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How To Know If Someone Is Truly A Christian

10 Nov

Membership interviews begin tonight at Edgewood, and it’s always enjoyable getting to know the new folks at our church. If everyone in the class decides to take the next step, staff and elders will be interviewing about 38 people this fall, and we’ll do it over two weeks time. Why do we do membership interviews? Really, we do them for only one reason – we want to make sure our members are Christians.

Now, that said, I suppose we could just ask…Are you a Christian? But if we asked it like that, everyone would simply say yes, and it would be an early night, so we have to ask it in a way that demonstrates something very important: whether they know and believe the gospel. To discern whether someone is a Christian, therefore, we ask them what they are hoping in.

You see, when it comes to getting into heaven, everyone in the world is hoping in one of two things:

They are hoping in their own works; or they are hoping in God’s grace,

They are hoping in their own righteousness; or they are hoping in the righteousness of Another.

Our job as membership interviewers is to find out from the interviewees what they are hoping (or you could say, trusting) in. And so, to this end, we often ask some version of the question, “What would you say to God if He asked you why He should let you into heaven?” (By the way, no one ever gets turned down as a member, but through the years, we have helped many people see their need to hope in the right thing.)

It surprises me, but it shouldn’t by now, to find out how often people answer that question with some version of, “Well, I hope I’ve been good enough…” or “I’ve tried to be a kind person and do what’s right.”

But Peter said our own works were a terrible place to put our hope. He said that when we would see Christ, there was only one thing we should hope in…

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13 (ESV)

The Poker phrase is apt: “All in”. And notice where Peter tells us to put ALL of our hope. He says, “Set your hope fully on the grace…”  The sad truth is that while some people hope a little bit in the grace of God, most don’t trust fully in God’s grace. They know they need at least a little grace, but deep down they hope they have done enough to please the God who “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds…” 1 Peter 1:17 (ESV)

But our hope must be totally in God’s glorious grace, which comes to us only because we…

…were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19 (ESV)

As Peter will say in chapter 3: Christ took our place and “died for our sins” (1 Peter 3:18). That made Him the sacrificial “lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) Those who hope in Him as their substitute, receive the undeserved gift of Christ’s righteousness. For as Paul said in 2 Corinthians…

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Now, interestingly, many people today would approach this matter of salvation as some sort of a compromise between the two, a little works, a little grace. But Paul said that…

…if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. Galatians 5:2-3 (ESV)

It’s either/or, you see…one or the other…we hope in our works, or we hope in grace. And by the way, if you hope in your works, you’d better have some serious righteousness to lay down on the table, as Jesus said…

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (ESV)

And yet, according to another word from Jesus, you’d have to do really well to exceed the standards of the scribes and Pharisees…much better than most people could ever imagine…

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

And the result?

And then, one final thought – whoever is fully hoping in Christ alone and not trying to be perfect for acceptance by God will have something else change in their hearts: they will long for righteousness and hate sin. The Bible calls this repentance. People get this confused when they think that repentance is something you do. No. Repentance is not doing anything, but it always results in doing something (called the fruit of repentance).

So tonight, when the interviews begin, we are hoping to hear potential members say what Paul said to the churches in Galatia…

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:21 (NIV)

 For Wednesday, November 11: 1 Peter 2

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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2 responses to “How To Know If Someone Is Truly A Christian

  1. jesusandthebible

    November 10, 2015 at 10:43 am

    The context before Mt. 5:48 points to Jesus’ word about being perfect meaning not “sinless” but more about loving even enemies (and not just the partial love of loving those who love you). If so, this perfect love (of enemies as well as friends) would be part of Jesus’ new righteousness, that we can do through his empowering grace at work in us.

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    • Roger Knowlton

      November 10, 2015 at 11:32 am

      Good thought. You may be right. It just doesn’t make a difference to the overall point – no one is perfect in greeting or in any other matter of hospitality. Our righteousness does not surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and we are not perfect in hospitality or anything else. We are always dependent on the imputed righteousness of Christ and this is one of the many things we are taught, or in this case, indirectly pointed to in Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount. Thanks for the comment!

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