Published March 6, 2012
All of the fuss on the national political scene recently about who is and who isn't truly a Christian has, it seems, skirted the real question what qualifies someone to call themselves a Christian? Are you a Christian simply because you attended a church labeling itself as Christian for twenty years? And how can you tell?
When is a "Christian" not really a Christian?
Recently I wrote about people who have accepted Christ as Savior, but who still are faced with recurring doubts about their salvation. I presented a Bible-based response as to why such a person can and should be confident that they are, indeed, saved and, therefore, truly are Christians. (Read it here.)
I received many responses from readers, a few of which I shared last week. But a pastor wrote me with an entirely different take on this whole question of "doubts" and the assurance of salvation. It's the opposite side of this issue. And it's extremely important, too:
"Paul, as a pastor for many years, I have had some who needed assurance of their Salvation. But I know far more [people] who should not have any assurance of their Salvation and yet they do. These are people who at one time or another prayed the prayer,' asked Jesus into their heart,' went to the altar, joined the church, got baptized, or whatever. Some of them don't even remember doing so since they were young, but have been told they are saved' by parents or someone.
"And yet, they have no interest in Jesus, in the Bible, in going to church nothing in the Christian realm. And further, they live an unholy, sin-dominated lifestyle. Yet, they claim they are saved and on their way to heaven.
"When I was ministering at a Rescue Mission, we used the phrase, We've got to get them to acknowledge they are lost before they can be saved. So there are two sides to this assurance issue those who need reaffirmation of their salvation and those who need to see from their fruit' that they need salvation, in spite of whatever works' they have done." Pastor Rod R.
An excellent point! So how can we tell? Jesus Himself said that if someone is truly a follower of His, it should be obvious. "You will know them by their fruits," He said. And He offered these contrasts: "Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit" (Matt. 7:16-18).
So, what is the "fruit" the Lord is talking about? It's what a Christian (or non-Christian) does, how he acts, his attitude toward others, his worldview, the words he uses, his attitude towards Christians, his attitude toward Christ the totality of who he is and what he does. All of these outward manifestations should provide solid evidence of an inward change, a deep-down devotion to Christ. If it's lacking, there's reason for concern.
Now, before you say, "Yeah, I know someone like that," let's engage in a little self-evaluation. Do you exhibit that "fruit" Jesus talked about? Fortunately, Paul gives us a list of such evidences, which he calls "fruit of the Spirit." (You can find them in Galatians 5:22-22.) Let's do a little self-inventory based on these criteria.
There are nine evidences given of a Spirit-filled life given, and the first one, appropriately, is "love." Do you love God? I mean, do you really love God? Is He first in your life? Do you have a longing for Him? Do you have a hunger to learn more about Him? Do you seek His will for your life? Or do you love other people or things more?
Number two is "joy." Do you have real joy in the your life? No matter what comes against you, do you have a joy that just cannot be overshadowed by circumstances? (See my recent column about this here.)
Next is "peace," which is closely linked to the first two. If you love God and have accepted Christ as Savior, you have the joy that only He can give and that gives you peace in your soul that can come from no other source. There is no peace like that based on the certainty of salvation.
Are you "longsuffering?" Are you patient in your dealing with others? And with yourself? Or are you impulsive, demanding your own way? And right now!
"Kindness." How kind are you toward others? Can others see Christ in you? Or do they see someone who's selfish, self-centered, "me-first?"
"Goodness." Are you a "good" person. Careful there are plenty of "good" people who are on their way to hell. These are kind, generous people against whom nobody has a bad word to say. But their goodness comes from a sense of common morality or societal expectations, not from a sincere desire to please the Lord.
"Faithfulness." How faithful are you? Are you faithful to God's standards in every circumstance, in every place, at all times? Or are there times in your life when, honestly, you are less than faithful to God's will for your life?
"Gentleness." This is closely linked to some of the above. When you think of gentleness, perhaps some dear old saint of the church comes to mind perhaps a woman who always had a good word for everyone, always helped in any way she could, always encouraged others, was selfless in her actions. It's someone whose photo is in the dictionary next to "kindness," "gentleness" and "goodness." Are you such a person?
"Self-control." Oh, oh there's a difficult one. Do you ever "fly off the handle?" Does anyone ever make you so angry you lose your temper? Do you ever act impulsively doing something you're sorry for later? When anger rises up in you, do you have the "self-control" needed to diffuse it before it's too late? (That's one key role of our "Helper," the Holy Spirit. And these are, after all, fruits of the Spirit.)
Interestingly, Peter gives another list of evidences of a Christ-centered life in 2 Peter 1:5-8. Check it out. You'll find two items in common with the list above love and self-control. This list is directed to Christians to strengthen their walk. He sums it up this way: "For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 8).
But let's be clear about this: You could very well exhibit at least in public many of the above "fruit" without being saved. There are a lot of people who are, according to anyone who knows them, "good." But they're not saved. Neighbors may even know such a person as a Christian. But they've never truly repented of their sins and asked Christ to be the only Lord of their life.
So... Are you evidencing "good fruit" or "bad fruit" in your life? It makes a difference.
There are no sadder words in the Bible than Jesus' words in Matthew 7 where He says, "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven..." (v. 21). There are many today who think they're Christians, they call Jesus "Lord," but there's no evidence of it in their lives. There's no "fruit" (v. 20). The end for such a person is terrifying: "And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me..." (v. 23).
If Christ is indeed the Lord of your life, there is no room for doubt regarding your salvation. If, on the other hand, you're a Christian in name only, I urgently ask you to confess your sins and ask God to cleanse you "from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9) and accept Him truly as Lord of your life. Then you'll be a Christian not just in name only but in truth. The "good fruit" will come alive in your life. And someday, instead of hearing "Depart from Me," you'll hear instead, "Enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matt. 25:21).
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