The life of a new Christian is both exciting and daunting. As a former atheist, my early experiences as a Christian were filled with opportunities and challenges. What do I do now? I wondered. Should I attend church? Where should I go? Who should I tell? What if I have doubts? How often should I pray and read the Bible?
This article will offer guidance to help new believers navigate their first steps in the Christian life, but the insights offered here are also helpful to established Christians as reminders of what the Christian life is about.
Where did you come from and where are you going?
If you are new to Christianity, there's a good chance you're an adult or young adult. This means you obviously came from somewhere in reference to your ideas, background, beliefs, and habits. Maybe you have come to Christ after involvement in another religion or philosophy. Or perhaps you were raised in a Christian home, drifted away from beliefs you were brought up with and have now committed your life to Christ.
Of course, there's no way for this article to anticipate every aspect of your background and what brought you to Christ and Christianity. But it's important for you to keep in mind where you have come from because your past may influence your present life in Christ.
As a new Christian you may find yourself somewhat confused as to what your next steps should be. While there is a general route you may follow, such as gathering regularly with fellow Christians, there is no exact plan spelled out in the Bible regarding your next steps. God does have a plan for you and your life, but it is something you will discover as you grow as a Christian and mature in your relationship with Christ.
Emotion: Too Much or Not Enough?
One area where you may be confused is in reference to emotions in relation to Christianity. Maybe when you became a Christian you went through a very emotional experience. But now that your life has settled down you're wondering where this emotional experience has gone. Or perhaps you are experiencing the opposite – your commitment to Christ may not have been emotional at all, or at least not very much so.
Don't worry. Christians come to Christ in all sorts of ways. Some are highly emotional experiences, others are not. C.S. Lewis, for instance, one of the great Christian thinkers of the 20th century, described his conversion more like someone who had been asleep realizing he is awake, but not in any extraordinary emotional sense.
In fact, as a Christian you will have your ups and downs. It's important that you do not base the reality of your relationship with Christ or what He has done for you on your feelings. Your feelings will fluctuate from day to day, but the foundation of your beliefs should not. If you have a solid foundation in Christ and Christianity, that foundation rooted in a real relationship with Christ is what will support your Christian life.
Some people are "always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7, NIV). Being a Christian is in many respects a lifelong education, but unlike some who are always learning but unable to acknowledge the truth, you have a foundation in truth (Christ). There will be much to learn throughout your Christian life, just be careful not to try and absorb too much information at once.
One area you will want to learn more about has to do with the Bible. You may have heard many myths about the Bible and maybe you're not all that familiar with it. This article can only provide you with brief information about the Bible and what it teaches, but if you want to learn more you can try a few helpful resources.
First, the book From God to Us by Norman Geisler and William Nix (Moody Publishers) will provide you with some helpful general information about the Bible. Second, the book The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? by F.F. Bruce (InterVarsity Press) offers a short and helpful summary of the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament, where the story of Jesus and the early Church is recorded. Third, Basic Christianity by John Stott (InterVarsity Press) provides a brief overview of essential Christian beliefs.
The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible is actually a collection of many books written by several authors inspired by God over a period spanning some 1,500 years or so. The Old Testament contains books written before the time of Christ, while the New Testament contains documents about the life of Christ and the early Church. The Gospels include Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These four books contain accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. John is a good place for a new Christian to become introduced to Christ and His message.
Next you will find the book of Acts, which records many exciting and challenging events in the life of the early Christians and the early Church. It introduces a key individual known as Paul, who went on to become one of the most important Christians in the early church.
Following Acts you will encounter a number of epistles, or letters, from various individuals writing to other Christians. These are highly practical letters, emphasizing the Christian life. James is a good epistle to read for practical insights into the Christian life.
The last book in the New Testament is Revelation, a work of apocalyptic literature that contains many images and predictions (prophecies). Although it tends to get a lot of attention in popular books and discussions, Revelation is generally not the best place for a new Christian to begin studies. This is not because it is not useful or helpful, but because approaching it and being able to make helpful sense out of it requires a fairly broad background in Bible history and other passages that it references. Revelation also provides wonderful imagery of a future time when Christ will return and evil will ultimately be overcome.
Doubts and Challenges
Most likely you will have a number of questions about Christianity. Don't be discouraged if you do, but do your best to get your questions answered. There are a number of resources available addressing questions about the Bible, other religions, other philosophies or worldviews.. The field of defending Christianity is called apologetics, so you might want to learn more in that area, especially if you have many questions.
Christianity is not a belief system that discourages questions or the life of the mind. All truth is God's truth, as has been said, and if Christianity is true as we believe it to be, then any reasonable question should have reasonable answers.
In fact, 1 Peter 3:15 calls every Christian to, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." As a new Christian you can't be expected to have answers to everything about Christianity, but you can begin to learn more about the faith so you know why you believe what you believe.
It's important that you begin to gather with other Christians regularly. You'll want to find a solid Christian church that you can attend regularly, as well as a stable small group where you can meet with other Christians. You'll also want to make sure you take time to pray and read the Bible regularly. Once you find a good church, a pastor will offer guidance as to how you can go about maturing in your faith.
As was said at the beginning of this article, the Christian life is both exciting and daunting. Growing in your faith is important, but you can't do it alone. Read the next article in this series for suggestions on finding the "right" church for you.For more information or reading materials, call 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
Robert Velarde is author of Conversations with C.S. Lewis (InterVarsity Press), The Heart of Narnia (NavPress), and Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books). He studied philosophy of religion and apologetics at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary. All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.