How should we determine the authenticity of another person’s Christianity? If he or she rattles off a statement of faith that measures up to basic Christian orthodoxy, should that confession of faith be enough to satisfy us? I recently saw such a confession, written by someone known for open rebellion against certain portions of Scripture as well as for repeatedly slandering a Christian pastor over teachings that are unpopular with progressive evangelicals.
I affirm Jesus as the God-man, born of a virgin, who made atonement for sin, performed supernatural miracles to authenticate His claims, was crucified, died, was buried and rose again.
Okay, each of these affirmations is entirely Biblical. Every true Christian would agree wholeheartedly with each point. I’d venture to add that a denial of even one of these points would indicate that a person either doesn’t know Christ or is a very new convert. One cannot be a true Christian without believing all of these truths about Jesus.
At the same time, merely affirming these basic tenets of the faith doesn’t necessarily indicate genuine fidelity to the Lord. James, the half-brother of Jesus, stated in no uncertain terms that the ability to positively recite a Biblical affiliation of basic principles doesn’t always guarantee true Christianity.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. ~~James 2:19 (NASB95)
The entire epistle of James revolves around the premise that true faith in Christ results in faithfulness to Him. Chapter 2, in particular. drills down on the point that real faith results in changed behavior. Faith without resulting works isn’t real faith because it offers no evidence that the Holy Spirit has changed the person professing faith. None of us exhibits that faithfulness perfectly, I’ll admit. But as we grow in Him, the Holy Spirit works His fruit into us, causing us to reflect Christ’s nature.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ~~Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB95)
When someone displays character qualities in opposition to the fruit of the Spirit, we have good reason to question whether or not that person is a true believer. Of course, we must be extremely careful in determining another person’s salvation, but usually over time the behavior will confirm or deny the validity of their professions. If he or she consistently acts in unbiblical ways, we have good reason to doubt that person’s commitment to the Lord. If a professing Christian consistently behaves in ungodly ways over a prolonged period without showing any signs of conviction or repentance, it’s quite appropriate to wonder if he or she really knows the Lord.
Please understand, I’m not talking about someone who struggles with a sin. To my shame, I have yet to overcome my sin of anger. God has graciously caused the episodes to diminish in both frequency and intensity, but I still have a very long way to go in conquering this vile sin. I highly suspect that most of you face continual battles with stubborn sin patterns. I don’t condemn anyone who keeps falling into a sin that he or she recognizes as sin and desperately desires to repent. Romans 7:14-25 addresses that horrible struggle and offers us comfort in it.
Sadly, there are people who would put forth the confession of faith that I quoted at the beginning of this article who persist in sinful behaviors and even double down on their sinful actions when confronted. Unlike the sinners described in Romans 7, these people have no perceptible interest in repentance. Often, they actually develop ways of making their sin seem like a Christian virtue. Such people, regardless of how orthodox a statement of faith they give might be, should be doubted and carefully watched.
Consider this statement of faith:
We believe that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
We believe that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to man by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
We believe “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
We believe “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
We believe that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and can fully redeem and powerfully use even those who consider they have been “the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
We believe God “is patient, not wanting any to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
We believe that all scripture is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
We believe that every believer in Christ is the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
We believe we have been “baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1Corinthians 12:13) and recognize the value and equality of all members of the body of Christ. We are “all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
We actively support the unity of all believers eclipsing all denominational, economic, or ethnic diversities.
We believe we have “different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)
We believe that “our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like His glorious body. (Philippians 3:21)
“And so shall we forever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Until then, we believe we are to strive to “live holy and Godly lives as we look forward to the day of God.” (2 Peter 3:11,12)
With the possible exception of the item about unity eclipsing all denominations (the only point without an accompanying Scripture reference), this statement is entirely Biblical. And even that point, depending on the context, could have merit. So you would understandably assume that this statement comes from a solid believer.
Actually, I copied it from Beth Moore’s website. Beth Moore, although she puts forth an orthodox statement of faith, repeatedly shows that she is a false teacher who denies the sufficiency of Scripture and willfully rebels against it. For documentation of her unfaithfulness to the Lord, please see Elizabeth Prata’s compilation of critiques on her. Beth is just one of these many false teachers and false converts who write solid confessions to cover up their rebellion against the truth.
Statements of faith can be helpful in evaluating someone. I’ve written a statement of faith for this website to let readers know some of my beliefs. However, it’s imperative that readers examine more than just that statement in determining whether or not I’m really a Christian who rightly represents the Lord. Also looking at how I interact with people on Twitter will tell a lot about my character. My statement of faith, when isolated from everything else I say and do, can’t validate my faithfulness to the Lord.
Yes, we must take care not to judge someone as an unbeliever too quickly. That’s especially true when we only know him or her online. But if we observe sustained, unrepentant behavior over the course of two or three years, we have good reason to ask serious questions about that person’s salvation. A few lines of standard Christian beliefs may or may not indicate genuine Christianity.