How does a person become a Christian?

In continuing through our preaching series on basic doctrines of the Christian faith, yesterday’s lesson at Lake Merced Church was focused on answering this question: How does a person become a Christian?

Here it is:

To listen to further preaching, visit the westcoastwitness.com Sermon Archive.

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14 thoughts on “How does a person become a Christian?

  1. jen says:

    This got long.. i apologize in advance.

    A Christian is a follower of Christ. I believe in him, what he said, and strive for obedience out of love and faith. I recognize my sin and live a life of repentance. However, his love is not revoked due to an imperfect repentance record/prayer life/sin progress report. I am still a Christian—I am still a follower of Christ, albeit an imperfect one. My salvation is not dependent on how quickly I change and do things for him. (Praise God!) Nor is this the root of true, lasting faith.
    Jesus told me to be baptized and was baptized himself, therefore, I will be baptized. Simple. (side note: why is it that people of the Church of Christ persuasion feel they have the market cornered on baptism and evangelism? Chan, Driscoll, Piper, Chandler—all Calvinists, all wildly popular evangelists, all baptize HUNDREDS and THOUSANDS in their churches every year. Does this sound like a group of people that discount the meaning and necessity of baptism? Last week over 100 people were baptized at Mars Hill Church campuses alone.. Anyone got a baptism count on CoC last week? Anyone? Bueler? A discussion for another day. ..)
    It is my faith in HIM that saves me, not the getting wet. Just as a marriage is symbolized with a ring, and is the outward showing of the commitment and covenant. I have FAITH in my baptism, it’s meaning and significance behind it, not the water. My faith leading up to that moment makes me a Christian—a follower of Christ. (I’ll use your example of Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved”) Therefore, I was a Christian before the moment I was baptized. I was a Christian the afternoon prior to my baptism when I was told that I should not wait to do so because if I were to die, I would be going to hell, as I was yet untouched by this miraculous baptismal wand. This fight over the “moment” we become a Christian is fruitless, and ironically, cheapens the deep meaning and faith step required to commit your life to Christ. There is a fatal flaw in all of this argument and nit picking over the “how to’s” and “exactly when’s” and “proper means” to Christiandom- 1. It’s quite Pharisee-esque. 2. Last I read they were the antithesis of Jesus. 3. Wait, they killed him didn’t they?? Hmmm.

    On to the next one..

    A Christian will live a life of repentance. It starts with a change of mind and change of heart. Which leads to an eventual turn from sin due to the mind/heart change. These must come first before the “turn”. Why don’t we stress the deep heart change that will keep our turn lasting, rather than the excessive grading of the act of turning? Action without thought/emotion is pointless and often dangerous. Much like sex without love is just exercise. Yes, I went there.

    You said, “if you’re really a Christian, there has to be a drastic change”. Yes, but do we yell this at people and measure them on our yardstick of “change” or do we give them the tools, love, community, and message of jesus and allow JESUS to do the changing? *Note: this is not overnight occurrence. In fact, if it is, then that’s your 1st clue that it’s not true repentance. Maybe we should stop measuring people by what we see on the outside, how quickly they come up to par, or how quickly they “turn and run from sin”, and start measuring by what they’ve come from—The mud, sin, abuse, betrayal, and lifetime of wounds that we are ALL recovering from. This requires knowing a person on a deep level, and even more dangerously, having them know you. Not where I cast judgement 5 pews over about the questionable dress suzy churchgoer is wearing this sunday. I would argue that the message of grace, love and patience, rather than stringent legalism and report cards is what produces the most “change” we wittingly and unwittingly demand from people. It is in our nature to want results, to want to see lives change, to see God at work– It reinforces our faith and allows us to live and believe predictably, comfortably. The true test of faith comes when those reinforcements, results and “change” come to a halt, or rather we see it as such. What then? How shall we (the church) respond? Shall we revoke someone’s Christian card? Double check their baptism record? Look at their report card? Kick them out when they have become too problematic? Or should we stay, listen, pray over them, care, and do life with them in spite of their sin knowing that it may take years for God to heal them, all while believing God is at work without seeing our cherished “results”? This is the Gospel. This is Jesus. This is what it means to be a Christian.

    • WesWoodell says:

      I hear what you’re saying and respect those guys you mention, but believe (with the exception of Chan) their theology of baptism is wrong. They simply parrot what the Reformed have said for generations now. Chan is the only one who does not.

      And I certainly do not believe it’s Pharisaical to speak my convictions on what the Bible says about giving ones life to Christ as handed down from those who wrote the New Testament as well as the extra-biblical writings of the early church fathers that Driscoll and the like conveniently ignore. The Bible teaches that it is in baptism a person’s sins are washed away, and links the act closely with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Numerous passages link baptism closely with salvation, because intrinsic in it is commitment to Jesus as Lord – the relationship that saves. How a person could honestly sit down with the Bible, study all the passages that have to do with baptism, and come to the conclusion it has nothing to do with salvation is honestly confusing to me. The Reformed have baffled me on this issue since Martin Luther – I believe their theology of baptism at its root is a reaction against Catholic doctrines that put too much emphasis on the acts and not enough on grace.

      Furthermore, from my own Bible study I am convicted that repentance is required to have a saving relationship with Christ. Would you not agree?

      One cannot claim to following Jesus and continue in sin, and by “sin” I do not mean making mistakes in life – I mean one cannot continue in all out rebellion living a lifestyle characterized by sin. In Galatians 5:19-21, several ‘sins that lead to death’ are listed and Paul rounds out the list by saying “those who *live like this* will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus tells us several times that those who love him will obey his commands and be with him in heaven – those who don’t will not and will be sent to hell. I know this is not a particularly attractive thought, but are we really loving people if we pretend those passages don’t exist?

      I know the word “sinner” is something that gets thrown around a lot in theological circles today, but when the Bible calls someone a “sinner,” it’s describing someone who is not willing to follow Jesus and instead rebels against his lordship. Following his commands, albeit imperfectly, is something saved people will do.

      No, one doesn’t mature into the person God created them to be overnight, but Jen – they can repent overnight. Initial repentance can occur in an instant – it did for me. My direction changed when I decided I was really going to follow Jesus. That doesn’t mean I was spiritually mature over night – it doesn’t mean I never sinned again – it does mean my direction changed even though I still struggled (and still struggle).

      And of course we’re supposed to help one another, be patient with one another, and bear with one another in love, but, as it pertains to Christians in community with one another, we actually ARE called to “measure each other with our yard stick of change.” We don’t arbitrarily come up with the yard stick on our own either -we have the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and leaders God has specifically gifted prophetically and intellectually to help us navigate those seas. This may be a concept you haven’t pondered extensively, but God supernaturally works through Christians to sanctify other Christians. That’s one of the functions of spiritual gifts.

      I also encourage you to study 1 Corinthians 5 and pay special attention to verses 12-13. I posted a few study notes on this a while back you might find interesting: http://westcoastwitness.com/2009/03/19/a-few-quotes-from-that-we-may-share-his-holiness-by-tommy-south/

      As far as this paragraph:

      “A Christian will live a life of repentance. It starts with a change of mind and change of heart. Which leads to an eventual turn from sin due to the mind/heart change. These must come first before the “turn”. Why don’t we stress the deep heart change that will keep our turn lasting, rather than the excessive grading of the act of turning? Action without thought/emotion is pointless and often dangerous. Much like sex without love is just exercise. Yes, I went there.”

      I actually like what you say here. It is very important people know how much God loves them as this provides motivation for the change. Once we catch a glimpse of the beauty of Jesus, we can’t help but run to him. What I disagree with again, is the critical attitude toward being cognizant of our fellow believer’s spiritual development. It can certainly be unhealthy if we self-righteously condescend to others, but again, Jesus, Paul, and too many others make it clear that true disciples should strive to live a life worthy of their calling, and we are also loving encouraged to spur one another on in this. Sometimes we’re not loving someone if we don’t call them higher.

      Last thing: your “I was a Christian before the moment I was baptized” remark. Paul’s words to the jailer – “will be” saved. Future tense. “Sins are washed away.” Present tense, referring to the act they engaged in immediately after Paul’s comment to them. 1 Peter 3:21 – “this baptism that NOW saves you” – present tense. Acts 2:38 – “will be forgiven” – future tense referring to a specific act the listeners were about the perform.

      You accuse me of being nit-picky for articulating a ‘when,’ then you articulate a ‘when’ and imply I’m Pharisaical for having one. Come on! The difference between my ‘when’ and your ‘when’ is my view is supported by what the text actually says. Each individual word is God-breathed – eh? 🙂

      • WesWoodell says:

        One more thing: while I disagree with Dricoll’s theology of baptism, I do believe his ministry and others like it are producing Christians and I rejoice in that.

        To be clear (and this is where I part with many in the CoC), I do not believe one has to have a perfect understanding of what Jesus does in baptism in order for God to honor it (i.e. understanding it is in baptism God cleanses sinners through the forgiveness of sin and gift of the HS). What I do believe one has to understand is that they are committing their life to Christ. Following Jesus is what is most important – He is God, a perfect understanding of baptism is not.

        This view of things opens me up to fellowship with people from various faith traditions, and I am convicted it is biblical. I did not speak about that in this lesson because there are others coming in the future that will touch on this point.

  2. jen says:

    Wait, I watched the chan video, and he doesn’t stress over the moment we become saved.. if I remember correctly he mocked those asking. Basically, just do what the bible says and stop nit picking and adding to was the gist, yes? This is not a different view from driscoll (I have not studied chandler & pipers views on this particular issue in as much detail, but know their stance). I’ve listened to hours/days/months of MD sermons, and not once does he discredit or fail to stress the importance of baptism. How else would literally thousands be baptized every year? Also, if you have ‘Doctrine’, read pg 317.

    I need quite a bit more caffeine to respond to the rest of this properly, lol. While I respectfully disagree with you on some things here, I apologize if it came across that I was implying in any way that YOU were pharasitical. I read it again and could see how it could be taken the wrong way. Please understand that it is not my heart to attack you, (others.. maaaybe… lol) nor was it what I was trying to say in my post. 🙂

  3. Tulsaoilman says:

    I too am often surprised by those who seem to have such a good grasp on Scripture can miss something so clear in Scripture as baptism being a part of saving grace.

    2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 is the only thing that comes close to helping me understand how this can happen. I often witness how powerful a “powerful delusion” from God can be.

  4. WesWoodell says:

    Jen – I have no idea. I heard that sermon years ago, but it stuck with me because it made me wonder if he would even consider me a Christian. I’m not so sure that he would.

    • Jen says:

      http://www.marshillchurch.org/media/doctrine/church-god-sends

      Go to the 40 minute mark.

      and I quote, “We’re always baptizing new Christians and. we. love. it.”

      Not sure where you heard that but… This is from 2008.

      • WesWoodell says:

        His comment I referenced earlier wasn’t by any means against baptism – it was against people who believe baptism plays a part in becoming a Christian.

        He would say baptism is something that is done by people who are already Christians as it is initial belief that washes a person’s sins away and baptism is only symbolic.

        Whatever – I’m glad he baptizes and believe his ministry is producing Christians. I just wish he’d take another look at this issue biblically instead of parroting the guys he really looks up to.

  5. jen says:

    Sigh.. I’m tired arguing and I haven’t even responded to your initial response yet, only to our side argument. lol!

    We just have a difference in opinion here. I have examined it, and you can be damn sure driscoll has too. I think its ok that we don’t come up with the same conclusion.. we can still have commonality and unity in Christ. and remember I’ve had years of CoC doctrine shoved at me before this, and this is my view–post examination. Which Ironically I have done 109847x more of since leaving.

  6. Terry says:

    This is an excerpt from a 1994 sermon by John Piper at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/strengthened-to-suffer-christ-noah-and-baptism. It looks like it’s biblically accurate to me.

    “1 Peter 3:18-22

    4. Know the Meaning of Baptism

    The fourth way that Peter strengthens us for suffering is by describing the meaning of baptism.

    The flood waters that brought judgment on the world in Noah’s day reminds Peter of Christian baptism. Verse 21: “And corresponding to that [the flood], baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

    Verse 18 said that Christ died for sins and brought us to God. In other words Christ saves us. But the question is: who is us? Whom does Christ’s death actually save? That’s what verse 21 answers: those who are baptized. But Peter knows that this will be misunderstood if he does not qualify it. So when he says, “Baptism now saves you,” he adds, “Not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience.” This is virtually a definition of baptism. Baptism is an outward expression of a spiritual, inward appeal to God for cleansing. In other words, baptism is a way of saying to God: “I trust you to apply the death of Jesus to me for my sins and to bring me through death and judgment into new and everlasting life through the resurrection of Jesus.”

    Baptism may cleanse the body because it was by immersion. But that is not why he says it saves. It saves for one reason: it is an expression of faith. It is an appeal of faith. Paul said in Romans 10:13 that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Baptism is such a calling. It is an appeal to the Lord.”

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