When exactly does a person become a Christian?
For Roman Catholics and some Protestants, infant baptism is part of the formula, and it’s validated later on in a rite called Confirmation.
For most evangelicals, the rite of passage is sometimes referred to as the “altar call” or the “sinner’s prayer.”
I. What does the Bible teach?
a. A consistent pattern emerges. Just a few of many cases – Acts 2:37-38, 41; 8:12; 8:36, 38-39; 16:31-34; 22:16; etc.
b. That pattern involves a process: hear the gospel, believe, repent, confess, be baptized
c. On the other hand, the whole idea of an “altar call” or the so-called “sinner’s prayer” is conspicuously absent from the New Testament.
II. Where then did “altar call” theology come from?
a. It did not happen overnight. Christians in the earliest centuries were consistent on linking baptism to salvation.
b. In later church history, baptism came to be regarded as a sacrament
c. For later Protestants, baptism came to be regarded as nothing more than “an outward sign of an inward grace.”
i.The camp meetings and revivals of the early 1800s provided a new twist that solidified modern evangelical practice.
ii.According to Fred Zaspel, a Baptist, the altar call “first arose more than eighteen centuries after Christ.”
iii.According to David Bercot, an evangelical who converted to Anglicanism, “The altar call and associate prayers are a product of the revival movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and they were unknown to any Christians before that time.”
III. What about Bible passages that teach faith without works?
a. Some have seen a contradiction between Rom. 4 and James 2 on faith and works.
i.It’s interesting that the only verse in the N.T. which puts the words “faith” and “alone” together says that it’s not by “faith alone” (James 2:24)
ii.Does James 2 contradict Rom. 4? No!
1. Provision for a relationship with God (Rom. 4) – not supplied with human effort. You can’t achieve this on your own.
2. Acceptance of the provision supplied by Another (James 2) – active, not passive
b. Faith, broadly understood, involves 3 components: conviction, trust, surrender