Are you really a Christian? How do you know that you are really a Christian? The scripture encourages us to test ourselves to see if we are really Christians (II Corinthians 13:5). What kind of test can you apply to discover the truth about your spiritual condition? I’d like to suggest that there are seven things that testify within us whether or not we are truly Christian. As I lay these out for you, you may find some things apply to you while others don’t. Or perhaps your Christian experience seems to be a matter of degrees. Be encouraged. None of us are perfect, but we should be growing toward the spiritual things listed here. Sometimes, these things are a matter of spiritual maturity. God doesn’t make us spiritually mature all at once. But he does take us in that direction. I would say that if you don’t have these seven things true in your life, then you are likely not a real Christian. Remember, Jesus said that we can tell a tree by the kind of fruit that it bears. If you don’t have these seven things, these fruits, so to speak, then you may be in trouble.
Let’s take our test from scripture.
If we want to know our spiritual state, then we must evaluate ourselves according to two major themes of scripture: Loving the Lord, and loving others. Let’s break them down into our seven traits.
Love the Lord
Jesus said the greatest commandment in all of scripture is to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37).
There are five items under this category to help us determine if we are spiritual men or women.
- We talk about the Lord. Notice what Moses said about this in Deuteronomy 6:7. “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Do you have a spouse or children that you love deeply? Then chances are that you want to spend time with them and talk with them. We can say that one trait of being a spouse or parent is that we want to spend time with them. The same is true about our spiritual lives. If we have no desire to spend time with, or talk with the Lord, then something is amiss in our spiritual condition.
- Surround myself with things of the Lord. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8-9).
There are different ways that we can express this desire. Some of us decorate our homes with artistic expressions of scripture. Some fill their bookshelves with Christian books that build them up spiritually. Think about your wallet or purse or your smartphone. Do you keep pictures of people in these that are precious to you? My phone has a picture of my wife and I together. It’s a visual symbol of my love for her. The same is true with my kids. When I surround myself with things that remind me of the Lord or of scripture, I am expressing the desire to be with the Lord in some capacity. If the outward expressions of your heart do not include things of the Lord, then something may be wrong.
- Love the scripture. Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 32:47 about the place that scripture should have in our lives. Scripture, speaking of itself, says, “This is not an idle word for you. Indeed, it is your life.” Jesus reiterated this when he said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:23-24). Here’s one more from Deuteronomy, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6).
A Christian, even a young one who is being transformed by the Lord, will want the scripture to play some preeminent role in his or her life. It may start small, but it must always grow. If you have no desire to know or love scripture, then chances may be that you have not truly surrendered your heart completely to Christ.
- Bring my thoughts under the control of the Holy Spirit. What do you think about the most?
How often in a day, or even a week, do you contemplate spiritual things? The Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 10:5, “Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” When we are faced with temptation or have troubling thoughts that disturb us, we should be engaged in intentionally submitting our thought life to the control of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, this takes work. We all have bad thoughts from time to time. When this occurs, we should confess them to God and begin to think of scripture or biblical principles that are the opposite of what we are struggling with. For instance, if I feel the temptation of lust for a beautiful woman, I say to myself, “No. I don’t want to go there. I will think and commit acts of faithfulness to my spouse.”
- We want others to love the Lord.
Consider what Jesus said in the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This principle is built into the Christian experience. It is the primary command in scripture that tells us what we should be doing with our Christian life. If you have no desire for others to know Jesus or to grow to maturity in Christ, then you may not have your heart right with the Lord.
The next to items on our list are under the category of loving others. Moses said in Leviticus 19:9, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Apostle John took this even further.
- If you don’t love your brother, you are not a Christian. Look at what John said, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:20-21).
Let’s be honest. Loving others can seem like an impossible thing to do. This is especially true about those we don’t know or may have just met, or for those who have deeply offended us. This is why this principle is so important. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can love others like this. It’s one thing to say intellectually that we love our enemy. But, it is another thing altogether to have warm feelings in our hearts for those who want to harm us. If we have some measure of love like this in our hearts, then it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in us to transform us to be like Jesus.
- Love others as Jesus loved us. This is a little different than what I just mentioned. Jesus raised the bar when he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). How did Jesus love us? He sacrificed himself for us on the cross. What greater love is there than this?
Now, to be honest, this is probably the hardest way to love someone. And we don’t usually encounter it early in our Christian experience. But we should at least be growing in this direction. So, check yourself. Are you willing to become this kind of person?
Now, what does not make you Christian? Practical service. You can do all sorts of things we think of as spiritual things—volunteer at church, feed the homeless, be hospitable. But these are just deeds. Atheists and Buddhists do these. But that doesn’t mean they will go to heaven. In one sense, if we do these things in combination with the previous seven, they serve as strong testimony that we are in Christ. But if we do these things without the seven foundational things above, then they are just deeds without a truly spiritual core.
In the Four Spiritual Laws by Dr. Bill Bright, we are asked who we want on the throne of our lives. Most of us want to be in control of our lives, make our own decisions, and be free to do what we want to do. But the Bible does not speak of a true Christian in this way. We are to surrender ourselves to Christ, stepping off the throne of our lives so that Jesus can sit there, and command from there.
Who do you want in control of your life? This is probably the first question we should ask ourselves, along with the previous seven issues, to help us determine whether or not we truly have a salvation experience with the Lord. If you lack these seven things, you should begin your transformation by confessing these things to God in prayer and asking him to transform you into this kind of person. Then, step out in faith and start the process of incorporating these behaviors into your life.