Thursday, March 09, 2006

What would you tell someone who asked how to become a Christian?

My kids are applying for a short-term mission project, and I happened to see this question on the form:
What would you tell someone who asked how to become a Christian?
If I had been given this question 25 years ago, say, I would have given some kind of formula answer.

There are several of these, known by various names. The lovely Carol mentioned the 4 spiritual laws (Campus Crusade) in her blog. Then there are the Bridge to Life (Billy Graham; the Navigators), the Romans road, and my kids' most recent encounter with formula answers, the A-B-C plan. This one came in a Sunday school lesson they helped present to the K-1 class, and it says you need to
  • Admit you're a sinner
  • Believe Jesus died so your sins would be forgiven, and was raised from the dead
  • Commit your life to him
These are all great answers, and I've used some of them myself. But something is lacking in them.

There once was a gangster, Mickey Cohen, who thought it would be nice to be a Christian. He had heard a Billy Graham crusade or something and asked a few questions. Someone gave him a formula answer, and he prayed to "receive Christ." But after a few months, nothing in his life seemed to have changed. Apparently nobody explained to him about repentance. When somebody did explain this to him, Mickey was surprised. There are Christian carpenters and doctors and auto mechanics, who didn't change their jobs when they became Christians; why should he have to change his?

So, OK, so these formulaic answers may have some issues. What if we look at some of the things Jesus said to people who wanted to follow him, to have eternal life, to have their sins forgiven, to be right with God? What did he say?
  • Follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 4.19)
  • Be poor in spirit; mourn; be humble and merciful; desire righteousness; make peace; be persecuted (Mt 5.3-10)
  • If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off. (Mt 18.8-9)
  • Forgive others. (Mt 6.14-15, 18.35)
  • Sell your possessions and give to the poor... then come, follow me. (Mt 19.21)
  • Care for the needy, visit prisoners (Mt 25.35-46)
  • Humble yourself before God. (Lk 18.13-14)
  • Recognize you're a sinner, and ask Jesus to remember you. (Lk 23.40-43)
  • Believe in the one he has sent (Jn 3.16; 6.27-29)
  • Eat Jesus's flesh and drink his blood (John 6.54)

The point has been made elsewhere, but Jesus would not have gotten a very good grade on questions like this. I think it's because "How do I become a Christian?" is a question that can be answered as simply as "Follow me" but it takes a lifetime to actually do.

So how would I answer the question today?

Well, before answering, I'd want to know what the person's intention is. Why does he want to become a Christian? What is his understanding of what it means to be a Christian?

These are not idle questions, even if we set Mickey aside for now. If Christian missionaries live in bigger houses than the local populace and have luxurious goods, the "local" wanting to become a Christian may have no idea what he's talking about; he may be mainly interested in the good life here and now. Someone may be interested in a political or security advantage that seems associated with Christians. Or he may have noticed some aspect of a Christian's personality or character or a perceived lack of troubles in a christian's life. Not all of these are what I'd call good reasons for becoming a Christian.

So assuming that the person wants to become a Christian because he feels a lack of meaning in his life, he wants to know God more, he knows that he's a sinner and wants to be a better person, or something like this...

I'd say that becoming a Christian is the beginning of a lifelong process of growth, that your problems won't all disappear (in fact you might get more of them). Not only won't your problems disappear; your questions won't all be answered either.

After all that, I'd probably talk about what it means to believe in Jesus:
  1. that we humans are sick; we're headed to hell for good reason
  2. that besides being sick, we're stupid, like sheep, and naturally do evil
  3. that Jesus Christ provides the only remedy for #1 and #2; that to become well and to become good, we must listen to him and emulate him.
Behind #3 is the idea that Jesus is Lord, and also that Jesus is smart. When Jesus and I have a disagreement about something, it's not because I'm right and he's wrong. It's not because I'm an expert and he's missing some detail, or because I have the big picture in mind and he's too focused on some details. Rather, it's because I'm stubborn or ignorant or distracted or just being bad. Or some combination thereof.

So I guess my answer to the question (besides the part about making sure they're not looking for a big house or the wrinkle-free life) is that one has to change one's mind about Jesus and sin and the point of life, and to believe basically the points #1-#3 above. If they do that, then the rest would follow.

So what did I get -- a C+ maybe?

This doesn't go anywhere but I wanted to tell you about it anyway

A young friend of ours was praying in mid-December, and his mother assumed he was asking for toys. "No, mama; I was praying to become a good boy."

I guess our young friend had something to teach me....


Godzheart said...

Hi Collin, You've said it very well in your blog. Even with good intentions when we take an unbelieving friend to the church, we should be very careful what we're introducing them to,is it Jesus or the church atmosphere, the pastor, the worship music,what is it? And yes people will never be changed just because they've said a formula prayer, well I'd say the real work comes after that,a proper guidance for our new friends.

A very nice blog.
God bless.

Eddie said...

You said: "I'd say that becoming a Christian is the beginning of a lifelong process of growth, that your problems won't all disappear (in fact you might get more of them). Not only won't your problems disappear; your questions won't all be answered either."

This is so true. Unfortunately, I think this is the part that many non-Christians (and new Christians) don't understand - especially with so much of the prosperity preaching going on today.

I think the method I was taught was sort of a hodgepodge of some of the ones you listed. What I remember most from my evangelism training though is 1)ask for God's forgiveness 2) inviting Him into your heart 3)Repentance 4)Making him Lord (ruler and head) of your life - ie. committing to serve him through your obedience to his word.

BTW, I think every believer should know how to explain the good news to a non-believer. You'd be surprised at how many don't.

collin66 said...

Thank you both for your kind words. I enjoyed reading your blogs, too.