From a FaceBook correspondent: “If someone walked up to you and asked, ‘What must I do to become a Christian?’ how would you answer that?”
The shortest biblical answer to a similar question came in response to the Philippian jailer who asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Notice, however, that the question and response imply a large amount of shared information. The jailer knew that he needed salvation, that salvation was possible and that he was not yet saved. He already knew who Jesus was and that Christians claimed He was the Lord over all creation. He also understood what Paul meant by believing in the Lord Jesus. This information was available to him because Paul and Silas had been preaching in the city for many days.
In 21st century America, we can no longer assume that the people we meet understand any of this. Therefore, I would begin by trying to find out where the inquirer was in his spiritual journey. If he were a Hindu, he might have no concept of creation or final judgment or the uniqueness of Christ’s incarnation. I might need to start with Genesis 1 and move on to the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament sacrificial system before he had the mental furniture on which to place the deity of Christ, His sacrificial death for our sins and the uniqueness of His resurrection. This kind of preparation may be more or less extensive lasting from several visits to as little as a few minutes.
If an inquirer has a rudimentary grasp of the big ideas, I would probably draw the familiar bridge diagram on any scrap of paper available, using verses from one book (Romans) to avoid constant and confusing flipping throughout the whole Bible.
I often then follow up with a diagram illustrating the exchange that takes place—Christ takes our sin and gives us His righteousness. I would probably use Philippians 3:7-9 with this diagram. I describe faith by saying that as sinners, we have our backs turned to God and we are going our own way in life. Faith is turning to Christ from our sin and trusting in His death and resurrection for our salvation.
I might suggest a sample prayer: “Lord, I know that I have sinned, and that I deserve to be punished for my sins. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for sinners. Thank you for raising Him from the dead as proof of His victory over sin and the devil. I now receive Him as my Savior and I want to follow Him as my Lord and Master. Thank you for the precious gift of your Son. In Jesus name, Amen.”
However, I don’t think it is always necessary or even advisable to have the inquirer pray the sinner’s prayer a line at a time. I remember one lady who thought she was a Christian before she came to our church. In the course of a membership class, she came to me privately and asked how to be sure she was a Christian. I went through the gospel as outlined above, and then I left her in my office to do her own business with God. After 15 or 20 minutes, she came out glowing with fresh assurance in Christ.
I know that God uses the simple formulas for evangelism that have been developed in the past one hundred years. I also know that many people “pray the prayer” and are not saved. Furthermore, God is not confined to our methods of evangelism.
Two young ladies in recent years have come to Christ by listening to sermons in church. One of them said, “I prayed for several months for Christ to come in. It took a long time, but finally He did.” The change in her life is amazing. The other young lady left a difficult home situation to live relatives. They required the her to attend church. At first, her countenance was the perfect picture of resentment and despair. After several months—she is not sure how or when—Christ came into her, gave her faith and transformed her whole outlook on life. She is now a joy to look at.
My father suffered for years with doubts about his salvation. I remember him saying, “I’ve received Christ many times, but I don’t know if he has received me.” At his request and based on a rather humble and shaky confession of faith, I baptized him. Many years later, I learned that his baptism had settled his doubts. Baptism was God’s seal on his faith, the reassurance he needed that God had accepted him.
The bottom line is that we may try to mass-produce converts, but God deals with people one by one. To the humble inquirer after salvation my basic counsel is, “Cast yourself on the mercy of God in Christ. Call out to Him to save you. Cling to Christ and don’t let go because He will never disappoint you.”
For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11, 13).
Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).