My pal Jim asked a question the other day and I’m still pondering it. He asked what I’d say if someone wanted to know if they were a Christian–how can a person tell if he or she is truly born again?
The easy answer is “well, if you believe in Jesus, you’re a Christian,” but that alone doesn’t work for me. Even demons believe in Jesus–they know he exists and they know he’s God incarnate.
There are at least three Latin words which are translated “believe,” and they mean very different things. The first is noticia, from which we get our word notice–in other words, we believe something is real because it’s coporeal; we can see it. (This is the kind of belief demons have.) The second is assentia, which has to do with agreement–we “believe” in someone because we agree with them. The third is fiducia (sp?), which has to do with placing something in trust (think fidicuary).
When I teach, I tell the kids that I believe in President Bush–I know he exists because I’ve seen pictures of him. I believed in him enough to vote for him, so for the most part I agree with his policies. But if I were taken hostage, do I believe that he’d come to rescue me enough to place my life in his hands? No.
But that’s how I believe in Christ. And I think that truly being a Christian has to do with more than simple assentia or noticia belief. It means entrusting your life to him so that your life gives evidence of the indwelling Spirit: Love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, the qualities we call “fruit.”
I keep thinking of the parable of the four soils. Those seeds that fell on the second and third grounds–they grew up, they appeared to flourish. To the passerby, they looked like healthy plants. But ultimately they faded, and they did not bear fruit.
Jesus said that many would say to him in the last day, “Lord, didn’t we do this and that for you?” and he will answer, “Sorry, I never knew you.”
I think he says that to those who represent that third type of soil. I believe there are lots of people who think they believe “enough”–they walk the walk and talk the talk, but they’re not following Christ, nor are they bearing the fruit of the Spirit. And when the heat of tribulation or trial comes on them, they wither and fade away.
I found a blog the other day written by people who describe themselves as “ex-Christians and ex-ministers.” The blog exists solely to “debunk Christianity.” I fear that these are examples of that third type of soil.
We often cultivate something in our churches I call “easy believe-ism.” We tell folks to come down front, pray the prayer, and everything will be fine, they’re saved and on their way to heaven. Well . . . no. Following Jesus is more than praying a prayer; it’s repenting, surrendering, and living a life that results in spiritual fruit.
We often define grace as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense,” but living for Christ will cost you something, too–your right to call the shots. Oh, I know we all slip into the driver’s seat occasionally, but when the Spirit dwells inside a person, that driver’s seat isn’t comfortable for very long.
So–how do we know if we’re true Christians? We are actively following Christ and seeing the work of the Spirit in our lives.
I just think we need to spell it all the way out.