Who Is a Christian? Part 4

What does the Bible say about who is and who is not a Christian?

From a study of the book of 1 John, I identified over sixty descriptors that John gave us to define who is or who is not a Christian.

Who Is a Christian Pt4I then categorized the descriptors into five categories:

Passion, Profession, Practice, Possession, Persecution

In the previous blog, I wrote about the first of these categories, Passion. From this brief study, we concluded that no person can legitimately claim to love Christ who does not also love the local church as well as other members of the church.

PROFESSION – How we speak to others about Jesus

A second interesting fact related to a person’s profession of faith emerged from my study of 1 John.

A person’s profession of faith – their audible and public recognition of the lordship of Christ – is certainly important in determining whether a person is saved. Jesus spoke of the importance of an audible and public confession during His ministry. The Apostle John as well as Paul and other New Testament writers followed suit.

Luke 12:8 Everyone who acknowledges (confesses, KJV) me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God.

1 John 4:15 Whoever confesses (makes a public profession) that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (See also 1 John 2:23; 4:2-3)

Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering. (KJV)

In fact, there is coming a day when every person who has ever lived, both the redeemed and the unredeemed, will confess that Christ is Lord. (Phil. 2:9-11) So a profession of faith is important in determining whether or not a person is a Christian.

Yet out of the 60+ proofs that John listed, he referred to a profession of faith only three or four times. This takes on greater meaning when we realize that more than 50 (over 80%) of the evidences for whether a person is truly saved relate to that person’s practice, not their profession.

Recently, someone posted on Facebook an article that questioned whether a recent former POTUS is a Christian. The question greatly offended one reader, who responded quite strongly in the comments following the posting. In part, he wrote the following comments:

…no one can say he (the former POTUS) is not a Christian… Whether or not he acts the way you think he should doesn’t matter… If he professes to worship God & accepts Christ as his savior – he’s a Christian (by definition). Period…If you profess to be a Christian, you are one.

His actions do not define his faith. Not now, not before, not ever. Only by what he professes will you ever know (whether or not he is a Christian)…

Considering the source, this statement might be passed over as one person publicly revealing his lack of knowledge, except that his statements appear to reflect the beliefs of a majority of church members – that all a person has to do to prove he is a Christian is say he is a Christian.

The Facebook personality mentioned earlier commented further about the subject of faith as it relates to one’s Christianity:

Any aspect of religion is about faith. It begins and ends there…His actions do not define his faith. Not now, not before, not ever. Only by what he professes will you ever know (whether or not he is a Christian)…

The key words in these comments are “His actions do not define his faith.” From a particular perspective, there is truth in those words, but that point will require another discussion. However, this person appears to believe that there is no direct connection between one’s profession and one’s practice when it comes to proving one’s salvation.

This person appears to believe, as so many people do, that all one has to do to confirm that they are a Christian is to announce to others that he does believe. One of the scriptures most commonly quoted to support this idea is John 3:16. However, no theology can be built on only one or even a few scriptures. The Bible must be understood as a unified book that teaches a consistent message throughout.

John – in very clear language – teaches that a profession of faith alone is insufficient evidence to determine whether a person is saved.

Is simply making a profession of faith – saying that one believes in Christ – enough to give assurance that a person is saved? In several verses, John answers “No” to this question by calling attention to people who make a profession of faith not supported by practice:

1 John 1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (NIV)

1 John 2:4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (NIV)

John – in very clear language – teaches that a profession of faith alone is insufficient evidence to determine whether a person is saved. He adds in 1 John 3:18 that as Christians we must not merely profess that we love each other, but show the truth of our profession by our actions.

Which brings us to the third category of proofs of salvation given by the Apostle John…

PRACTICE – How we behave before the world

Of the 60+ evidences that John presented in his letter by which a person might evaluate their standing before God, the largest majority of these evidences have to do, not with what a person professes, but with what they practice.

In other words, how a person acts or talks is a much more reliable proof of their identity as a Christian than their profession. You have probably heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Another is “The value of a person’s words is determined by the virtue of their walk.”

That is, in essence, the message John is attempting to communicate.

1 John 2:3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote a book that, like the small letter of 1 John, is also located near the end of the New Testament. In his book, James dealt quite frankly with the idea that simply saying that one believes is enough.

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith (says he believes) but does not have works (the behavior and character to prove it)? Can that faith (simply believing) save him?

The questions James asks are rhetorical, meaning that the answer is generally known and requires no verbal or written answer. Yet James does go on to tell us that the answer to these questions is a resounding “No!”

James 2:17 Faith (believing) by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (and, therefore, insufficient to result in salvation).

Furthermore, if an audible and public agreement with the lordship of Christ were sufficient for salvation in and of itself, it would seem that even demons might achieve salvation.

James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. (NLT)

There are multiple examples in the gospels when demons themselves acknowledged the lordship of Jesus. (See Mark 1:24; 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:41)

In plain language, a profession of faith that is not supported by the practical application of that faith is not a profession of faith at all and is useless for purposes of salvation.

In plain language, a profession of faith that is not supported by the practical application of that faith is not a profession of faith at all and is useless for purposes of salvation.

In the book of Matthew, and more specifically, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus taught this very same principle to His listeners. Near the end of His sermon He said to His disciples, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21)

Basically, then, those who are welcomed into Heaven – those who are truly saved – are not those who simply profess Christ as Lord, or even those who profess Christ and are busy doing benevolent or church-related work. Those who are truly part of the kingdom of God are those who profess Christ as Lord and who express their faith by doing works that fulfill the will of God.

That is the reason God saves us in the first place. Most people think Christianity is first of all about being rescued from hell and going to heaven and having our sins forgiven and living forever. All these things are truly among the benefits of salvation, but God’s primary purpose for saving us is so that He will get glory by the works He does through us.

Eph. 2:10 For we are his (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

1 Cor. 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Those who are truly part of the kingdom of God are those who profess Christ as Lord and who express their faith by doing works that fulfill the will of God.

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