CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Are You Really a Christian?

Jul 24, 2013

Auto-diagnostics, or self-testing, is done all the time by sensible people. They take regular stock, for example, of their health, and make sure everything is going OK. Thus women will wisely check for lumps in their breasts, to detect possible breast cancer.

If you live down under, it is vital to regularly check for melanomas or skin cancer. Any driver will of course inspect the basics: petrol and oil levels, tire inflation, and so on. The cook will monitor what is in the oven and keep an eye on its progress.

Thus self-examinations and routine testing are part and parcel of normal life. It should be the same in the spiritual life. We should have regular spiritual check-ups, examining ourselves and our spiritual condition. Not to do so would be foolish in the extreme.

Indeed, not to do so is to be disobedient, since we are clearly told to do such spiritual testing. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 we find this command: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?”

This is a vitally important warning and exhortation, especially for the modern church. Today’s easy-believism and cheap grace helps no one, but it may result in sending millions of people who wrongly think they are Christians to a lost eternity.

We all need to take careful stock of our spiritual condition. Are we in fact really true disciples of Christ? Or do we just think we are because we raised our hand at a meeting years ago, go to church, and live a basically moral life? Getting this issue right is the most important matter in any person’s life.

Now as always we need to keep in mind some basic biblical truths here, and make important theological distinctions. Salvation is of God: he is the one who woos us, draws us to himself, and has made the complete provision for our salvation based on the complete and finished work of Christ.

“By grace you are saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). So there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. It is all his work from start to finish. But that is not the end of the story. Sanctification follows on from justification, and we are told to offer proof of our justification by our progressive holiness and our willing obedience.

Jesus said you will be able to judge people by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). So we are called to be fruit inspectors, especially of ourselves. We must make sure we really are his followers. We must take regular spiritual inventory of our lives. And Scripture offers plenty of tests as to whether we really are his disciples.

Jesus of course made it clear time and time again who a real follower of his was. Consider just a few passages as found in the gospel of John:
-John 14:15 If you love me, you will obey what I command.
-John 14:21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
-John 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
-John 15:10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

Paul too made it clear as to those who really were part of God’s family. As just one example, consider his list as found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

John in his epistles also offers plenty of tests as to those who are truly his. Here are some of them, from each chapter of 1 John:
-1 John 1:5-6 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.
-1 John 2:3-4 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
-1 John 2:9-10 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.
-1 John 3:6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
-1 John 3:9-10 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.
-1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
-1 John 3:24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
-1 John 4:20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
-1 John 5:1-2 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
-1 John 5:18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.

The many warnings in 1 John alone should show us the overwhelming importance of testing ourselves. And there are plenty of these basic tests. If our profession of faith is not backed up by a godly life, then hard questions must be asked of us. Our walk must match our talk in other words. Yet there are far too many folks who are simply fooling themselves here. They think they are saved but they are not.

D. A. Carson, commenting on 2 Cor 13:5 says this: “There are millions of professing believers in North America today (to say nothing of elsewhere) who at some point entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, but who, if pushed, would be forced to admit they do not love holiness, do not pray, do not hate sin, do not walk humbly with God. They stand in the same danger as the Corinthians; and Paul’s warning applies to them no less than to the Corinthian readers of this epistle.”

Thus we are to make our election and calling sure as Peter exhorts us in 2 Peter 1:10. And we all have a role to play in this. Sure, on the one hand our salvation is all of God. But on the other hand, our sanctification is a two-way transaction. God does his bit but we are certainly called to do our bit.

As Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on Romans 6:12-14: “The New Testament calls upon us to take action; it does not tell us that the work of sanctification is going to be done for us. That is why it does not put us into a clinic or a hospital where the patient is told ‘It will be done for you’, and ‘Allow the Lord Jesus Christ to do it for you’. It calls upon us to take action, and exhorts us to do so. And it tells us and commands us to do so for this reason, that we have been given the ability to do it….

“We are in the ‘good fight of faith’ and we have to do the fighting. But, thank God, we are enabled to do it; for the moment we believe, and are justified by faith, and are born again of the Spirit of God, we have the ability. So the New Testament method of sanctification is to remind us of that; and having reminded us of it, it says, ‘Now then, go and do it’.”

Or as James Montgomery Boice wrote, “It is not merely a question of our being delivered from the law’s condemnation. Christ has delivered us from the law’s power, too. He died to start the process of sanctification and not merely to provide propitiation from wrath. . . . Justification and sanctification always go together, so that you cannot have one without the other. . . . According to Romans 8:3-4, sanctification is the very end for which God saved us.”

Kevin DeYoung concludes his important new book The Hole in Our Holiness with these words: “God wants you to be holy. Through faith he already counts you holy in Christ. Now he intends to make you holy with Christ. This is no optional plan, no small potatoes. God saved you to sanctify you. God is in the beautification business, washing away spots and smoothing wrinkles. He will have a blameless bride. He promises to work in you; he also calls you to work out. ‘The beauty of holiness’ is first of all the Lord’s (Ps. 29:2, KJV). But by his grace it can also be yours.”

Finally, J C Ryle from his vitally important book, Holiness: “We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world…. to talk of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture.”

We are saved to become Christ-like. If you are not becoming Christ-like, you may well not be a true follower of Jesus Christ. So my friend, examine yourself – today.

(For Australians, all the books mentioned here can be found at Koorong books.)

[1824 words]

11 Responses to Are You Really a Christian?

  • Good points there Bill explaining scripture used. Sadly I only know a handful of Christians who obey what should be the easiest/simplest of all commands- No 4 ‘Keep my Sabbath’.

    Yvonne Pratt

  • I agree with Yvonne’s point. The message of Jesus is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. It is an easy yoke and his burden is light.

    I have for decades observed the Sabbath on Saturday as a unit of time passed down through the ages, as a rest-day and my family and friends know this. It is also for reflection on the authoritative words of Jesus about Love and all things connected to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It requires obedience and I have often skimped on this exhortation because of expediency but at least I have observed and contemplated for some of the day. Sometimes it is hard to rest and delay when there is so much that needs doing but the Saturday Sabbath is over in the blink of an eye and you have re-charged your batteries to tackle things left idle for a day with twice the energy the following day. I have also recently started to attend Anglican church on Sunday to pray, hear the words of the bible scriptures, sing in a choir, sometimes A cappella or harmony, or the congregation and to give a sign of peace with others and to participate in Holy Communion in remembrance of risen Christ.

    It brings refreshment and inner peace. It could be the very physic we all need to save us from racing about, whinging and coveting as we go. In such times of reflection you can see that whinging and coveting is the very thing that precludes you from getting what you are whinging and coveting about!

    You also have time to reflect on the purpose of life. Is it God’s purpose to reproduce Himself in human kind in His own image? Is this part of the spiritual war that is now being waged?

    Rachel Smith, UK

  • Thank you Bill for this. I would like to suggest the following to enhance the position:
    Romans 11:22: Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
    John 8:11: She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
    The false doctrine of once saved always saved has pulverised the Christian church in the USA. I hope that more people read articles like this and realise that we are to be separate from the world and visibly so.
    Dameon McManus

  • A soul searching article with biblical truth. This reminds me the Lord knows who belongs to Him, who loves Him, who knows Him and be known by Him. That is why we need to cultivate an intimate relationship with God everyday. Thank you for deepening my Christian faith.
    Christian Manuel

  • Thanks Dameon
    The debate over the issue of eternal security is a different matter, but many who hold to the position that I do about holiness and true Christian sanctification can hold to that teaching. But that is the subject of another article and another debate.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • When God’s moral laws conflict with the state, we are to OBEY God. Despite the cost it may bring to us.
    Obey and honor our Lords teachings.

    Judith Bond

  • This thought provoking article shines the light of scrutiny on us to determine whether or not we truly are believers and followers of Jesus Christ. ‘the race is not to the swift nor is the battle to the warriors, neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favour to men of ability ‘ with God’s children the advantages of this world accepted by unbelievers doesn’t apply. .. ‘ ‘depart from Me you who are accursed! into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
    These mandates of Jesus Christ permeate every generation and culture in both times of war and peace, poverty and prosperity. We are meant to be lights in this world of darkness..’ not everyone who says to me Lord Lord shall inherit the Kingdom of God but those who DO the will of My Father in heaven.’
    Yvonne and Rachel, thanks for your comments We need to be very cautious in determining which laws applied to the nation of Israel under Moses, Jesus came as a Jew and fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Later in the Book of Acts the debate arises with the apostles in Jerusalem as to what requirements they would place on the gentile converts to the church. There are approximately 644 laws in the Torah all of which convey God’s blessings, including the sacrifical laws; we cant uphold all these laws as we are under a different dispensation, the physical temple doesn’t exist and Paul insists circumcision is not of the outward appearance but inwardly of the HEART!
    Kevin McDonald

  • Thanks Kevin but the gift of Sabbath rest was given, or more-like reintroduced after being in slavery in Egypt, before the law of Moses (Exodus 16) & was patterned on the creation account which unlike the days, months & years that had the earth, moon & sun to distinquish them. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath & showed us how to keep it. It was kept by his followers after his death & resurrection & after receiving the Holy Spirit. It was still kept at least until the 4th century when Sunday the sun god worship day replaced the Sabbath which many had lost their lives who kept it. Is command #4 any less relevant than #5-10? Grace may cover ignorance but there is blessing in obeying & as Rachel quoted Jesus ‘my burden is light’.
    Yvonne Pratt

  • Thanks for this article Bill. It is both timely and apt. I hope that the truth written here reaches out and stirs the consciences of those Christians who feel comfortable with having one foot in each camp. I guess we all know of, or have heard of, Christians who are solid in the faith in church but then out in the world they become part of it. It’s so sad to see the cancer of creeping worldliness taking hold of people who once were full on for the lord, because for them it brings to me the absoluteness of 1 Peter 6:4-6.

    Michael Mercier

  • My apologies to all I quoted the wrong scripture in my comment comes from not rereading my comment. Scripture should have been Hebrews 6: 4-6.

    Michael Mercier

  • With regard to Rachel and Yvonne, sadly both Sunday and Saturday, the weekend, have become like any other days of the week. In the same way night and day have also been obliterated.

    Since the 60s one law after a another has been introduced, including getting rid of restrictions on Sunday trading.

    The repeal of laws making homosexuality, abortion, adultery, blasphemy, dishonouring one’s parents, murder, kidnapping by the state of children and many other laws that once defined our countries as Christian, have been replaced by laws compelling us to conform to Satanic, secularist and Neo-Marxist laws.

    We will soon know who is a Christian and who is not by whether they are prepared to stake their all, even their lives on being identified with Jesus Christ, His death and Resurrection.

    There are no phony Christians in North Korea.

    David Skinner, UK

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