Are you a Christian?
Sometimes the answer is obvious. Sometimes it’s not.
If you have a vibrant, intimate relationship with God, where you hear His voice and tell Him your innermost thoughts, where you rely on Him to guide you and strengthen you as you live your life completely entwined with His, loving and serving others… then I’d feel pretty confident agreeing that you are a Christian.
If your claim to faith is based on being born to Christian parents, or into a “Christian” nation, but you never read a Bible or pray, you never go to church (on only on Easter), you have no interest in God whatsoever and are pretty satisfied with that state of affairs, well, you might want to read the fine print on your fire insurance policy (start with Matthew 7:23 or Luke 13:27).
Most of us who call ourselves Christian fall somewhere between these two examples. At some point in our lives, we’ve prayed the “sinner’s prayer” acknowledging our failings and subsequent need for mercy and forgiveness. We own a Bible and read it at times. We go to church, unless there’s a big game on. (If we’re super spiritual, we only skip church if our team is in the playoffs.) We can speak fluent “Christianese.” And we pray for God to help us, especially if life isn’t going our way at the moment. God is in our lives, but is He in charge?
I think a large number of believers are sitting right on the edge. They’ve asked God to save them, but they missed the “Lord” part of “Lord and Savior.” Instead of turning their whole lives over to God’s authority, they pay lip service to his grace and mercy, and go their own way.
Much of this problem is due to the way Jesus is introduced to us. We’re told that all we need to do is believe, and we’re on our way to heaven. In an effort to gather in more converts, no mention is made of obedience. But as James 2:19 states, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” No merely intellectual belief will save us.
James further points out (in the previous verses) that true faith will produce fruit:
14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
This in no way contradicts Paul’s assertion that we are saved by grace, not works (see Acts 15:11, Ephesians 2:5 and 8, and 2 Timothy 1:9 for starters). Rather, the things that we do after we are saved reflect our desire to please God—they are the fruit of our conversion, the outward evidence of our inner new life.
Most church-goers are familiar with Jesus’ words in Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” It’s easy to assume that this is directed at unbelievers but check out the context. Jesus is talking to the church in Laodicea! Here is a church that Jesus describes as lukewarm. They practice a superficial form of Christianity, but they haven’t really let Jesus in the front door! And His response? “I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (v.16)! In verse 19 He continues, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”
We who profess to have faith in God would do well to periodically examine not only our lives but our hearts. Of course, no one is perfect; we all have dry spells. But have you always had trouble praying, reading the Bible, loving others? What fruit has the Holy Spirit brought forth in you? Can you remember any time where you consciously and deliberately offered your whole life to God, asking Him to be in charge, and submitting to His will?
My pastor recently told us a true story that provides the perfect illustration. A family in our church was adopting a 4-year-old girl out of the foster care system. All the questions were asked, the home visits completed, the paperwork and references in place. The girl had been living in her new home for over a year. The family was in court for the last time, waiting for the final moment when the little girl would be theirs. As they all stood before the judge, she asked the child if she wanted to be adopted by this couple. She eagerly said, “Yes!” Then the judge did a very wise thing. She handed her gavel to the little girl and told her, “When you bang this gavel, at that moment, you will belong to this family forever and always.” The girl took the gavel, held it in the air, and brought it down with a loud bang onto the desk.
In the same way, we can want to belong to God’s family. We can ask all the questions, believe all the facts, and even move in with the church family. But until we turn our lives over to God—until we bang the gavel—we are only foster children and not true sons and daughters.
Are you a Christian?