Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How do I know I am a true Christian?

How do I know I am a true Christian?  How can I know I’m truly free from sin and condemnation?  Those are loaded questions; ones that cannot be easily answered in a one or two sentence statement.

There are several things to consider of course.  For someone who is truly seeking an answer to these questions, he/she must first consider the possibility that there is a God.  But not just any god.  Jehovah God.  Yahweh

It’s not enough to conclude that God exists though.  In the Bible, James says this, “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”  To believe that there is God is only the beginning.

But Who is God?  God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  He was before the world, and He’ll be here after.  God is forever.  God is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, and He is everywhere.  God is perfect, He is holy, and He is just.  But really, God is indescribable.  You can’t put God in a box and narrow down the answer to one simple definition.  Perhaps that’s why in the Bible God describes Himself as “I AM.”

We should also realize that we need God.  We need a Savior.  Why?  Because God is perfect and holy, He cannot tolerate sin.  Sin is missing God’s perfect standards.  And God’s standards are far greater than our own.  In fact, our own righteousness falls way short and God says that we have altogether become worthless.  This is to say that we all have sinned and are deserving of death.  That’s how extreme sin is and how extreme God views it.

So what do we do?  Here is where Jesus, the Son of God, comes in.  Because we are sinners that are deserving of death, God had to confront this issue.  He couldn’t just ignore our sin because He is just.  It would be like a judge ignoring the evidence in a trial regarding a serial murderer and releasing him because he wanted to show compassion.  Even in our limited understanding of right and wrong, we can see how this would be wrong.  And God’s standard regarding justice is perfect justice.  So what did God do?  He offered up His Son Jesus.  Because of His mercy He sent Jesus to take on the form of flesh and become like us.  In doing so, Jesus did what none of us could do:  He fulfilled the righteousness of God by living a perfect life and living in complete obedience to the Father.  And because of His infinite love for us Jesus would take the penalty for our sins.  You see, in Jesus we have a Savior who came and died on the cross for our sins.  

Though Jesus didn’t deserve death, He was made to die on a cross (as the spotless Lamb of God, perfect and without blemish) so that through His sacrifice we could be reconciled to God.  Jesus’ substitutionary death brought about an amazing exchange.  When Jesus took on our sin, He gave us His righteousness.  But Jesus didn’t just die; He rose again from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.  As a result, believers too have new life.

In a sense, God gave us a gift.  The gift is His Son.  Romans says that, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Like any gift, it must be received.  Gifts can either be rejected or received.  The problem is is that the world regularly rejects Jesus and refuses to acknowledge their need for Him.  In so doing man rejects the only hope that he has for eternal life.

So what is the proper response?  Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  It requires an understanding that we are sinners and that we cannot make ourselves right with God on our own.  It is the acceptance that what Jesus did on the cross is the full propitiation for our sins.  It’s all about what Jesus did.  Thus, He restores us to a right relationship with God and is only by Him and through Him.

The act of believing, though, is not something that can be taken lightly.  Believing requires faith.  Hebrews 11:1-3 states that, “… faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…By faith we understand that the universe was formed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”  So how does one get faith?  Romans 10 says that, “…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

It’s an amazing thing when one comes to Christ and is saved; it’s a time when the former life is put to death and the new life is resurrected.  This is what is referred to as being born again.  A believer will be able to recall a time in his/her life when God rescued him/her from a life of depravity; a life that was at enmity with God.

There’s further proof, too, that helps us to know and have assurance that we belong to God.  We live life by the Spirit.  The evidence is found in the passage in Romans 8:

1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

As can be seen in the text, there are stark contrasts to one who still lives according to the flesh and those who live according to the Spirit.  This is the difference in people that have not been regenerated by the saving work of Christ as opposed to those that have received God’s gift of salvation and have been born again.

The flesh has these characteristics:

Romans 8 shows us:
- Those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on what the flesh desires.
- The mind governed by the flesh is death.
- The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God.
- Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 1 states that:
- They suppress the truth by their wickedness.
- They neither glorify God nor give thanks to Him.
- By their thinking, they become futile and their hearts are darkened.
- Claiming to be wise, they become fools.
- They exchange the glory of God to look like mortal beings or animals.
- They exchange natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.
- The list goes on and on in Romans 1:28-32.

The Spirit has these characteristics:

Romans 8 shows us:
- They have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
- The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
- Even though the body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.
- They put to death the misdeeds of the body.
Ephesians 5 also shows that:
- They do not offer a hint of sexual immorality.
- They do not allow a hint of impurity or greed.
- They don’t participate in obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking.
- They show thankful hearts.

Obviously, these are extensive lists, but not at all exclusive.  By looking at this, many nonbelievers would (and should) be convicted.  We all at one point have sinned against God, but it’s the recognition of that sin (conscience) and knowing that we have disobeyed Him that brings us to repentance.

But what about the person who has already confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?  Sometimes we think that at that point, we should no longer sin…period.  But that’s not reality and that’s not true.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  If we’re not careful, we could get the wrong impression that if we fail in one area that maybe we’re not Christians at all.  The key to this issue is sanctification.  Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life that makes him/her more like Jesus every day.  As a believer lives out this new life in conjunction with developing an ongoing relationship with God, the believer will begin noticing that there is less sin in his/her life.  It will be a pattern that the Holy Spirit will continue until he/she dies and then God brings about glorification in the believer’s life.

So, the question was at the beginning, “How do I know I am a true Christian?”  Can you remember a time in your life when you gave yourself (everything about yourself, your very essence, your being) to God?  Have you ever asked Jesus to come into your heart to be your Lord and Savior?  Have you confessed Him before others?  Can you see a specific period of time when you were somebody else but now you’re different?  Do you yearn to be with God?  Does sin prick your soul?  Do you hate sin the way God does?  Answer these questions and you may know the answer to the first.