From God’s perspective, someone becomes a Christian because God regenerates them. Regeneration literally means “to be born again.” God gives an individual a supernatural new birth in which the new believer moves from spiritual death to a new life (John 3:3). And God’s supernatural work of regeneration is affected through the natural means of someone hearing the gospel (James 1:18). We can say that the cause of regeneration is the supernatural work of God, but the instrumental means is someone sharing and hearing the gospel. Although regeneration happens through the supernatural and miraculous work of God, it happens through the ordinary speaking of the gospel by finite and fallible people like you and me.

While regeneration describes what God does to save a person, conversion describes what the person needs to do to be saved. Typically, theologians break down the act of conversion into two different but related actions: repentance and faith. Repentance describes a change of heart, character, and disposition. Repentance is not merely looking inward and regretting the past. It is looking outward and forward. When Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt 4:17), he is saying, “You must change your hearts—for the kingdom of heaven has arrived.” He is calling us to look ahead to the arrival of the kingdom. By being outward and forward looking, repentance produces fruit (Matt 3:8), knowledge (2 Tim 2:25), life (Acts 11:18) and salvation (2 Cor 7:10). Who is responsible for repentance? On the one hand, God grants repentance (Acts 11:18). But on the other hand, the convert must decide to repent (Jer. 25:5). And even the evangelist contributes to this process, urging the listener towards repentance (2 Tim 2:25).

What is faith? There are three aspects of faith: 1) propositional knowing; 2) assent to the knowing; 3) commitment to the knowing. For you to become a Christian, you must have all three aspects of faith. First, you must understand facts about the good news. That there is a person called Jesus Christ who claims to be the Son of God and that he died and rose from the dead. But this knowing of the facts—while important—is not all there is to biblical faith. You must agree that such claims about Jesus are true. You must acknowledge that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God. But assent to the truth is still not enough to become a Christian. You need commitment to the knowing. You commit to Christ, trusting that he will save you from your sins. That is, you trust Christ for who he is and what he has done for you. And you make your life consistent with the truth claims you agree with.  

The first two aspects—propositional knowing and assent to knowing—are necessary, but not sufficient for salvation. Even the demons know that Jesus is Lord (James 2:19). It is the final aspect—trusting in Jesus and submitting to his Lordship—that is necessary for salvation (John 3:16). To distinguish that third aspect of faith from the other two, it is sometimes called “saving faith.” James calls it “living faith” (as opposed dead faith). We believe that we are saved by faith, and not by works. But if we have saving faith, it will naturally produce good works. For instance, if I know that exercise is good for me, and really believe, and then take steps that reflect this belief, I will experience the fruit of faith—benefits of exercise in improved health. In that sense, we can say that saving faith is always accompanied by works. Reformers said, “we are saved by faith alone, but that faith is never alone.” It is faith that works and works out in love (Gal 5:6). It is faith that obeys (Rom 1:5).

Are you a Christian? Do you have saving faith in Jesus Christ? If you want to know more about Christian faith, please talk to a pastor or a Christian friend who can tell you more about the good news about Jesus Christ. 

* Adapted from Sam Chan’s book, Evangelism in a Skeptical World.

This week’s Bible reading schedule:

Monday: Isaiah 20 Thursday: Isaiah 23
Tuesday: Isaiah 21 Friday: Isaiah 24
Wednesday: Isaiah 22 Saturday: Isaiah 25