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
- It’s possible to think and say you are following Him when you are not
- Many people do good works and suppose that this is following Him
- Many people even do church things and suppose that is following Him
- 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”
- 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)
- 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
- The need to keep a clear conscience and avoid immorality, especially sexually (Romans 13:5, 1 Corinthians 6:18)
- The desire to be useful to Him, i.e. “a vessel for noble use” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
- The desire to see others come to Him as well (1 Peter 3;1-2, 15-16)
- The desire to receive and do his will (Psalm 40:8, Matthew 7:21-23)
- 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. 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. 1
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:
- The deity and humanity of Christ
- The Trinity
- The substitutionary atonement (or some biblical atonement alternative)
- The physical resurrection of Jesus
- Justification by faith alone (with good works resulting – this is congruent with Catholicism)
- 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.
- What are the essentials of the Christian faith? (gotquestions.org)