Question: "How do I know if I am a Christian?"
Answer: Jesus taught that the condition of a person’s heart will manifest itself in his or her behavior: “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:43–45; cf. Matthew 7:16). So, when considering whether or not you are a Christian, you can consider the kind of fruit that is produced in the life of a Christian:
1. Complete trust in Christ’s death and resurrection as sufficient payment for the debt we owe God. A Christian is one who trusts Christ exclusively. Doubts come when we fear we must add something to the work of Christ to ensure our salvation. Ephesians 2:8–9 makes it clear that we are not saved by our works, but by God’s grace alone. No matter how righteous we may appear, none of us come close to earning salvation (Romans 3:23; 5:12; 6:23). We can neither add anything nor take anything away from the Savior’s sacrifice. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” He meant that He had paid in full the sin debt of all who trust in Him (John 19:30). A Christian rests in the gracious promises of God in Christ.
2. Obedience. A Christian is one who obeys the Lord. In our rush to magnify the wonderful grace of God, we often treat obedience to God as optional. But 1 John 3:6–9 says that a person’s attitude toward sin is how we tell who belongs to God and who belongs to the devil. Salvation transforms our hearts (James 1:22). Romans 6 gives a thorough explanation of why we turn from sin when we are saved: we have died to it and are now alive in Christ. The attitude of a true follower of Jesus is one of sorrow over sin. Proverbs 8:13 says, “To fear the Lord is to hate evil.” A Christian hates his own sin and has a strong desire to turn from it. A Christian loves the Lord and shows that love through obedience (John 14:21).
3. The witness of the Holy Spirit. A Christian is one who is led and encouraged by the Spirit. Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” When we surrender our lives to Jesus, His Holy Spirit comes to indwell us and changes the way we view the world, ourselves, and God. He brings an understanding of spiritual truths we could never before grasp (John 14:26). He helps us commune with the Father when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26). He comforts us by bringing to mind the promises of God. He gives us a knowing that quiets our hearts when doubts arise. Romans 8:14 says that “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” A Christian has confidence of his or her adoption into God’s family because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:15).
4. The love of God’s people. A Christian is one who evinces a sincere love for the family of God. First John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Although we should love and befriend everyone, Christians naturally gravitate toward other Christians. Second Corinthians 6:14–18 explains why. God’s instructions are for us to grow in love by serving our brothers and sisters and helping them bear their loads (Galatians 5:13–14; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 1:22). A Christian is known for his love for other Christians (John 13:35).
5. Ongoing discipleship. A Christian is one who continues to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Jesus did not call us to be fans, but followers. He calls us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). All Christians go through seasons of greater and lesser growth, but there is always an upward move toward God. It may at times be two steps forward and one step back, but there will be progress. If we continue in the same worldly mindset we had before conversion, chances are that we were never really converted at all. A disciple is one who looks to Christ for instructions. A disciple yearns to be more like Jesus and rids his or her life of distractions, temptations, and obstacles to that goal. When God adopts us as His children, He desires that we take on a family resemblance (Romans 8:29). A Christian will look more and more like the Savior.
It is good to “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). If you question whether or not you are a Christian, then self-examination is in order. Doubts about our salvation can be troubling, but false assurances are worse. Thankfully, we have Scripture as our guide. There are specific things we can look for when determining the validity of our profession of faith: trust in Christ, obedience to His Word, the presence of the Holy Spirit, love for God’s people, and continued spiritual growth. We don’t need to live in doubt. When Jesus is Lord of our lives and we live to please and honor Him, we can know beyond a doubt that we are Christians (Matthew 6:33; Luke 6:46; John 14:15).