How Do I Know I’m a Christian?

question markThere are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions that present more of a challenge.

If someone asks me, “Are you a husband?” I can show them my ring, present my wedding certificate, point to the woman standing next to me who shares my life and my last name. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m married.

If someone asks me, “Are you an employee?” I can show them where I work, present my pay stubs, point to the truck with which I make deliveries. Yes, I am 100% sure that I’m an employee.

Other questions are not so easily answered. If I’m asked, “Are you a good husband?” what immediately comes to mind are the times I’ve failed my wife, acted selfishly, and been anything but a good husband. I have no real external, tangible, objective way to answer that question. I must rely on feelings and speculations. Similarly, if someone asks, “What kind of employee are you?” my mind goes to the labor I’ve put in, but also to the times I’ve slacked off yet expected a full paycheck for a half-hearted performance. What if I think I’m doing an okay job but my boss thinks different and fires me?

There are questions about ourselves that are easily answered, and there are other questions about ourselves where we have to explore our hearts to test their sincerity, take account of the good and bad things we’ve done, focus inwardly to find the answer.

What about the question, “Are you a Christian?” Does this one belong to that second category, where we must explore our hearts, test our actions, focus inside ourselves to get to the right answer?

That’s certainly what some people think. So they urge folks to ask themselves if they really believe, if they really love their neighbor, if they really live a moral life. But no matter how well intentioned such an urging might be, rather than helping, it is pouring the poison of doubt into the souls of those for whom Christ died.

Look inside yourself to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find a heart that is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9); a heart from which flow evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matt 15:19); a conscience that testifies that nothing good dwells in you, that the evil you do not want to do, you nevertheless keep right on doing (Rom 7:18-19).

Look at your deeds to answer, “Are you a Christian?” and you will find that all your righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa 64:6); and if such be your righteousness, how dirty and defiled must be your unrighteousness. Look at your deeds and you will find that even when you have the desire to do what is right, you don’t have the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:18). Even if you did all that you were commanded, you must still say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what was my duty,” (cf. Luke 17:10). If such be the response of a person whose has kept all God’s commands, then we who have broken those commands are worthy of nothing but punishment, now and forever.

Thus, to answer, “Are you are Christian?” by looking inside ourselves, or by looking to our deeds or love of the neighbor, is to drink the poison of doubt. In fact, the more Christians look at themselves to see whether they are Christians, the more they will become convinced that they are not Christians.

The answer is found not within us but within Christ. Our assurance is in his objective, external work of salvation on our behalf. Not in our hearts but in the heart and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we receive assurance that we are the children of God.

In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19)—the world of which you are a part. In Christ you are reconciled to God, at peace with the Lord, adopted as a child of the heavenly Father. God loved the world in this way: by sending his only begotten Son to die as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And if the world’s sin is taken away, then your sins are taken away. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us in order that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). His worthiness covers our unworthiness.

Your name is written in the wounds of Jesus. He has dipped his pen in the crimson ink of his veins and written your name, indelibly, in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He has engraved your name on the palms of his hands. He has tattooed his name onto your soul and heart and mind and body—you are completely and everlastingly his and his alone. In baptism you did not commit yourself to Christ; he committed himself to you. More than that, in those waters he crucified you with himself, laid your body with his in the tomb, and he carried you forth into the light of life again. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. That believing, that faith, is not a conviction you created but a gift you received. By the Holy Spirit you confess, “Jesus is Lord.”

Do we still struggle to believe? Of course we do, for we are far from perfect in this life. As a father once prayed to Jesus, so we also pray, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24). And he does. He enlivens and strengthens our faith by continuing to forgive us, to love us, to heal us, to give us himself. It is not our faithfulness that saves us, but the faithfulness of Jesus. For even if we are faithless he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).

How do you know you’re a Christian? Not because your heart is good and pure but because the heart of Christ pulses with a love for you that will never end. Not because your deeds are righteous but because he has been righteous on your behalf and clothes you with that righteousness. Not because you have lived for him but because he has lived and died and risen again for you. Not because you asked him to be your Savior but because while you were yet a sinner, Christ died for you, chose you, called you, and washed you clean in his own divine blood.

If someone asks you, “How do you know you’re a Christian?” the answer is as simple as it is beautiful: you know you’re a Christian
because Christ has made you his own
because Christ will hold you fast
because nothing can separate you from the love of God
because Christ knows you, forgives you, washes you, and will never let you go.

That’s how you know you’re a Christian.

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christ alone coverWhat we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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12 thoughts on “How Do I Know I’m a Christian?

  1. How do I know Christ has made me His own? That he will hold me fast? How can I know he won’t let me go if I don’t know that he has me?

    If I keep telling myself I am an alien from outer space, will that eventually become true of me too?

    Not to be a jerk, I’m sorry. Isn’t there a difference between what I believe is true of me and what actually, objectively is true of me? Just because I tell myself this is true and eventually end up believing it’s true makes it true? If so, there’s no way we can fault anyone who does truly believe in their hearts that they’re an alien from outer space, either.

    Shouldn’t there be a true, real distinction for Christians that’s not so mystical? God didn’t create us and leave us to have an incredibly nonsensical relationship with Him, did he? That would be so mean, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t God’s condescension as Jesus Christ as man demonstrate God’s understanding of our inability to relate to Him on a mystical level? Would not the God who created us know us so well that He would allow us to relate to Him on a level we can actually understand? Isn’t that part of what he was demonstrating by sending Jesus Christ? Our incredible inability on so many levels?

    That means on some level, true Christians should know they’re true Christians by virtue of a relationship with God that is as real to them as any other human relationship, with the distinction that it wouldn’t exactly look the same because God and other humans are different. But to the Christian himself, why should this relationship have to resort solely to the imaginary, constant self-reassurance?

    I’m not advocating a charismatic demonstration of faith by any means. I too believe so firmly in the truth of the Bible alone and faith in the God of the Bible alone. And what that looks like is in the Bible, demonstrated not in the spectacular miracles of the “heroes” of the Bible, but their everyday behaviors and lifestyles and words they said to this God. I’m just asking that we really think about what we’ve been so taking for granted about biblical language. What do these things actually mean in real life? They’re not just meant to be mantras we repeat to ourselves daily for some psycho-emotional comfort, right?

    Why are so many so comfortable and at ease with an essentially imaginary relationship, calling it “having faith”? The bible says true faith bears fruit. So we do have to evaluate our fruits. What else do we have to go on? It’s not about earning salvation by our works. It’s about thinking about whether we really do have this supposed faith by seeing if we bear the necessary accompanying fruits (actions). You can’t completely discount that. That’s leaving out half the bible story. No?

    Help me out, here. Is nothing I said worthy of actual careful consideration? I totally appreciate what you’re trying to say and where you’re coming from. But I’m not questioning or challenging your post for the sake of winning an argument. I’m really genuinely curious and so bewildered at why your thoughts about assurance stop here so comfortably. Granted, I haven’t read any of your other posts or writings. I just got here because someone commented on someone else’s blog I follow and linked to this post. So I’m sorry for my presumptions based on just 1 post. But please allow me to respond simply based on what I’ve seen. You are welcome to reprimand me for making such a narrow judgment. My above questions and comments are for the purpose of understanding more about where you’re coming from. Not to insult you.

  2. Pingback: What Jesus Did | Living Apologetics

  3. sarathurston on said:

    The way I know that I am a Christian, and that I have a true relationship with God through Jesus, is because I am changed without effort on my part. In fact, I am often changed while I’m kicking and screaming to resist it.

    I have experienced time and again, for instance, when I felt very un-Christlike toward someone. For very good cause, I might add. But I knew that wasn’t the way Jesus wants me to be, so I asked Him to change my attitude. I still disliked the person, but over a period of days and weeks my heart softened and hatred left.

    Now, normally such change is supposed to be accomplished through hard work, using tools gained, perhaps, in therapy. I understand that. But in my case I did absolutely nothing. I seethed with anger toward this person. I wanted to hold onto it because, dagnabbit, I was right and they were wrong.

    Yet the change occurred in spite of what I wanted. I had simply asked God to do in me what He would have me do. And He did ALL of the work.

    Again, similar things have happened over and over in my life, in different circumstances. While others struggle to change their thinking, emotions, actions, etc. Christians do nothing except ask – and the change happens. And this occurs whether we eagerly wait for it or resist it. Paul the Apostle was changed against his will by the power of God. So why can’t the same thing happen in our own lives?

    To me, the fact that God works such miracles in us is all the evidence that we need that we are saved by the blood of Jesus.

    I hope this helps!

  4. Thank you for answering this question so completely. When I am tempted to think otherwise I pray that I remember this.

  5. Really needed to hear this once again. Thank you!

  6. You are right, we know we are a christian because we trust in Christ alone. God opened our understanding and we seen our need for a saviour, and we put our faith in Him, therefore, we are washed, redeemed, and we are adopted, all fully by His grace.

    We can know we are saved because the bible says so. We can trust that.

    But also, we know that there is evidence that we are saved, we have an entire book of the bible devoted to that. 1 John,

    Evidence first of all is that we believe. He that hath the Son hath life. As I have already pointed out that I believe we would not even have saving faith if it were not for God giving us understanding.

    If we have love for the father and love for the brethren, it is also evidence of a changed heart.

    We must BELIEVE The scripture that if we are Born-Again we are changed, therefore there will be evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    We have faith… therefore we have works. It is a byproduct of our faith. No works, means we do not have saving faith.

    We should also have sorrow over sin, and desire to kill sin in our lives. This is also evidence, for the natural man does not cry over His sin. I say that the natural man is more upset that he got caught, or he is hurt or angry how his sin has effected himself or the relations that he has with others, but is not really too concerned about how his sin appears before a holy God.

    Godly sorrow over sin, comes from a regenerate person.

    Assurance then comes from much more than what your article proclaims.

    The best assurance is a desire to love and obey the Lord, and that starts with obeying the Gospel of our lord. Loving and obeying the Lord is a result of the New Birth. Natural man does not desire to obey.

    Only Christians do that.

    • Thanks for your comment. Of course, we disagree. All I would urge is that you re-read what you wrote to note how often you are the subject of the verbs. So is your assurances in you or in Christ? So long as anything depends on our doing, there will never be assurance.

  7. “The answer is found not within us but within Christ” is the key. Thanks for the great thoughts. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. Keep following!
    Jill
    http://www.followhisfootprints.org

  8. David Hoehler on said:

    Thank you for this timely article. So many people I encounter, both in person and on Facebook look to their own works as evidence of their salvation, instead of the cross of Christ. The only way we know we are saved is to look at the wounds of Jesus.

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