The answer to this might seem very easy to some people. The Arminian might respond, “Repeat the words of this simple prayer after me”, or “Just ask Jesus into your heart”.
Others might say, “If someone is not a Christian, then they are dead in trespasses and sins and so can’t do anything”.
I believe what Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” But on the other hand Jesus very frequently told people to come to him, implying that this choice was available to them.
We have to maintain the tension between:
- on the one hand that God is sovereign, salvation is his work, and he saves whom he will,
- and on the other hand that we are both responsible and active in the process. (We do not wake up in the morning to discover God has made us a Christian overnight.)
The starting point must be that the Holy Spirit is working in a person, even before they are born again (otherwise they would have no spiritual interest). It is possible to resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51) up to a point, but ultimately God can break through any resistance (e.g. Paul’s salvation).
The second assumption is that the words of the gospel are like seeds which the Spirit can bring to life. So we don’t tell people that they are required to trust in Jesus yet cannot. We tell them to trust him with the confidence that the Spirit is the one who gives power to these words.
The third assumption is that assurance is the work of the Spirit, not our job. So we don’t say, “Now you have prayed this prayer, you are a Christian.” We say, “keep seeking God until you know you have a new spiritual life within you.”
So now back to the question itself—what must a person do? The simple answer is “repent and believe”, but this needs some explanation, and raises an important question, “How much do you need to know to become a Christian—is there a minimum?”
I think there are three things you need to know:
- Who God is
- What God offers
- What God requires
Here are my thoughts, taken from an outline of a sermon on: "What does a person do to become a Christian?"
1. Who God is:
- Abilities (things that are not like us)
- Eternal (no beginning an no end)
- All powerful (no limit)
- Created all things
- Knows everything (yes, everything)
- Character (ways that he wants us to be like him)
- Perfectly just and fair
- loving and kind
- hates evil, cruelty, injustice etc.
So to become a Christian, you have to know something of what God is like
2. What Does God Offer?
- Simply, he offers us Jesus
- to forgive us for everything
- But not just “a way of getting out of being punished by God”
- to love us gently, but passionately
- That he will actually come and live in us through the Holy Spirit
- To give us power and strength over evil
- To do “heart surgery” on us so that we will naturally want to do good things and not bad
- To bring us into a new community of people filled with his love
- To give us a plan and a purpose in life as we help him battle against evil
- Here is another description of what he offers, and it leads into what he requires
3. What Does God Require?
- The passage stresses three things:
- Acknowledging Jesus—we publicly declare we are following him
- Baptism is a very important part of this
- Put Jesus before everything
- To “take up your cross”, in other words, to follow his example of selfless love, even if it means suffering
- What does Jesus want us to give up?
- Living in independence from him
- Our own way of solving our problems
- Living for our own goals
- Things in our lifestyle that offend him
4. How Do We Respond?
- essential to
- recognize your need
- to completely trust Jesus to care and provide for you
- a small country under attack, appealing to a much larger country for help
- not help, but giving over control
- The O.T. is full of laws
- The Pharisees placed huge demands: Matthew 23:4
- Come to Jesus, trust him, rest
- Nothing you can do— “Roll on Jesus”
- Surrender and let him take on all your problems
- Throwing yourself into his arms
- You can say something like:
- “Please forgive me God for living my life as if I didn’t belong to you”
- “Please give me your amazing gift of new life in Jesus”
- “I want to follow Jesus for the rest of my life”
5. How Do We Know it has Happened?
- How do we know that Jesus has forgiven us and come into our lives?
- The gift of the Spirit—who assures us (after we have publicly acknowledged him in baptism)
- Evidence of Jesus living in us
- love for other Christians—wanting to be with them
- hunger to learn more of him
- desire to pray and talk to God
Updated on 2009-10-14 (r.83) by Andrew Fountain