Am I a Christian?
Have you noticed the answers you hear when you ask evangelical Christians how they know they are Christians? At least in my social circles, I have heard such answers as, “I believe in Jesus,” “I received Christ,” “I asked Jesus into my heart,” “I went forward when I was young,” “I was baptized,” “I was confirmed,” or “I prayed to receive Christ when…”
What strikes me first about these responses is it seems the trust is more in the correct action than in Christ (“I prayed,” “I received,” “I asked”a). You may think it is a distinction without a difference, but I think this is a distinction that sometimes has significant implications for our relationship with God.
Whenever the question arises as to whether I’m a Christian or not, the temptation is to think back to when I did something (“I prayed,” “I received…” etc.). In John 1:12 we read, “For as many as received him, to them he gives the right to be called the children of God.” We are tempted to base our relationship with God on whether we did the prescribed act – I “received” him, thus I’m a Christian. The “receiving” becomes synonymous with “I prayed, I asked, I signed a card, etc.
There can be a difference between “I believe in Jesus” and “I believe Jesus?” I’m not quibbling about the words but about the focus of my faith. As I wrote above, the former (“I believe IN Jesus”) seems to rest more on my actions and the latter (“I believe Jesus”) rests more on Jesus. How do I know I am a Christian? It is not reliance on some initial action on my part, but simply the on-going trustworthiness of Jesus – I believe him! I believe he is who he said he is and has done what he said he would do and will do what he said he will do. I trust HIM! It is not that I must know enough about him to be a Christian, it is whether I trust him based on what I do know about him.
Bible scholars speak of three aspects of “belief” – knowledge, assent, and faith. First is “knowledge” of Jesus and then “assent” adds affirming the truthfulness of that knowledge. And finally, “faith” means to entrust myself to him – to trust him. How do know I’m a Christian? Because Jesus is, and he is trustworthy, and I trust him!
Whether it originated with Allistair Begg or not, he certainly popularized a very helpful explanation of this kind of trust. When one of the thieves who died with Jesus was asked by what authority he was to be admitted into heaven, he replied, “The Man on the middle cross said I could!” That thief did not attempt to find authority in a prayer he had prayed, a card he had signed, or how much he knew – he just trusted the man on the middle cross.
Trust is a simple yet profound resting in the trustworthiness of Jesus. It is not only a past experience but a present and on-going experience of trusting. Being a Christian is not a matter of whether I feel like one or not. If, when thoughts and feelings of doubt arise, I attempt to find assurance in remembering some act on my part in the past, I will find little help because I will question whether I got it right or not. No, being a Christian is not a matter of whether I feel like it or not. If I am trusting Jesus, I am a Christian!
As I’ve said twice already, being a Christian and feeling I’m a Christian are often two different things. Apparently, some people feel (think, assume) they are Christians when they are not. And conversely some people are Christians even when they don’t feel like it.
I think there are at least two causes for some people not feeling like Christians when they actually are Christians. One is that they have moved their focus off Jesus’ trustworthiness and on to their own experience of when they initially became a Christian. As said above, they begin to wonder if they got it right, whether they believed enough or correctly, etc. The corrective is to look to Jesus – he is more than worthy of my trust.
The second reason some true Christians don’t feel like Christians is when they live in disobedience. The Bible frequently links trust and obedience and in that order – trust results in increasing obedience. If God says this is the way to act and we do the opposite, it means either we deliberately disobey him, or we don’t trust that his way is the best way for us. Obedience follows trust. And when unrepentant disobedience persists, by God’s design the resulting spiritual dissonance calls us back to repentance and obedience – to trust him who is trustworthy!
I don’t become or remain a Christian by past or on-going actions of mine. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling” – I trust Jesus!