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Am I Really A Christian?

Q: How can I truly know that I am a Christian?

Paul says to test yourself and see if you are in the faith … what is the “test” and how can I know if I’ve passed it?

How can I know if I'm really a Christian?
A: What an incredibly important and sober question!

I know that I am often shaken by the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'" (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)

I'm not kidding when I say that this passage chills me to the bone. What a terrifying declaration from the lips of our Lord and Savior! The scariest part to me is the word "many." It means the number of people who profess to follow Jesus but don't have salvation - even calling him, "Lord, Lord" - is large.

Let's keep this passage in its immediate context. A couple of things emerge that we should note. First, Jesus tells them to depart. He judges them as those "who practice lawlessness" (quoting from Psalm 6:8). Jesus evaluates their deeds as wicked even while they were appealing to their deeds as if they were righteous. They are living a Christian-flavored life but they have failed to do the will of the Father.

Rotten Apple
In the surrounding context (read Matthew 7:17-27 at least) we see Jesus using a principle that is used elsewhere: you can identify a tree by its fruit. The appeal to "good deeds" separated from a relationship with Jesus ("I never knew you") is an attempt to hang dead fruit on a rotten tree. This does not fool Jesus.

So what does this have to do with the question that was asked?

It should become immediately apparent that the test most people use to determine whether or not someone is a follower of Jesus -- a "Christian" -- is not what Jesus is pointing to!

Most people would think that being born in America makes you a "Christian" by default. But this isn't true. Being raised in a Christian home, regular or sporadic church attendance, membership in a Christian organization, Facebook statuses, survey answers, or any other form of self-labeling does not make someone a Christian.

This may sound strange. But it's true.

Consider the tree example again. Let's say that an orange tree has a sign hanging on it that says, "This is an apple tree."

Apple Orange
Do you believe the sign? Or do you believe the fruit?

Jesus is describing something very important about what it means to follow Him. It's not based on our own labels. It is not based on our self-identification. It is based on a genuinely changed nature. We must be changed from those who are dead in our trespasses and sins into those who are alive in Christ.

The ones Jesus tells to depart in Matthew 7 are like orange trees who are pointing to a few apples they've picked up and hung on their branches. They are trying to convince Jesus that they are something they are not. It seems the only ones who are deceived are themselves. They have wrongly believed that they are actually apple trees as a result of their fruit collecting efforts.

Many people are deceived into thinking they are Christians because they wear a cross necklace or attend church on a regular basis. Even Christmas and Easter is "regular"! I often tell people that sitting in a church building doesn't make them a follower of Christ any more than sitting in a tree makes them a banana. It usually gets a chuckle. But many people are convinced they are Christians because they sit in a pew.

This is the poverty of a works-based mentality. It's a "religious spirit." It seeks to change the internal nature and reality of who we are by dressing up the outside. It's a deception that simply thinks we need to have our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds because "good people" go to heaven. This just isn't true. Even if it were, there are no good people (e.g. Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-18).

All of this might seem a bit confusing. Especially since we are supposed to look at "fruit." Fruit is visible on the outside. Yet, here I am saying that what we normally think of as "fruit" (i.e. "Christian"-flavored activities) doesn't actually qualify. Before you dismiss this as simply my opinion, go back and read what Jesus said in Matthew 7 again.

They appealed to their Christian-flavored deeds. These things are bigger and more impressive than most self-labeled Christians I know are doing. Still, Jesus declares that their deeds are lawless and wicked. The poverty of "religion" without genuine "relationship" is constantly pointed to in the Scriptures. Read through Isaiah 1:11-20 if you aren't familiar with it. See how God is fed up with their half-hearted obedience to His commands?

Church pews
So, if we shouldn't look at church attendance or ministry service as good indicators, then what does the Bible tell us we should examine? What is a valid test?

The questioner points to Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 13:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6, NASB)

Many in the church today tell you to never question your faith. They are simply mistaken. The Bible teaches the exact opposite.

But what is the test?

Look carefully at what Paul says: "Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test?"

The test to see if you are in the faith is fairly simple and straightforward: Is Jesus Christ in you?

If yes, good news! You pass!

If not, according to the Bible, you fail the test.

It's better to know you fail now while you can still do something about it, then to think you're following Jesus and find out you're one of the many on Judgment Day who are commanded to depart because Christ doesn't know you.

Of course, this raises another question: what does it mean to have "Jesus Christ in you"? Is this the same as "inviting Jesus into your heart" at a prayer meeting or at VBS when you were a kid?

Not likely. Certainly some will tell you this is exactly what it means. But Paul's encouragement is to take the test now. Examine if Christ is in you today. Paul doesn't ask you to remember if there was a time in the past when you raised your hand with every eye closed and every head bowed. Paul is much less interested in the past than he is in the present.

If your decision to follow Christ back then was genuine, then you should still pass the test today. If your decision back then was a result of something less than a genuine conversion experience, then you will fail the test today.

The recipients of this letter to the Christians in Corinth had an advantage that we are missing today -- they first believed in Jesus as a result of Paul's preaching (Acts 18:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:14-16; 1 Corinthians 15:1). Paul stayed and taught them the Word of God for a year and a half before moving on (Acts 18:11).

In this time, Paul discussed with them the true, historical Jesus. Today, views of Jesus range from silly to just plain bizarre.

Different perspectives on who Jesus is does not change the reality any more than people thinking different things about you makes you different than you really are! Jesus is a real person. The Bible reveals who He is. Paul would have covered this in his time with the Corinthian believers. So, his test to them is qualified by this understanding. Is the real, living Jesus actually in you?

This is not an emotional or intellectual question. This isn't asking about how you feel or whether you consider yourself to be "a spiritual person." This isn't a question about how close you perceive your relationship to be with God. It's not an inquiry into how often you pray. This isn't a question about whether or not you've ever felt tingly listening to Christian music. This isn't a question about your understanding of what the Bible teaches or your comprehension of deep spiritual truths.

Humbly pray
The question is: is Jesus in you?

Be aware that "I don't know" is a scary answer.

While we don't have the privilege of knowing exactly what Paul taught in Corinth for that year and a half, we do have the completed Bible which gives us further insight into how we can know exactly what this question is asking us and how we can know for sure.

In fact, this is exactly what the Apostle John writes in his first epistle:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, NASB)

Christianity is not supposed to be a guessing game! If you are headed to heaven after this life is over, you should know for sure. The evidence should be abundant in this life!

It's important to notice that John writes "I have written these things" in the last chapter of his epistle, meaning you'll need to go back and read what came before to see what things he's talking about. Here's a brief survey of the things. You should probably take the time to read the entire epistle yourself. It's kind of important:
  • 1 John 1:5-7 – Walking in the light
  • 1 John 1:8-10 – Confession of sin
  • 1 John 2:3-6 – Obedience
  • 1 John 2:9-11 – Love for Christians
  • 1 John 2:15-17 – Hatred for the things of the world
  • 1 John 2:24-25 – Perseverance in right doctrine
  • 1 John 3:10 – Righteousness
  • 1 John 4:13 – The Spirit’s testimony
As much as we may want to shy away from checklists (and rightly so when they are used to earn salvation), these things are written as a self-inventory checklist to examine if we actually are what we say/think we are; namely, children of God.

Walking in the light
Are you walking in the light? Do you continue to confess your sin? Are you living a life of obedience to God? Do you have love for fellow Christians? Do you hate the things of this world? Are you persevering in right doctrine? Is righteousness evident and abundant in your life? Does the Spirit testify internally that you are a child of God?

For the genuine Christian, the answer to all of the above should be an unqualified, "Yes." If so, then you can know that you have eternal life (according to John).

Here's some more teaching on what it means to be a child of God from Paul:

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:14, NASB)

Once again, it is important to ask, what does that really mean? Is this some subjective statement that we can answer confidently with, "I feel like I'm being led by the Spirit of God, so therefore I must be?"

Well... no.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1, NASB)

There's that scary word again. "Many."

Many people feel led to do things contrary to the Word of God and sound teaching. I cannot and would never deny this. We're all "led" in some way or another.

Remember what Paul was saying in Romans 8? He tells us the exact same thing leading up to verse 14:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:9-13, NASB)

Notice how Paul is telling us there are competing forces at work. Both want to lead us somewhere. Notice also how Paul is using the same language he was using with the Corinthians: the Spirit of Christ/God in you is the most important thing!

How does Paul teach elsewhere that we can identify "The Spirit of God" is in us?

Empty Fruit
He tells us to check the fruit.

Galatians 5:22-24 further explains and describes the same truths discussed above, but adds a very clear-cut description of the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB)

An incredibly important thing to notice is that the fruit is singular. Although it has many facets and aspects to it, these qualities are not the "fruits" of the Spirit as if the Christian tree produces many different fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, pears, etc.).

This is not what the Bible is teaching. Instead, the Bible tells us the fruit (singular) we should see if you are truly a Christian is the singular fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If any of these aspects are missing (i.e. you demonstrate all of them, yet lack self-control), then this is counterfeit fruit.

Many people may object to this, saying simply: "That's too hard! I can't do that!"

Which is exactly the point.

You can't do that.

The Spirit, however, can.

Which gets us back to the test: Is Jesus Christ in you?

If the answer is Yes, then you should see genuine fruit that is impossible for you to produce. This serves as proof positive that Christ is, in fact, in you.

The Spirit-filled and led life will produce genuine fruit of the Spirit. It's what He does. Just like an apple tree produces apples.

Don't believe the label. Don't believe the signs. Believe the fruit.

For many, they view this as heavy. But it's not intended to be that way. It's intended to be freeing!

If I know for sure that I am a follower of Jesus because I see the fruit of the Spirit in my life and because I've passed the test because I know Jesus is in me... that takes a huge weight off my shoulders! Now, I'm not worried about me at all!

Others hear this kind of teaching and immediately retort: "So, you think Christians can never sin anymore? You must be perfect then!"

But the answer to that is, no. John was realistic (isn't that cool?):

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:1-3, NASB)

Christianity is about walking in the freedom of our salvation (e.g. John 8:36 and Galatians 5:1). This freedom allows us to live more and more for the glory of God. The problem is, we are easily deceived and distracted.

When we stumble, the Lord disciplines those who are His own. This is another "test" (see Hebrews 12:1-13). Those who live in willful disobedience to God's word without feeling convicted are at the very least under the passive wrath of God described in Romans 1:18-32. At worst, they are illegitimate children (according to Hebrews 12:8) and not part of the family of God. If you are not feeling convicted about something the Bible clearly teaches is wrong, this is a terrible indicator of your spiritual well-being. It is rotten fruit!

If we've passed the test, we can then recognize the discipline of the Lord as an act of God's kindness which leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). We can resist the devil's lies by claiming with full certainty the truth of Romans 8:1, Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (NASB)

The promise is for those who are truly in Christ. Those who are truly in Christ will pass the test!

So... what about you? Is Jesus Christ in you?

If not, pay careful attention to the first sermon ever preached in the history of the church:

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!" So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-41, NASB)

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