Can a person know for sure that they are a Christian? Most agree that the answer is yes, absolutely. But an important follow up question is: On what basis can a person know that they are a Christian?
Many people, especially in the south, think they are Christians. If you have attended a funeral lately, you might be tempted to think every one is basically a Christian, on their way to heaven, except perhaps for the worst of the worst.
With all of those “Christians” out there, why does our society seem so sinful? I am not suggesting that true Christians never sin, but real Christians repent when they sin and strive to grow and change by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the actual numbers of those around us claiming to be Christians really were Christians, our county would be a piece of heaven on earth.
The problem seems to be that too many people think that they are Christians on the wrong basis. Why do you think you are a Christian? Because you are a member of a church? Because you’ve given money at church before? Because you went forward to the front of a church and prayed a prayer to receive Jesus? Because you believe things about Jesus? Because you have been baptized? Because you are a pretty good person (especially compared to others)? Because you sure aren’t a Muslim or a Communist?
Pay careful attention to this next statement. None of these are valid bases for thinking that you are a Christian. Even the ones about praying to receive Jesus and believing things about Jesus are not guaranteed ways to tell that you are a Christian.
Think about it. They didn’t have church buildings in Bible times. The Bible says nothing about coming forward from one location in a church building to another as part of conversion. Where in the Bible is even a prayer to accept Jesus? I don’t want to sound flippant as I ask this, but what do you believe about Jesus that the devil doesn’t believe?
I’m not at all saying that everyone who has prayed such a prayer is not a Christian. I just want you to really think about what the Bible says. When Jesus came preaching the gospel, what was his message? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, what was the message he told them to proclaim? “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to the nations” (Luke 24:46-47). When Paul summarized his message he said it was, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).
The Gospel is that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, that he lived a perfect life and died as a substitute for sinners on the cross. Three days later he rose again bodily from the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The right response to this good news is to humbly repent of your sins, which is a U-Turn in your heart about your sins and God’s holiness, and faith, and completely trusting Jesus Christ to save you from God’s righteous wrath. This is God’s saving work in a person’s heart.
This response to the Gospel then shows up in a person’s lifestyle. He or she responds by being baptized, which is a picture of being identified with the Lord’s death and resurrection. Then there begins a lifestyle change where the person seeks to obey the Lord’s commands in the Bible. The Spirit of God puts new desires and new abilities in the Christian that they might say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Again, there will be no perfection in this life, but there will always be a clear change in direction in keeping with true repentance and faith.
The Bible says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). This implies there are right ways to test whether or not you are a Christian, and legitimate ways to pass such a test. What are some of these tests?
There is a mental component to salvation. You do need to believe certain things about Jesus—He is truly God and truly man; He lived a perfect life; He died on the cross as a substitute for sinners; He rose again bodily from the grave on the third day. While it is true that the devil believes all of these things, a true Christian does not believe less than these things.
Beyond devil-faith, however, a Christian trusts Jesus to do what he said he would do—save him from God’s wrath that is due because of his or her sins. Instead of asking a person, “Did you mean a prayer you prayed as a little boy or girl?” ask “Are you trusting in Jesus right now?” Being physically born isn’t the end of life on earth, it is the beginning. Being born again is not the end of a spiritual life it is the beginning.
The lifestyle of a Christian is also marked by new desires, new abilities, and a new direction. First John is a brief letter at the end of the Bible loaded with markers of that new lifestyle. At the end of the book, John states his purpose: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
I would encourage you to take a pen and paper and write down as many tests of being a true Christian as you can find in 1 John. One example comes when you get to 1 John 2:3, which says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” You could write down that a Christian keeps the commandments of God. Again, not perfectly, but as a direction of life, a true Christian has a heart to know and do what God’s commands. To flip it around, if a person doesn’t have a heart either to know or do God’s commands as a way of life, they probably aren’t a Christian.
After you make your list, take the test. Are you a real Christian? If I wanted to know how well you handle your money, I could look at your bank statement and get a pretty good idea. What would your lifestyle tell me about whether or not you are truly born again? We are never saved by our works, but only by trusting in the Lord Jesus. But a heart of repentance and faith always shows itself by good works.
By John Crotts