This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
I am a physician (pulmonology) and, until recently, a lifelong atheist, although one who saw great non-religious value in Judeo-Christian culture and civilization. I became increasingly convinced by the moral arguments that atheism could not lead to a society with moral values and thus by the moral arguments for God. Your site, and debates and your Reasonable Faith book, along with CS Lewis and other reading, now have me convinced in at least the likelihood of Christianity.
My question is what are the next best steps for someone who has taken this rarer intellectual path towards Christianity? As someone who never attended Church, who has no preferred denomination or family tradition, it is a bit hard to know where to begin. Any advice would be welcomed. Thank you very much for your incredibly useful site and work and the clarity of thinking behind it.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
Such an encouragement to receive your letter, Mark! I’m so glad that you thought through the implications of the human predicament and the moral argument for the existence of God.
So let’s assume that Christianity is likely to be true. What should you do next? Several things come to mind:
1. First and foremost, make a personal commitment to trust Christ as your Savior and Lord. It’s one thing—a vital part of being a Christian—to give intellectual assent to the truth claims or doctrines of Christianity, but it’s not the whole thing. Intellectual assent now needs to be followed up by trust. Trusting Christ as Savior means trusting God to forgive your sins solely on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death. It means that we are not trusting in any way in our good works to save us or make us acceptable to God. Salvation is by grace alone. There’s nothing we can do to earn God’s pardon; we can only humbly and gratefully receive it. Trusting Christ as Lord means that you are giving your whole life to Christ to follow and obey him. Trusting in Christ is not just some sort of fire insurance. It is a commitment of all that you are and have to him. This is no more than his due, for he is God incarnate, and God alone is worthy of worship.
If you want to make that commitment, Mark, I’d encourage you make the following prayer your own:
“God, I really need You. I’ve wandered in darkness long enough. I’ve thought and said and done things that are wrong. I believe that You exist and that you sent Jesus to die for my sins. So right now, in the best way I know how, I commit myself to him as my Lord and Savior. Come into my life, forgive my sins, cleanse me, and make into the person you want me to be. Thank you for hearing this prayer. Amen.”
2. Examine yourself to ensure that when you trusted in Christ you received his Holy Spirit. This will be assurance to you that your faith and commitment are genuine. Ask yourself the question that Paul asked the Ephesians: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19.2). Over and over again in the New Testament you find that a person is not truly a Christian unless and until he receives God’s Holy Spirit. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person that makes him a Christian. Sometimes one senses a new life within; other times other people may sense the change in you before you sense it yourself.
Why is the presence of the Holy Spirit so crucial? Simply because we are spiritually dead apart from him. When the Holy Spirit comes into you, he makes you spiritually alive again, so that you can know and experience God. To give an analogy, there are radio waves all around us all the time, even passing right through our bodies, but if your radio is dead, you can’t hear the broadcast. The problem isn’t with the transmitter; the problem is with the receiver. If you get a new receiver, then you can tune into the broadcast loud and clear. In the same way, our spiritual receivers are dead because of sin, and so we don’t experience God’s presence. When the Holy Spirit comes into a person, he takes the dead receiver and makes it alive so that you can tune into God.
This “making alive again” is called regeneration. We need to be spiritually regenerated, or born anew. Thus, when Jesus was talking once with a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, he said to him,
‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born anew.”’
Here Jesus makes it clear that he’s talking about the necessity of an individual, spiritual rebirth which is produced by the Spirit of God. Moreover, he emphasizes that this new birth is the essential entrance requirement into God’s Kingdom. In order to find God as a spiritual reality in our lives, then, we need to be spiritually born anew by trusting in Christ, whereby, if our faith is genuine, we receive the Holy Spirit.
3. Embark on a program of daily Bible reading and prayer. We speak to God through prayer, and He speaks to us through His Word, the Bible. I suggest you begin to read the Gospels in the New Testament, for these contain the story and teachings of Jesus. Seek to apply in your life what you read there. I’d encourage you, too, to begin listening to our Defenders podcasts on a systematic basis. This is a class in Christian doctrine and apologetics. It will feed your soul intellectually as well as spiritually and help you to discern theological error when you confront it.
Talk to God in prayer constantly throughout the day. When you slip up and do something wrong, don’t try to sweep it under the rug, but confess it immediately to Him and ask His forgiveness and cleansing. Each day when you get up, take a moment in silent prayer to yield your life to the Holy Spirit and ask him to guide and empower you. As you yield your life to him, he will gradually change you from the inside out to become a better person.
4. Join in worshipping God with other believers. I’m so glad that you’re thinking about attending church, Mark. Yes, finding a good church can be extraordinarily difficult. Here are a couple of tips. It has been said that the theological character of a church is determined by its preaching and its music. So look for a church where the minister faithfully expounds the Bible in his sermons. The sermons should deal with specific Bible passages, and the minister’s exposition should illumine the text for you. Look as well for a church where the great hymns of the church are sung, hymns by people like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Pay close attention to the words that you are singing. These hymns are theologically rich and deepen your worship of God. Stay away, if you can, from churches featuring pop worship bands singing repetitive and superficial ditties. Despite its initial appeal, such music may ultimately stunt your growth and lead to a church as superficial as its music.
You will derive great strength from being in the company of worshipping believers. Tell others of your decision to follow Christ. Tell the minister that you would like to be baptized as a public proclamation of your new-found faith in Christ. Baptism is the culminating act of one’s conversion, for in it we publicly identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. Then get involved in the church by using whatever talents and abilities you have to serve others. This will help you to become others-oriented instead of self-oriented.
5. Expect trouble. The Christian life is a battleground where all sorts of negative cultural and spiritual forces are arrayed against you. You may be belittled or persecuted for choosing to follow Christ. Hardships may come into your life. Things may not go as you hoped. Don’t be discouraged. Jesus told his followers that they were to expect such trials. Ask God for the strength to persevere.
May God guide you as you make that sea change from atheist to Christian!
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org