Spiritual Perspectives


 

“HOW TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN”

Gary W. Summers

 

 

     For those who already believe that God exists and that Jesus is His Son, Who died on the cross for our sins, no greater topic could be discussed than how to become a Christian.  In fact, people became intensely interested in an explanation on the Day of Pentecost, and many have been since that landmark occasion.

 

     The first thing one might notice is that individuals have one or more things to do in the process of becoming a Christian.  Salvation is not universal.  The popular notion of the day is that God loves, saves, and forgives everybody regardless of their response to Him.  Satan undoubtedly rejoices in this deception, but God expects a proper response to the love, grace, and mercy that He has shown—both in the way people become Christians and in the way they remain one.

 

     The Bible presents the truth on this, and every other, crucial matter.  Unfortunately, the devil thinks he ought to contradict everything God says; therefore, many set forth ideas that do not come from the Bible to try to convince mankind of error regarding salvation.  Some of those preaching a false gospel may be well respected by many, but popularity in the religious world does not translate into favor with God.

 

     At the time of Christ, the Pharisees were held in high regard by the people.  They were very strict in their beliefs and generally thought to be among the most pious worshippers of their day.  Some may have been genuinely sincere, but Jesus exposed others as hypocrites (Matt. 23).  Many of them sought (and received) the praise of men (Matt. 6).  They did not deserve the reputation they commanded.  When Jesus pointed these things out, He became instantly and immensely unpopular with the Pharisees.  The Lord, how-ever, did not just sling mud at them.  He explained their deficiencies and demonstrated their hypocrisy.  Jesus came to reveal truth, which means in part to set forth truth, but it also requires exposing error.

Billy Graham

 

     Probably, no one is more respected today than Billy Graham.  The mere mention of his name, in the minds of some, is to invoke someone almost on a par with the apostles.  Yet, in all of his years of preaching, he has never told people the truth concerning what they ought to do to be saved.  This is not a vicious assessment offered by some jealous or frustrated rival.  Most of us will never have the opportunities to address the millions that Graham has.  No, this is a matter of truth and error. 

 

     The following tract came into this writer’s possession: “How to Become a Christian” by Billy Graham.  If it told the truth, we would be happy to distribute them, but it misleads people and does not honestly look at the Scriptures.  The reader may or may not like Billy Graham; such is irrelevant: the question must be, “What saith the Scriptures?”

 

     Does the tract not cite the Scriptures?  Yes, it does.  It correctly speaks of God’s love (John 3:16).  It dares to point out that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  Since so few seem to acknowledge the existence of sin and its consequences, we rejoice to see it mentioned, as it is taught in the Bible.  Most people today do not think that sin is much to worry about and certainly do not count themselves as sinners.

 

     Certainly it is appropriate to cite God’s love for mankind, which makes salvation available for us all (Rom. 5:8).  To cite God’s grace and man’s faith is also appropriate (Eph. 2:8-9).  Saying that we cannot work for salvation is also true, as is affirming that we must receive Christ (John 1:12), but the explanation of the way in which Christ is to be received is the point that the disagreement must be registered.  Graham comments: “When you receive Christ—when you accept what He has done for you—you become a child of God.”

     Is that what John 1:12 teaches?  No.  Consider the verse and its context.  These words are part of John’s introduction to his account of Christ’s life.  He is not writing to any one individual at this point, telling them the way to become a Christian.  Notice the contrast:

 

He came unto His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God, even to those who believe on His name (John 1:11-12).

 

     Those who “received” Him did not reject Him without even giving Him a fair hearing.  They received Him in that they were willing to listen to Him.  They had the right, the power, the authority to go on and become children of God.  This passage was not written to explain how God wants Jesus to be received—only that He expects Jesus to be received.  No one ever “became a child of God” by simply believing and understanding that Jesus died for our sins.  John never intended to convey this thought, as evidenced by what he recorded in 3:1-7, which actually does discuss the new birth.

 

     Graham goes on to say that the sinner should picture Christ standing at the door of his life.  “Invite Him in. He is waiting to be received into your life.”  No Scripture is mentioned here, but Revelation 3:20 comes to mind: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him….”  Maybe Graham does not mention this verse by name because Jesus is speaking to Christians here—not sinners.  He therefore just alludes to it so that the reader of the tract might think, “That sounds Biblical,” without providing the reference for him to check it.

 

     All throughout this tract a Scripture has been given for each point.  How strange it is that when Graham gets to the very purpose of the tract (“How to Become a Christian”}, he suddenly cannot find one that applies.  If someone were reading this tract and wondering, “How do I receive Christ?” he would be greatly disappointed.  Below is what follows the urgent message, “Receive Christ Now!”

 

You can invite Jesus Christ into your life right now by praying to God something like the following: Dear Lord, I know that I am a sinner and that I need your forgiveness. I believe that Christ died in my place to pay the penalty for my sin and that he rose from the dead. I now invite Jesus Christ to come into my life as Savior. Thank you for making me Your child. Help me learn to please you in every part of my life.

 

     Again, where is the Scripture that teaches that anyone should pray something like this prayer?  When someone has provided a Scripture for everything he says and suddenly quits, there is a reason, and that reason is that the Bible does not teach what this paragraph says.  One may (and should) read the entire New Testament, but he will never find these words.

     In this man-concocted prayer, not one word is spoken about repentance—an absolute essential to salvation.  Jesus taught, “…unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5).  What happened to Billy Graham?  When he was younger, he could preach outstanding sermons on the need for repentance.  Now he cannot even mention it in a tract concerned with salvation.  Could it be that repenting of sin is not popular any more?  People want salvation while they continue in sin.  The Bible does not teach such a doctrine. 

 

     Recognizing that we need a Savior does not get us anywhere near salvation.  It is a step in the journey, but to stop there is like running out of gas before getting to the outskirts of town on vacation.  We would all love travel more if we could say, “I am in need of arriving at my destination,” and magically we are there!

 

     The book of Acts contains many accounts of people becoming Christians.  Why did Graham ignore the book entirely?  He quotes the letters of Romans and Ephesians, which were letters written to Christians, but he never looks at a single instance of a sinner becoming a Christian, which is supposed to be the subject of this tract.

 

     Acts 2 provides the first account of the apostles preaching to the lost after Jesus had died, been buried, arose again, and ascended into heaven.  After Peter convinces the very ones who crucified Jesus that He is both Lord and Christ, the men asked what they should do (Acts 2:37).  Peter did not tell those people what is in Graham’s tract.  He did not tell them to pray a prayer something like this—that they were sinners but now they received Jesus.  Instead, he told them the truth:

 

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” 

 

     How ironic is that!  The two things the inspired apostle said for them to do (repent and be baptized) Graham left out of his tract entirely.  A sincere seeker of truth should read the book of Acts.  The eunuch was baptized in Acts 8; Cornelius and his household were baptized in Acts 10; Saul of Tarsus was baptized in Acts 9:18 and 22:16 (two accounts of the same event), and others were also baptized.  Not once was anyone ever told to receive Christ and pray a prayer.

 

     Next Graham cites Romans 12:13 as proof that anyone praying his prayer is saved; “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   The Scripture is true; Graham’s application is erroneous.  Acts 22:16 tells the sinner HOW to call on the name of the Lord.  It is in being baptized to have his sins washed away—not the way Graham gave.

 

     Should you listen to what a man—even a highly respected man—says?  Or should you listen to the Word of God?  “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Ps. 118:8).   

“100% Absolutely Sure”

 

     Another tract (that does not specify an author, but is published by Mercy and Truth Ministries in Lawrence, Kansas) boasts that people can be 100% absolutely sure of their salvation, if they believe the Scriptures that are mentioned therein.

 

     They do cite 1 John 5:13, in which John says that Christians (not non-Christians) can know that they have eternal life.  It is true that God wants Christians to be confident of their salvation.  The opposite, however, is not true.  Just because someone is confident of salvation does not mean he is right.  People are confident when they believe a lie and are taught error, which is precisely what this tract does.

 

     It lists eight points that theoretically build confidence.  The first is that all are sinners (Rom. 3:23).  The second observation is that sin merits hell (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:14).  The next affirmation is that we cannot do anything to merit heaven, which is also true (Titus 3:5).  The fourth precept is that Jesus paid the price for our sins (Rom. 5:8), followed by the fact that He died for our sins and rose again (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

 

     What, however, shall we do with number six, in which it is affirmed that Jesus freely offers salvation to all with no strings attached?  That eternal life is a gift the Scriptures say clearly (Rom. 6:23).  What does the writer of the tract consider “strings”?  There is a vast difference between conditions of acceptance and works of merit.  Sinners can never merit or work for salvation.  But conditions of acceptance are another matter.

 

     For example, God gave Jericho to the Israelites (Joshua 1:3).  They did not earn the land; they would not have conquered it on their own might or power.  God gave the land to them.  He also placed conditions (strings?) on them receiving it.  They had to march around the city once each day for six days and seven times on the seventh day, et al.  None of these actions could be construed as earning the land, but God specified these conditions to their receiving it.

 

     Likewise, salvation is a gift; no one could work hard enough to ever merit salvation.  But God has specified certain conditions which need to be met in order to receive that gift.  The writer of the tract seems to understand that idea because he lists conditions of acceptance (even though he said there were no strings attached).  Below is his entire seventh assertion.

 

7. You accept the gift by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by confessing Him with your mouth. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10).

 

     He added something that Billy Graham left out—confessing Jesus’ Deity with the mouth.  Hmm.  Jesus made this confession (Mark 14:61-62); the eunuch also did (Acts 8:37); so did Timothy (1 Tim. 6:12).

     Are these two “strings” attached to the free gift of salvation?  The author of the tract does not clear that up.  He is right—as far as he goes.  Unfortunately, he stops there.  Below is his conclusion.

 

8. You are 100% certain by believing the PROMISE of God. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).

 

Why not be 100% sure today? Would you just pray this prayer from your heart?

 

Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and that you died and rose from the dead for me. Please forgive me from my sin and take me to heaven when I die.  Thank you!  AMEN.

 

     One can just hear some poor duped soul say: “Wow!  Ain’t salvation grand?  All I gotta do is pray this little prayer, and I get to go to heaven when I die.  Fantastic!”  No wonder there are so many “saved” people whose lives cannot be distinguished from those of sinners.  Notice what this tract did NOT mention.

 

     It included not one word about repentance.  It ignored baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  It failed to mention even one person that became a Christian in the book of Acts, the book of conversions.

 

     What motivates people to offer salvation in such a cheap fashion, as though it was theirs to dispense?  They try to make these tracts sound Biblical, but when they get to the point of, “What must I do to be saved?” they depart from the Scriptures and substitute some little sinner’s prayer (written by uninspired men), which is never found in the Divinely-inspired Word.

 

     Salvation is not something obtained in two minutes as the result of reading some tract.  Why did God write such a large book if salvation were that simple?  He could have commanded His followers to pepper the world with leaflets so that folks would be “receiving Christ” day and night, had He so desired.

 

     The fact is that, first, we need to know who Jesus is; for that reason He provided Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Once we are convinced that He is truly the Son of God, based on the evidence that God provided, and that He died for our sins, then we should be moved to repent of our sins.  The Bible defines sin; we need to read it to understand what we are guilty of.  Confessing the name of Christ verbally is excellent; so is confessing Him with our life (Matt. 10:32-33). 

 

     But how is sin removed—through a verbal confession?  Sins can only be cleansed through the blood Jesus shed on the cross (John 19:34).  The blood of the Savior washes away our sins when we are baptized (Acts 2:38; 22:16).  At that time we are added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47), and then we begin living a holy life that glorifies our Savior.

 

 

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "Whatever the article name from above is (01/07/07)."

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