How to become a Christian?

· author: Thomas · reading time: ca. 10 min.

One does not become a Christian by being a member of a church, but through a personal decision of faith. This includes that one has understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Baptism as an adult is an outward sign of that inner decision.


The year 2022 marked a preliminary turning point in population statistics: Until that year, half of the German population was still a member of one of the two traditional mainstream churches, the Roman Catholic or the Protestant Church in Germany.

In addition, there are many free-church congregations that are not financed by the German “church tax” but by voluntary donations, and are therefore not included in the statistics. Some of them do not want to belong to any denomination at all, in order to emphasize the unity of all Christians instead.

Many people who, like me, grew up in one of the mainstream churches will probably also have felt that they took part in rituals such as communion or confirmation more out of social tradition and that there was no particularly strong, but a rather diffuse, impersonal relationship with God behind them.

In any case, I have asked myself the question of how membership in a church is related to one’s personal relationship with God: If someone had been a member of the church all his life, but as an adult no longer wanted to know anything about God, from a human perspective I would be very surprised if God simply greeted him at the gates of heaven after his death with the words “yeah, it’s alright, come on in”.

Personal experience?

Of course, I would be very happy if God would take all people to heaven at the end of the day. There is also a suitable Bible passage in the First Letter to Timothy, according to which God definitely wants all people to be saved.

(Further reading: 1 Timothy 2:3-4)

I do not want to deny anyone here that he is a Christian. Only God can judge who belongs to Him, and we humans should not pass judgment on that. However, it was important to me personally to reconcile my experience with the theology behind it.

If I myself am baptized and a member of the church, shouldn’t that have some personally noticeable effect on me, by which I realize that something is different now than if I were not baptized and not a church member? This difference was not recognizable for me in this way.

Perhaps Albert Schweitzer was also thinking of something similar when he formulated the now famous quote:

He who thinks he is a Christian because he attends church is mistaken. After all, you don’t become a car by walking into car garage.

Baptism as a child?

If we now look up the Bible ourselves, it is noticeable that baptism in infancy (by which is meant here: a baby gets a few sprinkles of water over its head) is not at all well documented in the Bible. Strictly speaking, there is not a single biblical passage that shows a concrete example of infant baptism:

  1. The Roman officer Cornelius was already searching for God, and when the apostle Peter came to his town, Cornelius invited him to join him. Peter tells him about Jesus. All who listened, including Cornelius’ relatives and close friends, become believers. Peter decides that they will be baptized. Children are not specifically mentioned. (Acts 10:24-48)
  2. When the apostle Paul is in Philippi, he converses with some Jewish women about faith. Lydia, a merchant, is then baptized – along with everyone who belongs to her household. Whether small children lived with her is not mentioned. (Acts 16:11-15)
  3. Later, Paul and his companion Silas end up in prison, but the jailer witnesses with his own eyes how they are freed by a miracle of God. They declare faith in Jesus to him, along with the rest of their household, and likewise they are all baptized. Again, it remains open whether little children were present. (Acts 16:23-34)
  4. When Paul and Silas are in Corinth, Paul speaks to the Jews from the synagogue. As a result, Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, becomes a believer, again with his whole household. Here baptism is not even mentioned explicitly, but only in reference to other people from Corinth who also became believers. (Acts 18:7-8)

Now, one could object that with so many examples of baptisms of entire families, there must have been an infant present at one time or another. But it is striking that there is always at least one adult, who was the head of the household and made an active decision to believe in Christ first.

Especially the first two reports about Cornelius and Lydia emphasize that here people became believers who had listened to the words of the apostles. Here we can assume that understanding the content is also part of listening. And this ability to understand is not yet given to an infant.

“Let the children come to me”

We have seen that infant baptism is not explicitly shown in the Bible. This opens up a new question: If an infant dies in a tragic accident, can it not go to heaven? After all, it had no opportunity to hear and understand the message of Jesus.

Jesus himself has a hopeful answer for us here. Just as he was speaking to a crowd, some wanted to bring their children to him, and this is what happened:

Then they brought little children to him so that he would lay hands on them and pray, but the disciples rejected them.

And Jesus said, Leave the little children, and do not forbid them to come to me, for for them is the kingdom of heaven.

(Further reading: Matthew 19:13-14)

Even though this is ostensibly about whether or not the children are allowed to sit near Jesus, Jesus thereby makes it clear on a theological level that there are no requirements for little children to come to him and thus also to heaven.

Unlike many of Jesus’ other statements in the Bible, where he calls people to question their behavior, children are allowed to come to him as they are. This indicates to me that God has taken this issue into account and children who are too young to grasp the content of Jesus’ message are given a “free pass” to heaven.

Baptism for adults

We have noted that the baptism of an infant seems at least not essential, and perhaps it’s even standing on a shaky foundation. At least I personally have not wanted to rely on it when it comes to such an important issue as life after death.

So let’s take another closer look at how people in the Bible found their faith. In considering the question of whether, according to biblical tradition, children were also baptized, we have already seen that at least one adult was always baptized. How did this happen exactly?

  1. On Pentecost, the first Christians are suddenly able to speak in foreign languages, causing a great stir in Jerusalem. Peter explains to the crowd that it is a miracle of God and calls them to repent to God. That day, about three thousand people decide to be baptized. (Acts 2)
  2. Apostle Philip travels to Samaria and tells the people in a town about Jesus. They rejoice at the miracles that occur and believe Philip more than Simon the sorcerer, who had been in the city for some time. Thus convinced, various men and women are baptized. (Acts 8:5-13)
  3. Philip meets the financial administrator of the Ethiopian queen as he is traveling in a chariot studying the Old Testament. Philip explains to him how Jesus is already pointed to there as Savior. After the administrator understands the message, he asks if he may now also be baptized. (Acts 8:26-40)
  4. Paul, who was still violently persecuting the early Christians at this point, encounters Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. It takes three days until Ananias comes by and prays for him, only then Paul recovers. Completely changed by the experience, he is baptized. (Acts 9:1-19)
  5. Paul meets about twelve men in Ephesus who until then had only been baptized by John the Baptist. After Paul explained the message of Jesus to them, the men were also baptized in the name of Christ. (Acts 19:1-7)

So we see that practically all the people described in the Bible always made a decision first, and then baptism took place. It therefore seems conclusive to me to assume that the actually important event is this personal decision.

Baptism is then “only” a subsequent, public symbol. Just as, for example, a marriage comes about by the wedding vow, that is, the mutual decision, and not simply by putting on a ring, the subsequent symbol. Baptism through immersion symbolizes the “washing away” of sins that happened previously through faith in Jesus.

That baptism as an adult is not the necessary condition to enter heaven is also shown by the well-known example of one of the criminals who was crucified together with Jesus and who, shortly before his death, confessed his faith in Him after all.1

(Further reading: Luke 23:33-43)

The prodigal son

We have seen from the examples of baptisms in the Bible that before baptism there was the conscious decision of an adult. But what exactly is this decision that these people made before their baptism? What did it mean, for example, when Peter called the crowd in Jerusalem to “turn to God” at Pentecost?

Some may remember the story of the prodigal son who knew his father, but then moved far away and squandered all the money he had inherited from his father. In the parable, the son returns to his father in the end and he welcomes him back with great joy, even though the son wanted nothing to do with him for most of his life.

(Further reading: Luke 15:8-32)

From this parable we can see three points of how the son thought after he became aware of his situation:

  1. The son recognizes his own faults and wants to admit them to his father.
  2. The son gives himself up; he no longer wants to be considered the son of his father.
  3. The son is willing to be employed by his father as a simple laborer instead.

We can apply these three points from the parable to how we ourselves can turn to God:

  1. We are to admit our own faults and bring them before God in prayer.
  2. We are to abandon our own priorities and instead make God the center of everything in our lives.
  3. We are to ask God about His plan for our lives and live according to it, rather than according to our human ideas.

What does this mean in practice? I know both people who can actually name the date of a specific day when they consciously came before God in prayer, apologized for their mistakes, and from then on aligned their whole life with Jesus.

But I also know people who have already grown up in a believing home, for whom this turning to God has rather been a process over a longer period of time. Since God knows the intention of each person exactly, I am sure that both ways are equal, if there is a serious decision behind it.


Now that we have looked at the examples of baptisms and Jesus’ response to young children in the Bible, I would summarize the conclusions from these events in this way:

  • One does not become a Christian by being (on paper) a member of a church.
  • Infant baptism as a way to heaven is not explicitly documented in the Bible.
  • Baptism for (small) children is not necessary because God accepts them either way.
  • However, there is room for interpretation that believing parents had their infants baptized along with them.
  • The standard case shown in the Bible is that an adult makes a personal decision to put God at the center of his or her life.
  • Baptism occurs after this decision to affirm it (publicly).

The essential point, then, seems to be that one hears, understands, and obeys the message of Jesus. This point plays a key role in the biblical examples.

This is why I also believe that people go to heaven by their decision for God alone, even if they cannot participate in a subsequent, symbolic baptism for practical reasons.


Those who have read this far may now ask themselves, “What happens if I was baptized as a baby, but only later consciously decided to live with God? Do I then have to be baptized again?”

As we have seen, it is not clear from the Bible whether infant baptism was practiced at all. Accordingly, there is no explicit command in the Bible for or against so-called “rebaptism”.

It is difficult to make an evaluation of “second” baptism from the Bible. The evaluation depends essentially on whether the first baptism as an infant is already considered valid or not. As we have seen, there is at least some latitude for infant baptism in the biblical accounts.

Personally, I was baptized “again” as an adult, after making a conscious decision to live with God and attending a free church at that time. This was due to the fact that I did not actually see God’s work in my baptism as an infant.

Since there are different views on this subject, however, I do not want to generalize my experience. Those who ask themselves the question about baptism as an adult should first clarify this with God in prayer and in their own Bible study, and take into account the customs of the local church they attend.

  1. Although I would not see that as a recommendation to wait until the last moment to make a decision, because you don’t know whether you will still consciously experience it. ↩︎