Menu Close

Check yourself: how to know if you are truly a Christian12 min read

Listen to this article

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

It doesn’t really matter what others think of our current state of spirituality, but it does matter that you and I know our current status. The reason is, there are many people with a positive regard for God that are not actually what the Bible would call saved, born-again, born anew, or in Christ. In fact, even Jesus declared that this could be the case. After warning that there are false teachers out there, he said:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

The key takeaways here are

  1. It’s possible to think and say you are following Him when you are not
  2. Many people do good works and suppose that this is following Him
  3. Many people even do church things and suppose that is following Him
  4. The real issue is that they never actually knew Him personally, though they may have known about Him

1. The Process of Actually Coming to Know Jesus Personally

Thankfully, the scriptures are not ambiguous about this, even if dead churches often are:

But as many as received him—to those who believe in his name—he gave to them authority to become children of God (John 1:12)

It’s as simple as asking God to open your eyes to the truth, and reading about Jesus (try reading the book of John) until you see that He is quite possibly much more than just a good man and a prophet, but the way to God (John 6:44). Then, by personal invitation in prayer, surrender to Him and ask Him to change you, to come into your life and lead you.

BOOM! YOU’RE SAVED! Well, not always. Sometimes we may pray a prayer like this for the wrong motives, or because we think of it as some magic incantation, or we are cynically testing God. While God certainly can honor such approaches, He also knows if we are merely skeptics testing Him, rather than a desperate person seeking the truth. But hey, none of us has entirely pure motives, so let me ask you a question that might help before we look into the evidence that you are probably in the faith:

Do you believe that God loves you, and that Jesus died for you and rose from the dead to forgive you of your sins against God? If you are unsure, you may need to investigate and read more first. If you do believe this, but are still unsure, here are some evidences for you to consider, adapted from Wayne Grudem’s excellent Introduction to Systematic Theology.

2. The Internal Changes that Show You that You are Changed and “In Him”

  1. A desire to know and please God by loving Him and learning to hear and obey His voice (John 14:15-21, John 10:27, Matthew 5:8, 1 John 1:6, 1 John 3:21-22, Psalm 66:18)
  2. A newfound hunger and understanding for scripture. Where previously it was a cold, dead book to you, now it seems the wisdom and truth jump off of the pages to address your heart issues personally
  3. The need to keep a clear conscience and avoid immorality, especially sexually (Romans 13:5, 1 Corinthians 6:18)
  4. The desire to be useful to Him, i.e. “a vessel for noble use” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
  5. The desire to see others come to Him as well (1 Peter 3;1-2, 15-16)
  6. The desire to receive and do his will (Psalm 40:8, Matthew 7:21-23)
  7. The regular experience, mediated by prayer and reading the scriptures, of the presence, love, and conversation of God (not externally audible, but within your spirit) (Romans 8:16, Psalm 32:8)

3. In what are you trusting to be right with God?

Many people are confused about the relationship between faith and works, and whether or not works are required for salvation. The explicit and clear teaching of scripture is that righteousness is by grace through faith alone, and not of works:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)

Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”(Galatians 2:16 NLT)

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:28 NIV)

However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:5 NIV)

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:5 NIV)

3.1 Didn’t Jesus say that obeying the commandments leads to life?

Jesus did say the following when talking to the rich young ruler who supposed that he was righteous by keeping the commandments:

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.

But if you  want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16-17 NKJV)

Note that Jesus is not denying his own divinity here, he is merely challenging the man’s definition of good, since he thinks that his obedience to the commands makes him good and righteous before God.

When Jesus explains to him that he must keep all of the commandments, which he clearly does not, the man goes away sad because he cannot do it.

3.2 Then what is the relationship between faith and good works?

Martin Luther, the great German reformer, was a devoted monk for years BEFORE he became a genuine Christian. He had been struck by lighting while on his horse, and devoted his life to God in response. But by his own admission, the harder he tried to be good, the worse he seemed to be, and the more he hated God for placing this burden on him. Then, one day while studying the book of Romans, the light of the gospel rescued him:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, I was angry with God…

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith…

Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. 1

However, his conversion was so radical that he went on, not only to emphasize salvation by faith alone, but to wonder out loud of the books of James should be removed from the canon for its emphasis on works. Specifically, James says:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead…You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:14, 17, 24)

On the surface, this sound like James is recommending salvation by works. But he is not. Rather, what he is saying is, if you actually have faith, it will PRODUCE good works. If you say it but show no evidence, you better check YOURSELF! In other words:

Good works are the requirement for salvation, they are the result!

3.3 But isn’t that just a license to sin? Is nothing more expected of us?

NOW you are asking the right question. It has been said that as soon as you ask this question, you are beginning to understand the gospel. And Paul the Apostle, in explaining the gospel, anticipated this response and answered it:

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? (Romans 6:1-2 NLT)

In other words – if we have actually been changed by our faith, we WILL produce good works, and begin to desire to do good. If you ask “Won’t people just use this free grace as a reason to sin?,” you don’t really understand or believe that regeneration, i.e. being born-again, i.e. receiving him (John 1:12), is a reality.

4. The Content of Your Belief

In the essentials, UNITY.
In the non-essentials, LIBERTY.
In all things, CHARITY. (Rupertus Meldenius, 1582-1661)

No one has entirely correct doctrines, lest they already have their mind renewed to think and value what God does. That is a process called sanctification, which takes time and is never complete. Additionally, there are so many facets to spiritual reality that no one could agree on all things. However, as the quote from the counter-reformer Meldenius illustrates, there are some core, essential doctrines that we need to hold if we are to walk together as Christians. But even on that point, Christians may disagree on what those essentials are. 2

In principle, we should make that list as small as possible in order to not unnecessarily exclude others. A bare minimum might look like this:

  1. The deity and humanity of Christ
  2. The Trinity
  3. The substitutionary atonement (or some biblical atonement alternative)
  4. The physical resurrection of Jesus
  5. Justification by faith alone (with good works resulting – this is congruent with Catholicism)
  6. The return of Christ


So there you go. True faith is not merely the desire to do and be good, nor the desire to be spiritual, or even the desire to have peace, though all of those flow out of true faith. What makes Christian faith unique is that it is based on developing a real, submissive, conversational experience with the living God, mediated and informed by study of the Bible and prayer, resulting in a growing desire to know God, to please God, to love and be loved by God, and to hear His voice as we walk daily. And aligning with the core doctrines of the faith will make your Christianity healthy.

  1. Luther, Martin. “Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Works” in Luther’s Works, Volume 34. Edited by Lewis W. Spitz. Muhlenberg Press, 1960. pp. 336-338.[]
  2. What are the essentials of the Christian faith? ([]