You’ve just begun a relationship with Jesus, or you know someone who has? Great news! So now what?
Many churches pat you or your friend on the back, make an announcement to celebrate God’s work in your life, and then transition to the next scheduled activity. Some churches go an extra step and present a Bible as a gift. While the first two responses are hopeful and encouraging, the third is costly, and the final one is dangerous. [You can learn more about a church’s response in an upcoming post.]
Churches and disciple-makers need to invest in the lives of new believers strategically, so they not only learn how to thrive as followers of Jesus but also get equipped to reproduce themselves. Beginning a relationship with God is not just about believing. It’s about following Jesus.
Regardless of how prepared your church is for you or your friend, here are the first five of ten first steps for new believers. Whether you take a baby step or a giant leap of faith, move forward today.
Next Step #1 — Embrace the new you
Key Truth: Spiritual identity
God has given you a new status as a believer in Jesus.
Fake IDs are big business. People buy IDs to appear older, younger, or altogether someone else. God is in the ID business, too. John, one of the men who wrote Jesus’ story, tells us, “Yet to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). The moment you said “yes” to Jesus, you got a new identity. The apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (2 Corinthians 5:17). What does this new identity mean if you don’t look or feel different?
- You are God’s adopted child
- You’re free from condemnation
- You can approach God with freedom and confidence
- You’re a citizen of heaven
- God is at work within you
And my favorite . . . Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends . . .” (John 15:15). You are officially a friend of God. Enjoy it, and embrace the new you.
Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
“The clearer we capture the vision of our new identity in Christ, the more we will realize that our deepest needs for security, significance, and satisfaction are met in Him and not in people, possessions, or positions.” – Kenneth Boa
Whenever your past haunts you, read 2 Corinthians 5:17. Then thank God for what he has done in your life and for what he’s yet to do.
Next Step #2 — Explore what God has done
Key Truth: Salvation
You’ve been set free.
You’ve been freed from prison and placed in a palace. You were blind, but now you see. Your life sentence is now an inheritance. Your dead-end has become a new beginning.
Salvation is liberation. Mark, one of Jesus’ followers, describes Jesus well: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). A ransom is a payment required to release a captive, and Jesus made that payment on your behalf. In doing so, Jesus offered you a new life. No longer are you obligated to live apart from God. When you asked Jesus to be the leader of your life, he released your shackles and, as stated in the previous chapter, gave you a new identity. You are free from your past. You are no longer a prisoner.
Key Verse: Colossians 1:13-14
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
“Jesus came, not to give you a religion, but to give you a relationship with God. Christianity does not bring you a religion. It brings you a person. In fact, Christianity is not just the end of religion. It’s the opposite of religion because religion says, ‘Live like this, and God will accept you.’ The gospel is, ‘At infinite cost through Jesus Christ, God has accepted you. Now live like this.’ They’re utterly different.” – Tim Keller
Live as a free man or woman. Take an actual step away from your old life and lifestyle and step towards God.
Next Step #3 — Take a deep breath
Key Truth: Forgiveness
Your sins are gone.
Perfume and deodorant can only do so much. If you stink, you will be found out. But God’s forgiveness is a complete deodorizer.
The Bible powerfully illustrates the disappearance of our sins. “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he [God] removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). In case you’re Googling the distance, it’s immeasurable.
Look at what the prophet Isaiah writes about God, “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17). I love that picture. It’s one of a heavenly father who protects his children. We don’t need to dwell on our past; God has forgiven us.
God has replaced your baggage with an easy chair called grace.
If you’re like me, you love hearing about forgiveness, but you have a difficult time believing it. We’ve been carrying baggage around for so long, and we can’t imagine life without it. On a good day, we might feel forgiven and anticipate the bags to be lighter than usual. However, it’s time to recognize the bags are gone. Consequences may remain, but the guilt and shame and judgment? Gone. God has replaced your baggage with an easy chair called grace. Sink into that chair, take a deep breath, and rest.
Key Verse: Micah 7:18-19
Who is a God like you,
who pardons sin and forgives the transgression
of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever
but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
you will tread our sins underfoot
and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
“The forgiven man [and woman] feels a joy which he never knew before;—not the wild joy in which he once delighted, which first intoxicated him, and then left him depressed and heart-broken, but a joy like the course of a great river, increasing as it flows, widening and deepening as months and years roll on.” – Charles Spurgeon
Your most significant test may be to believe that God has indeed forgiven you. It’s true. Enjoy it. Rest in the goodness of God.
Next Step #4 — Talk to God
Key Truth: Prayer
God wants to hear from you.
Prayer can be intimidating. We worry about our words, motives, and authority. We wonder, “Who am I to pray?” Yet God has already told us who we are. We are his children, and our heavenly father wants to hear from us. But when do we do it, how do we do it, and what do we say? Here’s the formula: tell God what you’re thinking, whenever you’re thinking it, and pray with the confidence that he hears you.
You’ve been freed from prison and placed in a palace.
Prayer is simply talking to God. It should be as natural as speaking to a friend. There are no secret phrases, and there is no magic posture, so there’s no way to get it wrong. In Psalm 55, King David wrote, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” That pretty much includes the entire day. God’s office hours are unlimited, so don’t wait for the right time. Just take time to share your heart, in your own words, and you can be confident God hears you.
Key Verse: Philippians 4:6
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“Prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.” – Henri Nouwen
Take time to pray for everything. If you’re excited, worried, or thinking about something, pray now. God cares about all of it.
Next Step #5 — Be honest with God
Key Truth: Confession
Agree with God.
Actress Katharine Hepburn spoke with great wisdom on this topic: “I have many regrets, and I’m sure everyone does. The stupid things you do, you regret if you have any sense, and if you don’t regret them, maybe you’re stupid.” Not only wise words but quite direct!
Dr. Luke, a physician who was also a believer of Jesus and traveling companion of the Apostle Paul, offers some rationale for dealing with the poor choices we make. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
You may have heard the word “repent” shouted from a street corner or seen it written on a sign at a public gathering. It means to “turn away,” to stop going one direction and, instead, go the opposite way. That’s the result of confession. When we confess, we agree with God. We’re acknowledging his way is right, and ours is wrong. And note the blessings of confession that Luke identifies: our sins are wiped out, and God refreshes our soul. Confession strengthens our relationship with God, and with those we’ve hurt.
Key Verse: 1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
“It’s bad when you fail morally. It’s worse when you don’t repent.” – Luis Palau
Keep short accounts with God. Be quick to confess any wrong words, thoughts, or actions.
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QUESTION (leave a comment below)
Which step resonates the most with you—or which is the most challenging—and why?