In our church, if someone wishes to pursue membership, they meet with two elders. The purpose of the meeting is to discern, as much as humanly possible, whether the individual is a Christian. I really enjoy these meetings in which we get to hear how the Lord has worked in someone’s life. It’s one of my favorite responsibilities of being an elder.
In a recent meeting, the person we were meeting with asked us a very interesting question. He asked what we thought about when public figures professed to be Christian, but their public behavior didn’t seem to align with that of a Christian? We each provided our answer, but I’ve continued to give the question some thought. Although we can never truly know someone’s heart, only God does (Acts 15:8), here are three thoughts to help us in discerning whether someone is a believer.
- Does the individual love God at all? If someone is worried about whether they are a believer or not, that is probably an indication that they may be a true believer. Let’s face it, someone who is not interested in the Christian faith would probably not be worried if they were a true believer or not. In dealing with someone worried about whether they were a believer or not, R.C. Sproul would ask them if they loved God perfectly. Of course, they would say that they did not. He would then ask them if they loved God as much as they should. Again, they would say that they did not. He would then ask them if they loved God at all. To that they would say that they did indeed. That, he indicated, was a good indication that they were in fact a Christian.
- Has their life been changed at all? In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to him at night (a.k.a. Nic at Night – ha!), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A person’s life who has been born again will look different after their moment of conversion from what it looked like before. I remember a conversation I had with a friend at work several years ago. I had worked with him for years, but never seen any evidence of him being a believer. So, I was surprised one day at lunch when he told me that he had accepted Christ as Savior when he was a teenager. I’m afraid that my friend had confused a profession of faith with the possession of faith. He may have accepted Jesus as Savior, but Jesus was not Lord of his life. Another way of discerning whether someone is a believer is to see if their life has changed at all. A practical way of looking at this is to see if their affections have changed at all? For example, without being moralistic, are they still watching the same movies and television shows, listening to the same music and spending time with the same friends that they did before their conversion? If they are, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t a believer, but their life should look different after their conversion.
- Does the individual display any fruit in their life? In Romans 8:9 Paul writes that a Christian is someone who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, indicating “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him”. In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control. R.C. Sproul wrote about the fruit of obedience “The works of obedience do not merit salvation for us, but if there is not fruit of obedience to the lordship of Christ, that’s the clearest indication that the faith is a dead faith”. So, one way we can discern whether someone is a believer is to see if they are displaying fruit in their life.
Now, there are many other thoughts we could put forward about discerning whether someone is a true believer – these are just three. What would you add to this list?