Has someone ever surprised you by asking an obviously simple question with what seems to be an obvious answer? Well, it happened to me recently when a reader called to ask if he could suggest a column topic.
I paused, trying to think of a chaplain-ish way to say, “Heck, no!” but he took my delay as an invitation to say more.
“I’m a multi-faith person who’s interested in all religions,” he said, “but I’ve always wondered how a person becomes a Christian.”
While the answer seemed obvious to me, I thought his question might interest other readers. So, to begin with, I think many who self-identify as Christians would agree that a Christian is one who strives to follow the teachings Jesus Christ affirmed about God.
In the fifteen years, I’ve written this column, I’ve tried to be respectful of all faiths, but like my caller, you may be looking for the practical specifics about Christianity. Indeed, how does one actually become a lifetime Christian — or perhaps I should say “after-lifetime member”?
There are many ways to answer that, but since I was raised a Baptist, I understand it best in the context of a conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus. Nick, a prominent religious leader, sneaked in the stage door one night to ask Jesus how to know God. Jesus told him that there was no way he could have a God experience unless he was “born again.”
Actually, the Aramaic translation of Jesus’ words is “born from above.”
Nick balked at the possibility of re-entering his mother’s womb, so Jesus suggested another way to be reborn, a way in which everything could become new.
Then Jesus added something you’d probably recognize from the placards at football games: John 3:16.
I like the way The Message version of the Bible paraphrases the verse: “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
So, for me, becoming a Christian starts with the notion that my personal decision to believe that God loves me can initiate a Christian journey.
Do I think the evangelical way is the only way you can become a Christian? No I don’t. I’m definitely not saying that all you have to do is mumble a born-again prayer and you’re good to go.
There are definitely other vehicles, like religious education classes, spiritual walks or catechism. But no matter what your approach, becoming a Christian is about one thing– no, maybe two.
Jesus said it best when he said, “Love God with all you’ve got AND love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, becoming a Christian is about initiating a loving relationship with God and our fellow man/woman.
When I look back on my childhood, I know my decision to be “born again” was an important start toward God.
If you’re ready to start the journey too, I’d encourage you to read the book of John in the New Testament, or read one of my favorite books, called “A New Kind of Christian,” by Brian McLaren.
At the end of the day, becoming a Christian will never be about lip-syncing someone else’s programmed steps. It won’t be about plans, purposes, formulas or principles someone wrote in a column or book.
Becoming a Christian is a personal decision to enter into a relationship with your creator. I pray guidance in your life as you consider that decision.
Write Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call (843) 608-9715.