Becoming a Christian is much more than a fresh start. And it is not about suddenly needing to follow a list of rules and regulations. It is the beginning of a new relationship – with God. It takes time and effort to build a good relationship with new friends. The same is true as you begin a new life as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Just as you would get to know all about a new friend, so it is important to get to know God.
Develop a relationship with God
The best place to start if you want to know what God is like is to read the Bible. It can seem an intimidating book at first – it is long and complex. Start reading the Bible, not at the beginning, but about two-thirds of the way through, with the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born about 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. The Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John document his life, his execution and how he rose from the dead. The Bible is available in a variety of different versions, so choose a style that suits you. It is also good to have a study guide to help you explain more about what the Bible is saying. Try to read a little of the Bible every day: think of it like eating a spiritual meal – regular reading will help build you up in your Christian faith. And, as well as the Bible, there are books, websites and films, which teach new believers more about God and the Christian faith.
Prayer is another important part of your new relationship with God. Praying is simply talking to God. You can pray alone or with other people. You can use your own words or follow words someone else has written, maybe as part of a church service. The Bible teaches that Christians should pray often and about all sorts of things. When praying alone, new Christians often find it difficult to know where to start. One idea is to use what is known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. This is the prayer that Jesus taught his followers. It is recorded in the Bible book of Matthew. As with any relationship, the more you talk to God, the more natural it will feel.
Just as you would get to know all about a new friend, so it is important to get to know God.
But prayer is not a one-way conversation. Although you might not hear God’s audible reply, ask him to speak to you in other ways – through a part of the Bible you are reading, through other Christians or even through dreams. The Bible book of Acts says, ‘God says I will pour out my spirit on all people… your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’. As you get to know God, you will learn the different ways he speaks.
Find a church – and go regularly
God made people to live in community. The Church is God’s idea. He wants Christians to meet together, to worship him together, to pray together, to share each other’s joys and pains, and to spur each other on. It is not compulsory for a Christian to go to church, but not going means missing out on the benefits of being part of a supportive community. The Church is not a building, but the Christians who meet inside. The Bible book of 1 Peter writes of Christians being ‘like living stones… being built into a spiritual house’.
The Christian Church has a huge variety of styles. Different traditions share the same core beliefs but there are differences too. It is important to find a Christian church where you are comfortable. Do some research and visit some alternatives. You might prefer traditional styles of service with a choir, hymns, organ music and a very structured order; you might prefer a more relaxed style with contemporary music or perhaps somewhere with no music at all.
It is a sad truth that many people’s experience of church is not positive. But it does not need to be that way. The Bible book of Acts tells us about what the first followers of Jesus did in the weeks after his resurrection. It is a good model of church life: they ate meals together regularly; welcomed each other into their homes; prayed for each other’s concerns; worshipped God and learned more about him from their leaders. They also sold things they didn’t need and gave the money to the poor.
Being part of a church is more than attending a service on Sundays. Many churches have midweek groups for prayer, teaching about God and about living a Christian life. It is good for a new Christian to get involved in the life of their church – offering time and skills will support the good work the church is doing in the community and encourage other Christians.
‘Do not conform anymore to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’.
A new life and new lifestyle
Christians believe that when someone becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, it is as if they are brand new. As the Bible book 2 Corinthians puts it, they are ‘...a new creation, the old has gone the new has come’. But, like any newborn, a new Christian needs support and guidance. The Bible talks about Christians growing in maturity as they learn more. The Bible book 1 John even divides them into children, young men and fathers. As a new Christian, it is a good idea to find a mentor – someone more experienced in the Christian faith who can guide you. When you have become experienced in the faith, you might feel able to guide a new Christian yourself.
Becoming a Christian means a new lifestyle, different behaviour, and a changed way of thinking about yourself, God and other people. The Bible book of Romans encourages Christians to be different, ‘Do not conform anymore to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. This can be a challenge. It is natural to adapt to the environment around us. If a new Christian lives or works in an atmosphere that is hostile to Christianity, it can be hard not to slide back to old ways of thinking and living. Jesus told his followers that they would face a negative reaction from some other people. They might even face persecution for their beliefs. But he reassured them that God would always be with them and the same is still true. With God’s help and the support of fellow Christians, it is possible to persevere. It is also encouraging to read the biographies of other Christians whether they lived centuries ago or are still alive today. It is a good way to learn how to build up your new Christian faith.