Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How do I know that I’m a Christian?

Most believers, if honest, struggle with this question from time to time. It’s not always an easy question to satisfy, because behind it are many emotions related to doubt, and sometimes intellectual problems / frustrations.

How can we be assured that we are a Christian?

A first problem relates to understanding of “being in”. Do we view our salvation as something that happened entirely in the past? Something that defines us positionally? There certainly are themes in Scripture that fit this description, but there are a lot of passages that describe out salvation as present and future. The present sense is the ongoing work of the Spirit in our lives, molding and shaping our character to be more like God’s. This is something that is a daily part of the Christian life, and it won’t be completed until Christ returns.

The future tense though (I believe) occupies the majority of passages talking about salvation. Even though we experience regeneration, justification, and sonship today, we haven’t been completely saved from sin. We’re free from sin, alive and not dead, but we still fight sin. We have to struggle against the powers of this world to abide in Christ daily… and we look forward to the completion of our salvation when He returns.

This is an important theme to understand when we think of our own salvation. Our understanding should be less of “I became saved”, and more of “I’m journeying towards salvation”. We know Christ, we can experience his love and salvation, but we are on a path towards his completed salvation. I think this can not only alleviate the frustration when we see failure in our lives (I’m a work in progress), but also can bring clarity to oversimplifications (here are 10 signs you are not saved, and 15 signs you are).

With this in mind, what does Scripture offer as identifications of those in Christ, his disciples, his church?

First, our Actions. This one is simple enough, do our lives demonstrate evidence of the Spirit working in our lives? Are we abiding in Christ, and allowing his love, grace, and mercy to poor through us to others? Are we remaining in the Vine, and bearing lots of fruit?

This isn’t the only test, scripture offers a second: Beliefs. Do we believe the right things about who God is? There certainly are “secondary” and “primary” beliefs (these terms bother me, but I cannot think of a better way of describing it). Both matter and are important, but only one category is especially vital to being a Christian. For example, if we believed God liked to eat kittens for breakfast and puppies for lunch, that would be a significant difference from the Bible’s presentation of God. If we believe that Jesus isn’t the only way to God, this would be a significant departure. However, whatever we believe (from Scripture!) about the end times, it doesn’t affect the center of our Faith (which should be Christ!).

But even those who do great miracles and have effective ministries, those who know a lot about God from his Word, might hear the painful news on that day “depart from me, for I never knew you”. Scripture offers a final test: have we had an encounter with Christ? This isn’t as easy to quantify or prescribe, because no encounter is the same. Some of us have an instant, life changing encounter like Paul did on the road to Damascus, others have a slow, but progressively unfolding encounter where their eyes are slowly opened (like a newborn getting the first glimpses of the world) and their lives are progressively changed, sort of like the disciples had.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this latter category: what has my own encounter with Christ looked like? I can rest assured in my salvation based on the first two (though less of the first than I’d like), but sometimes it’s very easy to forget who Christ has been in my life. That I know that he is concerned for me, that he loves me and wants me to grow. That has been faithful countless times, even when I had no faith. That I know and can trust that his ways are better than mine, even though my emotions regularly steer me in a different direction. That his ways are true, that he is always there forgiving me when I’ve fallen, and that his Kingdom is real.

I don’t know if this is the best description of it… but these aren’t just mere words or reciting church formula. I think it’s healthy to regularly reflect on how we’ve personally encountered Christ in our lives, not only in generalizations, but in specific times and places. Sometimes it’s very easy to forget when we pray that we’re praying to the almighty, sovereign, creator of the universe. Sometimes I think I have the mental image of Santa Clause or a parent, and not the person of Jesus. The more we can remember who Christ has been in our lives, I think the closer we can grow to him and the greater assurance we can have of our salvation, not as something we have, but as someone we know.


vespreardens said...

Very well put. It's definitely a question Christians struggle with, some more frequently than others. Honestly, I think I would question the faith of anyone who was so self-assured that they never put any serious thought into this question.

God is God, and His ways are so different from ours as to be mysterious, even in the bits we can understand. As such, it is not always so easy to see Him in our lives, but He is there, and He speaks to each of us in a language we can understand if we have the ears to hear it and the eyes to see.

Rustyknight said...

I've always liked using the terms "Cardinal" and "Non-Cardinal" in place of "Primary" and "Secondary". It works well while enjoying a snifter of Brandy also.

thec0keman said...

Yeah, you used those a lot back in the day, and it certainly stuck. I like using them, but I've had a few people misunderstand the use... they hear Cardinal and think a baseball team, a bird, or a bishop. :)

There is a bit of a tension there though.... our assurance and hope rest in Christ, so there shouldn't be room for doubt, specifically in Him. But there is still a healthy place where doubt causes us to examine our lives and the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, and ultimately driving us to our knees yet again at the feet of Christ.