One of the first questions I used to ask people when I was hoping to transition the conversation into spiritual matters (and possibly share the gospel) was “So, are you a Christian?” Now, if you’re in India or another country which doesn’t consider itself predominately Christian, that might be an alright question to ask. It’s still probably not the best question, but you’ll probably have better success there than here in America. I’ve come to learn that “Are you a Christian?” is not a very good question to ask if you intend to share the gospel with someone. Why?
Allow me to demonstrate, statistically, why “Are you a Christian” is such a bad question. In a 2011 Gallup Poll, 78% of those asked “What is your religious identity?” identified themselves as Christian. That’s right, 78%. So, what’s the big deal? This poll later reveals that while 78% of Americans consider themselves Christian, only 55% of Americans feel that their religion is “very important” to their identity. That means that 45% of Americans feel that religion is either only “fairly important” or “not important” to their identity. Notice the overlap. There is a significant population of “Christians” who might say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian, but it’s really not a big deal to me.” REALLY?!?!
But it gets worse. In a 2010 Gallup Pole, only 43% of Americans say they “weekly” or “almost weekly” attend religious services. Remember, not all of these 43% are Christian, either. So, 78% of Americans are “Christian” but less than 43% of Americans weekly attend church. In the the largest Protestant denomination in America, the SBC, a 2010 Lifeway poll showed that only 6,195,449 of the 16,136,044 members attend their church’s primary worship service. That’s less than 40%. Even when you consider that many churches have people on their membership roll that are dead or have moved away, that’s still astounding. 78% of Americans are Christian, but to many “It’s not that important.”
Now, before we pass this statistic, let’s think for a moment. How does one make it onto the membership roll of a Southern Baptist Church? Southern Baptists have fairly exclusive membership requirements. Usually, it happens one of three ways: 1) During the invitation, a non-member walks the aisle, prays a prayer, and shortly thereafter is baptized into membership, 2) A member transfers their membership from another Southern Baptist Church (where they have done #1 already), or 3) A member of a non-SBC church transfers their membership, usually after an interview with the pastor who is satisfied that this potential member is, indeed, saved and properly baptized. So, to put that in perspective, over 60% of SBC members, who walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, signed a card, and got baptized, feel that their faith is not important enough to attend church regularly. Hmmm…
So, if I were to ask you, “Are you a Christian?” Assuming that you’d say “yes,” what if I asked you to prove it? Then what would you say? “Well, fifteen years ago I walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, signed a card, and got baptized.” That’s what I used to say. If pressed further, I might have comforted myself with the fact that I was in that 43% who regularly attend church. But did you know that the Bible nowhere says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we once walked the aisle, prayed a prayer, got dunked, and now go to church?” That may surprise you, given that this is often the exact salvation assurance given to Christians. “Well, I remember walking that aisle…so I know I’m going to heaven!”
So then, how do you know that you’re a Christian, that you’re heaven-bound? Take a look at Jesus’ example:
“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.” (Matthew 11:2-5 NASB)
When John sent this question to Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah?” Jesus could have given a number of different answers, some of them even true and valid. He might have said, “John, I’ve been baptized, don’t you remember? You were there, after all!” or “John, don’t you remember the dove? Don’t you remember the voice from heaven saying I was God’s Son?” or “John, for goodness sake, look at my lineage! I was born in the right lineage–a direct descendent of David–in the right city, by a virgin…what more evidence do you need?” or “John, I’m a Jewish Rabbi! Would I really lie about something like that?”
But Jesus didn’t point to these things. In fact, it’s somewhat puzzling that Jesus doesn’t pick up the Old Testament and point to all the specific prophecies that only he fulfilled–being born in Bethlehem, being a Nazarene, being born of a virgin, being of the tribe of Judah, etc. Instead of pointing to the evidences of who the Messiah was, his evidence was in what the Messiah would accomplish. His evidence wasn’t internal–a list of qualifications that he lived up to, his evidence was external–a string of changed lives: “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
You see, the Bible nowhere says that your prayer, baptism, or Church attendance are good evidences of your salvation–though all are good and necessary aspects of your Christianity. Being a true “Christian” is more than a prayer, signed card, baptism ceremony, church membership, or church attendance (though many of those claiming to be Christian don’t even have that much!). It’s about a changed life.
The book of I John is particularly helpful in this. Note what John says is good evidence of true Christianity:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth…” (1 John 1:6 NASB)
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked…The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now…Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-6, 9, 15 NASB)
Now, our temptation is to make this into a list. “Keep the commandments, Check! Love your brother, Check!” But this is not John’s intention. Notice verse 6: “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” A true Christian lives (or strives to live) like Jesus. How did Jesus live? In a way that wherever he went, he changed lives. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to the lame, life to the dead, and good news to the hopeless. How do you know you’re a Christian? Because your life is lived in effort to open blind eyes to the truth of Jesus Christ. You live to open deaf ears to hear the Gospel. You live to give strength to those who feel like they can’t carry on any longer. You live to breathe life into the spiritually dead. And your life is so permeated by the Good News of Christ that it spills over onto anyone who gets too close. No one who lives this kind of life could ever say their faith is anything less than “very important.” The faith of a true Christian is everything. It is more important than life itself.
So, my friend, are you a Christian? If this post has left you unsure of your standing before God, pray that God would open your eyes to truth. A heart that has been changed by God will always result in a life lived for God. Good works can’t save you, but neither can the type of faith that doesn’t produce good works. Are you a Christian? If so, prove it.
*For more information about how to become a true Christian, click the “Gospel” link above.