What are the signs of being a true Christian?

by Luke Wayne
8/25/16

"Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If we truly trust in Christ for salvation and not in ourselves, we should not live in perpetual doubt and anxiety about our salvation. We are resting in Him and not depending on our own merits. Yet is also not only healthy but quite biblical to examine our lives regularly to be sure that we are not self-deceived. The Bible commands Christians to "test yourselves to see if you are in the faith." This raises the important question, however, of exactly what we are looking for? What are the signs of being a true Christian? The answer, in short, is found in the content of our faith, the fruit of our faith, and the communion of our faith. What is it that we actually believe? What effect has that belief had on me? Does that faith bind me to other members of Christ's body? These are the biblical tests of a believer.

The Content of our Faith

What do you actually believe? Does it line up with essential Christian truth? Salvation is not based on having all the right answers to everything, but there are certain things we must believe. When we are called to faith, it is not just any faith in anything. It is a specific faith in specific things. When we are told to "repent and believe," there is obviously a specific object of our belief in mind. We must believe:

  1. Monotheism: You must believe in the one true God (Hebrews 11:6) and in no other besides Him (Isaiah 45:21).
  2. Deity of Christ and the Trinity: You must believe that Jesus is that God (John 4:48) or you will die in your sins. This includes the doctrine of the Trinity, as eternal life is to know both the Father and the Son (John 17:3) and the Holy Spirit, who is both the Spirit Christ and of the Father, dwells in us and gives life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:9-11).
  3. Salvation by Grace alone: You must also believe that we are saved by Jesus alone and not at all through our own efforts (Ephesians 2:8-9). If we think that we need to do other good works, religious rites, rituals, or ordinances in addition to what Christ has already done, then we are not actually trusting in what Jesus has done. If we add anything to Christ, we do not believe Christ is enough
  4. The death, burial, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ: As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures," (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

For a more detailed discussion, see the article: Essential Christian doctrine

The Fruit of our Faith

It cannot be stressed enough that we are in sin and cannot save ourselves through any effort of our own. Our works add nothing to what Christ has done, and we are called simply to repent and believe on Him. If anyone really believes that, however, it will necessarily change how we live. You absolutely cannot truly believe the gospel and yet still go on living as you did before. Bowing to Jesus as Lord and trusting Him fully as Savior changes everything. What's more, if the Spirit of God is in us, that makes a real and vital difference. Because of this, the life of a true believer will be characterized by obedience to Christ and forgiveness of others. Again, this is not about works that save us, but rather works that flow out from truly believing the gospel and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. This is not part of our salvation but rather is evidence of our salvation. It is the fruit of saving faith. The root is always and only the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Understanding this, the scriptures tell us:

"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son has cleansed us from all sin," (1 John 1:5-7).

"Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires," (Galatians 5:19-24).

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world," (James 1:26-27).

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments," (John 14:15).

And there are many more passages that tell us the same. If we really have fellowship with God, if we really walk in the Spirit, if we really belong to Christ, if our religion really is is pure and undefiled, and if we really love Jesus, our lives will show this through obedience. This does not mean that we are completely sinless and perfect (1 John 1:8-10). Sanctification is a lifelong process, and that is why there are so many scriptures to instruct, exhort, encourage, and call us to a more faithful Christian life. But if you are no more obedient now than when you first professed Christ, this ought to bring you trembling to the foot of the cross in recognition that your faith has been a farce. Faith in Christ should be ever drawing you to be more and more obedient to Christ, not self-righteously to earn anything, but rather because He is Lord (Master), and if you believe someone is your master, you obey them. Also because you love Him and are grateful to Him, and love of Christ leads to obedience to Christ.

The Communion of our Faith

The final note that must be made is that, if we are really in Christ, we will love our fellow believers. If you have no affection for or devotion to God's people, that is a clear sign that you are not one of His people. The apostle John tells us:

"The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes," (1 John 2:9-11).

And again:

"If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also," (1 John 4:20-21).

Jesus Himself described this in detail in Matthew 25:34-46. Jesus describes those entering into the Kingdom as those who clothed Him, fed Him, gave Him food, visited Him in prison, and the like. He explains that what they did to the least of "these brothers of Mine," they had done it to Him. Likewise, when Jesus pronounced his indictment on the lost, he condemned them for refusing to do these things for Him. "Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,'" (Matthew 25:45-46). Notice that in this passage that Jesus is not talking about the least of all human beings, but the least His brothers. Jesus' "brothers" are believers, (Matthew 12:48-50). How you treat your fellow believer is a direct window into the state of you soul. One who is forgiven much, loves much, (Luke 7:47-50).

Conclusion

If you believe in essential Christian doctrine, your life is being visibly transformed in obedience to Christ, and you actively love and care for your fellow believer, you can have full assurance that Jesus Christ's perfect work will save you to the uttermost. Though you are not perfect yet, "He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus," (Philippians 1:6).