it comes to identifying whether a person is really a Christian, there’s an
“outward-inward” dynamic that we sometimes fail to realize.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the aspects of this.
1. A person may pray and still not really be a Christian.
If we’re to believe the statistics from opinion surveys, nine out of ten people in our nation pray. Three out of four believe God is a heavenly Father who can be reached by prayers. In addition, recent scientific studies have verified that prayer improves the health of those who are sick.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re truly a believer if you pray. Most of us pray when we’re in trouble. What’s the first thing on the lips of most people when they’re confronted by a crisis? You’ve heard it: “Oh my God!” That’s a prayer, whether they admit it or not.
It was true of me too, before I was a Christian. Whenever I found myself in a tight spot, I called out to God.
But when the storm passes and the crisis blows over . . . what then?
People also pray to appease their guilt-ridden conscience. It may be more accurate to say they “offer prayers,” instead of truly praying. Jesus pointed out a self-righteous religious man who was in the temple who “stood and prayed thus with himself” (Luke 18:11 NKJV). Likewise, God spoke in judgment of people who “draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isaiah 29:13 NKJV).
Going back to Luke 18, Jesus went on to mention another man who knew his true condition spiritually, who could only utter the words, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus concluded it was this man, not the other, who had his prayer heard.
If you haven’t admitted to God that you’re a sinner who desperately needs His forgiveness through Jesus Christ, then all the “prayers” in the world will not really help you. As the psalmist wrote, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18 NLT).
2. A person may make some visible changes for good in his life, and yet still not be a Christian.
The book of Acts tells a fascinating story about a sorcerer named Simon. When Philip the evangelist came to his city and preached the gospel, “the people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized” (Acts 8:12 NLT). Simon got caught up in the excitement: “Then Simon himself believed and was baptized. He began following Philip wherever he went, and he was amazed by the great miracles and signs Philip performed” (Acts 8:13 NLT).
Only later did Simon’s true heart and motives become clear, when this sorcerer offered money to the apostles in an attempt to “buy” spiritual power to do miracles. The apostle Peter told him:
“May your money perish with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right before God. Turn from your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitterness and held captive by sin.” (Acts 8:20–23 NLT)
It’s no different today. People will “get
converted” to get what they want. A non-Christian guy asks an attractive
and virtuous Christian girl out on a date. She turns him down, saying,
“Sorry, I only date Christians.” Soon the nonbeliever is saying,
“Praise God! I’m really into this Christian thing.” Probably not! And
it’s only a matter of time before the mask falls off and his true motives are revealed.
Or a politician runs for office and suddenly has a “faith message”
because he wants to capture that evangelical vote.
In another example from the Bible, we read about King Herod’s great respect for John the Baptist. Herod found himself strangely drawn to John’s message, and even made changes in his life as a direct result of John’s influence. Yet because of the pressure of others (primarily his wicked wife, Herodias), he later had John beheaded—and his heart grew hard as stone (see Matthew 14:1–12). Though some changes took place in his life, the most important change of all—complete commitment to Jesus Christ—never took place.
3. You can live a good life, be religious, and even keep the Ten Commandments to the best of your ability—and still not necessarily be a Christian.
In the New Testament, the Gospels tell us about a rich young ruler who approached the Lord. One of the accounts tells us that, in his eagerness, he came running to Jesus (see Matthew 19:16–20). Breathless, he said, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
Jesus tested him by saying, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
The rich young man answered, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Look how far this earnest young man had gone: He’d not only heard the commands of God, he kept them. To the best of his ability, he kept all of them. Not only that, but he’d done this since childhood.
But he didn’t go far enough! He stopped short of Jesus. When Jesus asked him to sell his possessions and come and follow Him, the young man turned his back on the Lord and sadly walked away. There’s no record that he ever came back to Jesus.
It just goes to show that contact with Holy things, when they don’t convert and change the heart, can actually harden the heart. If someone sees the light of Jesus Christ and hears Christ’s words, then turns away from Him, he or she is plunged deeper into darkness.
Knowledge brings responsibility! And even now, my friend, you can no longer claim ignorance after reading this article!
There are a number of examples in the pages of the Bible of people who came close to God—close to Jesus—but stopped short. They were so near, and yet so far. There was Judas, who perhaps more than any other man in Scripture was absolutely without excuse. He was the “hypocrite extraordinaire,” fooling everyone but Jesus.
Think about it. Judas heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, as well as so many other teachings, witnessed the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, and was an eyewitness when Lazarus was raised from the dead. Even in the end, he came close enough to Jesus to actually kiss Him . . . as he was betraying Him to death.
Here’s the bottom line: the outward without the inward is only an empty shell. You can hear the Gospel and even believe in its truth, but still not necessarily be a Christian. You can pray and believe in miracles, and even believe that Jesus is coming back, but still not necessarily be a Christian. You can live an exemplary life, be religious, and keep the commandments of God from earliest memory, and still not be a Christian. You can be in church with other believers, hear the same messages they hear, receive communion, and even be baptized—and still not be a Christian.
Sometimes, so-called “Christian” activity has not been preceded by actual conversion.
While it’s true, as the apostle James tells us, that faith without works is dead, it can be said as well that works without faith are also dead.
So . . . are you a Christian?