Are you a Christian?
We have a solemn warning from the lips of the Lord Jesus: "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father."
It's worthwhile, then, considering: When do we have the right to describe ourselves as Christians? It's a crucial question!
According to Scripture, you are a Christian when you deal properly with sin, that is, the fact that you have broken God's law and consequently are under his condemnation.
Contrasted with world religions, the Christian faith is essentially for those who realize that they are indebted to God. When the angel announced the birth of Jesus Christ, he said, "You shall call him Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins."
Have you dealt seriously with the fact that God has pronounced sentence against you as guilty? Have you awakened from sleep and considered how your Creator has every right, whenever it pleases him, to summon you into his presence and to give an account of every evil deed you committed, with which your soul is defiled?
The Lord Jesus gave us a penetrating picture concerning ourselves: "From within, from the heart of man, issue forth..." and on he goes by mentioning a whole list of sins that fill in the daily newspapers - blasphemy, pride, adultery, murder. Jesus says that the fountainhead of all this pollution is the human heart. It is the wellspring from which is drawn the filth and impurity we see around us.
Our heart is adumbrated as "sick unto death" - the source of every form of immorality and lawlessness.
Are you really worried about this problem of a evil heart? I am not asking whether you believe man is a sinner in theory. The question involves much more: did your debt and your evil heart ever drive you to see yourself as God sees you? Did you examine yourself in depth, from within? And have you arrived at the same verdict that God holds against you? Have you attempted to defend yourself? Or have you sided with God against yourself?
A true Christian does not stop here. A Christian is one who not only knows that God's condemnation is hanging upon him, but also has applied the only divine remedy for sin.
At this point extreme care should be exercised: the Christian faith is not some kind of religious first-aid just as if you're patching up some damage. It is not a percentage of help from above to add our own self-help to it. In his infinite mercy, God intervenes into our miserable situation, and does for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The divine remedy is Christ himself. The remedy is not found in a set of ideas, or in an institution or a particular church. The solution is found in Jesus Christ, who himself affirmed: "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man comes to the Father, except through me."
The remedy is Christ crucified, and raised from the dead the third day. "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." Jesus said: "I came to serve and give my life as a ransom for many." When the apostle Paul visited Corinth, that citadel of intellectualism and pagan philosophy, "I came to you," he reminded them, "not with elevated speech, for I had determined beforehand not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
For the benefit of his own enemies, Christ suffered the consequences of our disobedience so that we won't be condemned to hell, but instead will be granted forgiveness and become heirs of eternal life with him. Fix your eyes of faith upon the cross on which Christ offered himself, an innocent victim instead of all those who actually flee unto him for refuge.
He died as the substitute of his people - the verdict was against us, but he underwent the punishment and full condemnation instead of us. Isaiah fortells his sufferings on our behalf: "He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him."
The cross is the monumental exhibition how God can be just and at the same time forgive guilty sinners. He is fully satisfied with the perfect offering of his Son. We cannot supplement it with anything of our own, neither is there anything to alter. By his holy will, "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." It would be an insult to Christ if we imagine that we can add something to his perfect sacrifice. His death is of infinite value, well-pleasing to God, and thus should be adequate to us as well. And Christ's sacrifice cannot be repeated or renewed, for the Holy Spirit himself testifies: "Their sins and iniquities I will remember no more. Now when there is forgiveness of sins there is no more offering for sins" (Hebrews 10:17,18).
The King came to die! Forgiveness is possible only because Christ paid our debt.
We enjoy this marvellous forgiveness only when we turn to him and trust him. We read how Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near: repent and believe the gospel."
What is repentance? In repentance, the sinner, aroused by a true sense of his sin, and drawn by God's mercy in Christ, turns towards God from sin and realizes that sin is open rebellion against him. In this action he expresses grief for his past ways and a hatred for his present sins. He understanding changes, and thus he flees to God with a sincere desire to obey him.
Repentance is the divorce of the soul from sin. But at the same time, in true repentance, the soul is married and joined to the Saviour Jesus Christ by faith. And what is faith? Well, when you return home after a long day's work, you confidently sit down on the sofa, without doubting whether the sofa is safe enough to hold you. That is faith. By faith the repentant soul leans confidently on Christ as he is offered to us in the gospel. You trust him completely, without any reserve, you behold in him all your need, you believe that he has accomplished for you what you could not accomplish for yourself. You anchor your intellect, your will, and your emotions in him, your whole personality. Your soul will be rooted in him. He will be the sole foundation for your life. The Bible declares, "Jesus is able to save completely all those who draw near to God through him, seeing that he is always lives to make intercession for them."
On whose merits are you going to meet God? On your own merits? On yours and somebody else's? On yours and Christ's? Or on the merits of Christ alone? It is written: "God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has live; and he who does not have the Sod of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life." If you desire to have eternal life you need to depend wholly upon Jesus Christ. Nobody except him.
With what can we compare faith? Imagine a glass of water on a table. You stand in front of it, wishing to drink. You touch it - but you're still thirsty. You draw it to your lips - still you are thirsty. And if you remain in this position, you simply cannot quench your thirst, although the opportunity is fully yours. You need to drink! And just as water satisfies bodily thirst, Christ satisfies your spiritual thirst. He said, "He who drinks from this well will thirst again; but everyone who drinks from the water which I shall give him shall be in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. If anybody thirsts, let him come to me and drink."
By faith we bring nothing to Christ except an empty hand to recieve forgiveness. "To him all the prophets bear witness that all those who believe in him obtain forgiveness of sins in his Name."
The final proof whether you're a true Christian or not is this: are you showing that your repentance and faith are genuine by a holy conduct?
The Bible says: "For by grace are you saved, through faith, and this is not of yourselves; this is the gift of God, not of works, so that nobody would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." True faith always expresses itself in love. "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he is the one who loves me. He who does not love me does not keep my word."
We are not going to heaven because we obey the Ten Commandments; we are going to heaven because we are trusting in Christ, who laid down his life for us on the cross. But a faith that does not produce love isn't real. Love is seen in the assistance you give to the poor, the widow, and the orphan.
The apostle John warns us: "He who says, I know him, and yet does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."
This is the true Christian. How many of us are Christians, worthy of the Nazarene? It does not really matter by what label we are known: whether we are nicknamed Evangelicals or Catholics. The important issue is what we are before God.