Becoming a Christian

Chinese Translations: GB Big5

Becoming a Christian involves entering the Kingdom of God. To enter the kingdom we must acknowledge and submit to the King.

if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9,10

The Message of Salvation
What God Did

God created people to have a relationship with Himself. We were made in the image of God, but "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23  Man is sinful but God is holy and so there is a separation between the two. "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." Isaiah 59:1,2

This separation ends in judgement and death, both physical and eternal.

"For the wages of sin is death" Romans 6:23a
"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." Revelation 21:8
There are various ways in which people have tried to bridge the gap to return to God, but all fall short.


"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:20-24
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
By dying on the cross, Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of God's justice that sin be payed for. So you can either pay for your own sins in hell, or you can accept Christ's substitutionary atonement as payment to God on your behalf. For through Christ God now offers your sins to be freely and graciously forgiven. This is not earned, but accepted by faith.
"Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Romans 4:4,5
 Having believed, God makes us into new creatures.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2Corinthians 5:17
This is the New Covenant God has made with believers:
"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds."  Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." Hebrews 10:16,17
The truth of the gospel message was affirmed by Christ's fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and by his miracles and in particular by his resurrection from the dead.


Qualifying for Salvation 
What You Need To Go Through

God has a treasure, it's hidden away 
But seek and you shall find some day 
That treasure he offers which is life through the Son 
A life which will last after your life here is done
There are those who seek from place to place
What can be found only through God's grace
The pearl of great price is Jesus our Lord
When you find Him you'll find that you can afford
To replace your trust in other things
With the One from whom eternal life springs

The salvation that God offers is spoken of as being a gift.  "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 However it is not offered unconditionally, but people have to qualify to receive it. The condition to receive it is believing in Christ as Lord and Savior

 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
After believing in Christ, one is qualified also to be born of God
 "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--" John 1:12
Upon believing, one is reckoned to be "in Christ" and is given the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-- to the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:13,14

But what kind of believing is being spoken of here?

For there is a kind of believing that does not save.
 
James 2:14 (Rap)
My dear brothers, what does it gain 
If one believes, but only in vain. 
For if faith does not affect how he behaves, 
I don't really think that kind of faith saves

There is also the example in the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4-15) of the seed that fell on the rock. Jesus says of these "Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away." Luke 8:13
 

Some fell on rocks but withered and died
For their faith was not deep enough to be qualified
To receive the life God promised to those
Who really believed Jesus died and arose.
Yes at first they were overjoyed
But when trials came their faith was destroyed
For they received it without their faith being rooted
And so fell away after they were persecuted

They did not have the kind of faith that qualifies them to receive salvation. Indeed there are even those whom in one sense are called "believers" but are "false brethren". In the book of Acts, with its historical emphasis, Luke records what people were called.

 Acts 15:5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."
But in the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul records what they actually were. Speaking of the same people, he says:
"This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves." Galatians 2:4
However, all of these could legitimately be called "Christian". For the word "Christian" is only used three times in the Bible and all with reference to what the followers of Christ were called by outsiders without reference to their actual salvation status. And thus also concerning the New Testament letters written to the Christian churches, it is understood that Christians are not saved just because they associate themselves outwardly with a particular institution. Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians saying:
 "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Corinthians 13:5
(See also the 1st John study on How to Identify those Born of God)

So what kind of faith does qualify one for salvation?

The faith that saves is characterized as a conviction. In describing saving faith, Paul points to Abraham's faith saying:
"Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised." Romans 4:20,21
The faith that saves is one which is confident in the promise of God, fully assured which is also indicated by its inevitable perseverance.
"We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first." Hebrews 3:14

"By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." 1Co 15:2

And by "full assurance" I am not speaking of a person feeling fully assured that they are saved. I am speaking of being fully assured that what God has promised he is able also to accomplish. The object of faith is not our own faith. The object of faith is the promise of God and the One behind that promise.

As with any conviction, the faith that saves is not one that simply says it believes, but rather it is also application oriented.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21
James 2:18 (Rap)
Some say, "You have faith, I have deeds" 
But don't you think where that leads? 
Our faith is revealed by what we do 
So if you have faith, you'll have deeds too! 
James 2:24 (Rap)
Faith that works, that's the kind 
that justifies a man, I find. 

It is not a faith in works but a faith that works which is the kind that saves.

But how does one develop saving faith?

Saving faith is developed in cooperation with God as one follows Jesus Christ.

Upon hearing the gospel, many cannot decide to believe or not believe. For belief is not simply a function of the will. People should not be coerced into making statements of faith that they really haven't come to believe. Nor should they be presumed to be saved if it's clear that their faith is not yet of saving value. There is no technique nor ritual that will automatically save those who don't have salvific faith.

However, a person can decide to seek God. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." Matthew 7:7 Many simply need time to get to know Jesus better before they can legitimately make any statement of faith. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Revelation 3:20 Yes, you can pray an experimental sort of prayer to open to the door. And you can decide to follow Jesus. This gets a person on the path to salvation. They've left Egypt and entered the desert on their way to the promise land. This is the Seeking phase of the Salvation process.

Leaving Egypt

A person's decision to follow Christ as a seeker is likened to Israel's leaving Egypt and crossing the Red Sea. But this did not mean they would make it to the promise land. Paul applies this to Christians, writing:
"For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert." 1Corinthians 10:1-5
The crossing of the Red Sea can also be likened to John's Baptism. It is a baptism of repentance.  A person decides to turn from the direction in which they were going and follow Jesus.

Wandering Through the Wilderness

After leaving Egypt, they entered the desert. Jesus also showed the way by taking similar steps. He was first baptized by John in a baptism of repentance. Although John himself admitted that Jesus needed no such baptism. But Jesus replied to him, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Matthew 3:15 For he was acting on behalf of mankind."Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil." Matthew 4:1 This was also what Israel experienced. They were literally led by the Holy Spirit in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And Jesus combatted his tempter with verses taken from the book of Deuteronomy, which was also the same book given to Israel in the desert. One of the verses that Jesus quotes reveals some of the purpose of such a desert wandering that Israel faced.
"Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." Deuteronomy 8:2,3

Dying in the Desert

The wilderness has two purposes, both related. It is a place in which God both develops and tests our faith until it is of salvific value or else until we die in the wilderness.Those who die in the wilderness (as 1Corinthians 10:1-5 indicates)  may be likened to those who while still identifying themselves with the Christian community, never come to true faith in Christ and die as nominal Christians or reject the leading of the Holy Spirit in a permanent sense.
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age,  if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." Hebrews 6:4-6
For there are those with only a surface knowledge of Christ, not knowing Him personally, and repent to a degree, but turn back and are condemned.
"If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.  It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: 'A dog returns to its vomit,' and, 'A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.'" 2Peter 2:20,21
Here the word "knowing" is the Greek word "epignosis". "epi" refers to surface, and "gnosis" to knowledge. Such people only have a surface knowledge of Christ. The same Greek word is used in Hebrews 10.
"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Hebrews 10:26,27
And this is the same kind of warning Paul gave to the Corinthian Christians in 1Cor 10 above. But another aspect of the 2Peter 2:20,21 passage is that such people are characterized as behaving in accordance with their unregenerate nature. Though for those born of God it is written that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2Corinthians 5:17, yet these others are not characterized as having such a new nature. John also writes more explicitly, but speaking in a lifestyle sense says:
"No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." 1John 3:9,10
And indeed speaking further on the behavior of those born of God says:
"This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world." 1John 5:3,4
So there is a natural behavior associated with being born of God as there is a natural behavior associated with the unregenerate nature. Thus the wilderness experience is the struggle of those yet to be born of God as they are on the road to salvation coming to know Christ.

Developing Salvific Faith

In the process of developing salvific faith, the most essential character quality God develops in us is HUMILITY.
Isaiah mentions of the qualities of a person that make one to be esteeemed in the eyes of God: Humility leads to Conviction of Sin, which is necessary for us to recognize our need for salvation and for the grace of God. This leads to accepting Jesus as our Savior.

Humility also leads to Conviction that the Bible is God's Word, and as such we derive our life from it, meaning that we read it with a mindset of application and submission. This leads to us accepting Jesus as our Lord.

Indeed interacting with the Word of God with such a mindset develops one's faith as it is written: "faith comes from hearing the message" Romans 10:17

But what was the particular message given to Israel in the desert? They were given the Law of Moses, which are the first five books of the Bible. (See also The Necessity of the Law page)

"So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith." Galatians 3:24
And how does it do that? Not as a means or source of justification, but rather by bringing conviction of sin.
"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin." Romans 3:20
This is necessary to recognize our need for salvation and the grace of God to redeem us. For a person cannot believe in a manner acceptable to God unless they first agree with God as to their corrupt, sinful, unholy state.

The Law also reveals God's justice. For it would be unjust for God to simply forgive sin without an appropriate penalty being payed. Yet that is an incorrect concept of God that some other religions have. Furthermore it reveals the depth of God's hatred of sin and the degree of His wrath even against what some might consider little things. This drives us to despair if we have not a Savior. But many will come to this realization when it's too late.

Categories of Seekers

There  are seekers who have different areas of their faith needing development before they can enter the promise land. The following are a few types that come to mind.

The Legalistic Self Righteous

The Jews of Jesus' time generally fit in this category, as well as those today who feel they are morally superior to others or feel they come from a morally superior culture. Jesus and Paul had the same approach for such people. Humiliate them by challenging them with the Law.

Mark 10:17-19 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-- except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"
This man needed to understand that no one is good, and in particular that he was not a good person. He admitted to keeping the commandments. But he didn't understand that it was not only the letter that was to be kept, but the spirit of it. So Jesus revealed his idolatrous greed by giving him another command. Those who reckon themselves to be good need to be humiliated. Paul also does the same to them in Romans 2.

The Lawless Licentious

These are those who acknowledge Jesus as Savior, reckoning themselves as sinners, but continue to callously live a lifestyle of sin. Essentially they reject the Lordship of Christ or give only vebal acknowledgement of Christ as Lord, which means little to God.

These people need to come to understand God's hatred of sin and that the Salvation that Christ offers is not just the forgiveness of sins but also ultimately salvation from their own innate sinfulness. A couple of good verses for them might be:

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 1Corinthians 6:9,10

"He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." Revelation 21:7,8

The Experience Oriented Feelers

These are those who like to express their feelings. They speak of enjoying Christ or feeling the Holy Spirit's leading. But while this is a legitimate part of the Christian life, there are those who believe only in a Jesus that they feel and not in the Biblical Christ. Their Christ tends not be the Christ of the Bible, but rather a Christ made in their own image much as the people of Israel made the golden calf to worship at Mount Sinai. They didn't patiently listen to the Word of God which Moses was bringing to them, but made an image of God they could control in accordance with their own passions. These tend to deny or put down the idea that God rationally communicated to us through the Bible and opt for a purely existentialistic attitude towards the Christian life. They are irrational experience seekers. This is New Age Existentialistic Christianity.

But God can work with that. These need to develop an appreciation of the promise of God and for the position in Christ that God offers. Believing God's promise is the focus of Biblical faith, not feeling a feeling. As such the concept of forgiveness of sins is rather foreign as it is a positional concept.

These people can also be weak on the idea of actually doing things other than expressing their feelings. For their emphasis is not on doing the Word, but on feeling. But the repentance the Bible speaks of is an honest attempt to change not only one's attitude, but one's behavior as well. A good verse for these people is

2Corinthians 5:7  "We live by faith, not by sight."
"Sight" includes "feelings" and related Charismatic experiences. Legitimate experiences of Christ should be viewed as secondary effects of believing and obeying Him, rather than being central to one's faith. Salvific faith is faith in Christ and not faith in one's own feelings.

The Do Nothing Thinkers

These are those who say they believe, but what they mean is that they merely understand. Yes they may have a right concept of the message. But the reality of the ideas has not set in. In contrast to the existentialistic Christians, these Christians don't have a sense of the reality of it all. And they may like to argue issues of armchair theology, but are not application oriented in their thinking. I mentioned some verses in James above which are useful to them. Also:
 

James 1:22-25 (Rap)
22 Do the word, don't just be a hearer, 
23 Like a man looking into a mirror. 
24 He turns away, and yes he does 
Forget what kind of man he was. 
25 But if you look into the word with care, 
Not forgetting what you hear, 
And doing what it says to you, 
You'll be blessed in what you do.

Also by the Holy Spirit, God helps to bring these into the reality of the message through experiences. We saw God doing miracles in the desert to provide food and drink for the Israelites and miraculously helping them to survive. With their cooperation, these kind of evidences would help them to develop a genuine reliance upon God's grace, growing confidently of the reality of His presence and power to save.

The Jordan River Crossing

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the failure of Israel to enter into the promise land saying, "And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief."Hebrews 3:18,19

Having been led all the way to the Jordan River and then refusing to cross, this kind of rejection is the final sin against the leading of the Holy Spirit which incurs a permanent rejection and condemnation of the unbeliever, as Hebrews 6:4-6 also indicates which I mentioned previously. But many are actually on the way towards the Jordan, having yet to come to a sufficient revelation of the gospel to make such a choice. As I said at the beginning, belief is not simply a matter of choice. However, having been given sufficient evidence, a choice is called for.

While the crossing of the Red Sea has been likened to John's baptism - a baptism of repentance, the crossing of the Jordan is likened to Christ's baptism - a baptism of regeneration. For John says, "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:8 This is what Jesus spoke of saying, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."John 3:3 This is when one actually becomes a son of God.  Jesus says, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." Being born of water is one's physical birth, for "Flesh gives birth to flesh". But being born of the Spirit is a second birth, a spiritual birth, for "the Spirit gives birth to spirit." John 3:6 So also there are two kinds of baptism. The one of repentance is in water. But the other of regeneration is in the fire of the Spirit.

Once one believes with salvific faith and decides to cross the Jordan, being born of God takes no effort at all on the person's part. It is completely accomplished apart from human effort, as it is written:  "Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God." John 1:12,13

The Promise Land

Hebrews describes the promise land as a land of rest and likens it to the Sabbath rest saying, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his." Heb 4:9,10 Those born of God rest in the grace of God, as it is written: "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.  However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Romans 4:4,5 Such people have been transferred into a new kingdom.
"The Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Colossians 1:12-14
And as the forgiveness of sins is a free gift, so also is salvation from one's own sinfulness, being experience to a degree in this life and ultimately in a permanent sense in the next. While striving to walk as Christ walked in this age, those born of God set their hopes on their future resurrection. For even Job declared:
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;  I myself will see him with my own eyes-- I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!"Job 19:25-27

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015