How can I tell if someone is a true believer?

  • Is it right to expect certain behaviors, attitudes and actions from people who profess to believe in Christ?
  • Is believing more than correct thoughts about God and Jesus?

“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, ‘You are truly (ἀληθῶς) my disciples if you remain faithful (μείνητε) to my teachings’” (John 8:31 NLT).

These questions are important on a number of levels.

1. Counseling: In counseling others, I am often trying to understand why an individual displays consistent patterns of thought and behavior contrary to God’s will. How can I hold someone accountable for ways of thinking and behaviors produced by the Spirit of God if he has never truly come to faith in Christ? When I do not see, for example, evidence of a conflict like the one described in Galatians 5:17, I want to know if the individual has been genuinely converted to Christ.

2. Church membership: Another level relates to our requirements for Church membership. According to our church constitution, “Any person professing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as his/her own personal Savior, giving evidence of regeneration, is in agreement with the Statement of Faith, Constitution, and By-Laws of this Church and having been baptized as a believer shall be eligible for membership.”

What kind of evidence of regeneration should we look for?

Regeneration refers to rebirth, being born again (born from above) or born of the spirit (John 3:1-8). It is the new creation of God (II Cor. 4:3-7; 5:17-18). In our natural state by human birth, we are “dead in trespasses and sins” until we are “made alive” (regenerated) by Christ when we place faith in Him (Eph. 1:13,14, 2:1ff.; I Jn. 5:11-13). God is the source of regeneration (Eph. 2:1,8; Titus 3:5-6).

Is it right to expect evidence of regeneration? Are we obligated to accept a person’s profession of faith because he tells us his story of salvation? If we avoid making these kinds of judgments, do we run the risk of joining believers and unbelievers in covenant membership? Is this part of the reason why so many Churches are ineffective in the ministry of the gospel? Unregenerate and regenerate minds see life differently.

Consider the following:

Profession of faith does not always mean possession of faith:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” (James 2:14).  “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. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (James 2:19-20).

Fruit inspection:

“just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matt. 7:20). “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT).

What do these verses imply about one who truly comes to faith in Christ?

  • Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
  • Luke 18:13,14 – “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ”I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.’”
  • II Corinthians 4:7 – “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
  • I Peter 5:5 – “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
  • I Corinthians 6:19-20 – “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Scripture offers objective measures for confirming genuine believers:

  1. The primary direction and characteristics of a person’s life- I Jn. 3:9
  2. Works of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit – Gal. 5:19-24.
  3. The wisdom from below vs. the wisdom from above – Ja. 3:12-18.
  4. The works of darkness vs. the fruit of the Light – Eph. 5:5-11.
  5. The unrighteous – I Cor. 6:9-11.
  6. Love for the world vs. love of the Father-  I Jn. 2:15-17.
  7. Love for other believers – I Jn.3:14; 5:1.
  8. Keeping God’s commandments – I Jn. 2:4, Ti. 1:16.

Five desires found in true believers: A practical summary for easy communication

  1. To please God (II Cor. 5:9)
  2. To know God’s Word (I Pe. 2:1-2)
  3. To be with God’s people (Heb. 10:25;I Jn 5:1)
  4. To share the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20)
  5. To overcome sin (I Jn. 3:9)

Thought:

While it is clearly possible for a true believer to have serious moments of disobedience and unfruitfulness, the focus of the lists above is on the primary emphasis of one’s life (Rom. 7:19; I Jn. 2:1; II Pet. 1:5-10).

If the overall direction and characteristics of a person’s life is described by the negative side in the 8 lists above, the person does not have any firm reason to believe that he or she is saved.

If my life testifies against my profession—the apostle Paul’s words apply: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves.” (II Cor. 13:5).

Some other considerations:

  1. Most apostates will have attitudes of defiance and rebellion (see: Heb. 3:12-14).  This is true except in the case of those whom Satan disguises (Mt. 7:15; II Cor. 11:13-15).
  2. If an individual in question displays very little shame or sorrow in regard to sin and very little desire for God and His Word, concerns should be raised (II Cor. 7:10-11; I Pet. 2:1-3).
  3. The person who openly practices sin without repentance should be encouraged not to claim identification with Christ  (II Tim. 2:19b, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness”).
  4. When trying to reach someone in question, point him to the above lists to prompt self-examination.

Remember:

We must recognize how close someone can come toward salvation without ever genuinely receiving it. People can come into the Christian community and culturally adjust by learning acceptable practices and words, and yet deceive both themselves and the community as to the genuineness of their salvation.

The most sobering illustration of this is Judas. Jesus revealed to the twelve that one of them would betray Him (John 13:21).  Did the disciples all say, “We know who that is!”? No. According to John 13:22, the disciples were unsure about who Jesus intended. Judas had so cunningly hidden his true identity that none of the others immediately thought of him. A parallel gospel informs us that, “each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’” (Mt. 26:22).

Two primary marks of a true believer are continuation in Christ’s word (obedience) and chastening by the Lord (discipline) (see: Jn. 8:31; I Jn. 2:19; Heb. 12:12).

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another field worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, Church growth, Church Leadership, Repentance, Salvation, True Christianity?. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to How can I tell if someone is a true believer?

  1. francis says:

    “True believers” are brethren of The Messiah and are but “aliens and pilgrims while the earth” because their “citizenship is in Heaven”. And so it is that they take heed unto the exhortation too:

    “Love Not The World”

    ”For the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one”…….(I John 5:19)

    “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.”(IJohn2:15-17)

    “If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John15:19-20)

    “Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

    “The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

    The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

    John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James4:4)

    “Come Out of her, MY people”!

    Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease(no-peace),,etc,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life” all of which fuel the fires of mankind’s “imag”ination ;-(

    “Come out from among them and be separate”!

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……

    Truth IS, a lie never was and is not…….

    Abide in Truth……. francis

  2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    Hi Pastor Steve,

    1st-time visitor. Found you via Parchment&Pen.

    Great post. FWIW, I think there are some slight differences with regards to the whole fruit-inspection discernment process between pastors and laity. My personal experience is that both clergy and laity are loath to inspect fruit and both are ready and willing to assume that a person is a Christian if a person says they’re a Christian. I actually think it’s more of a duty (however unpleasant it may be) for the pastor to be a fruit-inspector for genuine salvation than it is for the sheep. That’s not to excuse the sheep (“priesthood of fellow-believers” and all), but it seems to me that pastor-undershepherds tend to shirk the duty of fruit-inspection. Which to some degree is understandable because the easily-made charge is judgmentalism and pharaseeism when the person deemed and discerned to not be a genuine Christian is informed of that by the fruit-inspector.

    Of course, one always hears about *HOW* you express the discernment in love that the other person is not a genuine Christian despite professing to be a Christian, but I have found that some things can be whispered gently with love and tears and the other person will still take great offense.

    Anyways, great post and God bless.

    • So true! One thing we learn from the apostle paul is that ministry occurs with more than one tone (true, also in Jesus’ own ministry). In Paul, we even have (may I say?) use of sarcasm to drive home a point (see: II Corinthians). But as to the responsibility of the sheep, I actually believe we need a renewed commitment to practice Hebrews 3:12-13 “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” A Church will be blessed greatly when this happens with a leadership that practices of Hebrews 13:17 “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” One more thought: I remind our folks that there is a big difference between watching out for one another and watching one another. I am sure you know what I mean.

  3. aztexan says:

    Hi. Another first-timer here. Just wanted to recommend Studies on Saving Faith (a quick read) by one of my favorites, A. W. Pink. Reading this was a sobering exercise in self-examination even for me; and when I loaned it to a relative whose salvation I question, I soon got it back. The professor in question thanked me for lending it, but explained that he just wouldn’t “have time to pleasure-read” for quite some time, due to his busy work schedule and backlog of material in his “to be read” pile. I strongly suspect he got no more than a couple of chapters — if that — into the work before sweating bullets and setting it aside. Check it out.

  4. Pingback: Who is the judge of salvation? | Cohesion

  5. Gerry S. says:

    a reprobate would attack a believer by saying, “you’re a Christian and have that kind of behavior, attitude, etc.” just because the believer did not comply with the reprobate’s stipulation.

  6. Alain says:

    How about those who were saved but were not nurtured with the word of God and still behave worldly life, are they not saved?

  7. cha says:

    Im lost… i want to please God and do his will. But theres so many Christians that claim to know what is right. One person that is a witness made me feel guilty. But i know that i should not soo bad. What should i do??

  8. gymfellowship says:

    Reblogged this on 6tseconds.

  9. Reblogged this on Wisdomforlife and commented:

    Are we obligated to accept a person’s profession of faith because he tells us his story of salvation?

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