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Becoming a Christian

By E. Claude Gardner

religion, articles, christianity

How does one become a Christian? Does one become a Christian so gradually and imperceptibly that you do not know it occurred? Are you a Christian merely because you were born in a "Christian nation" and to a "Christian family?" Is there anything to do to become a Christian, a saved person?

The answers are found in the Word of God. Numerous examples in Acts reveal how Christ saves us. Let us consider one of these - Paul (Saul), whose story of how to become a Christian is written in Acts chapters 9, 22, 26. The latter two chapters are in Paul's own words.

What Did Paul Do to Become a Christian?

The Bible gives a clear, simple, and uncomplicated reply. It is not mysterious and confusing. First, he believed in Jesus as his Savior. He quickly changed from unbelief and the posture of persecution of Christ to acceptance (Acts 9:1­2). His questions are indicative of his belief and confession of Jesus when he asked, "Who art thou, Lord?" (Acts 9:5). His second question filled with humility was, "Lord, what wilt thou have me do?" (Acts 9:6).

He demonstrated much sorrow and repentance by fasting and prayer for three days while waiting for someone to tell what he "must do." "And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink ... And the Lord said unto him (Ananias, a disciple at Damascus), Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth" (Acts 9:9, 11).

After Ananias came to him and taught him what God required, he was baptized. "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). "And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized" (Acts 9:18).

Definitely he was immersed for Paul wrote to the Romans. "We (included himself) are buried with Christ in baptism" (Rom. 6:3­4). At the time of his baptism he still had sins because he was commanded to be immersed "to wash away sins." It is plain that one's sins cannot be removed by the blood of Christ without baptism. Saul could not become a Christian without baptism, and neither can we.

Baptism was so urgent and essential that Ananias asked, "Why tarriest?" As soon as one understands that Christ conditions our forgiveness on belief in him, repentance, confession of our belief in him, and baptism for salvation, one should wait no longer. Saul had to wait for three days before he learned his duty, but one should not delay obedience as soon as the truth is understood.

Paul was not saved in ways popular today in religious circles. It is common to hear exhortations of "accept Jesus as your personal Savior," or "make a decision for Christ," as if one can be saved by belief only without further obedience. Saul's question of "Lord, what will thou have me to do" is evidence he believed in Jesus but it is certain he was not saved at that point because he was told to go into Damascus to be told what to do. "And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do" (Acts 22:10). It is a certainty he was not saved as many modern­day preachers proclaim when he saw a "light" and "on the old dusty road to Damascus."

Significantly Jesus did not tell Saul what to do, nor did he assure him of salvation when he appeared to him. This would have been an opportune time to do as some teachers claim, but such a procedure was not God's plan of salvation. It was necessary to obey the gospel.

Neither was he saved by prayer (Acts 9:11). Even though he had prayed for three days he was still unsaved. If prayer is God's plan of salvation, why was not Saul saved before Ananias arrived? Millions are misled at an altar for prayer being assured that God will forgive them. No alien sinner was ever commanded in the New Testament to pray for pardon.

Before becoming a Christian, Saul was most religious. His zeal and devotion exceed his fellows yet this did not save him. "Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:4­6). We appreciate devout and sincere people, but Saul's case shows more is required. Sincerity is not enough.

Prior to becoming a Christian, Saul had a "good conscience" even when he persecuted Stephen and other Christians even to death. "And Paul, earnestly beholding the council said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). One may reason, "I don't feel guilty; my conscience does not hurt," but Saul shows one can be seriously wrong without having a bad conscience. One should educate the conscience by the Word of God.

Paul was a strict adherent to the law of Moses (Old Testament) (Gal. 1:13­14; Acts 26:5). If anyone could be saved by following the Old Testament, Paul could have argued that if one can be saved by the law of Moses, then Christ died in vain (Gal. 2:21; 3:20). If one can be saved by observing Old Testament practices as keeping a Saturday sabbath, incense burning, circumcision, instrumental music, and infant membership, then it was unnecessary for Jesus to come to earth and give a new plan of salvation.

Saul's question, "Lord, what will thou have me do" causes one to conclude he understood he must do something. He could not save himself by his wisdom and superior education (Acts 22:3). It was not salvation "by grace only" for he knew and learned that he must be obedient to be saved by grace.

How is Paul an example? He declares that he is a "pattern" on how to be saved. "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting" (1 Tim. 1:16). If one follows his example of how he was saved, this person will not be misled. By doing as he did one will also be forgiven, become a Christian and a member of the church. One will belong to Christ and be in his body.

No better example can be found to show that a sincere seeker of truth and right will be found. Jesus said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matt. 7:7). Honesty will lead to obedience.

Saul changed his religion, which shows it can be and must be done when it is evident that error has been accepted and the truth is now apparent.

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceeding zealous of the traditions of my father. But when it pleased God. who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:13­16).

Truth may be rejected by reasoning, "I have a great tradition in this denomination for many generations." Saul could have so reasoned but because he was honest with himself and God, he changed from an old religion to a new religion (church). Let it be observed Saul is not an example to encourage changing from the Lord's church of the New Testament to a denomination unknown in the Bible. The change in religion must be based on truth rather than compromise. One should change from error to truth, but not from truth to error.

As expected, Paul was zealous in the law of Moses before becoming a Christian, and was exceedingly zealous for the Lord immediately when he was saved (Gal. 1:14; Acts 9:20).

Who was this great man who has taught us God's plan of salvation? He was of the city of Tarsus in Cilicia (now Turkey), and he was born a Roman citizen. It is estimated at the age of thirteen he began studies to be a religious leader in Jerusalem under the learned Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Likely, he never saw Jesus until he saw him on the road to Damascus. He was not married and he had a thorn in the flesh - an unknown malady. He was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. His occupation was a tentmaker. This remarkable man was a preacher, missionary, and writer of renown and of extraordinary talent.

Paul was obedient when it was shown to him his duty (Acts 26:19). To claim the blessing of Christ, salvation, the church, and the hope of heaven, a sincere person will obey God in the way he commands just as did Saul. The consequences for not obeying the gospel are serious as Paul describes. "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess. 1:7­9).

Published July 1997