Many people in this world call themselves Christians. Many attend various churches. Many read their Bible and pray, some also fast regularly. Many give financially to the church or various charities. Many are involved in church activities or serve in a ministry through evangelism, helping the poor or using their talents in all sorts of ways for God.
These are all wonderful and commendable things. But what actually defines a Christian? People may call themselves Christian, but what does it mean to be a true Christian, according to the Bible?
Well, the Bible tells us that many people think they are Christian, but in fact they are not...
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.
In other words, Jesus tells us that some people deceive themselves into believing they are saved, or that they are Christian. They are in the church, they call Jesus 'Lord' and they think they know Him. These are people who talk the talk but do not walk the walk... They look the part, they know the Christian jargon, they say 'Amen' at the right time, but they lack a very important thing - obedience to God. They do not do the will of God.
Salvation by Faith
But are we not saved "by grace through faith" (Ephesians 2:8)? Are we not meant to just believe in Jesus for our salvation?
Yes we are indeed saved by grace, through faith. We believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins and our righteousness before God.
But faith is not just a belief. If it was, then demons would have faith too and therefore be saved:
You believe that there is one God; you do well. The demons also believe and tremble.
Faith is not only believing that God exists, or even believing all the right doctrines. Something else must accompany real faith:
So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Real faith - or saving faith - is always manifested through works. These good works are not done in our own strength, but they are the result of God's Spirit working in us. They are the the result of the fruit of the Spirit being developed in us (see Galatians 5:22-23).
These are works of obedience in love, flowing from a heart that believes God and therefore submits to His Word and simply does what He says. When you truly believe someone, you will do what they tell you to do. If you don't, it is because you do not really believe them. For example, let's say I am blind, but I am walking on the street with a friend who has perfect vision. We are about to cross a road and my friend tells me to wait before crossing as there is a car coming. If I believe my friend I will not cross straight away, even though I cannot see the car or hear any car noise. I will wait for his go ahead because I know that he knows best. If I start crossing now, I am trusting in my own senses (which did not alert me) rather than putting my confidence in my friend.
Our God does see what we cannot see and He knows best. So if we believe Him, we listen to Him and obey Him. It is our actions that show whether or not we have truly believed God. That's why true faith includes acts.
But there is another kind of faith that I hear being preached quite a lot these days. A faith that does not result in a changed heart and a changed life. A faith that only 'believes' in God. A faith that leads people to repeat a prayer of salvation one day, and then go on from there living the same life they always have - believing that they are saved and will go to heaven when they die.
This is the kind of faith that does not see a problem with sins, and even takes pleasure in them. This is the faith of someone who has not realised their condition of being a sinner before a holy God and has not truly repented. This is a self-centered faith that says: "God loves me, therefore He died for me, He saved me, He takes care of me and wants to bless me (that is give me everything I want)".
This goes totally against what we read in Matthew 7:21, which showed us that only those who obey God will be saved. The biblical, God-centred faith would rather say: "God has purchased me on the cross by His own blood, therefore I belong to Him, I am not my own and I do not do what I want, but what He wants".
If you have believed that Jesus died for your sins, then alleluia! He is your Saviour! But is that enough? If you were to die the day you believed, then yes, you would go straight to His presence, no doubt about that. But what should your faith look like if you are still alive today? Can Jesus be your Saviour without also being your Lord?
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?
Believing and obeying are considered interchangeable. They are one and the same: if you have believed, then you have obeyed the Gospel. As you continue to believe, you continue to obey. So faith in essence, is obedience and that obedience in itself implies submission to God. Therefore living a life of faith which is true christianity (for we know that "the just shall live by faith"), means continually obeying and submitting to God.
Clearly, when you obey someone and submit to them, that person is your master - or to use an other term, your Lord. So there is no other way around it, if Jesus is your Saviour, He is necessarily your Lord as He is the One you submit to and obey. Having it any other way would not be faith and would not be christianity.
Moreover, doing what God says is evidence that we have really believed. We do not obey in our own efforts to get saved, but we obey by God's grace because we are saved. And this is actually the work of His Spirit in us:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but so much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure.
So we obey; but in fact it is God working in us. The truth is that in our own strength, we are not able to obey. In our own strength, we cannot do anything. So He does it in us; He enables us to want to obey Him and to actually do it.
A living faith is an obedient faith. We see that kind of faith being displayed in the saints in the Bible that have gone before us.
By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain offered...
By faith Noah, being divinely warned about things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to save his family...
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out into a place which he would later receive as an inheritance. He went out not knowing where he was going...
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac...
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau...
By faith Joseph, when he was dying, mentioned the exodus of the children of Israel and gave instructions concerning his bones...
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden by his parents for three months...
By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter...
By faith they passed through the Red Sea as on dry land...
(excerpts from Hebrews 11)
By faith, they DID many things. Their faith was demonstrated in their obedience to God. Because they believed in the promises of God, they acted accordingly. It was a fruitful faith that was manifested in the works they performed.
There is no such thing as believing without obeying. And there is no such thing as Jesus being our Saviour without Him also being our Lord.
Lord In Our Confession
The Bible declares that Jesus Christ is Lord.
...and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Can someone really believe His Word, therefore believing that He is Lord, without believing that He is their Lord? If He is Lord, then He is Lord of all and He is Lord over all - including me, including you.
The Bible also declares that the Lord Jesus is the head of His church.
He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that in all things He may have the preeminence.
Are you part of the church? Then how can He not be your head? There is only one church. No second little 'church' on the side without Jesus Christ as their head! And the head means that He is the chief, the master, the Lord of the church. Simply put, whoever is not under His lordship is not in the church!
Friends, we need to beware as many preachers have a tendency to separate Jesus as Saviour and Jesus as Lord (almost as if we could pick and choose). But the Bible does not separate both titles, Jesus is called our Lord and Saviour (see Philippians 3:20, Titus 1:4, 2 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 2:20, 2 Peter 3:18). And this is who He is.
Rebellion against all forms of authority is a poison that exists in the world today and it seems to have infiltrated the church. But we cannot allow the influence of the world to dictate how we interpret the Scriptures. As Lord, Jesus Christ must have all authority over us and we are called to fully submit to Him. Let us beware and be on high alert when we hear teachings that belittle the lordship of Jesus Christ and treat it as an optional extra in our Christian life.
Lord In Reality
Additionally, a lot of 'Christians' do know and acknowledge Jesus as their Lord with their lips, but they deny Him as Lord in their actions and lifestyles. They may appear do be involved in many good things. They keep themselves busy but inwardly refuse to obey God. They serve the Lord in their own way, but not according to His will. They are the kind of people that Jesus referred to in Matthew 7.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ But then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice evil.
Doing things for the Lord can sometimes be a way of escape from doing what He really wants us to do. It may be a way to avoid dealing with the real issues in our heart. Being busy becomes an excuse to not stop, consider and heed the voice of the Lord.
The life of the 'Christians' described in the above verses, is characterised by one thing, sin. The practice of sin as a lifestyle is the reason why some so-called 'Christians' are not real Christians. The Holy Spirit in our life will always lead us to a life of sanctification, dealing with sin in our heart. He will convict us of sin in us and the choice is always ours to either confess it and allow His grace to change us, or to resist and rebel. Either sin reigns in us or God reigns in us, both are not compatible!
But note that these 'Christians' are surprised at being ultimately rejected by the Lord. They were doing many wonderful works and maybe had great positions in the church. But their confidence was in their great deeds, not in the Lord. They thought they were serving God and doing His will. They thought that the greatness of their works was proving their great faith in God. But in their pride, they did not take sin seriously and allowed it to have dominion over them. This may have been an open sin or a secret sin that nobody knew about - but God did!
People might be interested in our performance, but God is interested in our sanctification. The gifts and talents that God blessed us with can never replace a life of righteousness. God wants us to be transformed to His image from the inside out. This is His priority and it must be ours as well.
Resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit towards repentance is actually denying His lordship over us. If we continually cling to our sin and refuse to repent when the Lord brings His light upon issues, then we obviously love sin more than we love Jesus and we have made sin our Lord and master instead of Jesus Christ.
The King is Coming
It should now be very clear that it is not about calling Jesus "Lord", but it is about Jesus truly being Lord and master over us. Calling Him Lord without allowing Him to rule over our life is a lie and God sees right through it.
Whether we like it or not, Jesus is King. And His Kingdom is a place where He rules and reigns. If we belong to His Kingdom, we will submit to His rule over us now. We will gladly obey our King now; and one day, when He returns, our King will gladly welcome us into His Kingdom. In other words, if His kingdom is in us now, we will find ourselves in His Kingdom then. My friends, obedience to God is not only for this life, it is for eternity. And if we do not learn to obey Him now, how will we obey Him then?
The world and its desires are passing away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
(1 John 2:17)