual hardening of his heart and thus increases his probability of spending eternity in hell.

TODAY IS BEST TIME TO ACCEPT GODʼS OFFER

God has given us a decision period – our earthly lifetime – for deciding whether or not to accept his offer. Everyone is only one heart-beat away from the end of the period.

Today is the most reasonable day to accept God’s offer because we never know when an unexpected illness or accident will claim our life and terminate the offer.

A reasonable person, aware of the offer but not having yet accepted it, should conclude that the stakes are too high to procrastinate any longer.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

Ephesians 2:8-10
New life is a free gift from God; good works is a by-product, not a pre-condition

Luke 11:39-52, Matthew 23:1-33
Jesus has harsh words for clergymen who make human rules and then tell people this is what God demands

Isaiah 64:6
Our righteous acts are like filthy rags and shriveled leaves before holy God

Luke 23:40-43
Jesus says thief on the cross will be in heaven

I John 1:9
God will forgive if we will confess

For help, see Topic 29.

God’s offer of new life is a personal offer. No one can accept or reject for another.

BIOLOGICALLY, NO ONE IS BORN A CHRISTIAN

A person may be born into a Christian culture, a Christian family, or the Christian religion, but no one is ever born a ‘Christian.’

A person becomes a Christian (using God’s definition) by personal decision, never by biological birth.

No one can chose the circumstances of his birth or upbringing, but everyone who has heard about God’s offer of new life must choose whether or not to accept the offer.

When a person accepts it, he becomes a Christian. As long as he rejects (or ignores) the offer, he’s not a Christian, even though he may espouse Christian principles, exhibit Christian virtues and may even call himself a Christian and be a baptized member of a Christian church.

CHURCH CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A church can give valuable instruction, but it can never make anyone a Christian by declaration or rite. Becoming a Christian is an individual decision, not a group decision.

New life can never be bestowed by an organization as a privilege of membership or as an award for compliance. Faithfulness in church attendance and performance of religious rituals can never make anyone a Christian.

GOOD WORKS CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A person’s good works can never make him a Christian, regardless of the degree of sincerity and diligence.

Good works are part of the Christian life, but they are by-products of the life, not the causes or prerequisites of it.

PAYMENT CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

A person can never become a Christian by paying a price. A Christian has a position with God, and a relationship with God, which can’t be acquired like a product or service. Rich and poor receive it the same way, as a free gift.

PRAYERS OF OTHERS CANʼT MAKE ANYONE A CHRISTIAN

The prayers or actions of others can’t make anyone a Christian, either now or after death.

In this lifetime, each person must make his own personal decision regarding Jesus Christ, to either accept him as Savior or reject him as Savior. There’s no way around this personal encounter.

Others may pray that a loved one will accept Christ, and these prayers may heighten the Holy Spirit’s call to that person. In this way, a person may experience the effect of other people’s prayers and thus have greater spiritual sensitivity, but the person must make his or her own decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ.

TO REJECT JESUS CHRIST IS TO REJECT GOD

In dealing with us, God has vested himself completely in Jesus Christ, who he’s put in charge of all divine-human relationships on planet earth (see Discovery 43). For us who know about Christ, it’s not possible to take God without taking Christ. A person’s response to Christ is his response to God, and his rejection of Christ is his rejection of God.

What about other religions? What about people who have never heard of Jesus Christ? (Answers are in Discoveries 10-18, 27-28, 32, 61 and next page.) These questions are often a smoke screen for people who don’t want to face the fact that they must personally decide either to accept or reject Jesus Christ, and their indecision is a form of rejection.

Is Jesus Christ the only way?

Discoveries 18-26 show that the Bible is our highest source of spiritual authority and is in fact Godʼs message to us for this period in time.

The Bible says the only way a person who knows about this message can escape Godʼs punishment for sin and spend eternity with God in heaven is by personally accepting Jesus Christ as savior before the personʼs life on earth ends. The alternative is hell. Period. The Bible is very clear about it.

But the Bible is not clear about what happens to people who have never heard this message. For that issue, we need to consider the two concepts – ʻaudienceʼ and ʻimputeʼ – discussed below:

Audience. Messages are intended for the persons to whom they are addressed and delivered. The New Testament is clearly addressed and delivered to us who now have copies of the Bible. But what about people who lived before the Bible was written? Or people who live in places where the Bible is unknown? Are these people held accountable for responding to the Bible message, or are they subject to other messages we may not know about?

God apparently has other ways to heaven for people outside the New Testament audience. For example, the Old Testament says that Enoch pleased God and is in heaven, even though itʼs unlikely he ever prayed to accept Jesus Christ as his savior. The Bible speaks similarly of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David and many others.

But Jesus said: ʻI am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.ʼ

There are two explanations for reconciling these Bible statements: (1) Jesus was not referring to all humanity, but only to people in the New Testament audience, or (2) Jesus was referring to all humanity, but the benefits of his sacrifice are sometimes ʻimputedʻ to people who donʼt even know about him if these people are seeking God in the best way they know with their limited knowledge.

Impute. The word ʻimputeʼ is a theological term which means ʻto ascribe (righteousness or guilt) to a person as coming from another.ʼ For example, Jesusʼ righteousness was imputed to the thief on the adjacent cross. The thief had lived a life so bad that civil authorities sentenced him to death. He understood very little about Jesus, and apparently he was never baptized. But because of the thiefʼs last minute positive response to what little spiritual knowledge he was given, Jesus said he will be in heaven, in contrast to the unresponsive thief on the other cross.

We donʼt know how many people throughout world history may have had the benefits of Christʼs death imputed to them because they lacked spiritual information or capacity to understand. But we do know that today weʼre individually responsible for responding to the degree of revelation God has chosen to give us. We have the highest degree of revelation so far – the New Testament – and it explains why we must personally accept Jesus Christ in order to be worthy of heaven, regardless of how God may deal with other people at other times or in other places. Clearly for us, Jesus Christ is the only way.

Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.

John 3:36
Indecision about Christ is a decision against him

John 14:6
Acts 4:12 Jesus Christ is the only way

John 3:16, John 3:36, John 6:40
ʻWhoever believesʻ are key words for eternal life

Luke 23:39-43
Jesusʼ conversation with thief on the cross; gift of grace is not a reward for good works

Titus 3:-4-7
Not saved by good things we do

Genesis 5:21-24, Hebrews 11:5-6
Enoch pleased God and is in heaven even though he didnʼt know about Jesus

Genesis 15:6, Hebrews 11:8-16
Righteousness ʻcrditedʼ to Abraham even though he didnʼt know about Jesus

John 3:35, I Corinthians 15:27-28
God has now placed everything in Jesusʼ hands

For help, see Topic 29.