I recently read a gospel tract that I thought for the most part did a great job of explaining succinctly what it means to begin following Jesus Christ as a Christian. One thing I found a little disturbing though, was a page toward the end entitled, “How can I be sure I am a Christian?” The answer provided was that if we believe in God, and have prayed the sinner’s prayer, then God is in our life and we just need to believe it, and ignore any doubt or feelings to the contrary as they are not accurate.
I would answer this question differently. It is true that we can completely trust the promises God makes in the Bible, and He does promise that anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will have eternal life (1John 5:11-13; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31, etc), this is a certain fact that we can be sure about. The real question though is what does it mean to believe? Because the Bible testifies that even the demons believe to a degree, yet they will not be saved (Jam 2:19). The type of belief we must have, is more than mere intellectual assent to the facts; it must involve repentance of our sin, faith that Christ has atoned for our sin, and surrender to Christ as Lord – which involves obedience to God’s commands, particularly that we love Him above everything else.
Also while our emotions can be subjective and inaccurate at times, I am hesitant to rule them out of the equation, as God often communicates to us through our conscience and feelings. In particular the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and our need to repent through our conscience and emotions. When Peter preached his great sermon at Pentecost, the Bible says people “were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and this lead to their repentance. In the first instance then, particularly when we have feelings of guilt or conviction, we shouldn’t just ignore these; our first response should be to ask whether God is speaking to us and whether there is something we need to repent of?
We are saved by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. It is the work of God and when He begins this work of salvation in us, He gives us His Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14), and this begins in us a process where we are increasingly transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29; 2Cor 3:18). As the Holy Spirit transforms, conforms, shapes and moulds us, our life begins to produce fruit (John 15:1-5; 8; 16; Rom 7:4; Col 1:10), and this fruit is evidence that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, God is at work in us, and we really are a Christian.
The evidence that we have become a Christian then is that our life begins to change and we live differently as we are transformed and live more and more for God. So the Bible encourages us to examine ourselves – to test ourselves and determine whether we really are in the faith (2Cor 13:5). Jesus said that not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is (Matt 7:21-23), some people are genuinely deceived, and we will be able to recognise both those who are false, and those who are genuine, by the fruit their life produces (Matt 7:16-20). If the Holy Spirit dwells in us, then our life must produce good fruit, while on the other hand if the Holy Spirit is not in us, then our life will produce rotten fruit. Each person can be recognised by the fruit they produce (Luke 6:43-45).
In the coming weeks then, I intend to write more posts looking at some of the ‘fruit’ that provides evidence of whether we really are a Christian. And the first fruit I want to examine is forgiveness – which in my opinion is a major issue, and the root of so many problems in the church. People choose to hold grudges, and bitterness, and refuse to forgive others. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit’s transforming work however, is that we will be people who forgive others. In fact Jesus says quite plainly that if we will not forgive other people, then God will not forgive our sin (Matt 6:15), and if our sin is not forgiven, then we are not a Christian – we will not be saved.