How can we know if someone is a true follower of Christ?
- Is it right to try to discern the authenticity of another person’s faith?
- Isn’t this a private matter between the person and God?
I can think of a few important reasons why we should try to discern the authenticity of someones faith.
- Most importantly we love the person and want what is eternally best for her.
- Sometimes we must examine faith because we don’t want to violate II Corinthians 6:14-15 – by being unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
- We especially need to know when deciding whether or not to marry another person (see: I Corinthians 7:39).
- There is also a great danger of self-deception that must be taken seriously (Matthew 7:21-23).
Always be sure to search your own heart before evaluating the genuineness of faith in another. Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). After thorough self-examination, carefully evaluate the five points below about genuine faith.
1. Verbal profession of faith does not always mean true possession of faith
We live in a fake it till you make it culture. It’s not enough to hear verbal profession when it comes to true faith. There should be substantive evidence of one’s love for God and commitment to follow Him. Remember the warning from Jesus and James:
“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).
Thought: People can come into the Christian community and learn acceptable practices and words but 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).
2. 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).
3. Objective measures for confirming genuine believers
- The primary direction and characteristics of a person’s life- I John 3:9 (NIV)
- Works of the flesh vs. the fruit of the Spirit – Galatians 5:19-24.
- The wisdom from below vs. the wisdom from above – James 3:12-18.
- The works of darkness vs. the fruit of the Light – Ephesians 5:5-11.
- The description of the unrighteous – I Corinthians 6:9-11.
- Love for the world vs. love of the Father- I John 2:15-17.
- Love for other believers – I John 3:14; 5:1.
- Keeping God’s commandments – I John 2:4, Ti. 1:16.
4. Five desires found in true believers – A practical summary for easy communication
- To please God (II Corinthians 5:9)
- To know God’s Word (I Peter 2:1-2)
- To be with God’s people (Hebrews 10:25;I Jn 5:1)
- To share the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20)
- To overcome sin (I John 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).
5. What do these verses imply about one who truly comes to faith in Christ?
- Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit”
- 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.’”
- I Peter 5:5 “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
A final consideration – Not hungry or thirsty enough
“I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 cf. John 4:14).
From these words, we learn that belief is not merely an agreement with facts about God. It is also a matter of appetite, of longing, of hungering and thirsting and finding satisfaction and fulfillment in the one who is the bread of life itself.
Belief is not merely thinking correctly about God and Jesus. It’s a turning to Jesus as the source of nourishment for life (tasting and seeing). Rarely is unbelief solely or mainly a matter of changing one’s mind about facts. It’s a turning of one’s heart away from the Creator and Redeemer. Unbelief, therefore, involves a turning of the heart away from God to search for satisfaction from something or someone else.
Remember these words
“Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Blessed are the poor, needy, hungry and thirsty. Augustine prayed, “Hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee…” We add that hearts are hungry until they find satisfaction in God; Our hearts are thirsty until quenched by God.
Please take time to listen to this message: What Should you Expect?