The term “Christian” has become a popular trademark, especially here in America.
Everyone from our neighbors, to Jane Doe at the mall, even most presidential candidates claim to be Christians. It doesn’t matter whether they’re actually Catholic, or Mormon, or just generically “religious.”
But not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually is a Christian. And we must be aware of that, and be discerning as we build friendships and seek advice and look for examples to follow.
The most crucial mark of a true Christian is believing that salvation comes by faith alone in Christ alone.
A true Christian is not saved by doing any good works or meriting any good favor, but simply by placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ’s power to save. A true Christian not only acknowledges that salvation, but is repentant of their sin and ready to change their natural way of living to a more Christ-centered way of living.
And yet, there are millions of people in the world who claim to have faith in Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean all of them actually belong to Him.
In fact, Christ told his disciples that, “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” (Matthew 7:21).
Why you would masquerade as a Christian, if you weren’t truly saved, I have no idea. Honestly, true Christianity is a lot of hard work! It is not easy or comfortable. It requires sacrifice and suffering and death.
But some people do. Some people claim Christ’s name because it makes them look good. Or because they want man’s approval. Or because they’re afraid to live out what’s truly in their hearts.
However, we are told many times throughout Scripture that we will recognize them [Christians] by their fruits. You see, we are commanded to be observant and discerning. We are commanded to be wise in sensing whether our friends and neighbors are truly saved, or not.
**Please note: I am not saying that we can always know whether another person is truly saved. Only God and that person know for sure. And a genuine Christian is still able to fall into continued sin, and thus fall out fellowship with God — yet they remain eternally saved.**
But the Bible often reminds us that we can discern the inward spiritual state by the outward actions.
In other words, you can tell who truly belongs to Christ by observing their way of living. You can even receive assurance that you yourself belong to Christ, by observing whether your actions are in accordance with Scripture, or with your own natural desires.
So how do you recognize a true Christian?
Second, by being in God’s Word. You learn to tell the difference between real money and counterfeit money by studying the real thing. So we must faithfully study God’s Word and come to know Him better.
True disciples of Christ will look like the one they are following: that is, Christ Himself. John states that “whoever says he abides in [Jesus] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6).
So read through the Gospels, and note down the different qualities Christ portrayed. Study the lists given to us in Galatians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:12-17, and 2 Peter 1:7-8. Focus as you read, and pay attention to the qualities that separate true Christians from the world.
Genuine love seems to top many of those lists. In fact, John goes so far as to say that “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). This is not merely “feel-good” emotional fluff. This is the love of 1 Corinthians 13, which is described as patient, kind, humble, selfless, gracious, trust-worthy, forgiving, and enduring. True Christians love others sacrificially, and without any thought of reciprocation.
Another quality we find is the continual practice of obedience, as John states quite clearly: “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil…” (1 John 3:7-8). Obviously, we will never attain perfection in this world; but those who belong to God will be continually striving towards holiness, and purity, and obedience. Again, “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).
And another mark of a true Christian is the continual confession of sin: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth [Jesus Christ] is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Of course, Christ never needed to repent of sin: but we do see that He remained in constant fellowship with His Father. And that requires a heart that is pure, for God cannot look upon sin, even within His own children. “And everyone who thus hopes in him, purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
What other qualities can you think of?
“Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.”
QUESTIONS for YOU: What do YOU think are some characteristics of a true Christian? Why do you think it’s important to discern the difference?
We can better recognize Christ’s disciples by better knowing His Word.
Why not read along with me this week?
Monday: Zephaniah 1-3, Colossians 4
Tuesday: Ezra 1-2, 2 Timothy 1
Wednesday: Ezra 3-5, 2 Timothy 2
Thursday: Ezra 6-8, 2 Timothy 3
Friday: Ezra 9-10, 2 Timothy 4
Saturday: 1 Chronicles 1-3, Jude 1
Sunday: 1 Chronicles 4-6