Dear New Christian:
Not long ago you obeyed the gospel of Christ and the Lord added you to His church. We want to ask you now, what does it all mean? What has happened? What is your new status? Here are some of the things that are involved in your becoming a Christian:
You Were a Sinner — Your becoming a Christian means that you were once a sinner. It does not mean that you were necessarily immoral and ungodly; one can be a sinner without being immoral and ungodly. The Bible speaks of the “ungodly and the sinner” (I Peter 4:18) You had sinned, had not obeyed the gospel, and in that condition were lost. To the Romans Paul said, “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom. 6:16)
Hence, as long as you stayed in that condition, outside of Christ, disobedient to His commands, living after your own desires, you were a sinner, regardless of how good you were morally. Cornelius was a fine moral man (Acts 10,11); but he still needed to be saved. Christ came to save sinners and Cornelius needed that salvation. Character alone does not save.
You Realized Your Condition — Not only does your becoming a Christian imply that you were once a sinner, but it means also that you realized that you needed to be saved; and further that the Gospel produced faith in your heart that Jesus was the Son of God. (John 6:44, 45; Rom. 10:17) This faith in Christ (John 8:24) led you to repent of your past sins. (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30) Then you confessed your faith in Christ before men (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:9,10), and in obedience to the command of Christ were buried with Him through baptism into death, to be raised up to walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:1-4; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:15, 16; Gal. 3:27.)
Thus you were saved from your past sins. As Paul said to the Romans, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:17, 18) It was when they had “obeyed that form of doctrine” that they were made free from sin. How did such make them free from sin? And how does it make us today free from sin? It is Paul again who answers for us, “Know ye not that so many of you as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?
Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:3-7) It is in baptism that the old man is crucified, the body of sin is destroyed, and we are made free from sin.
That was why Ananias said to Saul, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16) In baptism one’s sins are washed away; thus by faith, repentance, confession of faith in Christ, and baptism one is set free from sin and is translated into the kingdom of God’s Son. When you do this, you were not joining a church; you were simply obeying the gospel of Christ. The same thing that saved you made you a member of the Church; you did not “join this church” but God “added you to it”.
You Are a Babe in Christ — Your becoming a Christian means that you are now a newborn babe in Christ, and that you must grow. Peter said, “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” (I Peter 2:2) Christians grow by studying the Bible. Many people have the false idea that when a person has obeyed the gospel, he is then and there completely saved for all time to come. Such is not the truth.
Baptism is not the end of obedience, but rather its beginning. But, someone asks, are we not saved? Do we not have eternal life? Yes, we are saved from past sins (Acts 2:38); and we do have eternal life in hope (Titus 1:2) and in promise (I John 2:25). So baptism is that act of obedience in which we are saved from our past sins; but we from there must go forward to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul told the Philippians. Again we read, “But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.” (Heb. 10:39) Jesus referred to those “who for a while believe.” (Luke 8:13) And Paul said, “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” (Rom. 13:11) All of these passages refer to that continuous faith of the Christian’s life of works and service, all of which is necessary to his final salvation in Heaven.
You Must “Continue Steadfastly” — When one has obeyed the Gospel, he then must continue “steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) He must not walk according to his former manner of life, because “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” (II Cor. 5:17)
His desires and affections are different from what he had before he became a Christian, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:1, 2) Thus we come to be what God would have us to be.
Peter gives very specific instruction as to how a Christian may gain that final entrance into the heavenly kingdom, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness; charity. For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ… For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:5-11)
To become a Christian means that your past sins have all been forgiven you; that you are now in Christ; and that you must live as He would have you live. If you make a success of your Christian life, Heaven will be your home some day. Our prayer for you is that you will not be of those “who draw back unto perdition.”
Thomas Allen Robertson / The Bible Banner / 1950s