How Does One Become a “Christian”?
This is a basic article on a basic topic. It may be that almost
all who will read this article already know these things. However, it is good to
review them from time to time since we are constantly associated with people who
are unfamiliar with what the word of God says about how to become a Christian.
We need to be prepared to communicate these things to others in a convincing and
But you may also find some things herein that you have not considered before; perhaps in the way a passage is related to the topic. And if you are not a Christian, please consider these things carefully.
In A.D. 59, the apostle Paul, a prisoner of the Roman government, was given an opportunity to speak in his own defense before the Roman procurator Porcius Festus, the Jewish king Herod Agrippa II, and Agrippa's sister Bernice (Acts 24:27-26:32).
Following Paul's speech, Agrippa replied, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:24-19). The New Testament manuscripts use the word “Christian” three times: here in Acts 26:28 and also in Acts 11:26 and 1 Peter 4:16. In each case, it is obvious that the word is used with reference to a follower of Jesus Christ. In this study, we are asking the question: how does one become a Christian? If Agrippa had been completely persuaded to become a Christian, if he had said what he should have said that day, “Paul, you have convinced me. You have persuaded me to become a Christian.” - what would Paul have instructed him to do to become one?
The most often-heard answer to this or similar questions is that one simply needs to open his heart and accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. The New Testament certainly does speak of “receiving” Jesus Christ. We are told “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,” (Colossians 2:6). But how is this done? Are any specific actions to “receive Christ” required other than the mere mental act of believing in Jesus Christ?
This question is important because Jesus Himself said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). What is entailed in this “Do the will of My Father who is in Heaven”? Certainly “receiving Christ” would entail doing as He said to do.
The New Testament often speaks of concepts such as ”obedience to (or of) the faith” - (Romans. 1:5; 16:26). It speaks of “obeying the truth” (Romans 2:8; 1 Peter 1:22) and “obeying the gospel” (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8) and “obeying the doctrine” (Romans 6:17). It would seem that any answer to our question “How does one become a Christian?” which avoids this part of the answer is inadequate.
There are many different ways to say a thing, and this includes different ways of expressing the idea of “becoming a Christian.” For example, I would be saying essentially the same thing if I talked about how one becomes “a disciple of the Lord.” In fact, the Bible says that the word “Christian” was used simply to denote people who were “disciples” of Jesus (recall Acts 11:26).
We could express the same thing by talking about obeying the gospel. When one is taught the gospel, believes it, and is baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he becomes a disciple. That is how the Jesus told His apostles that disciples are made-”go therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18-20).
This is also how it is said in the Scriptures that one “calls on the name of the Lord.” Jesus had said it is not a matter of just saying “Lord, Lord!” He had said it entailed “doing the will of My Father who is in heaven.” One 'calls upon the name of the Lord” by His seeking, trusting obedience to the gospel of grace. (Acts 2:21; 37-38; 22:16).
Christian, Disciple, Saved
Since these terms are applied to the same people in the Scripture, we can know that you become a Christian the same way you become a disciple. You become a disciple the same way you become a saved individual. You become saved the same way you become a Christian. That simplifies things a lot, doesn't it?
God has placed certain conditions on receiving the forgiveness of sins. The Scriptures say, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,” (Hebrews 5:8-9). We see the condition stated in this verse. Jesus saves those who obey Him!
Our God, by His grace and because of His love for us, has done all that was necessary for Him to do to make the forgiveness of sins possible. We must accept the terms of God's pardon in order to receive from His hand the benefits available in Christ. We must respond to His grace by faith.
This does not mean that we earn or deserve salvation by accepting the conditions of forgiveness. It merely means we put our faith in His grace as we ”call on the name of the Lord.” Forgiveness is indeed a gift of grace, but it is a conditional gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8).
New Testament Examples of People Becoming Christians
Keeping in mind that becoming a Christian and becoming a disciple and becoming a saved individual are synonymous concepts all referring to becoming the same thing, how did people become Christians in the New Testament? In fact, God's Book gives us many examples of people doing that very thing.
1. Those in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost - (Acts 2:1-47; note especially 36-47).
2. The Samaritans - (Acts 8:12).
3. The Ethiopian treasurer - (Acts 8:36-39).
4. Saul of Tarsus - (Acts 22:1-16).
5. Cornelius and his household - (Acts 10:47,48).
6. Lydia and her household - (Acts 16:14,15).
7. The Philippian jailer and his household - (Acts 16:32,33).
8. Crispus and his household - (Acts 18:7,8).
What causes a person to want to become a Christian? The word of God will do that for a person who will accept it (Romans 1:16; 10:17). When one hears the word and believes it, he then is in a position to become a child of God, a Christian - As it was, Agrippa was “almost” persuaded to become a Christian - but it would have been far better for him to have been completely persuaded, and that goes for you and me and everyone we know.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 16.12; December 2009