Are You a Christian?
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul exhorts his readers to “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” Previously (2 Corinthians 6:14), he had instructed them to judge the faith of others. In spite of this clear teaching, it is virtually unthinkable in today’s church to question anyone’s profession of faith. To do so is deemed judgmental and uncharitable. Everyone must be given the benefit of the doubt, as though they can in some way take credit for their salvation.
I suppose this may be a byproduct of the synergistic gospel embraced by most of the church in which God provides salvation, but man has to go get it (i.e., accept Christ, ask Jesus into his heart, make a decision for Christ). But that isn’t how it works. We can only give the benefit of the doubt (or not) in relation to things done or not done. Spiritual status (saved or unsaved) is not achieved by any work of man. It could be compared to physical stature. If a man is of short stature, it is no insult to admit it is so. On the other hand, the height of a tall man is no cause for praise. Neither man can take any credit for his height.
Unlike physical stature, whether or not one is saved matters. We should waste no time praying for a short man to grow taller, or for an awkwardly tall man to shrink. We need not think of it at all. Discerning our spiritual state, and that of those around us, is eternally vital. Love demands it. Toward that end, Mike McKinley has written Am I Really a Christian?, in which he lists “five things Christians have,” indicators by which we can judge our profession of faith.
Belief in true doctrine. You’re not a Christian just because you like Jesus.
Hatred for sin in your life. You’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin.
Perseverance over time. You’re not a Christian if you don’t persist in the faith.
Love for other people. You’re not a Christian if you don’t have care and concern for other people.
Freedom from love of the world. You’re not a Christian if the things of this world are more valuable to you than God.
—Mike McKinley, Am I Really a Christian? (Crossway, 2011), 39.
These are all expanded in following chapters.
In short, what you believe, that is, the object of your faith, matters. Intellectual assent to biblical theology, however, is not by itself proof of genuine faith. Genuine faith bears specific fruits. And to the predictable objection to perfectionism, we admit that the fruit will not be perfect. Some apples are sour, others are mealy, and a few might contain a worm here and there. But a live apple tree produces apples.