By Randall A. Bach
Some Christians can identify the day and hour that they consciously and intentionally embraced Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, when they acknowledged their sinfulness, repented, and received the free gift of salvation. They can mark it on their calendar. I love to hear every one of those transformative testimonies!
Some people are like Barbara, my wife, who grew up in the church continuously exposed to the gospel. She knows without a doubt that she became a fully engaged Christian along the way but cannot point to a specific climactic moment of sudden conversion. She embraced Jesus as her Savior and Lord and lives for Him. Her sins are just as forgiven as the person with the dramatic conversion testimony. Her testimony is just as redemptively and transformatively significant.
These distinct storylines lead to the same conclusion, and the common element unifying the two paths is the person’s active pursuit to become a disciple of the Lord Jesus. A disciple recognizes conversion is the gateway to relationship with Christ and that following Christ’s commands as His disciple is why one can be called by His name, Christian.
Many other people have also been exposed to the gospel. Nonetheless, even though they may have adopted a sense of belonging with a church and may enjoy fellowship with Christ’s followers, they have never acknowledged and repented of their sin. They bask in Christian relationships, appearing to be one of them, but do not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Their connection with Christ is impersonal, second-hand, through other individuals. They are not yet believers. They have yet to be redeemed. They may be searchers. They may be afraid of commitment. They may enjoy benefits without responsibility. They are not Christians. Yet Jesus welcomed these people.
Zacchaeus, a widely scorned tax collector, came to believe only after Jesus befriended him (Luke 19:1-10). Even the disciples needed some time before they began to understand Jesus was truly the Son of God. Jesus was ridiculed for hobnobbing with “sinners” (Matthew 9:11) because the religious groups of the day thought people should first behave before they could belong. But that is not what Jesus espoused. In fact, the New Testament documents that many people actually belonged to the group following Jesus before they believed. Jesus called it a new commandment when He stressed that His followers were to love one another (John 13:34), clearly a bridge to belonging. As illustrated in Jaccie Kenyon’s testimony, it was such love that helped her become a committed believer:
One day I received a call from Debbie Slater, the pastor’s wife at the church our family formerly attended, asking me to babysit. She and her husband, Dan, soon loved me back to attending the church I treasured. They gently and lovingly walked beside me, even in my messed-up life. Click to read Jaccie’s article.
The Connection between Belonging and Believing
- Belonging is a beginning. It was Jesus who declared, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, NLT). Our culture and particularly the media have painted Christians as narrow-minded and unloving. Unfortunately, there have been too many instances they can use as evidence. People need to discover that Christians are marked by love and walk joy-filled lives. Christians need to give people a reason to want to belong to God’s family so that they are encouraged to believe. Nothing compares with a sense of belonging to the family of God.
- Believing is imperative. Jesus proclaimed, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Christianity is more than hanging out with Christians and going to Christian places and events. When an earthquake popped open the doors to the jail cells where Paul and Silas were sentenced and their chains also fell off, their jailer was terrified and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). The answer was uncomplicated: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (verse 31). More than belonging, the jailer needed to believe.
Belonging is an entryway to relationship with people whereas believing develops relationship with God. Belonging is like being in the neighborhood while believing is like coming home. Belonging offers an aroma whereas believing is actually consuming the meal.
Have you taken the step of believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? If not, right now confess your belief in Jesus Christ as Savior (Forgiver) and Lord (the One you will serve). Believing in Him brings promise for eternity: “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
*Google’s English dictionary, provided by Oxford Languages