How do I know I am a Christian?

A teaching given for the Alpha Bible Study Series:

If I were to ask you to prove that you are married, you could do it in one of three different ways. First of all, you could show me your marriage license. This is an objective statement, signed by witnesses, that you were married to such and such a person on such and such a date. Secondly, you could introduce me to your wife and children. Thirdly, you could just smile and say “I know that I know that I’m married!”

Now, if you kept showing me your marriage license, but I never met your wife and kids, I’d start to get a bit suspicious. I might think to myself, “I bet he forged that thing!” Or, if you introduced me to your wife and kids, but I went down to the county courthouse and couldn’t find any marriage license on record, I’d probably conclude that you weren’t married at all, but were cohabiting. Or, if you went around with a big silly grin on your face declaring, “I’m married, I’m married, I just know that I’m married!” but no one could find your marriage license or your wife and kids, I would conclude you were either lying or crazy. To be able to prove that you were married, you would need to be able to display all 3 witnesses: your marriage license, your wife and kids, and your inner conviction. 

In just the same way, you would need the same three witnesses in order to answer, “How do I know that I am a Christian.”

1. First, you must have the witness of the truth of God’s Word. That is like the marriage license. It is an objective standard to which you can appeal. The Bible tells me I am a sinner who cannot earn God’s forgiveness, but that God in his great love sent His Son to die on the cross, for the forgiveness of my sins and to reconcile me to God.

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Isaiah 53:5 – “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our sins; the punishment of our peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, but the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

2. Secondly, you must have the witness of the fruit of the Spirit which is the evidence of new life. That is like introducing me to your wife and kids, the fruit of your marriage relationship.

2 Corinthian 5:17 – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation old things have passed away; look, all things have become new!”

Matt. 7:18-20 – “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…. Therefore, by their fruit will they be known.”

Galatians 5:22, 23 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (character change from inside out)  

Some other changes: new love for God and desire to worship Him, desire to read the Bible and pray, desire to forgive others, a desire to love and help others, a desire to meet with other Christians, to share Christ with others, etc.

3. Thirdly, you must have the witness of the Holy Spirit and the imbedded Word of God. This is like your inner conviction of knowing that you are married. 

Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are God’s children.”  The assurance of our salvation comes from an inward conviction given us by the Holy Spirit based upon what God has told us.    

1 John 5:13 – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  

Romans 8:15 – “We have been given a Spirit of son-ship whereby we cry Abba, Father!” JB Phillips translates this verse as “The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God.” 

When the believer has all three of these witnesses, he/she has what the Bible describes as the full assurance of faith, which is the base-line confidence we need in order to grow in our faith. It is my prayer, that you will believe that Jesus died for you and that you will repent and ask him for forgiveness; believe that the Holy Spirit has transformed your life because you see some evidence; have the certainty that you are a child of God and a present possessor of eternal life. 

Why I am not a Roman Catholic Christian…

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This is the third article on the new openness in the Roman Catholic Church. Although I am impressed with Pope Francis and find his inclusivity very welcoming, there remain significant reasons why I am not a Roman Catholic Christian. The Roman Church is sacerdotal in that it holds that grace is communicated solely by and through the ministrations of the Church. Therefore “outside the church there is no salvation.” And yet the early Christian Church believed that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The Roman Catholic Church also has a remedy to our sin that differs from Scripture. As David Norris has said, “They maintain that man possesses within himself, within his own mind, all that is necessary to set things on the right track and God is obliged to assist where necessary. The Scriptures teach differently. The natural man is unable in and of himself to understand and accept Christian truth. As he now stands by nature, every man is devoid of spiritual life, is completely insensible to the realities of the spiritual world, and in no position to receive the things of God. ‘The natural person [unregenerate] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). The whole soul, feelings, intellect, and will, all need regeneration. The whole world, man himself, is not intelligible without reference to God. It is the false understanding of man and his capabilities that must be questioned, where he rather than God is made the ultimate reference point.”

The Reformers, Luther, Calvin and others believed not only that the power of God is needed to make us alive (Eph 2:5) and to understand the things of God (John 3:3), but that salvation comes not gradually but in a moment by His free mercy to all who through faith trust in the merits of Christ alone. The saving grace of God does not simply make a provision for all to access salvation, but it actually saves. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8, 9)..

Martin Luther in his Smalcald Articles wrote: “But the Gospel means nothing but a proclamation and heralding of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, merited, and procured through His death…. For it does not bid us do works whereby we may become righteous, but proclaims to us the grace of God, bestowed freely, and apart from any merit of our own; and it tells how Christ has taken our place, and rendered satisfaction for our sins, and cancelled them, and by His own works justifies and saves us… Whoever sets forth this, by preaching or writing, he teaches the true Gospel, as all the Apostles did, especially St Paul and St Peter, in their Epistles. So that all, whatever it be, that sets forth this one and the same Gospel, although one may use a different method, and speak of it in different language from another… But yet, if it tends to this point, that Christ is our Savior, and we through faith in Him, apart from works of our own, are justified and saved, it is still the same Word, and but one Gospel, just as there is but one faith and one baptism in the whole Christian world.”

I am a sinner by birth and by choice. I am dead in my spiritual life and cannot make myself alive. In my natural state I can hear about God and practice my religious duties, but it is like taking a bath in the muddy waters of the Ganges. I feel clean for a moment, but only on the outside. Then I hear the Gospel and God makes me alive; “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee.” (Charles Wesley) In the Gospel I see my own depravity and that faith in Christ alone, not in the Church alone, brings the forgiveness of all my sin.

I believe that the task of the Church is to preach Christ and not mediate Christ. Gifts, sacrifices, penance, condign and congruent merit are not able to save nor perfect my conscience as a worshipper. Only the merits of Christ’s death can save me to the “uttermost” (Heb 7:25) and purify my conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb 9:14). Not the labor of my hands, can fulfill Thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone. (Augustus Toplady) He/She who believes this is a Christian, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic.

Ouside the Church there is no salvation?

Creation-Of-Adam-thumb-400x266-300x199Last week we began a conversation about what the Pope said last May when he was celebrating Mass: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, with the blood of Christ; all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” What did he mean by the blood of Christ being for everyone, including atheists? Will people who do not believe in Jesus get into heaven simply by obeying their conscience or their sincerity? I mentioned that although it sounds like a new openness in the Church, the Pope is not breaking new theological ground as much as going back and deeper into Roman Catholic Theology.

The Roman Church is sacerdotal which means that grace is communicated solely by and through the ministry of the Church. In other words, “outside of the church there is no salvation.” (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus). This very intolerant and exclusive sounding phrase first spoken by Cyprian (3rd century) against schismatics, in our modern ecumenical age has been “re-formulated” by the Church in a positive and inclusive way. Reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church [(2nd edition) Part One, Section Two, chapter 3, article 9, paragraph 3] is insightful. There is a section on how the RC Church views Protestants as separated brethren: However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. That’s good to know.

There are also affirming statements reaching out to the Orthodox, the Jews, and the Muslims. What about others? The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”… To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.

“Outside the Church there is no salvation” How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body: Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation. “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”

Thus Pope Francis would still agree that “outside the Church there is no salvation.” However, he does not see it as an exclusive statement indicating damnation for all who are not in the Church as much as a positive invitation and welcome to all who are outside the Church. Keep in mind that Pope Francis recently quoted Pope Paul saying “It’s an absurd dichotomy to think one can live with Jesus, but without the Church, to follow Jesus outside the Church, to love Jesus and not the Church.”

So, with all of the positive vibes being communicated by the Pope, why am I not a Roman Catholic Christian? I’ll tell you next week. Have a good one…