The person of Jesus of Nazareth is alluring to many people after they learn about his boundless love, his extraordinary grace, his inexhaustible kindness, his astonishing miracles, and his sacrificial death on the cross for all people. After hearing Jesus’ invitation to “follow me” (e.g. Matt. 4:19) through the gospel, some desire to devote themselves to him and know him personally (e.g. John 10:14).
Jesus told people who wanted to become Christians to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Repenting means asking God for forgiveness from sin and turning away from it. Believing the gospel means trusting by faith that Jesus died for sinners on the cross and rose three days later.
What does the word “gospel” mean? How exactly does Jesus’ death save people? What are three common misconceptions about how to become a Christian? What is the promise of the gospel? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What Does It Mean To Be a Christian? to learn more.
What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?
The Greek word translated as “gospel” (euangelion) means “good news.” According to the four New Testament Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the good news is the announcement that God sent his son, Jesus of Nazareth, into the world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus came to the world to save people, not to judge them (John 3:16-17).
The Bible teaches that all people sin (Rom. 3:23). No matter one’s age, gender, race, profession, education, I.Q., or financial position, no one is perfect. Everyone falls short of God’s moral standard. Yet without God’s forgiveness, the consequence of sin is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). However, God interceded because he is loving, merciful, and gracious and sent Jesus to save people.
How does Jesus save people? Jesus’ death on the cross for sin is how he saved people from the lost from meaningless in life and eternal death (John 10:10; 2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus took the punishment for people’s sin, exchanging his life for theirs. And when he rose from the dead three days later, he defeated sin.
- John 10:10 reads, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (ESV).
- 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (cf. Rom. 3:25-26)
The gospel invitation
God invites people to respond to the gospel. In other words, once a person understands the price that Jesus paid for them on the cross, God requires them to personally respond to it. The following verses make this clear.
- John 1:12, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
- Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
- Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Also see What Is a Lukewarm Christian? to learn more.
Three misconceptions about how to become a Christian
Sometimes people mistakenly believe that they are a Christian because their parents are. This isn’t true. Individuals must respond to the gospel. A common saying among some Christians is that God only has children, not grandchildren. This saying teaches that every individual must decide to follow Jesus; it’s not enough that a person’s parents are Christians.
Others incorrectly think that they are a Christian because they go to church. While many Christians attend church, attending worship services doesn’t make someone a Christian. Likewise, baptism and partaking in the Lord’s Supper are important acts in a Christian’s life, but they aren’t how a person becomes a Christian. Responding to the gospel is how a person becomes a Christian, not going to church.
Another common misconception is that doing good deeds, following the 10 Commandments, and “being a good person (however one defines that) is how a person becomes a Christian. Once again, this isn’t true. Christians may do good deeds, but works alone don’t make a person a Christian (Eph. 2:5). As Jesus said, becoming a Christian requires repentance from sin and believing in Jesus.
- Ephesians 2:4-5, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (NIV)
- Colossians 2:13, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (ESV)
Also see How Did Christianity Spread? to learn more.
Sinners must respond with repentance and faith
One Bible scholar writes, “True repentance never exists except in conjunction with faith, while on the other hand, wherever there is true faith, there is also real repentance. The two are but different aspects of the same turning-a turning away from sin in the direction of God. The two cannot be separated; they are simply complementary parts of the same process.” 
- Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
- Acts 20:21, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Some passages mention forgiveness and imply faith: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 46-47)
Other passages mention faith and may confession of sin: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
The Gospel Promise
The New Testament also highlights the results of responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ with repentance and faith.
- Eternal life: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
- Forgiveness of sin: “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:18-19)
- Assurance of acceptance: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
“Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is He the best of several ways; He is the only way.” – A.W. Tozer
Also see Who Is the Founder of Christianity? to learn more.
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