Who Is a Christian? Part 3


Who Is a Christian Pt3Just who is a Christian? Let me challenge you to try an experiment before reading the remainder of this column.

In the next couple of days, stop someone you believe to be a Christian and ask them if they are saved. Some will answer you with a very definite “Yes,” but they are in the minority. For these folks, ask them how they know they are saved?

Most people will probably point back to their profession of faith – to a specific time when they responded to an invitation, prayed a particular prayer, and invited Jesus to come into their heart.

Or, depending on their denomination or branch of Christianity, they might say something about a moment in their past when they experienced some event, such as a baptism, or an overwhelming feeling of emotion during a revival or conference, or even that they come from a long line of believers.

Others will answer you with something like, “Well, sure I’m saved, at least, I hope so. I believe in Jesus. I know that Jesus is real, and I try to do all the right things, and live a good life, and not hurt other people, etc.”

Some people might even argue that no one can really know for certain that they are a Christian apart from a hope that they hold in their hearts.

So how does one know? Is there a litmus test we might use to determine whether a person is truly a child of God?

Bible Study

I began to address these questions in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

I then turned to a very small book near the end of the New Testament called 1 John, a letter written to the church by the Apostle John.

John was unique among biblical writers in that he clearly stated his purpose for writing. In the book of 1 John, he tells us on several occasions why he is writing this letter. (1 John 1:4; 2:1, 12-14, 21; 5:13)

In this article, I will concentrate on just one of those reasons.

1 John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

John says, “Here is how you can know that you are a Christian.” At the same time, you might use this same test to determine whether another person is a Christian.

I began this study of 1 John by first noting every verse that described a Christian or a non-Christian. These I assembled into two lists that you can download if you are interested. The lists are not meant to be exhaustive. Another study might yield a much more inclusive list.

In my study, I discovered 61 descriptors that can be used to define who is or who is not a Christian. I then went through a process of dividing those verses into categories and color coding each verse to match a category. Eventually, I narrowed the list down to five major categories:






Before embarking on this study, let me say first of all that there is nothing a person can do to become a Christian. Salvation is the work of God. It is a supernatural event in a person’s life. We are not capable of supernatural power within the limitations of the flesh.

So as I set out to define a Christian in these articles, please understand that I am not teaching that these are things that people can do to become a Christian or might do simply to prove they are Christian. Instead, understand that these are things that define Christians.

An apple can be red or green or yellow. It has an outer skin we refer to as the peeling, and an inner flesh from which can be derived apple juice, a core, a stem. An apple has a very distinctive taste. All of these things – color, peeling, flesh, juice, seeds, stem, taste – define the apple. They are not things the apple does to become an apple.

The same is true when we look at those elements that define a Christian. These are not things we need to strive to achieve or to become because we want to be a Christian or even a better Christian. These are things that are distinctives of a Christian – things that will be true of a Christian – maybe not from the moment they are saved, but eventually.

Today, we will look at the first item in the category of five…


Once I compiled the data into a table, one fact stood out above the rest.

Of the 61 items that define a Christian or a non-Christian, just over 25 percent of them refer to the person’s ability to love others generally, and to love other Christians specifically.

John makes it very clear that anyone who knows Christ as Savior will be marked by love.

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death (meaning that they are not saved).

All but five of John’s references to love include a direct reference to loving one’s Christian brothers. This means that a Christian will love other Christians individually and will love the church in general.

The primary distinguishing characteristic of a Christian to people of the world is that the Christian will love other Christians.

This is not the first time that John recorded such a thought. In his gospel, John recorded that Jesus himself taught this very principle to John and the other disciples:

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

The primary distinguishing characteristic of a Christian to people of the world is that the Christian will love other Christians.

And here’s why:

Paul explains in Eph. 1:22-23 that church members make up the body of Christ.

In the early centuries of the church, members demonstrated a sincere love for one another and for the people around them, so much so that they directly impacted their culture.

Luke wrote in his history of the early church (Acts 2:42-47) that the people of the church lived in “wonderful harmony” and were committed to life together, sharing exuberant and joyful meals at one another’s houses, “every meal a celebration…as they praised God.” Each person’s needs were met by the sacrifices of others in the fellowship.

Luke goes on to tell us that this love for one another within the church was noticed by the community around them to the extent that “fear came upon every soul.”

Let’s restate that on a personal level:

The members of (Put your church name here) love each other so much that they have become the talk of everybody within a 15-mile radius.

This loving characteristic of the church continued through the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and continued to awe the local communities.

Tertullian, a major theologian of the time, wrote that the love of church members for one another was so strong and evident that the community around them remarked, “See…how they love one another…how they are ready even to die for one another…”

Writing of the church’s love for others, including those outside of the church who sought to persecute them and put them to death, Tertullian wrote (italics in the original)…

This is the rule of our faith, that we love those who hate us, and that we beseech God to bless those who afflict us; and herein lies that goodness which is peculiar to us.

All men love those who love them, Christians alone those who hate them…

Christians have no hatred or ill-will at any man, and least of all at Caesar; for knowing him to be set up by their God, they must needs love him, and shew him worship (reverence and respect). [1]

In summary, how can a person assure themselves that they are saved?

Ask yourself questions like these:

Do you love others in both word and deed?

Do you love Christ’s church?

Do you love other Christians so much that you will go out of your way or give up your personal rights to maintain fellowship with them?

No person can legitimately claim to love Christ who does not also love the local church as well as other members of the church.


[1] http://www.tertullian.org/articles/dalrymple_scapula.htm

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