I sometimes hear church leaders reference a new believer as someone who “trusted Christ for the first time.” Obviously, I know what they are saying. They mean that the person never understood the gospel and he just then trusted Christ. The problem, though, is that the terminology can also sound like a person can trust Christ more than once.
The Bible makes it clear that trusting Christ is a decision made only once. When we come to God as sinners, recognize Christ died for us and rose again, and place our trust in Him as our only way to heaven, a divine transaction takes place. Romans 4:5 tells us, “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” “Accounted” means to reckon or credit something to our account.
The moment we trust Christ, God takes his Son’s perfect righteousness and places it on our account. When God sees us, He sees the perfect righteousness of His Son. We are then forever accepted by God based on what He did for us on a cross. To be His is to be His forever.
When speaking of someone who understood the plan of salvation for the first time and trusted Christ, it would be clearer for us to say that the person trusted Christ having never understood the gospel before. That communicates what we actually mean, and it is much less likely to be misunderstood.
This different phrasing also helps a person who believes that he trusts Christ for salvation anew every day. Usually, that person does not understand that the plan of salvation is a forever decision and may even be trusting Christ and his works. One is never saved until he has trusted Christ alone as his only way to heaven. Saying that someone trusted Christ “for the first time” could reinforce this misunderstanding.
Terminology matters, especially when speaking about God’s plan of salvation. Let’s be careful to use terminology that clarifies and not confuses.