A Review of Am I Really a Christian? By Mike McKinley.

Crossway, 2011.

There are of course many answers that can be given to the question asked here. Catholics would differ from Protestants on this issue to some extent, and even some Protestants would differ with other Protestants on this. But hopefully all true Christians will agree to some basics here.

Those would be: mankind has a big problem – we are sinners separated from God. Jesus Christ came to deal with that problem, and those who place their faith and trust in Jesus can find their sins forgiven and their relationship with God restored.

But that is more about how a person becomes a Christian. While this book deals with such issues, the real point of this book is this: how do I in fact know that I am a Christian? It is always possible that a person can be deceiving himself on this issue. There can be many people who think they are followers of Jesus when they in fact are not.

In this very easy to read and popularly-written book of just 150 pages McKinley, an American Baptist pastor, seeks to clarify this issue. He begins by noting how any normal person will want an accurate reading of their physical health, and will regularly visit a doctor to see if anything is amiss.

A clean bill of health is what is hoped for, but no one would want their doctor to lie to them and tell them everything is fine if a very real problem exists. Such problems can be deadly, so it is vital that we get the truth about our physical condition from our doctor.

In the same way it is vital that we get the truth about ourselves concerning our spiritual condition. We all want to know we have a clean bill of spiritual health. We long to hear those words of Jesus one day: “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the joy of the Lord” (Matt 25:23).

Image of Am I Really a Christian? (9Marks)
Am I Really a Christian? (9Marks) by McKinley, Mike (Author), Kirk Cameron (Foreword) Amazon logo

But sadly some will hear these words from Jesus instead: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). There are perhaps no more terrifying words in all of Scripture. No wonder Paul insisted that we be very careful about this: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” (2 Cor 13:5).

That is what this book is all about. It is a bit of self-diagnostics, to help each of us know where we really are at with the Lord. It is something every single believer must regularly be involved in. Most of the book is made up of nine things which can determine if one is really a Christian – a true disciple of Jesus.

For example, just because you say you are a Christian, or have made a one-time profession of faith, does not in fact guarantee you are a real child of God. Says McKinley, “It is true that we need to make a onetime decision to follow Jesus. But a true onetime decision is followed by the everyday decision to follow Jesus. Jesus did not think that it was enough just to superficially identify yourself with him. There is more to being his followers than just a profession of faith.”

The sad truth is, too many churches make it far too easy for people to become followers of Christ. They tell people that if they sign a card or lift their hand at a meeting, that is all that’s needed. It is really just cheap grace, where we think one decision made years ago is all that it takes to be in right relationship with God.

And you are not a Christian just because you happen to like Jesus. Millions of people, including atheists, may have a soft spot in their hearts for Jesus. Jesus was after all very likeable in many ways. But that too is just not sufficient. Liking Jesus is just not enough:

“You must believe in Jesus, as John 3:16 put it. It’s not enough to simply believe things about Jesus. You must believe that you need a Savior, and that he is that Savior. You must believe that you need a Lord, and that he is that Lord. Our confidence must not be merely in things that once happened, but in the person who accomplished them.”

And a true Christian is one who endures to the end; who does not give up and walk away when the going gets tough. What matters “is not whether we once acted and spoke like believers, but whether we’re following Christ today and whether we continue doing so until the end.”

Of course this issue, like many things touched on here, can be quite contentious, with differing points of view promoted. Here we deal with issues like eternal security, the perseverance of the saints, and so on. Neither I nor McKinley wish to get into major theological debates here, but this is how he briefly addresses the matter of people falling away:

We are not saying, “These people were once Christians but no longer are”. Rather, we are saying “they were never Christians in the first place. They were never really ‘of us’ [1 John 2:19]. Otherwise they would still be in the church. The fact that they abandoned the faith demonstrates that they were never genuine believers.”

Another important test to see if we are really Christians is if “you love your stuff”. Now material passions are necessary in many ways. They are even good gifts of God, if kept in perspective. But it is far too easy for Western Christians to make their stuff their God – to turn things into idols.

Jesus was crystal clear about these dangers, yet his words have become so familiar to us that they have lost their punch. In Luke 18:18-25 we have the story of the rich young ruler. He said he kept all the commandments, but when Jesus told him he lacked one thing, and must sell his possessions and give to the poor, the ruler became very sad for he had great riches.

His wealth was more important to him than God, so he missed out. How many Western Christians today are really in the same boat? Sure, we say we will give it all up if asked to, but very few actually would I suspect. Of course Jesus is not teaching that money and possessions are evil, but that they can be extremely dangerous if made into an idol.

Jesus said being wealthy can easily block one from entering the kingdom (Luke 12:15-21) and even said that we cannot both serve God and money (Luke 16:13). It is that serious. Yet in a money-mad and possession-addicted culture we simply have closed our ears to what Jesus so clearly teaches.

McKinley offers other tests which will show we are not really his followers: if we love sin; if we don’t love others; if we have not been born again; etc. But he closes his book with important biblical material to keep things in balance. Christians can of course have assurance of their salvation. They will not be perfect, they will at times sin, but they can know that they are right with God and part of his family.

Our confidence of course is based on the finished work of Christ, not on our own merit, good works, or our own efforts. Jesus is the basis of our salvation, but when we are really changed by an encounter with the living Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit to help us now live lives pleasing to him.

We do not seek to please him in order to earn his salvation, but to express the salvation he has already freely bestowed upon us. “Christians are not saved or justified by this new obedience, but their salvation will manifest itself in concrete ways – in this new obedience.”

We must take seriously the many warnings found in Scripture. But we can also have assurance of salvation, with various tests helping to indicate this: we must have faith in Christ today; we must have the presence of God’s Spirit; we must obey God’s word; and we must demonstrate a pattern of growth in spiritual maturity over time.

And of course we need each other. We need to be held accountable to other believers in a close fellowship. Thus a closing chapter in this book looks at the importance of being part of a local body of believers – a local church.

In the West today we are living in a most spiritually lacklustre, self-indulgent, and me-first culture. And that culture permeates so many of our churches today. There may be millions of people who think they are Christians who are not at all.

Given that our relationship with God is the most important issue any one of us can ever deal with, it is vital that we are not mislead or deceived in this area. We must know that we are just not kidding ourselves and playing games. We must test ourselves, to see if we really are in the faith.

This volume is a helpful tool for doing that very thing.

[1523 words]

22 Replies to “A Review of Am I Really a Christian? By Mike McKinley.”

  1. The basic thing that separates true Christianity from any other religion is that our religion is based on a relationship. It is based on a relationship of someone who gave up everything so that those who are his enemies can have everything instead.
    Ian Nairn

  2. I have a real problem with this proposition:

    “We are not saying, “These people were once Christians but no longer are”. Rather, we are saying “they were never Christians in the first place. They were never really ‘of us’ [1 John 2:19]. Otherwise they would still be in the church. The fact that they abandoned the faith demonstrates that they were never genuine believers.”

    If that were true, then Hebrews 2:1 would not be necessary:

    We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

    because the “we” would in fact be “they”. And would not Hebrews 6 be a contradiction where it says:

    It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

    for if they never were Christians, what would they be falling away from?

    What would be the point of warning “true Christians” from falling away; a true Christian could not, by definition, fall away … if they fell away, they would have been revealed as a false Christian.

    And if the warnings in Scripture are targeted at “false Christians”, again, what would be the point of that? If they are false, then what are they falling away from?

    So sorry Bill, I don’t buy that particular brand theology for one minute. It sounds like the No True Scotsman argument dressed up as Christianity to me.

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  3. Thanks Steve

    As I said, this will open entire cans of theological worms, and there is certainly lots of room to move on this issue, and related ones. Indeed, these very issues have been debated for two millennia now. We are really adding nothing new to the debate, and all the pros and cons have well and truly been debated ad infinitum, ad nauseam by now. And the various interpretations offered over the centuries on Hebrews 6 are of course legion.

    And even if this were the only passage on this issue – which it is not; there are hundreds, and at times they seem to conflict big time – this passage itself has room to move, and those who believe that Christians can never fall away have written heaps on how this text can in fact support their views. So as always, things are not quite so simple or clear cut here. There is some room to move, in other words.

    Obviously one’s theological starting point will greatly determine how one deals with such matter. Folks in the Reformed camp of course will take the ‘once saved, always saved’ line, while those more happy with Arminian theology will argue that a Christian can indeed lose his salvation.

    The position taken by McKinley is of course simply one of many. The fact that I quote it does not necessarily mean that is my view. Indeed, anyone who has read some of my theological articles on this site will know that I take the warnings found in scripture very seriously indeed – I even say so in my review above.

    How one holds together the entirety of biblical revelation on these maters is of course a huge debate, and one which will certainly not be resolved here with brief comments. We have entire truck loads full of texts stressing the perseverance of the saints and the security of the believer. But we also have many important warnings about the dangers of falling away.

    Again, whole theological systems have been devised to deal with such texts and to seek to harmonise such countervailing drifts. I do not here claim to have all the answers to these and related dilemmas. But no one who reads my review of this book, or who reads the book itself, can accuse either of us of minimising or ignoring these warnings.

    Whether one holds to eternal security or the possibility of falling away, all believers need to take serious stock of where they are at, and make sure they are in the faith. That is the main point of the book and of my review. And it is a very important point indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. The Pastor at the church I go to spoke on this just this morning. That verse in Matthew always sends shivers down my spine when I read it.
    A while ago in my quiet time, the Holy Spirit pointed out this verse (Matt 7:23) to me. And it wasn’t long after that that I had a dream about being in a line of people going to the Judgment seat in heaven. Everyone in the line seemed happy, but my spirit was uneasy. It wasn’t long before I realized that this wasn’t the line of people going to heaven but those going to hell. The ones who Jesus never knew. I cried out, Lord why am I in this line…. and the dream ended.
    The line was without end. I wept. It brought me to repentance.

    I could not stop thinking about all those people who thought they would be going to heaven, only to be told they were never known. I can’t imagine the shock they would get when hearing those words.

    What has become of the church. That someone could go there, their whole lives and not know Jesus.

    Now in church I look around at congregation, and wonder that if anyone there died today I wonder what line they would be in. Be sure of your salvation… today!

    May God bless you greatly Bill for the work you have done here.

    Jeffrey Carl

  5. Bill you wrote “But sadly some will hear these words from Jesus instead: ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matt 7:23).”

    I have just done a comparison of 18 different Bibles. Every one of them had the word “many” rather than “some”. Many will say to me on that day ‘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 I will reply to them ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’

    Thank you for doing this book review. It is an issue those of us who call Jesus “Lord” cannot take lightly.

    Annette Nestor

  6. Stephen, you may find helpful two books that are interestingly published in the one series, by two authors, who put forward counter arguments on this and other theological viewpoints. The broad heading for each of the books is what Bill has mentioned: Arminian vs Calvinist theology. Like you, I tend not to believe the Calvinist line of once saved, always saved because of Scriptural passages I have understood to express quite the opposite but I am ever open to new thoughts. Here is the amazon link to “For Calvinism” and “Against Calvinism”.

    http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-eBooks/b?ie=UTF8&node=1286228011#/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D1286228011&field-keywords=For+calvinism&rh=n%3A133140011%2Cn%3A%21133143011%2Cn%3A%21251259011%2Cn%3A1286228011%2Ck%3AFor+calvinism

    Angela Parham

  7. Ian Nairn, a great little line, sums it up very well. Thanks for this article Bill, it is good to have a constant reminder like this so you can keep your spiritual health in check, I like the analogy with the doctor, it is very fitting. I think that Matthew 7:23 is one of the scariest verses in the Bible and it is a sobering reminder that we all need to continually do a self examination of our faith.
    Stephen Davis

  8. Bill, another wonderful article. I wish that I was just 10 percent of the man you are. I thank you and I thank God for you. I struggle each day to be the man Jesus wants me to be, and I will be, despite my many faults, among the “well done my faithful servant!”
    Cheers, Manfred Sollorz

  9. Thanks Manfred. Of course I wish I was just 10 percent of the man you are, or any other Christian. I have no illusions about my own many shortcomings, but we all must press on for the best Christ has for us.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. You ether have eternal life or you do not have eternal life; you cannot have eternal life for a period of time. You were ether chosen in Christ before the creation of the world or you were not. You are ether in Christ or out of Christ. There is no revolving door of salvation.
    Stephen and Angela, how is your name written in the Lambs Book of life? In ineradicable ink or lightly in pencil?
    What can separate you from the love of Christ? What would cause you to loose your salvation? Are you saved by grace but maintained by good works? Were you saved by grace alone or Christ’s finished work plus something you did? If you contributed the good work of putting your faith in Christ, then your salvation was not by grace alone. How could you merit salvation by your faith contribution when there is no one who does good, not even one. Even your faith was a gift from God; you have nothing to boast about.
    Having said all this; “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Two sides of the same coin.
    Des Morris

  11. Not totally relevant but a book I would like to see Bill review some time (the title of this post made me think of it) is one I haven’t read myself but many people in our church and some of the pastors are reading it and recommending it: Radical by David Platt. I have seen some if his talks on youtube on the ‘Radical’ theme.

    Thanks
    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  12. Thanks Servaas

    I do not have that book as yet but am aware of it. I may yet grab it at some point, and may yet do a review of it as well. Thanks for the reminder.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. Salvation is of course by grace, but what we do with that gift while we live is the important issue. The people in Jesus’s parable about the wedding, that were invited to the wedding knew that it was coming, but when they were told the feast was finally ready, they had excuses and didn’t want to come. The last parable in Matt 24 is also a good illustration of this. How will the master find his servants when He returns? Abraham believed and it was counted unto him for righteousness. But did that not refer at least in part to the episode of sacrificing Isaac? It is easy to believe when things are going well, but the test of our trust in God comes when it is not easy, when our comfort or even our life is at stake. Not there yet myself, but I know that is where I want to be.
    I praise God for His patience and grace that is there for me and all believers every day and every breath.
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  14. The quote from 1 John is really the only bible passage I know that could give rise to the belief “once saved always saved”. But the weight of witness lies on the other side, on that side where we need to watch what we are doing in order to maintain that gift of salvation we have been given.
    It is also of interest to consider that the famous verse of Eph 2:8-9 is followed by Eph 2:10. That suggests that once we are saved by grace through faith we must then spend time in relationship with God in order to find those works that He has prepared for us to do in order to walk in them. Faith must come before works, or we will do the wrong works, but both are important in order to run the race to the end. Jesus is the truth, the beginning, the way, the middle and the life, the end.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  15. Thanks Ursula. Actually there are plenty of passages which can be appealed to by the ‘once saved, always saved’ folks. Most notably there would be passages like this:
    John 3:16
    John 6:37-40
    John 10:28-29
    Rom 8:1
    Rom 8:38-39
    Rom 11:29
    Eph 1:13-14
    Phil 1:6
    1 Thes 5:23-24
    2 Thess 3:3-4
    2 Tim 1:12
    2 Tim 2:19
    2 Tim 4:8
    2 Tim 4:18
    Heb 7:24-25
    Jude 1
    Jude 24
    1 Pet 1:3-5
    1 John 2:19
    1 John 3:2
    1 John 5:9-13
    Of course those who believe one can fall away have explanations for all these passages. In the same way, those who hold to eternal security have explanations for all those passages which seem to say we can lose our salvation. So the debate is a big one and has been around for quite some time.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. Thanks Bill, I guess we are not going to make the discussion go away in a hurry, but it seems to me that God’s truth always found somewhere in the middle of 2 extreme human views. Probably because we can’t see all the truth all at once.
    I shall look up all those verses.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  17. Thanks Ursula

    Although we might better phrase it in terms of two contrasting sets of Scripture, instead of speaking of two extreme human views. The truth is, both Calvinists and Arminians are seeking to be faithful to Scripture. But they tend to latch on to those verses that confirm their views.

    It is the same with other great theological issues, such as the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Different camps emphasise one side or the other, and both can find many passages to support their views. It is not so much that we have contradictory teachings in Scripture, or human extremes, but differing biblical emphases which appear to be paradoxical. They are not contradictory, and we must affirm all that Scripture affirms, even if it means holding some of these apparently polarising opposites together in tension.

    So it is the same here: we have plenty of Scriptures which seem to affirm our eternal security, while we have plenty of Scriptures which seem to affirm our ability to fall away from grace. Maybe one day I will pen a few introductory articles on all this, even though oceans of ink have already been spilt on this.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  18. Hmmmm. Jesus was forgiving right to the end and even ‘took to heaven’ the soul of the thief on the cross. People are rarely all one thing or all another. ‘Faith’ can be strong at one time and fail at another. We wax and wane because that is what human beings do. And wax again. We make errors of judgement, but they do not necessarily obviate or obscure all the sound judgements we make, nor the ones we will make.

    Bill, as Jesus was human as well as the Son of God, was he as able to make errors of judgement too? Did not his Faith wane in the Garden? I am sure He would not be quite so harsh in his judgment as some would like to think.

    Dr. Christopher Langan-Fox

  19. Thanks Christopher

    No he did not make errors of judgment. And no his faith did not wane. As a human being he of course did not with relish look forward to the cross, but as the second person of the trinity he carried out his mission resolutely and perfectly, all the way to the bitter end. While he was fully human he was also fully divine. He was totally sinless as he depended entirely on the Father for all he said and did while on earth.

    The New Testament nowhere allows us to make lame excuses about being “only human” and so on. Everywhere we are commanded and expected to leave sin behind and progress in our sanctification and holiness.

    As to him being harsh, one simply has to read the gospels to see that he certainly was. Indeed, he did not present us with watered-down namby-pamby standards, but the absolute holiness of God as our target. Consider simply one verse: ” Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Try reading the Sermon on the Mount to see just how high his standards are, and what we expects of us (Matt 5-7).

    Of course this sort of obedience and holiness is not something we can achieve on our own, but we are not left alone. We are given the Holy Spirit at conversion to help us live a holy and progressively less sinful and selfish life.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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