When non-believers say these things about me I take it as just part of being a Christian. In fact, I think if non-believers are saying these things about me it is really an encouragement because it tells me that I am obeying the command of Christ to let my light shine, to share the gospel, etc. What does trouble me, however, is when I am told these things by professing Christians. I hear things like, “You know, I'm a Christian too, but you really shouldn't force Jesus on people, and your views are too narrow minded, as long as people are loving and love God, then what does their sexuality matter? Don't be so judgmental!”
What they say doesn't really bother me as much as that they add that four word phrase at the beginning of their judgment of me (yes, enjoy the irony), that they evidently feel lends some authority to their judgment of me. I am referring to the phrase, “I'm a Christian too.” I bothers me because I am not sure they really know and understand what a Christian is. The term “Christian” is tossed around like a Frisbee at a beach party, with no real understanding of what a Christian is. Some people think they are a Christian because they have always been one. They have grown up in the church, they believe in Jesus, they believe in God, and they're sure that at some point they asked “Jesus into their heart” and they were baptized so they are obviously a Christian.
Another group is sure they are a Christian because they believe in God and they do their best to do their best and be honest and fair and so on and so on; and some are even convinced that they are a Christian because they were born in America, and since America is a Christian nation they are therefore, a Christian. And then, of course (and I shudder at the thought of this unfortunately popular ideology), there are those who are sure they are a Christian because they are politically conservative.
Matthew 7:21-23 reads (and this is Jesus Himself speaking), “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” What this is telling us is that on that day of judgment there will be people who approach Jesus Christ, fully convinced in their own minds, that they are genuinely saved, they are convinced in their own minds that they are without doubt a Christian, but Jesus Himself will tell them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” They are false Christians. Self-deceived, duped by Satan, trapped in and enslaved to their sin. They are not saved, and they are not Christians.
Wow. Just wow. Jesus knew and taught way back then, approximately 2000 years ago, that there would be self-deceived false Christians in the church, and in the world. This was an issue that Jesus wanted His followers to be aware of, and so much so that God ensured there would be indicators of true Christianity in His word. A spiritual or Biblical checklist if you will, and it really isn't long and involved nor is it difficult to understand. There are just a few basic teachings that are indicators of what a true Christian is and what a false Christian is not.
1. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15 ESV)
Obedience. Jesus requires Christians to be obedient to Him. Please note that being obedient to Jesus does not make one a Christian, however, obedience to Jesus is one of the marks of a true Christian. What are the commandments of Jesus? If you have to ask, then there is a serious issue because the commandments of Jesus are clearly written in Scripture. True Christians love the word of God! True Christians read the word of God, study the word of God, and are filled with the word of God. It is the manual for our lives – and I am not referring to just those parts that we are comfortable with, no, I am referring to the entire Bible, all 66 books. True Christians will read it, learn it, love it, and live it.
Jesus's commandments, such as, repentance, witnessing (by both words and actions), being reconciled to God, loving one another with a sacrificial love, striving to be more and more like our role model Jesus Christ, and, among other of His commandments, turning not just from physical sin but also mental sins such as lusting, hating, or any fantasy about sin. If you want to know what Jesus's commandments are, read the word of God. If you can't even discipline yourself to read and learn and love and live the hold word of God, then how can you possibly know what Jesus's commandments are, much less obey them, and if you don't obey them then you don't really love Jesus, and guess what? Those who do not love Jesus – according to His definition and nor our own – are not true Christians. And this brings us to our second point;
2. The Faith and Works connection. Regardless of how many good things one does, no matter how much one donates to charity, no matter how many people one helps, there is no amount of good works that one can do to ensure salvation. Doing good works does not make someone a Christian, although, there are many people who think that because they do good works they are automatically a Christian. However, a look at Scripture, specifically Ephesians 2:8-10, the progression of salvation as explained here shows that good works come after salvation. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV) In step one of this progression, God, by His infinite grace, gives as a gift to the individual the faith necessary for salvation. First comes salvation, and it is not, as verse 9 tells us, the result of any good work, or anything else done by the individual. It is strictly due to the grace of God and nothing else. After one is saved, then comes the good works.
In essence, the true Christian can say with regard to good works, “I do good works because I am a Christian; I am not a Christian because of the works I do.” James, the brother of Jesus says in his epistle, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17 ESV)
There are two things that are essential for every professing Christian to known, and understand and remember. First, faith without works is a dead faith. If there is no change in the person, no compassion, no sacrificial love for their fellow human being, then they are not a Christian. Period. And this isn't me saying this, this is Scripture. Secondly, if a person is full of good works but does not truly love the Lord, does no pray daily, does not read the word of God, does not have an intimate relationship with God, does not obey the Lord (see number 1), then that individual is not a Christian.
3. 2 Corinthians 7:10 states, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (ESV). When by His grace God grants the seeking sinner the faith necessary to come to Him for forgiveness of sin and salvation (see number 2), the individual will come to a realization of the depth of their sin, and this creates a deep, heart-felt, sincere grief, and that grief produces sincere repentance which leads to salvation. This is a huge difference between the true Christian and the false Christian. A changed life. As the Scripture above says, the Christian, the true Christian will experience a “godly grief” which leads to salvation, but the false Christian who really hasn't received salvation, can only experience a “worldly grief” which does not lead to salvation because it is the same attitude toward their sin that every other unrepentant sinner has toward their sin. That “worldly grief” does not produce repentance because there is no changed life.
Upon coming to salvation, the true Christian will experience a life changing miracle (and it truly is a miracle), a new attitude, a new world view. Nothing is really the same because as with the apostle Paul when he received salvation, it is as if a blindfold is suddenly removed and the world is seen clearer than it ever did before, and sin is exposed for the destructive, enslaving, soul eating habit that it really is, and true Christians can see that. Sin becomes so loathsome to the true Christian that he or she becomes acutely aware of sins presence. When it is observed in others the true Christian experiences a sadness for the one lost in sin, and when it is observed in the self, the true Christian experiences a deep, heart-felt, sincere regret and remorse that leads to repentance. This is the “godly grief” spoken of in the passage above.
Sin is such a loathsome thing for the true Christian that although they may (and likely will) sin again, the true Christian cannot live a life patterned by habitual sin. It is impossible for a true Christian to live like that. The true Christian is incapable of living a life patterned by habitual sin. 1 John 3:4-10 explains this, and illustrates the difference between the saved and the unsaved – which includes false Christians. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4-10 ESV)
Obedience to Jesus that is the result of loving Jesus. Good works that are the result of salvation, rather than a belief that good works will result in salvation (which they will not); and a changed life, a changed world view, including an inability to live a life patterned by habitual sin. These are the marks of the true Christian. There are others given in Scripture, but I think these are the “Big Three.” So, regardless of an individual claiming that they are a Christian, they may or may not actually be one.
The purpose of this article is not to prepare anyone to go out and point a finger and say “you are a Christian, but you are not” and so forth. In fact, I would encourage everyone to avoid doing that. It is simply not right to do. However, I would also encourage each individual who professes to be a Christian to read this article, and apply it to themselves. I want them to search themselves, to search their hearts and minds, honestly and without reservation, and check the validity of their own Christianity because if someone, anyone, even you my friend, think you are a Christian but your definition of “Christian” is in anyway different than the Bible's definition, then please realize that you are not a Christian, and you will fall into that group of people to whom Jesus will one day say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
The Lübeck Cathedral, in Lübeck, Germany bears this inscription (please excuse the updated use of “you” rather than “ye”)”
You call Me Light and see Me not,
You call Me the Way and walk Me not,
You call Me Life and desire Me not,
You call Me wise and follow Me not,
You call Me fair and love Me not,
You call Me rich and ask Me not,
You call Me eternal and seek Me not,
You call Me gracious and trust Me not,
You call Me Lord and serve Me not,
You call Me mighty and honor Me not,
You call Me just and fear Me not,
If I condemn you, blame me not.