No one was ever a Christian without becoming one. So “How does one become a Christian?” is a crucial question. Sadly, honest inquirers aren’t always given a good answer these days, and the result is that some may think they have “accepted” Jesus Christ when they have not actually done so.

All of us, this writer included, should be willing to reexamine our convictions in the light of the New Testament. No matter what we’ve believed in the past, the question should be: is our practice really consistent with the Scriptures? We must be willing to do what Paul said when he exhorted the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

So let’s “examine ourselves” in regard to how a person should respond to the gospel. What do the Scriptures teach?

Faith. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Few deny that faith is necessary, but it’s worth asking ourselves whether we really do believe what we say we believe. When the stakes are high and all that we love in this world is at risk, to what extent are we willing — really and truly — to trust God? Is there any sacrifice we wouldn’t make in order to put Him first in our lives?

Confession. Jesus taught that we must not only believe in Him privately in our hearts but also confess openly with our words what we believe about Him (Matthew 10:32,33), and Paul wrote, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9,10). To verbally acknowledge that we believe Jesus to be the Son of God is to make what Paul called “the good confession” (1 Timothy 6:12,13).

Repentance. Those who teach that we are saved by “faith only” have trouble with the question of repentance. Repentance (turning away from our sins) is an action that goes beyond faith (in fact, repentance is an outgrowth of faith), so if salvation were by faith only, engaging in repentance would not be essential. However, the New Testament affirms that it is essential. Preaching in the city of Athens, Paul declared that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). And during His own ministry, Jesus had said to some who thought they had no sins they needed to repent of, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

Baptism. If repentance from our sins is required, so is baptism for the forgiveness of those sins. Peter said it simply on the Day of Pentecost. When his hearers asked what they must do, he told them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). What could be clearer? Until we have been baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, we are still unforgiven — we have not yet become Christians.

As we repent of our sins and confess our faith, we are taking steps in the direction of forgiveness, but it is not until we submit to the Lord’s command to be baptized that we are forgiven. That being true, it should not surprise us that Paul described those who were “in Christ” as having been baptized into that relationship with Him: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). If we are “in Christ,” we’ve been baptized into Him.

In another place, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3,4).

So baptism is as essential to our salvation as faith and repentance. Without baptism, we’re not yet “in Christ.” It’s the turning point in the process, the defining moment at which we pass from our unforgiven past to our forgiven future. And that’s why in the New Testament, we find people being baptized with a sense of urgency — even in “the same hour of the night” (Acts 16:33).

The teaching of the New Testament on this point is not hard to understand, but nowadays, it will take a bit of courage to stand up for that teaching and admit we believe it.

So let’s make it personal: what’s your answer to the question of how one becomes a Christian? Does your answer take into account all that the New Testament teaches on the subject?

Gary Henry — +

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