Identifying Christians

This post should have never been written, as it cares too much about
theological concepts, and too little about trusting Jesus. But now that
it is there I won’t throw it away. But also, I won’t polish it to be
outwardly perfect, instead publish it as a sort of thought collection.
Perhaps somebody might get inspired to something meaningful by it … .

To identify Christians, we first need to define what we mean: a
Christian is somebody who is saved by Jesus Christ. Being saved means
to have the promise of individual eternal life. One gets saved by
faith, without works. So to identify Christians, we need to identify
those who fave faith in Jesus. Here arises some confusion, as
not all people who claim to
have faith in Jesus are necessarily saved. Thats plain enough, as I can
claim everything. So for the purpose of this article, we’ll say “saving
faith” to mean the faith of a Christian, and “faith” to mean all types
of “faith”.

Now when it comes to criteria, the basic criterion to identify a
Christian is “fruit”. Remember for example that Jesus said: “A good
tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good
fruit.” [The
Bible, ISV, Mt 7:18
]. A
synonym for “fruit” is James’ “works of faith” [The
Bible, ISV, Jam 2:14-26
]. The confusion starts when it comes to
what fruit is and what not. In the Bible, it’s a broad term, so I’ll
take an inclusive view. After all, it is apparent that you don’t need
perfect practical holyness to be a Christian.

And at least, “works of faith” must
make us think that “good works” are constantly demanded to
being a Christian. That would be rarely better than needing good works
to become a Christian / get saved. Instead, a “work of faith” qualified
by its origin (faith), not by its quality
(good performance). So in my view, everything is included that one does out of faith, i.e. by taking
one’s belief contents seriously and trying to apply them to one’s life,
how successful or unsuccessful that might be ever.

So I would include as “fruit” and “works of faith”, among others:

Not continuing permanently without repentance in sinning a sin.
Brother John wrote about that [The
Bible, ISV, I Jn 3:9
]. Believing is no more than taking God
seriously, so not misusing Christ’s grace to practice sin.
The desire to change towards God’s standards.
It’s acknowledging that God’s truth is good and one does not
reach it, but would like to. Paul wrote about that [The
Bible, ISV, Rom 7:14-25
]. This desire might get lost for some time,
but the indwelling Holy Spirit can re-kindle it. It might even be that
this desire is not man’s own, but that man simply needs to accept it
from the Holy Spirit. The desire to change is a very good example for a
“work of faith”, as good performance (kindness, love, talking about
visiting church etc.) can be Christian education only. But if a desire
to change arises without any education, it comes out of taking God
Upholding and accepting God’s standards.
Jesus means said that this distinguishes a Christian [The
Bible, ISV, Jn 8:51
]. This does not demand perfect performance: one
can accept what God wants, yet be too weak to live it out fully.
Obeying some command of God.
[biblical proof: building on a rock]
Repent where one sees the necessity.
To repent is to
think differently (implying trying to live differently, perhaps
unsuccessful), not necessarily succeding living differently.

You might also see this list as “symptoms of faith”: one does not
perform these things, but they are automatically implied in one’s
lifestyle, among other symptoms of faith, if one takes God seriously
(“believes”). These symptoms don’t save anybody, and taking God
seriously doesn’t save anybody either. It’s God who saves people, and
people might grasp that by taking it seriously. Taking it seriously has
symptoms in ones life, while mere “mental-assent” has not.

I hope you see now what “salvation by grace through faith” means:
you don’t have to reach any pre-defined quality level of performance
ever to qualify as Christian or to stay a Christian. You don’t have to
work “works” in the naive sense. It’s just that Christians are those
who take God seriously: they really try
to apply to their lifes what God says. And it doesn’t matter that their
success in that is always very weak; Christ died for that.

through grace by faith” has a highly interesting, exceedingly gracious
implication: there cannot be anybody who wants to be saved
by Christ and isn’t. Because by wanting to be saved one takes seriously
that Christ is the saviour, i.e. believes in him, and is saved that
very moment. See [The
Bible, ISV, I Pet 3:21
] to see that nothing additional is implied
for getting saved.

I don’t want to discuss in here if a Christian can lose his
salvation or not. Personally, I do not have a definitive answer to
that. I don’t even know if the verbalization “to lose ones salvation”
is correct … as this reifies salvation, which might be inadequate.
But for practical purposes, and in parallel to the strong educational
exhortations and consolations in the NT, one should think about each
list entry above in two ways:

  • “a Christian cannot […]”.
  • “a Christian must not, for the sake of salvation, […]”

Start date: 2008-03-22
Post date: 2008-03-23
Version date: 2008-03-23 (for last meaningful change)







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