How We Know We Are Christians

Title: How We Know We Are Christians

Text: 1 John 2:3-6

Time: August 7th, 2011

 

How do we know that we are Christians? I think of the older contemporary praise chorus that goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Is that how we know we are Christians — by our love? But then we must tackle the difficult task of defining what is love and how is it expressed. Or, is it good enough simply to claim Christianity? Do we know that we are Christians by simply asking ourselves what we are? Am I a Buddhist? No. Am I a Hindu? No. Am I a Muslim? No. Am I a Jew? No. Well, then, I must be a Christian! But does it automatically mean that I’m a Christian simply because I’m not a member of any other religion? Is it simply as a process of elimination? I doubt it. How do we know we are Christians? Is it because we are members of a Christian church? Or am I a Christian because I was baptized once upon a time? Am I a Christian because I raised my hand at an evangelistic meeting or went forward at the invitation of the evangelist? Does signing a decision card make you a Christian? A lot of people assume so. Some people think that being an American pretty much makes them a Christian, or being a member of the Western world civilization, since our culture is known historically as a Christian civilization. Does going to church make you a Christian? How about reading your Bible or praying? Do these make you a Christian? I once heard someone say, “You ain’t a man until your papa says you are.” Could we apply that to Christianity and say, “You ain’t a Christian until somebody else says you are?” In other words, it’s not enough to claim to be a Christian. It’s only so when somebody else calls you a Christian – then and only then do we have the right to know we are Christians. Interesting. That test might not be far from the truth, although this is nowhere taught directly in the Bible. Then there is the clever question, “If you were arrested for being a Christian. Would there be enough evidence to convict you?” But what would count as evidence? Your profession of faith? Your reputation in the community? Your participation at church? The consistency between what you say you believe and the way you live your life? It’s an interesting question. If you were arrested for being a Christian – or in other words, you were picked up on the charge of being a Christian, which in some countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, could actually happen. And if you were brought to court, would there be enough evidence to convince the jury or judge that you really are a Christian? This is one of the topics the Apostle John deals with in the lesson for today. 1 John 2:3-6, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Let’s break John’s teaching down a little more in order to clarify better how we can know we are Christians or not.

 

First, one of the ways we can know if we‘re a Christian, is if we obey the Lord’s commands. 1 John 2:3, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” Now the passage doesn’t directly say, “Here’s how you can know if you are a Christian,” but it talks about coming to know the Lord Jesus, which is just another way of describing coming to be a Christian. In addition to being saved from our trespasses and sins, of being delivered from judgment and eternal punishment, when we are saved or born again – or whatever other language you want to use to describe Christian conversion – we are brought into a new and closer relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Original sin that we inherit from Adam and our actual sins during our lifetime separate us from God so that we are unable to have a saving relationship. In fact, all our religious practices and rituals apart from Christ bring us no closer to God, because it is only through the cross of Christ that our alienation and separation from God can be repaired. Then, once we surrender our selfishness and sins to God, once we lay down our fighting against God for control of our life, then and only then can we experience true fellowship with God. For the first time we can say we truly know God after our Christian conversion. So when the Apostle John uses the phrase, “come to know him,” he’s talking about coming to salvation through Jesus Christ. And John says that only if we go about obeying the Lord’s commands can we truly claim to know God – or in other words, only then, can we feel confident that we are truly saved, that we are authentic Christians. But this is something that we don’t often hear in the evangelical protestant Christian world, whether in churches, on the radio, television or in books or print. What is it that we hear instead? Isn’t it this – “Make your decision to believe in Jesus and become born again,” or “Accept Jesus in your heart,” or “Raise your hand, come forward after the meeting, sign this decision card,” or something similar? In other words, today, people are often told that the only thing necessary to become a Christian and know that you are a Christian is for you to decide to become one and profess that you are one. But that isn’t the only test that John talks about. He talks more in terms of confirming our profession of faith with the fruit or results of salvation. Now he’s not talking about living lives of sinless perfection. We just saw a few verses earlier where John says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One,” 1 John 2:1. So he recognizes that Christians will sin after their conversion to Christ. But what he’s saying is there better be a change in the way a person lives, thinks and talks after coming to Christ. We can be confident of our true Christian conversion if we see the fruit of conversion in our lives. If you claim to be a Christian, if you claim to be born again, if you claim to be saved, I hope you see change happening in your life. I hope you can see your life being transformed from selfishness to unselfishness, from unloving to loving, from sinful to righteous. Not that anybody is perfect, but there should be, there must be, progress being made. That’s what John says. This is one of the tests for real Christianity. Do you pass the test?

 

Second, one of the big signs of a false profession of faith is disobedience to the commands of Christ. 1 John 2:4, “The man who says, I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” At this point in the Apostle John’s life, he’s an older man speaking to younger Christians. And as we all know, sometimes older people can get a little gruff and blunt. At this point in John’s life, he isn’t trying to impress anybody. He’s just trying to speak the truth – and speak it he does. He’s attacking people with false Christian professions of faith. What is a false profession of faith? It’s very simple. A person claims to be a Christian. They may even be a member of a local church. They may be able to talk the language of Christianity. They may know the Bible enough to quote it chapter and verse. They may have convinced other people that they are saved. But John the Apostle states it bluntly – “If anyone doesn’t obey God’s commands, yet claims to be a Christian, he’s a liar, plain and simple.” In other words, it’s not enough to claim to follow Christ. Talk is cheap. The only way to be confident that we are Christians is to not only talk the talk, but also to walk the walk. In other words, we must be bearing righteous and holy fruit with our lives or else we are simply spouting an empty profession of faith. Boy, does this teaching need to be heard today, especially here in the United States, where every other person claims to be a Christian. Around the world, America is known as a Christian nation. Boy, is that a joke! We all know that our country is not Christian from the looks of things today. If we were a Christian people we wouldn’t have legal abortion. If we were a Christian population we wouldn’t have legal gay marriage in a growing number of states. If we were a Christian people we wouldn’t have a divorce rate of one per every two marriages. That’s just speaking generally. But when we get down to particulars, we all know people who claim to be Christians but show very little evidence of actually being so. Some people never go to church, never read from the Bible and never pray, yet claim to love and follow Jesus. Many people claim to love and follow Jesus as Christians, yet live immoral lives of fornication – sex before marriage, or adultery – sex outside of marriage, and see no incompatibility. In other words, for a lot of people, even church people, the only thing that makes one a Christian is their saying so. John the Apostle says, “No. Your personal self-declaration of faith isn’t enough. You must also show the evidences of salvation with a changed life that is becoming more and more conformed to the will of God.” If that isn’t happening, if you are talking the talk but not walking the walk, you are lying to yourself and others. You have no right to claim you are a Christian. What about you? Do you have a right, according to John, to claim Christianity? Are you living as a born again Christian should live? Are you obedient to the Word of God, the will of God as expressed in the Bible? If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you? If not, you better get things straightened out. Your profession of faith can’t save you from the judgment of God, only true saving faith as evidenced by a changed life. If your life hasn’t changed or isn’t changing towards obedience to God, you aren’t saved. I’m sorry, but that’s what God’s Word here says.

 

Third, we can be confident of our true Christian faith if we see evidence of greater obedience to God in our lives. 1 John 2:5-6, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” John’s emphasis here is on confirming our faith through the evidences of grace in our lives. These evidences consist of a greater obedience to the Word of God. Now this emphasis doesn’t nullify the importance of faith or trust in Christ that the Apostle Paul teaches. But while Paul emphasized faith, he also believed that true faith is confirmed in righteous obedience in the life of a Christian. For example in Romans 1:5 he says, “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” Hear that last phrase – “The obedience that comes from faith.” True Christian faith produces biblical obedience. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul says, “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.” So the Apostles John and Paul are together on this point. Christians can be confident of their Christian faith if they are both walking the walk and talking the talk. If they are merely talking the talk, they’d better examine themselves for evidence of truth faith, because true faith produces greater obedience and holiness in one’s life. Now one question comes up, “How obedient, how holy do we have to be in order to count ourselves a Christian?” And the answer is, “More obedient and more holy than you used to be.” In other words, there is no guaranteed test of obedience or holiness for true Christianity. The New Testament teaches, for example, in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”  We are saved by faith, but saving faith will produce righteous fruit in our lives. Like the Apostle James teaches, “Faith without works is dead.” We aren’t saved by our works, we are saved by our faith. But like the Reformers repeated over and over, “Faith alone saves, but faith is not alone” – true and authentic saving faith produces a greater obedience to God. So then we don’t need to be sinlessly perfect in order to have the assurance of salvation, or in other words, to be confident we are truly saved doesn’t require perfect obedience. So we need to honestly examine ourselves for signs of grace or evidences of salvation. The Apostle John also mentions love. We should be more and more expressing the love of God with our lives. We should be loving God more and more, and we should be loving others more and more. What are the two great commandments given by Jesus? “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind soul and strength – and love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Matthew 22:37-39. That should be happening in the life of someone who has truly been born again. Is this happening in your life? Are you a Christian? If so, you should be increasing in your capacity to love God and love other people. Is that happening in your life?

 

But again the question comes up, “How loving do I have to be? How obedient must one be – in order to have confidence that one is bearing the righteous fruit of salvation? How much improvement do we have to see in order to be confident that the Holy Spirit is working within us with salvation?” Again, we don’t have to display perfect obedience, because nobody can do that anyway, even the best Christians still must struggle to resist temptation in thought, word and deed. And sometimes even the best Christians give in to temptation in thought, word and deed. And so even the best Christians must confess and repent of sin in their life on a regular basis. But the truly saved person will be making progress in obedience and holiness. The real Christian will desire to obey God in all things, will desire to live a holy life. A true Christian will desire to make progress in his or her life, will make an effort to pursue the basic spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, for example. A truly saved soul will want to grow in salvation, not just get his or her foot in the door and fail to make any more progress. I worry about so-called Christians who don’t seem to be making any progress in their spiritual lives. I really worry about supposed Christians who don’t seem to desire to grow in obedience or holiness or knowledge of God. If you are truly saved that means you have the Holy Spirit living within you. If this is the case, you won’t want to continually sin against God through disobedience. If you can sin against God continually and it doesn’t bother you, I’d question your salvation.  If you can constantly treat people unloving, I’d question your salvation. Now I know a lot of Christian teachers say to never question your salvation. They teach that one should never doubt their state of salvation. But as we’ve just seen, that’s not true. We should examine ourselves. Do we hunger for God’s Word? Do we desire to pray? Do we enjoy worshiping God and being a part of God’s people in God’s church? Are we quick to confess and repent of sin when we fall into temptation and give way to the world, the flesh or the Devil? Can we say and do things that are unloving and think nothing is wrong? No. We need to take time and look honestly at our lives and ask ourselves this question, “Am I acting like a Christ Follower?” Now nobody is perfect, nobody will get it right all the time, but if I’m acting out of Christian character much or most of the time, I’ve got to ask myself, “What is my problem?” For some people, the problem is that they aren’t really Christians. I hope that isn’t the case for me or you, but if it is, then it’s better we find out now so we can correct the situation, rather than later at Judgment Day. Part of the importance of church is to help people get straightened out in their heart and mind as to their true spiritual status before God. Are you a Christian? How do you know? John says we should look for evidence of love and obedience in our lives. Are you loving more and more like Jesus loved? Are you obeying God more and more with your life? If you aren’t sure, let’s pray together.

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