[He] brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
Ever since the first century, whenever the message of the Gospel has been preached, some have wanted to respond and become Christians. Yet how does one become a Christian? It would seem that everyone you ask provides different answers! Some say that all you need to do is believe. Others think that you need to repent and believe. Some think you need to be baptized, whether by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Which is right? How can we ever know?
It would be nearly impossible to sort out all of these issues by man’s wisdom alone. Since the Bible represents God’s revealed will to mankind (2 Timothy 3:16-17), it would make sense for us to investigate the Scriptures and see what they show people doing in order to become Christians. Jesus Christ is still Lord (Matthew 28:18), and His standard does not change (Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, we can have confidence that if we do the same things that people did in the first century to become Christians, we can stand approved before God. What, therefore, did people in the first century do in order to become Christians?
They first heard the message of the Gospel from someone who was sent to preach it (Romans 10:17ff). The Jews who gathered in Jerusalem on Pentecost heard Peter preaching the first Gospel lesson (Acts 2:22-36). We see further preaching in Acts 3, 4, 8, 10, and in plenty of other passages.
When the Gospel message was heard, many believed it. They accepted the reality that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and is now Lord, and placed their trust in Him to do His will (Hebrews 11:6, Matthew 16:16). The Jews on Pentecost indicated their belief in Acts 2:37 by asking what they needed to do. Acts 4:4 indicates that five thousand men who heard Peter and John preach “believed.” Belief is an essential part of becoming a Christian (Acts 16:31).
Those who believed then confessed that belief by making a public proclamation that they believed in the Lord. Peter makes this confession in Matthew 16:16, the eunuch makes a similar one in Acts 8:37, and Timothy is encouraged to remember the confession of Jesus Himself before Pilate in 1 Timothy 6:13. Jesus will confess before His Father those who confess His name (Matthew 10:32).
Those who believed were called upon to repent of their sins. This is the first command Peter gives the Jews who believed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). It was also a part of the core of Jesus’ message (Matthew 4:17). Repentance is sorrow for sin that leads to a change in thought and behavior– a turning from sin toward God. Repentance is critical if we seek to please God!
Peter also commanded those who believed to be baptized in the name of the Lord for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). Acts 8:38-39 and Romans 6:3-7 demonstrate that this baptism is really immersion; the idea of baptism by sprinkling or pouring is foreign to the New Testament. Baptism represents the moment when one dies to sin and is raised again in newness of life: a spiritual type of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7). It is the only means by which the blood of Jesus cleanses our past sin, according to the New Testament.
After people heard the Gospel, believed in Jesus, confessed His name, repented of their sins, and were immersed in water for the remission of their sins, they were recognized as Christians, members of the Lord’s church (cf. Acts 2:47). Yet their walk with Christ was not over; it had just begun. The believers were encouraged to serve God faithfully for life (Romans 6:8-23). Early Christians came together constantly to devote themselves to learning about the Apostles’ teachings, to have association with each other, and to pray (Acts 2:42). While they were all part of the one body, the universal Church of Christ (Ephesians 4:4-5, 5:22-33), they all identified themselves as part of local congregations of God’s people, shepherded by qualified elders (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:1).
If you seek to become a Christian, you must hear the Gospel, believe in Jesus as the Christ, confess that, repent of your sins, be immersed in water for the remission of your sins, and to be an obedient servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such is how people obtained eternal life in the first century; it is how you can obtain eternal life today. There is no profit in delay; become a Christian today!