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What Does the Bible Teach about Becoming a Christian?

What does it look like to become a Christian? For some, it’s easy to answer this question by reflecting on their personal experience of salvation—something every believer should do for encouragement from time to time. But others don’t have a frame of reference that allows them to answer with any real sense of confidence.

Surprisingly, one of the best ways to see what it looks like to become a Christian is by considering a true, two-thousand-year-old tale about Jesus Christ and a man with leprosy. Whether you want a helpful reminder from Scripture or you find yourself here because you’re searching for answers, this story is for you.

A Prisoner in His Own Skin

While traveling from town to town proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom, Jesus encountered an unnamed man in a town in Judea who was “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12). This was a dreaded disease, and the man was completely overtaken with it.

Leprosy not only was painful but also carried a stigma. All who had this disease were banished from the local community. People with leprosy knew nothing of the regular blessings of family life, the company of friends, or the privileges of employment. When they were around others, they were required to cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” (Lev. 13:45). This exclamation was intended to make others aware of their presence so that no one would be contaminated through contact with them.

When this man encountered Jesus, he was, in a sense, a dead man walking. He was a prisoner in his own skin, and he was very aware of his need to be cleansed and cured.

As the news spread that the itinerant preacher who had come to bring “liberty to the captives” and “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18) was coming to town, it certainly would have caught the attention of a man in such dire circumstances. It is therefore no wonder that when he came face to face with Jesus, Luke records that “he fell on his face and begged” Jesus to cleanse him (Luke 5:12). His plea demonstrates that he was absolutely convinced that Jesus was able to cure him. The only question was whether or not Jesus was willing.

In the text, we then see Jesus do the unthinkable: He reaches out His hand and touches the man. No one touched lepers! But with great compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched this man, demonstrating His willingness to address his hopeless condition—and he was immediately healed!

Our Grave Condition

The cleansing of the man with leprosy is a wonderful illustration of the spiritual cleansing that Jesus provides. Leprosy is one of the clearest pictures in the Bible of our predicament as sinners. Like the man in Luke 5, our lives are spoiled. We may not suffer from his physical ailment, but our souls have been made unclean through the leprosy of sin.

The Bible is clear that spiritual death has entered the world as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. This death has disrupted communion between God and His creation, leading to humanity’s alienation from God, bondage to sin, and hardship in life. In a single moment of human failure, all of life was robbed of its completeness, wholeness, and perfection. Since that day, every human being has shared in Adam and Eve’s corruption and guilt. Every one of us is born a prisoner in our own skin, every one of us a dead man walking. And every day we are confronted by the ravaging nature of our condition.

Unless someone comes from outside to do what we cannot do for ourselves, then we are lost, we are enslaved, we are dead, and we are finished. But the good news is that at just the right moment, when we have no way of escape, Christ comes.

We see the evidence of our rebellion all around us: in the godlessness of our societies; in our own lust, dishonesty, jealously, and fear; even in our children’s rebellious hearts. We see it in our resentment, in our disappointments, in our regret, in our pride. All of these things plague men and women, spoil our lives, ruin our homes, and rob us of any sense of lasting peace and satisfaction.

The gravity of our condition is such that we’re actually unable to rectify our circumstances. If there’s going to be a rescue, then, it must come from the outside.

Christ’s Great Compassion

As the man with leprosy was alienated from his community, so we are alienated from God. We’re in need of reconciliation. Stained and polluted by sin, we’re also in need of forgiveness. Unless someone comes from outside to do what we cannot do for ourselves, then we are lost, we are enslaved, we are dead, and we are finished. But the good news is that at just the right moment, when we have no way of escape, Christ comes.

In reaching out to the man with leprosy, Jesus demonstrated the way His kingdom comes. It’s almost as if Jesus said, “I am prepared to become like you, a man under judgment, in order that you might become like Me in all of the freedom and forgiveness that I provide.” The Gospel is the story of this great exchange—an exchange that takes place at the cross. Jesus took our place and bore the wrath our sins deserve so that we might receive the righteousness none of us deserves.

That’s why the story of the Gospel is so compelling. The apostle Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Peter takes up the same theme, saying, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18). In other words, if our condition is alienation from God, what compassion God shows to provide in His Son the reconciliation needed! We need a reconciler. We cannot reconcile ourselves any more than a man with leprosy can wash his wounds away and see himself transformed.

God’s Gracious Cure

Our sinful condition will only be cured when we respond to the Gospel message. For the man with leprosy, the mere knowledge of Christ’s ability to heal was not enough to cure him. So also with us: acknowledging intellectually that God saves is not the same as saving faith. To become a Christian, our faith will involve at least these three elements: (1) acknowledging our absolute helplessness, (2) believing that Jesus has provided the righteousness that we need, and (3) casting ourselves upon His mercy.

This leads to an important question: How can this possibly happen? If we have accurately understood our helpless condition, then we are lost, we are enslaved, and we are actually dead in our sins. So dire is the situation that we will not and cannot by our own accord seek the forgiveness God has offered. We don’t have the ability to come to Christ in our own power. It’s not our nature to trust Christ; it’s our nature to disobey Him. And so, before we can even acknowledge our helplessness, believe in what Jesus has provided, and cast ourselves on His mercy, we first have to realize that it’s going to take a miracle.

The good news is that performing a miracle is precisely what God does for every believer. He works within us to create what cannot be produced by our own dead humanity. He imparts life to dead souls through a new birth (John 3:1–7). And God always does this in the same way: through His Word and by His Spirit. When He speaks inwardly, we can actually comprehend and respond to the good news that we have heard—whether we’re hearing it for the first time or the thousandth.

If your sinful conscience begins to cry out, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” you can fully expect to hear Him say, “I will; be clean.”

The Gospel of John teaches that all who believe in Christ are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We must not imagine that God is standing by helplessly, waiting to see if we are going to decide to “seek” Him. Did Adam and Eve seek God in the garden after the fall? No, it was God who sought them! This is why Christians ought to be the humblest people. Although we have run from God, He has sought us out and given us the life that we never could have had on our own.

Like the man with leprosy, we need a miracle to come from the outside to remedy our awful condition. Have you begun to see that you have sinned against God and that He is rightly angry with you? Are you beginning to sense that Jesus was sent by God the Father to bring you forgiveness? If so, this is the work of God’s Spirit.

If your sinful conscience begins to cry out, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” you can fully expect to hear Him say, “I will; be clean.”

Adapted from the sermon “Becoming a Christian” by Alistair Begg.

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