There are those that claim something happened to has change their lives, brought them profound peace, and assured them about their future. People have faced death singing, entering eternity with confidence beyond all understanding.
Some with this unusual confidence say they have been “saved,” others use the term “born again,” and still others say that they have “found eternal life.” All these terms are synonymous, for they each have to do with three aspects of life: being saved from past guilt, being delivered from present thought patterns, and gaining assurance for the future and for eternity. All these mean that a person has become a Christian.
At this point, let us look at some things that do not guarantee a person is a Christian. Being born in America or the British Isles, living a decent life, thinking positively, going to church, giving to charity, taking the sacraments, prayingâ€”none of these is a guarantee. Not even believing in God makes a person a Christianâ€”many people of other religions believe in God.
What is a real Christian? First, a real Christian has been born into the family of God. Just as we are born into our human family, so we have to be born into God’s family. The Gospel of John puts it this way: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godâ€”children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12, 13). In other words, we are all created by God as his creatures, but we only become members of God’s family when we open our hearts to Christ, believe in him, and receive him into our hearts.
Second, a true Christian is walking in the way of life. Jesus said there are two roads: the broad road leads to destruction, and the narrow road leads to eternal life (see also Deuteronomy 30:19; Jeremiah 21:8). The narrow road leads to a clear conscience and liberation from habits that destroy us. We do not have to walk under clouds of guiltâ€”real or imagined. When you have found Jesus Christ and have been forgiven for your sins, you have absolute peace with God. You know that your sins were dealt with on the cross and taken away. You are free to live a new life of moral cleanlinessâ€”this does not mean perfection, but it does mean walking in the light and desiring to be pure.
Third, the true Christian has eternal life. Such a promise comes into its fullness when we die, but we can enjoy it now, here on earth. Eternal life lives in our hearts, convincing us that we need never feel alone or empty. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). You can have the assurance of eternal life because Christ lives in your heart. John Calvin called this the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
Now that we have a clear picture of what a Christian is, how does one become a Christian?
There are three basic steps. Step one is to admit that your sins keep you away from God. The Bible says there is no difference among people because we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfection (Romans 3:9-23). We can deny how we miss the mark, but as the apostle John put it, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1:8, 10).
Step two is to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to lead us back to God. We do not have to understand it all, but we do need to believe it. I do not understand how electricity or radios work, but I trust that they work and enjoy their benefits. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).
Step three is to receive the Lord Jesus as Savior by making a personal decision. The individual must take a step of faith, which is receiving based on believing. It is not enough merely to believe; the gift of eternal life must be grasped. When I travel and bring home a present for my wife, all she has to do to enjoy the gift is to take it and say thank you. To receive Jesus Christ is similar. By faith you say, “Thank you, Lord. I receive you into my life.” At that moment the gift of God, which is eternal life in Jesus Christ, is yours.
This last step demands a personal decision. It is an act of the will, for we can either reject or receive Christ. Too many people depend on inherited faithâ€”a secondhand faith. But only authentic faith leads to life eternal!
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