July 30, 2014.
Once we have established the Christian heritage and proclaimed the good news to the world, certainly there is a question that will arise among the audience of the world. It is a question that has been asked throughout the course of time, beginning on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached the first gospel sermon to even today when the good news is heard by a willing and open heart. How do I become a Christian?
I believe this is one of the most important questions that man will ever ask, and because of it’s importance, it deserves a thorough answer, not a cheap version of grace that is offered by many. You need to know who you are submitting to, the commitment it takes and the proper process that will result in eternal life. For all of these questions, please don’t just take my word for it. Go to the bible. Notice that every point that I will make on this subject will be rooted in scripture. It is God’s plan of salvation, not mine, and praise be to his name for that. If you are serious about making a commitment to Christ or about teaching how to become a Christian, I would encourage you to read on.
I would be dishonest if I told you I could explain to you the full concept of grace in such a short amount of time, or even in a long amount of time for that matter, but I do think there are some simple concepts about grace that we need to know and understand when putting on Christ.
First of all, grace is the only reason that we are offered salvation. Grace is when someone gives you something that you don’t deserve. It is hard to give the full explanation of why we don’t deserve salvation as there are many different aspects, some of which I am still learning, but a reading of yesterday’s post might get you started. There is this concept called moral law, the innate sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, that must come from some objective truth. We believe this truth to be God. However, we as humans break moral law constantly. It is the only law that governs us that we can break, and do so (compare to the laws of gravity and motion). This transgression, what we call sin, separates us from God, who is Holy and cannot be in the company of sin since he is the definition of righteousness.
Maybe that’s just a bunch of theological mumbo-jumbo to you, so let me see if I can put it in more familiar terms. Think about all the bad things people have done to you. Perhaps focus on a few things that really hurt you. What did you want after those situations? Justice? Revenge? Comfort? Why did you want these things? Without an objective truth, justice is meaningless. There simply is no such thing, because what one person does is just as right as what another person does, regardless of the consequences of their actions. But we do want justice, because there is a moral law. Now, think of all the bad things you have done to others (don’t worry, we are all in the same boat here). Not one of us can claim a sinless life, and it is this sin that separates us from our God.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
God, being rich in mercy and grace, has formed a plan to reconcile us to him, to wash us clean of our sins and to set us right in his sight, destined for a home in glory to forever be with him. We are saved by grace.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
We are saved by grace, but that doesn’t mean the Christian life will be easy.
Counting the Cost.
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus did not sugar coat the road of discipleship. There is sacrifice that comes with following Christ. We are to deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24) and follow him. The message in the passage above is that before you become a Christian, you must count the cost. You must understand that Christianity is not a check box or a simple designation when asked in public. It is a way of life, a different world view. Following Christ will come with its challenges and persecutions. Jesus did not promise his disciples an easy life, but he did promise rest for their souls.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
If one would like to become a Christian, they should know what it is that they are committing to- a lifestyle of following Christ. I believe this is why so many are converted but soon fall away. True conversion starts with full disclosure of the terms and agreement, so to speak.
Now, we know that we are saved by grace, but we must accept this grace in the way that our Lord has laid out for us to do so. Salvation is conditional, even if the religious would would like to tell you otherwise. Now don’t get me wrong, there is no good that we could do to cancel out our bad and thereby earn our salvation. Grace is a gift that cannot be earned no matter how hard you try. But it is a conditional gift. Think of it this way, if I said “I’m going to give you a new Xbox One (or insert any small sized item you would like to have here) as a gift because I love you, all you have to do is send me your address so I can mail it to you,” is my gift conditional? Sure it is; if you don’t send me your address, I will not mail it to you and thus you will not receive your new Xbox, or whatever it is you want to use to illustrate the point. But is sending me your address in anyway earning that new Xbox? By sending me your address do you somehow now deserve the Xbox? Certainly not. It is still a free gift, but a conditional gift.
The word “conditional” is not a bad word, nor should it have the connotations it does connected to it. In fact, even those who would oppose salvation as being conditional still place conditions on it. Faith is a condition to the gift of salvation. Here the words of Jesus:
“He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Like it or not, this is a conditional statement. So, what are the conditions of salvation?
Faith and Confession.
Salvation is a process, one that does not terminate in any given step or act of obedience. If you were taught a salvation that involved a single step or that didn’t require anything after an initial confession, I think you should check this version of salvation against what the bible says. There are a few steps that begin the process of salvation, that get you in the right relationship with God, but the process continues throughout your lifetime (more on this later).
After hearing the good news, one of the first conditions that you must have in order to obtain salvation is of course faith in Christ Jesus as the son of God. There are many passages I could use to show faith as a condition of salvation, so I’ll just use one that is perhaps the most well known passage in the bible:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Notice the phrase “condemned already.” I think this is significant in showing that faith alone, though vital, is not the only condition necessary for salvation (James 2:24). Faith is the beginning, not the stopping point or even the climax. If it were, then the demons would be saved, for James says “even the demons believe, and tremble (James 2:19).” Faith is more than simple belief. It must come with commitment.
Say one believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, but is unwilling to confess his name before men because of the ramifications that would come with this confession. Is this alright?
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Paul goes one to describe confession as an integral part of salvation in his letter to the church in Rome:
“because, 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.”
So too, then, is confession a condition of salvation.
This is probably the most difficult condition to accept, both by those who are giving their life to Christ and the religious world that teaches about salvation. Repentance is not where the explicit argument lies, but rather the implicit argument. See, if it is true that we are saved by faith alone, then one does not need to repent of any sin, but rather can continue in them unabated without change. Yet I don’t think you would find a Christian who would tell you that you don’t need to repent of your sins. Let’s see what the word of God has to say about this subject, starting with the words of Jesus:
“And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus had a mission when he came to this earth, and part of that mission was indeed a call to repentance. This too was not a subject that Jesus sugar coated:
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Repentance is a necessary condition of salvation because Christianity is a new way of life, not just a check box. It is a changing of a worldly lifestyle to one that walks in step with Christ. This demands repentance, for we cannot live both lifestyles at the same time. John puts it this way:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
(1 John 1:5-10)
We cannot have fellowship with the Father if we continue to walk in darkness. Now, does that mean we are going to be perfect? No. John says if we say we have no sin, we are a liar. But what it does mean is that we will continually strive for perfection and not live in sin.
Repentance is hard work. But it can and must be done though our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are raised to a new life (see below) to live accordingly. We cannot deny ourselves if we hold on to that part of us that continues to separate us from God.
Ah, this is where the explicit argument lies. But I don’t want to deal with arguments, I just want to teach what the bible teaches. Up until this point, we have seen nothing about the actual washing of our sins. We have faith that Jesus is the son of God who died in our place to offer salvation through the remission of sins. We have confessed our belief and committed to clean up our act so that we might be in step with the Father. But how do we reach the blood of Christ? What must we do? This very question was asked at the end of the first gospel sermon; Peter, moved by the Holy Spirit, gave the reply:
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” If someone asks me the same question, I want to give the same biblical answer. There are many things Peter could have said. He could have said “Just believe in Christ and you’re good” or “Pray this prayer that Jesus come into your heart.” But he didn’t. He said repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. How does this make sense? A deeper understanding of baptism will help to explain. This is how Paul describes it:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
In baptism, we are buried with our Lord, dying to sin, and raised with him to walk a new life. This is why we must repent of our sins and live a new life, because we are new creatures, old things past away.
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:14-17)
In baptism, we die to sin and his blood washes away our sin. Baptism is no more or less conditional as faith, confession and repentance are. Salvation is a process, and baptism is part of that process. In fact, the bible says it is what puts us into Christ:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Baptism is a submission to God, a affirmation of the commitment that is being made and a burial with the Savior to ask for a clean slate.
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
(1 Peter 3:21-22)
Thus baptism is a condition of salvation. However, though the process salvation may begin with these steps to place us in a right standing with God, it does not end there.
The Christian walk.
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”
(1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
Salvation doesn’t end at the point one believes, or at the point one repents or at the point one is baptized. The commitment to Christ is a commitment for life. That is why we must count the cost. However, knowing the blessing overrides all cost in the end.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
There is nothing in this life that can come close to comparing with the glory in the life beyond when we will forever be in the presence of the Lord God Almighty, creator of the universe. One day we will live with him in paradise. Christ sacrificed himself on the cross so that all men might be able to obtain salvation. You can live with God in the life beyond too. Will you become a Christian today?
“Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Suggested Daily Reading: Acts 2, 22, Romans 6, Colossians 2-3.
Grace and peace.