How To Become A Christian According to the Bible
*Please note that the content of this article is based on Episode 112 of the That You May Know Him Podcast and has, as it's starting point, Acts 2:37-38.*
In this day and age, there are many different methods that people use to invite others into the Kingdom of God. Some ask folks to pray the sinner’s prayer. Others tell would-be disciples to invite Jesus into their hearts. Some say that faith and confession are required (see Romans 10:9-10). For many, nothing short of repentance and baptism does the trick.
It does leave us in a quandary of sorts. What is the “right” way to “get” someone saved? What is the “right” way to be saved? In and of itself, that question is asked and answered multiple times in the Book of Acts (See chapters 2 and 16 for a few examples). Is there a “right” way to answer it here and now? In today’s post, I set out to do just that. But before we jump in, I need to offer a disclosure: to rightly answer the question, “what must I do to be saved,” one must take into account the entire witness of the New Testament. Many passages in the Book mention one, two, or three of the things people can do to be saved, but I believe that the best way to start the Christian life on the right foot is to incorporate all of them.
A pattern can be seen throughout the early church record starting in the Gospels and carrying right through the Book of Acts. The pattern, what we’ll call the Apostolic Practice for Salvation, contains four critical elements. Often, all four parts can be seen at once in a New Testament passage. Other times, only two or three are evident (when this happens, there is almost always a contextual reason why one is left out—see below). Make no mistake, every time someone is invited to receive salvation in the New Testament, some variation of these four elements is deployed as the method by which they are invited to do so.
Here are the four components of becoming a Christian. The four things needed to begin the Christian life well, with a full head of steam.
Listen to the Episode: The Normal Christian Birth, Episode 112
Repent of Your Sins – Repentance is a vital step in the salvation process. Sadly, it is probably the most overlooked today. Repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, and it means quite simply: “to change one’s way of thinking.” In the Bible this word is more fully encompassed not just by changing one’s thinking as it is by undergoing a change of heart. Essentially, to repent is to look at the life you’ve led up to a point and acknowledge that you need saving, that you’re imperfect, unholy, that you require forgiveness and redemption. One of the common reasons some struggle in their Christian lives is because they’ve never heard about their need to repent. Not only is repentance an essential part of beginning the Christian life well, but it’s also vital that Christians go on repenting after they’ve become a follower of Jesus.
Believe in the Lord Jesus – Remember when we said that when one or two of the steps is left out in a particular passage, there is almost always a reason for it? Believing in Jesus is the one that Peter seems to have left out in Acts 2. Or did he? In fact, Peter’s entire sermon on the Day of Pentecost was about the person of Jesus. He spent ample time convincing the Jewish pilgrims present in Jerusalem that day that the Nazarian carpenter who had been crucified some fifty days before was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. To boot, Peter used TONS of Scripture to prove his point. By the time Peter was done, the response of the people was to ask: “what shall we do?” (in other words, “what must we do to be saved?”). The point is that the people there that day became convinced through Peter’s preaching and the work of the Holy Spirit that Jesus was the Messiah. That’s why Peter simply walked them through the other three steps (repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit) when they asked, “what shall we do?”
Be Baptized in Water – This is one of the two steps not overlooked by most Christians today. However, there has been significant debate throughout the church’s history as to how water baptism should be performed, and there are still some who reject it altogether. Just know this: every time people began to follow Jesus in the New Testament, every time someone was saved, they were water baptized. Water baptism is efficacious in two ways: it demonstrates to the world that one is beginning a new life, and, according to Paul (Romans 6) and Peter (1 Peter 3), it inwardly testifies to the believer that their conscience has been wiped clean. This is why water baptism is synonymous in the New Testament with the grave (“we were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death,” Romans 6:4). Furthermore, if Jesus, the only man who ever lived that needed nothing washed away, was baptized in water, why shouldn’t we be? If we follow the pattern that Jesus himself laid out (and that his apostles followed straight through the end of their lives), it sets up the fourth and final step to directly follow one’s having been baptized in water.
Receive the Holy Spirit – Unfortunately, receiving the Holy Spirit is the second most overlooked step in modern-day, mainstream evangelistic preaching. It was a vital step in becoming a Christian for the apostles. In two separate cases in the Book of Acts, we see situations where people who repented, believed, and were baptized in water did not immediately receive the Holy Spirit thereafter. In both cases, the apostles considered this a major problem, a crisis, and hurried to remedy the situation (see Acts 8 and Acts 19). It is vital that a person ask God to send the Holy Spirit to indwell them if it does not immediately occur upon undergoing the first three steps. How does one know? In almost every occurrence in the Book of Acts, the receiving of the Holy Spirit was evidenced in some form or another (often via the recipient speaking in tongues). One thing is sure: when a person receives the Holy Spirit, they almost always know it.
In closing, I’d like to say that while I believe all of these steps necessary for getting off on the right foot as a Christian, I do not believe that missing one or even two means you are unsaved if your faith in Jesus is authentic and you’ve genuinely made Him your Lord. However, the pattern Scripture presents for how one goes about getting saved is unquestionable. If you are a Christian who has missed one of these steps, it could be affecting your life in ways you don’t realize. As someone who did miss some of these steps and then later came to realize it, I immediately set out to make things right with the Lord. Honoring Him is much more important than being right. I can tell you from experience that doing this matters. Living the Christian life without having undertaken one of these steps is like trying to build a house without the proper tools. If you’d like help going back over any of these steps or would like prayer regarding getting off on the right foot as a Christian, please don’t hesitate to contact our ministry: email@example.com.
 See Acts 8 and Acts 19 for examples.