I remember being taught early on that we should never make a judgement call on someone else’s salvation. If they tell you they are saved, take them at their word and don’t question it. In fact, if they go to church regularly, don’t question their regeneration. Imagine my surprise after studying the Scripture to learn that not only can we make a judgement call, we are supposed to make a distinction between believers and unbelievers. How can we come to this conclusion? The Word of God tells us how to do it.
“You will recognize them lby their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, mevery healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 nEvery tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into thefire. 20 Thus you will recognize them lby their fruits.“ Matthew 7:16-20
As Dr. John MacArthur says ”False doctrine cannot restrain the flesh.” Unbelievers are good pretenders but they cannot bear good fruit and restrain the flesh without the Spirit.
We as true believers and followers of Christ have to be discerning as to who is genuine and not who is not. Why is this necessary? Multiple reasons. So that we will not have relationships with those who are bad company and corrupt our good morals, so that we will not be unequally yoked and so that we can discern the true teachers from the false teachers. Lets look at some passages that back this up.
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.“ Matthew 7:6
14 zDo not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For awhat partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or bwhat fellowship has light with darkness? 15 cWhat accord has Christ with Belial?2 Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For dwe are the temple of the living God; as God said,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore hgo out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 iand I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. 11 Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” 2 John 1:10-11
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, 25 lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” Proverbs 22:24-25
“Do you not know that bthe saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall cjudge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” 1 Corinthians 6:2-3
“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. 9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them.“ 2 John 1:7-10
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone nwho bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.“ 1 Corinthians 5:11
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” John 14:21
As we see throughout the Scripture, we have to be able to discern believers in Christ and those who are not. We must be able to ”test the Spirits” as it teaches in 1 John 4 and determine who is teaching doctrine contrary to Scripture. I want to help you in this blog by walking through some helpful guidelines and tips of discernment. The Scripture gives us characteristics of those who belong to Christ and those who belong to the enemy. We need to know who to evangelize and who to fellowship with, those of darkness vs. those in the light. Lets look at the characteristics you can find in a Christian.
- Christians are not divisive amongst the brethren.
Have you ever known someone who just thrives on division? They get a thrill from gossiping or talking negatively about others? They are controversial just for the sake of being controversial? There are many of these types within the church.
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.“ Romans 16:17
This is totally different than dividing over error and doctrine. There should be division when we stand for truth without compromise. “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.“ 1 Corinthians 11:19
“Do not think that I have come tobring peace to the earth. sI have not come to bring peace, but a sword. “ Matthew 10:34
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.“ Proverbs 6:16-19
Jesus himself acknowledges that truth divides and the gospel is offensive, however, this is different than those causing unnecessary division. The immediate result of the gospel is frequently conflict. How many of you have had strained relationships with close family members over your beliefs? I imagine all of you have at some point. The Christian life is not conflict free. But there is a difference between those who live for conflict and those who experience conflict for proclaiming the gospel and the word of God. Brethren, do not be discouraged if you experience this type of conflict because the Scripture says this will happen if you stand for Christ. I’m warning you to be on guard against those who stir up division amongst the brother over petty issues, secondary doctrinal truths, and slander or gossip about other Christians. 15 years of ministry has taught us when you stand on Biblical truths, such as predestination and election, this will most assuredly divide the sheep from the goats. Those who are carnal in mind attempt to cause division over these truths. These types of pretenders make it their goal to cause conflict and strife and do not strive to be peacemakers as Matthew 5 tells us we should be. This is a huge red flag that we should take note of when examining others who claim to follow Christ.
2) True Christians will proclaim the clear truth whatever the cost. They love the truth, they speak the truth, and are willing to fight for the truth. They aren’t wanting to play to both sides and speak out of both sides of their mouth. Those who are men pleasers and not desiring to speak God’s Word but to please those around them and cater to both sides, should be called to examine themselves. These are similar to the ones in Titus 1:16 that profess to know God by their mouth, but deny him by their works. “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.“
Lets look at some clear passages of God’s views related to truth and righteousness.
“Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity..” Hebrew 1:9
“hWhoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30
How much gray is in these passages? Think of Joel Osteen going on these talk shows, Lauren Daigle regarding homosexuality when appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show and how they avoid truth and won’t give a clear cut answer. Those who are not born again will not take a clear stance on any topic of sin.
Christians, however, hate sin and lawlessness and speak out against it. it is like a fire within our bones if we do not speak out against the things that God hates.
“Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.”But His word was in my heart like a kburning fire, shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And lI could not.” Jeremiah 20:9
There are those in our life who are silent about sin, and fearful of men and must be called to examine themselves. A person who is born again will die to self and proclaim the truth no matter what the cost. A peacemaker in the scripture is someone who makes peace among the brethren, not attempting to make peace with the world and compromise truth.
3) Christians honor Christ with their words and glorify him with their lives.
When you speak with a Christian about their testimony, their hearts desire is to give all glory to God. They want to take no glory in their salvation but give glory to God and his work in their lives. Notice the personal pronouns used in the wording when you ask someone about their salvation “I’ve prayed a prayer”, ”I walked an aisle”, ”I’ve gotten baptized,” “I invited Jesus into my heart.” We should avoid using personal pronouns that put the focus on ourselves because it diminishes the glory of God. The only reason a person is saved is the grace of God. A better use of language would be “He saved me,” “He gave me a new heart,” or ”He had mercy on me.” we should question those around us who is very testimonies do not give glory to God but elevate man and the flesh.
Another area they will glorify Christ with their words regarding their language. They will not want to use crude language and will want to avoid gossip.
“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.“
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”
“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.“ Luke 6:45
A good indicator of someone’s heart is the words that they use in the way that they speak. Someone who fears God will not feel comfortable spewing out profanity. Also, do they speak of Christ often? We often speak about what is most important to us and if they rarely bring up Christ and His Word, we have to assume that Christ and His Word are not important to them. This pattern of speech should be followed with holy living. They should be living their lives striving for obedience to walk within the parameters of scripture and this should be evident in the way they live their lives with holiness and obeying God’s commands. This does not mean perfection, but it does mean a general attitude of striving for obedience, repentance when they have sinned, and grieving when they sin against God.
I think these are some helpful tips to look at when examining someone who says they follow Christ. What do they confess about Christ? Does it line up with the Christ of the scripture? Are they divisive among the body? Are they speaking truth no matter what men think? Will they stand without compromise? As Galatians 1:10 says- 10 “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant[a] of Christ.“
Be on guard against the pretenders. Examine their fruit and what they say. Call those who aren’t living holy lives to repentance.