This is a Response to a good friend’s exploration of when it is someone becomes a Christian and achieves salvation:
An inquiry in response to yesterday’s Morning Light’. I hope you can find some time to read it all.
An Inquiry: Upon repentance from sin, is this something separate of Christ? Or does repentance come upon acceptance on Jesus? Does salvation come with this repentance absent of Christ, or does salvation come from repentance in the name of Christ (namely being knowledge of Jesus, not the ‘letters’ of his name)? Are these two things that should occur at once, or are they engaged separately? I ask because upon the Pentecost, Peter gives his great sermon asking us to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, In the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38). Beforehand, John the Baptist asked people to repent and be baptized. In the Peter scenario, Peter now says that repentance in the name of Jesus will lead to them “receiv[ing[ the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38), or the sign of Salvation (the Holy Spirit entering you upon becoming a Christian). We can easily say that upon becoming a Christian, one receives the gift of the spirit. We can say a sign of one’s salvation is that of the Spirit. This is pretty much universally agreed in Protestant Circles.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Acts (2:41). In other words, 3000 heard the message, repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus, received the spirit, and were added to their number (The Church; aka body of Christians/Believers). They followed Peter’s teaching and became ‘Christians’.
I equate this to where Robert was when we had the discussion you narrated in the devotional. I understand an individual may be baptized and repent towards God (as the Jews and God-fearers in the OT did before the coming of the Messiah; Abraham, etc.), but after the crucifixion, we see Peter asking us not only to repent and receive baptism as if it’s a pre-requisite for accepting Jesus, but to repent and be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” There seems to be a difference here in merely repenting and facing towards God, and doing it with Jesus as the pivotal central concept of repentance and source of salvation. This is void of complicated dogma, but focused on the central tenet of a Christian; That salvation comes from Jesus.
If being a Christian involves living a life as modeled by Christ, and salvation comes from forgiveness of sins, and Peter explained forgiveness and repentance come through the name of Jesus Christ (aka the person), then I would only question someone claiming to be a Christian only if they didn’t understand their salvation and forgiveness not only comes from the genuine repentance (for even non-believers may be disgusted with their sin and repent from it via their conscious), but that understanding the central role that Jesus plays in that repentance, salvation, and forgiveness. I think the verses you’re mentioning in the devotional discuss how one who fears and loves God will openly accept the message of the Good News. Those who hate darkness will obviously flock to the message (Those 3000 heard the message of Peter, repented, and were saved. Those whose hearts liked darkness heard the disciples speaking in tongues and likened it to drunkenness. That’s an example of the verses you used, but it by no means implies that openness BEING salvation and making them Christian, but OPENING the opportunity).
That’s why I ask the initial inquiry in our past dialogue. Does someone repent, point their life towards God, and becomes a Christian (as John the Baptist called for), or does one’s Christianity and salvation begin with repenting and receiving forgiveness in the name of Christ? I would find anyone’s claim of salvation vague without a concept that their repentance and salvation are only meaningful in Christ.
How can we know someone is a Christian, and thus in the body of believers (the church)? They repent in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, and they receive the gift of the Spirit. Otherwise, I would not warrant repentance (even if genuine, and by all means it can be and is), the primal factor. Someone is not a Christian because they choose to repent their sins and seek God, but because, as scripture illustrates, they repent and understand the central role Jesus has in their becoming part of the Body.
Let me throw in some Theological Terms to further understand what makes someone a ‘Christian’:
- Justification: is God‘s act of declaring or making a sinner righteous before God. Justification, from the Greek δικαιοω (dikaioō), “to declare/make righteous”, is a Scriptural term, occurring in the books of Romans, Galatians, Titus, and James; the root noun δικαιοσ,-η,-ον righteous occurs throughout both Old and New Testaments. The concept of justification occurs also in many Old and New Testament books. justification is a singular act in which God declares an unrighteous individual to be righteous because of the work of Jesus. Justification is granted on the basis of those who have faith, specifically faith in Jesus as their redeemer and savior.
- Sanctification: refers to the act or process of making holy or setting apart (as special) and occurs five times in the Authorized Version of the New Testament (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2)
- Glorification: Glorification is the completion, the consummation, the perfection, the full realization of salvation. The 3rd stage of christian development is to glorify God through one’s life, to decrease so that He may increase so that as others encounter a living breathing christian who is walking in Glorification, they encounter Christ and perceive His Glory and His presence. This is attainable while living, just as justification and sanctification are attainable while living.
The first step for someone to become a Christian, is for them to be Justified. God Justifies us in a single act, which is where Peter tells us to repent & receive baptism, in the name of Jesus. The result of Faith in Jesus as one’s savior and redeemer (expressed in such acts of repenting and being baptized in his name) leads to the gift of Justification (the Gift of Jesus’ Sacrifice). This moment where the Individual repents in the name of Jesus (faith in him as the Savior/Redeemer) is the moment where God justifies the individual, and they thus become Christian. After justification, the individual lives as a Christian and during this lifetime as a Christian they go through the process of Sanctification. Just because a Christian is Justified and going through Sanctification does not mean they are without Sin or Sinless. 1 John confirms to us the sinfulness of our nature. Paul speaks of the wonders of his continued temptation and struggle.
We live a life modeled of Christ, and through emulating Jesus’ lifestyle do we participate positively in this sanctification. We are not glorified (achievement of perfection), until we depart from the material body and enter into communion with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Spirit completely in Heaven. It is here where we shed the sinful Body, and through that forgiveness of sins via Jesus, sanctification and guidance from the Spirit, and Justification from God the Father, that we are able to die, go before God as spirit, and achieve the glorification necessary to be with him and his trinity in Heaven.
An individual becomes a Christian upon Justification. Justification occurs when an individual submits themselves to following Jesus, and asks for forgiveness in the name of Jesus (aka repentance). Faith in Jesus. While he is a Christian the Holy Spirit guides him in his Sanctification, which is the path he walks emulating He who is completely glorified and sanctified (Jesus). Glorification occurs upon death of the body (or is the process where God is glorified through ones sanctified living. No man can be glorified on earth; Only Jesus).
In conclusion, Theologically I would say that someone is a Christian only of they understand that God justifies them because of the work of Jesus, in which the individual accepts and understands this central tenet. This central tenet is faith in Jesus as the forgiver, redeemer, and savior of the professing individual (insert the cut-and-copy salvation prayer here; “I am a sinner, etc etc).
Although the whole nature of Sanctification, glorification, time, etc etc are all complicated theological ‘dogma’ that the individual will learn later, the first premise of being Justified by Jesus actions is central to becoming a Christian. Following this is the Holy Spirit which comes as a gift in the path of sanctification.
Just repenting and walking in the direction of God with an opened heart does not mean one if justified and part of the Body. Someone can emulate the sanctification process (which is what I questioned by saying ‘how do you know?). However one cannot achieve sanctification without first being justified (Justification and Sanctification for the Jews is different in their scenario as according to the special covenants God made with them; we won’t go into this).
Someone is not a Christian, part of the Body, and ‘Saved’ because they repent and walk with an open heart. They may be more open to the message of Jesus and his resulting justification offered via the Cross, BUT they are not a Christian yet. One is not a Christian until this pivotal understanding of Jesus’ central role in one’s justification, forgiveness, and salvation. This is not dogma, but the opening of the heart to being saved via Christ. This is step 1 of being a Christian. This is why I ask ‘How do you know’.
Hope that clarifies, somewhat, that interrupted discussion we had in class.
God Bless, and wonderful devotional as always.