Bygone or Bad? Judging whether someone is a Christian or not.

As I’ve been reading round the blogosphere recently, and as I’ve been doing some of my theological reading, I’ve come across the whole predicament of how to really know whether someone is a Christian or not. The definition that I would use for a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus as the Son of God who made a perfect sacrifice for the sins that we commit in order for us to be right with God and to enter eternal relationship with him. So, you may call me an Evangelical/Bible Believing/Born again/ Charismatic blah blah blah… Christian. But many people get caught up with the whole Christian thing after someone has accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour for themselves. How do we know that they’re still a Christian? What if they never were a Christian? Or, from a different angle, some of the more high and mighty, holy huddle, pharisaic Christians may judge other Christians who don’t live up to their high standard of morality, or who behave in some questionable manner by their actions and/or words which is contradictory to Biblical teaching.

Unfortunately, I have been one of those judges in the past. And for that I have learnt, over time, a very long and hard way that has led me to bow the knee to Christ and to get out of the judgement seat that quite rightly doesn’t have my name on it.

But the unfortunate reality is that Christians do love to think about and make a set list of certain criteria that you have to tick all the boxes to to prove to them that you are still a Christian after a certain time.

At this point, I wish to make a few statements about what I believe:

  1. I’m a firm believer in once saved, always saved.
  2. I believe strongly in accountability
  3. I also agree that a Christian should pursue Holiness and seek to become more Christlike and dwell on Godly things as they mature as a Christian believer.
  4. I also think that it is Biblical for Christians to ‘watch out’ for other Christians and to help them when they aren’t living up to the standard that Christ would have them live up to. This, of course, must be done in love as opposed to judgement; please remember my judgement seat learning curve.

However, a recent article got my back up just a little bit:

In II Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul commands his readers: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

OK, that seems straightforward enough.  But what does it mean to examine yourself?  What should you be looking for?  How do you know whether or not you are “in the faith”?  What is the “test” that we might fail?  I wrote Am I Really a Christian? in order to try to help answer these questions.

Well, we should all hope that we pass “the test” (again, Paul’s words, not mine!).  And Scripture gives us a few things to look for that would indicate that in fact we are not “in the faith”.  A few examples:

You’re not a Christian if you don’t believe true doctrine: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (I John 4:2-3)

You’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin: “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (I John 2:4-6)

You’re not a Christian if you don’t persevere: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (I John 2:19)

You’re not a Christian if you don’t love others: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)

You’re not a Christian if you love your stuff more than you love Jesus: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)

~ Article from Michael McKinley

After reading this article, you may say to me “But Dean, this isn’t Christians making rules, it’s the Bible!” And I would completely agree. But think about your own life for just a minute. Hasn’t there been a time in your walk with Christ that you have fitted one of these criteria perfectly, thus eliminating you from the Christian faith. Indeed, you may have fitted the whole set at one time, maybe more.

And it’s because of this fact that I am trying my very hardest to refrain from judging whether someone is a Christian or not based on these sorts of things. If I am to make a judgement on whether someone is a Christian or not, it shall be on whether they accept Christ as Saviour and Lord. If they do not, then I shall conclude that they are not a Christian.

To those who are Christians, how shall I judge them? The simple answer is that I won’t. I’ll leave that to Jesus. The way I judge a Christian, might I add, is by saying that they’re not a Christian because they’ve committed x , y and z sin. What I should be saying is that because those  sins have been committed, they are currently a bad Christian, not that they’re not a Christian at all, if you see what I mean. Would I really want to grieve the Holy Spirit by announcing that someone is not a Christian because they haven’t preserved? Would I want to damn a so-called Christian to hell because there has been a time in their life where they’ve thought of themselves more than others and therefore have not loved their neighbours? What about if they’ve enjoyed a sin? What about the time when they have loved someone/something more than Jesus? What about if they’ve got a bit of their doctrine/theology wrong? I know that I’ve been guilty of all these things in the past…

I hope you get the points that I’m trying to raise here. Basically, what I’m saying is that whilst we have been given orders from Christ to watch out for Christians and to make sure we are all accountable to eachother, it is very important that we are careful to not write an individual off as being a fake Christian for committing a sin. The church does this too much and it must stop immediately. Instead, when we see a Christian who isn’t living as Christ would have him/her live, we must love, encourage and direct; not give them a fast track ticket to hell (as if we thought we could!) and try to remove the unconditional love, grace and mercy that Christ has and does have at all times in all places on his children. This was and never shall be our calling.

What are your thoughts?

Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @

  • Yes, we know Christians by their fruits, but sometimes the the tree that bears the fruit gets poisoned and poor fruit is produced. It’s not until Christ, the tree surgeon comes and refines us and draws us to repentance that the good fruit then starts being produced again.
    (A comment I made about the article in a blog I follow)