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.