This is written for people who do not consider themselves Christian, but are open. You may be one of these persons. If so, thanks for taking time to read this. Thanks, also, for sidestepping hucksters, hypocrites, political opportunists, and others who give Christianity a bad name.
Would it be accurate to say you admire Jesus and think the earth would be a better place if people took Him seriously? To admire Jesus does not make one a Christian, but it’s a start. Jesus does have a lot of appeal. The calendar acknowledges His influence. Even profanity offers backhanded respect. As we do today, Jesus’ first followers struggled to define this awesome divine-human Person. They called Him Messiah, Christ, Son of God, Savior, Lord. One of His closest companions, John, favored the term “Light.” I like that term, too, and will use it to describe five steps in becoming a Christian.
But first consider the term. Light penetrates darkness, enabling us to see our way. Light brings warmth. In fact, it is basic to physical life. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” What did He mean? Well, this at least, that His ways of love and truth are as central to life as the sun, and that neither the coldness of hate nor the darkness of deceit can overcome them. Light overcomes darkness. Good overcomes evil. Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross. Such is darkness; evil seems to win. Sometimes darkness seems to triumph over the Light—but not for long. God raised Jesus from the dead; such is light. Christians celebrate this triumph of the good over evil every Easter. But Easter is more than ritual observance. Christians draw upon the power of the Resurrection daily. They also believe that Jesus Christ continues to be present with His followers as they worship and witness in His name.
Being Drawn to the Light
People are drawn to the Light of Christ like storm-driven sailors to a beacon, like winter travelers to a warm fire. People are drawn to Jesus because love and truth appeal more than hatred and deceit. Skeptics and cynics may explain darkness, but they do not warm our hearts; they do not draw out the best in us. They do not lead us toward life but toward death. And even when we justify hatred or deceit, for ourselves, or for others, a glance at Jesus makes us regret, or even question the necessity.
The urgings toward Christ arise from within as well as from without. If the life of Jesus Christ mirrors your own deepest yearnings after truth and love, then you are being drawn to the Light. You have taken the first step toward becoming a Christian.
Being Judged by the Light
Light is not always welcomed. A police flashlight is bad news to a thief. Good lighting shows up flaws in shoddy painting. The glare of publicity can embarrass a careless administrator. Sometimes we feel more comfortable with Jesus at a distance than up close. Why? Because we are ashamed of what that Light reveals about our motives and our conduct. Jesus said people “love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”
When you come to think about it Jesus does force us to face in ourselves what we do not like to acknowledge. Call it sin. We have to admit evil is not just out there someplace, or among other people. Some of it is within us. Although the Light judges, it does not condemn. It is more like an X ray detecting broken bones or laser beam penetrating the eye to provide corrective surgery. God uncovers our sin in order that it might be forgiven. God exposes our brokenness in order to restore to wholeness. False guilt brings only neurosis, but true guilt acknowledged before God brings freedom. Such penitence releases from moral bondage. Whether we invent our own moral law or affirm universal principles, our knowledge of the good exceeds our power to attain the good.
“Gospel” literally means “good news.” It is good news to be freed from the guilt and grip of sin. An old proverb reads: “Better the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy.” Christians find the wounds of Jesus to be the wounds of a friend. To borrow a phrase from computer talk, the Gospel is user-friendly. To accept judgment by the Light is to take the second step toward becoming a Christian.
Being Convinced by the Light
Such penitence is prelude to the third step, being convinced by the Light. Without a satisfying intellectual convincement about Christ, guilt trips can lead simply to new captivities—drugs, debt, sexual misadventure, cult involvement, or over dependence on human counselors.
Christians hold that believing in Jesus Christ makes good sense. The segments of life fall into place logically. We call it a Christian worldview. Christ illumines the mind to understand what God is doing. One finds the cosmos filled with purpose, and love and truth are the keys to unlock its mysteries. Sometimes convincement about Christ at the center of reality comes suddenly, like an ecstatic glimpse of pure beauty. At other times it dawns slowly, like the inescapable conclusion to a difficult puzzle. As surely as physical light binds the universe, so the Light of Christ provides its goal and destiny. The words of an old spiritual ring true: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
Jesus is the sunrise of a new day for humanity. The rays of God’s Kingdom penetrate the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome the light. Although the whole creation shivers in long shadows, hope burns for renewal. Jesus’ resurrection is our earnest money on the new heavens and the new earth. Immortality comes not just to the universe, but to us as individuals. Death’s sting is gone, and the tyranny of time. We shall live beyond the grave and share with others in many-dimensioned splendor a universe remolded by its Maker. So Christians believe. The third step toward becoming a Christian is to be convinced about Christ.
The Fourth Step:
Being Reached by the Light
The fourth step is to be reached by the Light. What do I mean by this expression? There comes a time when heart and head agree. Truth isn’t just abstract theory, not just propositions caged in books like so many animals in a zoo. Truth is more than a calculated bet, more than a convincing theological system, more than well-marshaled Bible verses. A thousand arguments for the resurrection of Christ may overwhelm the intellect, but they cannot force one to believe.
At some point in a spiritual search the object and the subject reverse roles. We have looked for God; now we discover He is looking for us. It is a double search. The heart tells the head to let God have His turn. We love Him because He first loved us. And when God finds us it is hard for the head to put words to the experience, but we label it conversion.
Such human response to divine initiative Christians call faith. They do not mean conclusions drawn from bad evidence. They mean that beyond all human reasoning, in the silence of the soul, God reaches us. We ask for more answers and He offers His hand instead. Christ’s light is more than emotional warmth, more than judgement, more than understanding—it is divine presence. An early believer called it “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
Such is my testimony, too. I hope it will be yours. Far better personal commitment to Christ with some unanswered questions than hollow logical triumph without such conversion. At some point one says, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Such a step of faith has enabled Jesus’ followers to defy persecution and death, and to give the world the most far-reaching testimony to the meaning of love and truth the world has ever experienced.
The Fifth Step:
Being Led by the Light
The final step is to be led by the Light. Christian discipleship can be costly, and let no one tell you otherwise (you know this from history). So beware of merchandized devotion that says nothing about obedience to Christ, that requires no significant moral change, that merely pastes a religious label on self-interest. Jesus’ Kingdom is universal. This is not always popular. Jesus isn’t on the payroll of any political or religious party. Totalitarian systems resent Jesus’ power as well as His vision. It takes courage to put Christ’s Kingdom first.
Those who are led by the Light are taught by Christ’s Spirit. The Spirit teaches us directly, through the Bible, through human and natural events, and through Christ’s family, the Church. The Church means that company of persons who together seek to follow Jesus. They are called by His name. Some who follow the Light may not know or use the name. The Christian is not called to build a wall around Christ but rather to proclaim that the One who enlightens every person came into the world, and that all who receive Him may rightly be called the people of God.
You don’t take the whole trip at once, just a step at a time. You don’t take it alone, but with people all over the world. Christ immerses His people in His ways of love and truth. He offers His power. The Christian way isn’t easy but it is always exciting. It is life’s supreme adventure.
I have set down five steps toward becoming a Christian: being drawn, judged, convinced, reached, and led by Christ, the Light. There are other ways to map Christian conversion. My main purpose in writing is simply to encourage you to become a Christian.
Thank you for reading this. You are entitled to know my own Christian perspective. I am a member of the friends Church (sometimes called Quaker). I invite you to attend a Quaker meeting for worship, or to inquire further from friends about what it means to become a Christian. But most of all I invite you to walk faithfully in the Light, and find among God’s new covenant people some good friends who can sustain your commitment.
Reprinted with the permission of Barclay Press.