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Thursday, April 02, 2009

True Christians

I've got another blog where I answer questions from people who read this blog (see the links to the right). Anyway, recently there have been a couple of letters about true religion, Christianity and so on.

One of Christianity's biggest problems is that its definitions are incredibly ambiguous. In other words it is difficult to understand what Christianity is or isn't. And so there is much confusion.

Oddly enough, Islam, Hinduism and other false religions don't seem to suffer from this malady. Their lines are much more defined.

Let's consider a made-up couple to illustrate the problem. Mary and Andrew Thompson are known by everyone as a fine Christian couple, good neighbors and active church members. They have always been members of the same church since they were children. They both teach Sunday School. They pay their tithes and give to humanitarian charities every month, like clockwork. They raised their children to be good citizens.

Our couple, Andrew and Mary, own a modest house, drive a modest car, wear modest clothes, eat a modest and moderate diet, abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and unsavory language, and drink only one cup of coffee a week (Saturday mornings while they have their devotions). Neither of them has ever told a lie or engaged in violent or otherwise questionable behavior. They do not hate anyone or think evil thoughts about anyone. They always vote. They always give to community fundraisers. They talk politely to their neighbors and they are always in bed before 10 p.m. every night.

Certainly, if anyone can pass the test for being very good people this couple should be able to pass. And yet they are both sinners. And what is more important, they are lost sinners. They have been so busy keeping rules and doing good things (truly very good things) that they have never taken the time to go beyond mere religion to a genuine encounter with God or with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If they were to die today, right now, Mary and Andrew would be judged according to their works and found guilty. Even though they have always lived a good life, they have not been perfect. And the few sins they have committed (whatever those might be) have never been taken to God and confessed. They have never asked Jesus to save them. They have never realized their own need of a savior. They have never known the Lord in any kind of personal way.

What does this mean? It means they are, unfortunately, headed straight to hell. You see, they've missed the point about Christianity. They grew up in church. They grew up in religion. They grew up in tradition. But they didn't grow up in Christ. But it is Christ who sets us free, saves us from sin and changes our course from hell to heaven.

Now here's the thing. Andrew and Mary's lives look very much like the lives of true Christians. In fact, if someone had truly encountered Christ and were truly saved, the Holy Spirit would lead them down a path which would look quite similar to the journey of our fictitious couple. And so the world is confused about what's going on here. The world doesn't understand that true Christianity - being truly saved - is an inward change. It is change that emanates from the heart. Christ transforms us from the inside out ... and our outward behaviors follow.

You see, the life of doing good and refraining from evil is not proof of Christianity. Rather it is the fruit of Christianity. But it can be manufactured outside of Christianity. What does this mean? It means that there will be a whole bunch of what the world considers to be "good people" in hell some day. Incredibly enough, it also means that there will be a whole bunch of people whom the world considers to be bad people in heaven some day! For this outward appearance of good or not good is not the criteria for getting into heaven or hell.

The fact is that no human can tell for sure who is really saved or not saved. Only God truly knows any one's heart. The Holy Spirit, I believe, does give many of us insights that are most likely true. He may convince me, for example, that I am saved. To be sure, He will require me to examine the evidence by examining my heart before God. But the confidence that can only come from the Holy Spirit's assurance does descend upon me and I know for sure that I am saved - not because I follow the rules or pass the litmus test - but because He tells me so.

In a similar way, the Holy Spirit often gives spiritually mature people discernment about the spiritual condition of others. He does this so that they can be ministered to effectively. What does this look like? Well, I may encounter someone who looks and acts like a Christian, or at least identifies themselves as one. But the Holy Spirit may alert me, by giving me quiet discernment, to the truth of their situation.

I may notice sin without confession or repentance. I may notice a lack of grounding in Biblical truth. But I only notice because the Holy Spirit lets me notice --- and because He expects me to do something about it. He expects me to minister to that person, at the very least, by praying for them. He may expect me to walk alongside of them to encourage or mentor them. He may even expect me to confront them.

What matters to God is that we be completely changed from the inside out. And no church can ever tell you if that's true of you. No preacher can ever produce the evidence. No religious practice will produce that change. Only Jesus Himself can produce that change. So if you have questions about your lostness, or wonder if you're truly saved, the best way to know is to get on your knees in prayer, look into a spiritual mirror and with God, examine your heart. If you're not sure how to do that, ask God to help you. Ask someone else to help you and pray with you.

But most importantly, stop looking for evidence of the good in your life, such as the good things that you do or the evil things that you don't do. Instead, start look at who you really are on the inside. When you see that changing, you'll know for sure that you're on the road to heaven!

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