How to BECOME a Christian and How to KNOW One

Bible Book: Acts  11 : 19-30

There is a lot of confusion in today’s world as to what it means to be a Christian, and how to become one. Some people think that you become a Christian by joining a church and being baptized--but that’s woefully wrong. Most assuredly, once you have become a Christian God expects you to unite with a Bible believing church and to be baptized, but those things don’t make you a Christian any more than going into a garage makes you a car.

Some others think that you become a Christian by treating people right and living up to certain moral standards--but, again, that’s dead wrong. Make no mistake about it; if you have truly become a Christian you most assuredly will treat other people right and you will live a clean, upright moral life--but that won’t work in reverse. That is, as commendable as it is to treat others right and to live a clean life, those things will not make a person a Christian. There are non-Christians who treat others well and live decent moral lives.

What does it mean to be a Christian? For the answer we go to God’s inspired, infallible Word. In the last part of Acts 11:26 we read: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The Greek word for “Christian” is christianos and literally means “belonging to Christ.” So, a Christian is someone who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; as other Bible passages express it, he is saved, born again, redeemed, converted, he has eternal life--and if If we will look carefully at the verses surrounding that statement in Acts 11:26, we can see how to become a Christian, and how you can know one.

Before going any further, though, let me first emphasize the fact that becoming a Christian--in other words, having eternal life--is a gift. There is not one solitary thing you can do to earn it. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

However, if someone were to offer you a hundred dollar bill as a gift, it wouldn’t actually be yours until or unless you reached out and accepted it. In like manner, even though you can’t earn the gift of salvation, you do have to reach out and receive it--and the only possible way you can reach out to receive that gift is by meeting two unalterable, non-negotiable conditions which are set forth throughout the Bible, and come into clear focus here in Acts 11.


A. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ

For one thing, to become a Christian--that is, to receive the gift of salvation--you must BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST. Let’s look at verses 9-11:

Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicea, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.

It isn’t enough merely to believe in God. To be saved--that is, to become a Christian, to be changed and receive the gift of eternal life, to miss hell and gain heaven, a person must place his faith specifically in Jesus Christ. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Acts 4:12 declares: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

1. What did they believe about Jesus? Verse 19 says that those who were scattered abroad preached “the word,” and verse 20 says that they preached “the Lord Jesus.” Putting those two verses together, we see that they preached what the Word of God, the Scriptures, tell us about Jesus. That means that they preached that Jesus was and is God, that he is eternal with the Father, that he took on human form by being born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death for our sins, rose from the grave on the third day, and ever lives to save and to keep all that come unto God by him.

2. That’s what they believed; but now let’s consider how they believed. Their belief was not simply intellectually accepting the facts about Jesus; it was not merely an academic exercise; you can believe the facts about Jesus and spend eternity in hell. By all means, you begin by believing the facts--but believing unto salvation involves going far beyond just agreeing with the historical tenets. Believing so as to receive eternal life means believing to the point that you surrender your life to Jesus. Notice that Acts 11:20 says that those who were scattered abroad preached “the Lord Jesus,” and verse 21 says that “a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The operative word in those verses is “Lord,” which means “Master.” It means the one in charge.

Connie and I attended the seminary with a fellow student named Shelby Smith, who grew up on a farm. He told of how when he was a small boy he always wanted to drive their horse-drawn wagon by himself, but his dad would never let him because he was so young. One day, though, when he and his dad started out on a trip, Shelby begged his dad to let him drive. There was an old muddy creek bed to cross, and his dad knew that Shelby wouldn’t be able to get the team across it, so at first he said “no.” But as small boys sometimes will, Shelby just kept begging, and finally his dad said, “All right,” and handed him the reins.

Shelby said, “Giddyup.” He was so thrilled and was having the time of his life--that is, until they got into that creek bed. The horses got as far as the middle and balked. They wouldn’t go any further. Shelby yelled at them. He tried to pop them with those reins. He tried everything he could think of, but those horses wouldn’t budge. Finally, frustrated, embarrassed, and greatly humbled, Shelby meekly handed the reins to his dad. With the skill born of years of handling teams, his dad just gave just the right little movement of the reins, spoke to them gently, and those horses leaned forward, exerted all their strength, and pulled the wagon and its passengers right on out of that creek bed and resumed their pace.

Believing, in the New Testament sense, is handing over the reins of your life to Jesus and saying, “Lord, you please take control. I’ve messed up. I’ve struggled and I’ve tried, but I just can’t handle it.” True, Biblical faith is giving Jesus Christ control of your thought life, your words, your actions, your relationships, your moral standards, your time, your energies, and your possessions--in other words, it’s giving him your all.

You may, at this very time in your life, find yourself bogged down in some muddy creek bed of sin. You may be bogged down in some wrong relationship, or some destructive habit, or some unholy attitude or desire that you just can’t shake off, and it may seem as if there is no hope. You’ve tried everything you can think of, but you seem to be trapped. There seems to be no escape. But if you’ll turn the reins of your life over to Jesus, he’ll get you out of that “muddy creek bed”; he’ll forgive your sins, and give you a new lease on life.

So, that’s the first essential for becoming a Christian--that is, for receiving God’s gift of salvation--you must believe in Jesus, in the New Testament sense, by surrendering yourself to his Lordship.

B. Turn to the Lord

Now, look with me at the second essential. Verse 21 says that “a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” So, not only must you believe in order to become a Christian. It is also required that you TURN UNTO THE LORD.

Turning to something automatically means that you are turning from something else. If I turn to this side of the building, I’m turning from that side. Turning to the Lord Jesus means that you turn, by the help of God, from your sinful, self-centered ways. Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

That turning from the old, sinful ways is called repentance. First, the Holy Spirit convicts and enlightens, and you see things differently--and then you repent by turning, by the help and grace of God, from your old ways. You can set your alarm clock for 5:00 a.m. and wake up, but not get up. Being waked up by your alarm clock illustrates conviction--but getting up illustrates repentance.

Repentance is absolutely essential to becoming a Christian. Jesus said, in Mark 1:15, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Genuine faith is always accompanied by repentance--no exceptions. Faith and repentance are like two sides of a coin. The presence of one automatically presupposes the presence of the other. They are inseparable. Jesus said, in Luke 13:3, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

In the very remote western tip of Labrador, Canada, there is located the little town of Wabush. I have read that many years ago, in the early history of that little town, there was only one road into Wabush. It was a narrow, unpaved road that had been cut through the wilderness. But that one road was also the only way out. So, in those days if you wanted to leave Wabush, you had to turn around.

In like manner, if you want to leave your lost condition, there is only one way out; you have to turn around--in other words, you have to repent. And if you’ll do it--if you will repent and believe, the Lord will forgive your sins, give you newness of life, and take you into his family--and you will be a Christian--you’ll be a child of God.

But this passage in Acts 11 not only tells us how to become a Christian; it also tell us...


We read of how a great number in Antioch believed and turned unto the Lord; now let’s look at Acts 11:22-23:

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.

A. See God's Grace in their Lives

When Barnabas arrived in the midst of those people called Christians there in Antioch, HE COULD SEE THE GRACE OF GOD IN THEIR LIVES. What does that mean? It means that he could see in their lives clear evidence that they had believed in Jesus, had turned to the Lord and had turned from their old ways.

Here are some sobering words of Jesus found in Matthew 7:20-21: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Our Lord is telling us that someone who has truly become a Christian does not merely “talk the talk,” he also “walks the walk.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 declares that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Does that mean that a Christian is flawless? Of course not. Can a Christian backslide? Unfortunately, yes--but two things will be true if he does: (1) For one thing, he will sooner or later become conscience-stricken and miserable. A genuine Christian cannot continue to be nonchalant about sin. (2) Secondly, if a truly saved person gets far enough off the track of God’s will and stays long enough, the Lord will chastise him. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”

So, how can you know a genuine Christian when you see one? The answer is that you can literally see the grace of God in operation in a true Christian’s life. In spite of his flaws and frailties, in spite of whatever lapses might occur, you will nevertheless be able to see that the overall tenor of his life has changed in a positive, God honoring way. He has not only a new destiny--heaven instead of hell, he also has a new sense of direction--a new set of “want to’s,” if you will--and he has a new dynamic to help him move in that new direction--namely, the indwelling Holy Spirit to motivate and energize him.

“But,” someone asks, “what about the person who was already treating other people well and living a respectable moral life? Will you really be able to see any significant change in his life?” The answer is a definite “yes.” Now that he has become a Christian, his determination to treat other people right and to adhere to proper moral standards will be greatly intensified, because whereas he previously did the right thing in order to stay out of trouble, or to feel good about himself, or to win the approval of those around him, now that he is saved his driving motivation is a desire to please God--and that difference will be evident. Also, he will more clearly discern what is right and what is wrong and thus will make better, more God honoring decisions, and that will make for an even more striking, observable difference in his life.

B. Some Specific Examples of the God's Grace in their Lives

Acts 11 goes on, then, to point out SOME SPECIFIC EXAMPLES OF THE GRACE OF GOD in the lives of these Antioch Christians.

In Acts 11:25-26 we read these words: Then departed Barnabas for Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

1. They assembled on a regular basis

These Christians assembled, and they did it on a regular basis. Certainly a believer must have his private devotional time if he is to be strong and spiritually vibrant, but God also expects him to assemble with others for public worship. That was the “norm” for Christians in the New Testament--and it’s the “norm” for genuine believers in any generation. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Unless he is providentially hindered, God expects a Christian to be faithful in attending church.

2. They continued to learn

Notice a second evidence that these people in Antioch were Christians: they continued to learn. We saw in Acts 11:26 that not only did these converts in Antioch assemble regularly, but we also read that Barnabas and Saul “taught” them. That verse goes on, then, as we have seen, to say that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The word “disciple” means, literally, “learner.” A genuine Christian realizes that even though he was eternally saved the moment he repented and believed, that’s not the end of the matter. He knows that just as a physical newborn needs to grow, even so believers need to grow spiritually. 2 Peter 3:18 says, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The original language of that verse is such that it could be translated, “go on growing....”

So, one of the marks of a genuine Christian is that he will not be satisfied simply to “tread water” spiritually. He will avail himself of God’s resources for growth, and that will include praying and studying the Scriptures--both privately and also while assembled with other believers. And as he thus grows, he will--day by day--gain an ever-increasing degree of victory over the temptations that assail him. The grace of God will be increasingly evident in his lifestyle.

3. They reached out in compassion to those in need.

Still another evidence that these people in Antioch were genuine Christians is that They reached out with compassion to those in need. Look at Acts 11:27-30:

And in those days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

They learned of some folks who were in need and hurting, and these Christians in Antioch acted. That’s one of the marks of a true believer. Talk is cheap--and the cheapest talk of all is religious talk.

Paul Powell, a prominent Southern Baptist preacher, told of an experience of a friend of his, a lady named Nelda David. Late one night she was returning from Tyler, Texas, to Dallas, when she began to have car trouble--and she began frantically looking for a good place to pull off the street. She spotted a post office with a well-lighted parking lot and turned into it. Just as she stopped her car, a middle-aged man came out the door of the post office. She told him her plight and asked him to please help her. He told her he was sorry, but he was in a hurry, and he got in his car and drove off. As he pulled away she noticed the bumper sticker on his car. It read, “Jesus loves you and so do I.”

After telling that story, Paul Powell commented, “That’s the extent of some people’s love. They have a bumper sticker religion.”

A great example of the real thing was a man called Chinese Gordon, an outstanding Christian of a past generation. On his tomb at St. Paul’s Cathedral is an inscription, written by those who knew him and loved him. The last sentence of the inscription reads as follows: “Who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, and his heart to God.”

So, you can identify a Christian by the fact that you can see the grace of God in his life--that is, you can see the difference that Jesus has made. You can see that difference not only in his words, but also in his attitude and his actions.

Among those identifying evidences, you’ll see that he is faithful to his church, that he is continuing to learn and grow spiritually--and you’ll see that he reaches out unselfishly to others in their time of need. Those things don’t make him a Christian--but they give evidence that he is a Christian--in other words, they give evidence that he has repented and believed in Jesus.


James Harnish told of a conversation he had with one of his friends who is a computer analyst. The friend said, “We’re having a conversion at our office next week.” James Harnish said, “What are you talking about?” His friend said, “We’re putting in a whole new computer system, with new hardware, new software, new operating programs, so the whole corporation will function on a whole new set of assumptions. It will be a whole new way of operating. We call that ‘conversion.’”

I agree with James Harnish that that is a great illustration of what it means to be spiritually converted--in other words, that’s what it means to become a Christian! When a person repents and surrenders in faith to Jesus Christ, God dramatically changes that individual. He redesigns that person internally, so that from that point forward he lives on the basis of a whole new set of assumptions, operating his life in a whole new way by the power of God!”

That’s exactly what the Lord wants to do for you if you haven’t already had that experience. If you’ve not done so, I challenge you to repent of your sins and to surrender yourself, in faith, to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Then I challenge you to come forward and make a public profession of your commitment to Christ. Romans 10:11 says, “...Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” And I encourage you do it now, without any further delay. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”