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How to Become a True Christian
The title alone should stir controversy. This is not the intent, but reflects the confusion regarding what it means to be “saved”. Almost anyone can join a Christian church and after following their requirements be declared a Christian. This is usually taken to mean that one is destined for eternal life in heaven and escaping being tormented in hell forever. Considering that some may be mistaken about their eternal destination (Mat 7:22-23), it can be useful to see what the bible says.
First we should consider that entering the kingdom was different for those of Israel than salvation is for us today. Israel could obtain a degree of righteousness by following the law that was given to their nation by God (Eze 18:21). There was a degree of faith buried in the keeping of the law. This can be see as some who kept the law were not acceptable to God and others who were not as observant were justified by repentance.(Luke 18:10-14). By the time of Jesus, faith was more specifically shown to be a requirement for Israel (John 8:24, James 2:18). Works and law keeping were part of what was required of Israel in addition to faith. For the faithful remnant of Israel there will be a transformation to enter the kingdom that Jesus told Nicodemus that he should have known about (John 3:10, Eze 26:24-28)
Because Israel was still failing to respond to the kingdom offer just after the time of Jesus, Paul was called to bring the gospel of salvation by faith to gentiles (Acts 26:14-18). This was a different gospel from that to the nation of Israel (Gal 2:7). This had an initial purpose to provoke those of Israel to jealousy (Rom 11:11). However, there was a longer term plan as well. If Israel still failed to repent and receive the kingdom, gentiles would still be able to come to faith until such time a faithful remnant of Israel would be restored (Rom 11:12).
For gentiles and individual Jews who received the gospel Paul preached, they would be placed into the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13) and be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). This is what is available to all today. To take a look at how this works, we can see that God’s grace is available to anyone who receives it by faith (Eph 2:8-9). The result is being “saved”. This condition (being saved) has several elements such as eternal life (Rom 6:23), fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9), fellowship with others who are also in Christ (Eph 4:2), having sins forgiven (Eph 1:7), access to wisdom (Eph 1:17), and the work of the Holy Spirit to make us better people (if we allow it) (Gal 5:16, 5:22-23).
If we receive salvation by grace through faith, faith might be seen as the conduit by which this salvation is accomplished. The next question would be how is this faith established. We can see from the fact that one is more likely to trust (have faith) in his parents than a used car or insurance salesman. This is because faith (trust) is extended in proportion to that which is seen as true. There can be a depth to trust that is sometimes illustrated using the example of a tightrope walker about to cross over Niagara Falls on a tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow. He asked a man in the audience if he believed that he could do it, to which the man answered “Yes”. He then asked, “Are you willing to ride in the wheelbarrow”.
Faith is not so much something that is summoned by strength of will. Rather we are told that it comes from hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17). One might ask why all who hear the bible do not then come to faith. We see an example with the sower given by Jesus. In this parable he tells his disciples that not all of Israel that hear about the kingdom will be inclined to accept it. This is a good parallel to explain why different individuals are unmoved by the word of God and do not come to faith. He uses the example of seed as representative of the word of God and different types of soil as representative of the differing conditions of human hearts. Those that are of the right condition can receive the seed (word) and it will grow to produce a harvest. While some soil is so hard it is impervious to the seed, others are lacking water or choked with weeds (worldly concerns). When Jesus told Pilate that all who were “of the truth" would hear his words (John 18:37), it might be seen that being “of the truth” is an example of “good soil”.
There are a variety of things that people can trust in such as uncertain riches (1 Tim 6:17), chariots (strength and power, Psa 20:7), influential friends (Luke 16:9), education (John 3:10), and popularity (John 12:43). People can live lives of consumptive indulgence where faith (trust) is simply the assumption that one will always be able to find sources of stimulation. Regardless if expectations are short sighted or based on long term projections, most people are not concerned with or interested in ultimate truth. For them relative truth is often the assurance that they can get what they want.
When one considers that God is truth and his word is truth, ultimate truth might be seen as that which defines reality and is absolute and unchangeable. It is this absolute quality that makes God and his word worthy of trust (faith). The relationship between truth and trust (faith) establishes how we come to faith and are able to receive the salvation that God offers by his grace.
Children are perhaps best able to receive the word from parents they trust. Not yet having developed much cynicism, they may be better positioned to fully trust in what they are told is true. This can work against them if what they are told is true is not actually true.
There are some people who experience a life changing event such as a death, incarceration, divorce, loss of employment, or other intense emotional experience that can weaken the grip an established view of the world can have. This can open an opportunity to consider something new when that which had been previously trusted in fails. For example, the person who has had as his primary goal in life the group achievement of some group objective, may be jettisoned from the “team” when he was no longer needed. When everything one has assumed and counted on fails, there can be an openness to consider alternatives.
Some people are raised with specific instruction in life that is never fully accepted. These doubts and uncertainties can remain dormant or be brought to the surface by circumstances. If sufficiently bothersome, these can motivate a person to question and search for answers.
Regardless of if one is raised in truth, driven to it, or searching for it, there is a condition of “being of the truth” that inclines one to recognize it or discern when one is getting closer to it. In physics, this is called resonance. However, for the individual seeking a truth in which he can trust, there are obstacles and difficulties that can impede a response of trust (faith) to the word.
The first category of obstacles is false teaching (Acts 20:30). These teachings are designed to misdirect people (2 Tim 3:7). These teachings are devised by Satan, but promulgated by those who may be sincere, but do not know any better. The result is often people thinking they are Christian but not of true faith. This causes significant confusion both within and outside Christian circles.
A second category of difficulty is human inertness. Inquiry can require effort and possibly raise objections from others. Some are even inhibited to put forth the effort of mental inquiry. Complacency can be seductive.
A third category of obstruction lies with a substitute “truth” as can be found in most colleges. Evolution (there is no God), relativism (there is no right or wrong), psychology (do whatever feels good), and Marxism (smart people should control everything) constitute a core curriculum that has turned many away from truth and undermined and destroyed the faith of many.
Paul and Thomas had real life encounters with Jesus, so that their faith (2 Tim 1:12), John 20:29) was solidly built on personal experience. Even those who walked with Jesus after his resurrection had this experience upon which to build their faith (Luke 24:32). It is understandable that today those who have only the bible or the testimony of friends and family may have weaker faith.
Faith can grow and strengthen. This usually happens in two ways. First, one comes to see with increasing certainty that the gospel is true and reliable. Paul sums up the gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians;
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. - ! Corinthians 15:1-8
Secondly, everything else becomes seen as sadly falling short of truth. Increasing clarity and discernment allows one to become detached from the influences of the world (1 John 2:15-16), the flesh (Gal 5:16), and the schemes of Satan (2 Cor 2:11). This increased discernment is expected as one grows in faith (Heb 5:14). As one sees the world in truth, the truth of the gospel becomes even more clear and the sure foundation for increasing faith.
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