Recently I was having a conversation with someone about a professional baseball player, and my friend said to me, I really like that guy. He’s a real Christian.
It made me wonder what he meant by that statement. How would you describe what real Christians look like? What is the mark of a real Christian?
Someone might say it is someone who is nice, doesn’t swear, and goes to church a lot. Someone else might quote Jesus and say a Christian is known by how they love one another – “By this people know you’re my disciples” (John 13:35). Another may say a Christian is a person who has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and asked Him into their heart.
I believe this is an important question for us because according to surveys three out of four Americans describe themselves as Christians. So how do you know if someone really is a Christian? Maybe you even wonder if you are one.
After the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, early Christians struggled with questions like that. They questioned their own faith as well as the faith and teachings of some preachers whom the apostle Paul called liars – people dangerous to the faith.
The apostle John, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples sets out to answer this question in today’s text. What are the signs of a real Christian? John describes three litmus tests, so to speak, that tell us if a person is a Christian.
1. The doctrinal test. What do they believe?
2. The ethical test. How do they live?
3. The relational test. Whom do they love?
In today’s passage, John is describing the second test. How do real Christ followers live?
First, John says, a real Christian is someone who walks in the light. John starts by saying the message from Jesus is that God is light and in Him is no darkness (evil). What does this mean? Light refers to God’s holiness, His goodness, His perfect conduct and character. He is describing the ethical, moral conduct and character of the Almighty. Therefore God’s children – those who trust Jesus – are to walk as children of light. They are to act with holiness and goodness, walking in God’s light, not in the darkness of evil. They are to put aside all sin.
John tells us of the benefits of walking in the light: we have fellowship with one another and forgiveness. It makes sense, for obstacles are removed and we enjoy fellowship with other light walkers as we obediently and sacrificially love one another as Jesus commanded us to do. We no longer trip over one another but enjoy and serve one another in holy fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We also have access to forgiveness when we sin against God and one another. We will never be perfect, but as we walk in the light of God, we also walk in the light of the gospel of forgiveness. We have a Savior who has gone to the cross to pay for our sins and cleanse us in God’s sight. His blood payment for sin provides a never-ending stream of grace, cleansing, and forgiveness for those children of light.
The second thing John points out to us is, real Christians not only walk in the light, but they also walk as Jesus did – obediently. John writes, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (Jesus) but does not obey his commandments is a liar . . .” That’s strong language. “By this we may know that we are in him,” John says, “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked.”
So if someone says they are a Christian, John is saying here, their faith will be evident in their life. Are they walking the talk? Are they living obediently to God’s commands, walking as Jesus walked? Unfortunately, many contemporary Christians are not making that kind of connection in their lives.
Years ago a disturbing Barna poll compared the behavior of so called “born-again” Christians with the rest of the population. These were people who said they had accepted Christ as their Savior and believe the Bible is God’s Word. The survey found that in a thirty-day period, the self-identified Christians were nearly as likely as anyone else to visit a pornographic Web site, take something that didn’t belong to them, physically fight or abuse someone, drink too much, use an illegal drug, say something that wasn’t true, get back at someone for something they did, and say mean things behind someone’s back. Clearly, a gap exists between the belief and the behavior of many people who call themselves Christians. A. W. Tozer wrote, “Millions of professed believers talk as if Jesus were real and act as if He were not. Our actual position is always to be discovered by the way we act, not by the way we talk.”
I came across an interesting story about the Mafia. Award-winning investigative journalist Petra Reski, one of the world’s leading experts on the Italian Mafia, wrote a book called The Honored Society. It delves into the personal lives and faith of its members and supporters. Faith in God and living like a mafioso are fairly common in the strange world of Italian mobsters. For example, Sicilian mafioso Marcelo Fava, who later left his Mafia clan, told an Italian journalist, “Before I had to kill someone, I would cross myself and say, ‘Dear God. Stand by me. Make sure nothing happens.’ But I wasn’t the only one who crossed himself beforehand and prayed to God; we all did.” When Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano was arrested, the police found him with five Bibles, hundreds of his own margin comments and passages underlined. In his home were ninety-one sacred statues, seventy-three of them Christ figures. Each one of them bore the inscription, Jesus, I put my trust in you.
Mafia boss Michele Greco had four books in his prison cell: two liturgical books, the Gospels, and a prayer book entitled, “Pray, Pray”. During his trial when asked for an explanation to his many murders, he merely replied, “I have an invaluable gift – inner peace.”
John would say this is a problem. “Whoever claims to abide in Christ will walk as Jesus walked.” In the Bible, the word “walk” is used to describe one’s daily living, one’s conduct, their behavior. Your walk must match your talk. If you talk about Jesus on Sunday, then live like Jesus the rest of the week. Years ago it was popular to have these WWJD bracelets (What Would Jesus Do?) I suggest that instead of WWJD, a better question to ask is, What would Jesus do if He were me? (taken from author Dallas Willard). For instance, if Jesus were a parent, what kind of a parent would He be? Which TV shows would He allow His children watch? How much screen time would they get? How attentive would He be to the kids’ health and the friends they choose? How often would He read to them or pray for them?
Or say, if Jesus were an employee, what kind of employee would He be? I imagine He would be known for His integrity, His work ethic, His servant-like attitude toward customers and fellow employees. If Jesus were a retiree, what do you suppose He would be like? Would He stop serving people in the name of the kingdom of God because it’s time to kick back, relax, and just have fun? Or would His prayers still have a God-use-me-somehow attitude in them? Kingdom people never retire philosophy. Would He still consider Himself a student of God’s Word and the world, always exercising His mind in order to know, love, and serve God until His last breath?
Finally, John says a real Christian not only walks in the light and walks as Jesus walked (obediently to God’s commands), a real Christian also strives for righteousness in their life. Striving for righteousness is striving do what is right in God’s sight, playing out your life for an audience of One – your heavenly Father – no matter what price tag may be attached to it. True followers of Christ, according to John, do not habitually and recklessly violate their Holy Spirit anointing, their new life. You have been born anew through the Holy Spirit. You have a different set of values now. You’ve been given power from on high to do life God’s way. The hearts of genuine Christians have been so transformed, they can no longer live in a continual pattern of sin and lawlessness, at least not with a good conscience. It’s a new day, a new life you’ve been given.
Lynn Sullivan tells a story that illustrates the ridiculousness of trying to hang onto the old. “In the late 1920s,” he writes, “my grandparents married and moved into grandpa’s old family home. It was a clapboard house with a hall down the middle. In the 30s, they decided to tear down the old house and build another to be their home for the rest of their lives. Much to my grandmother’s dismay, many of the materials of the old house were reused in their new house. They used told facings and doors and many other pieces of the finishing lumber. Everywhere my grandmother looked, she saw that old house – old doors that wouldn’t shut properly, crown molding split and riddled with nail holes, unfinished window trimming. It was a source of grief to her. All her life she longed for a new house.”
Sullivan says, “When God brings us into the kingdom, the old way of living must be dismantled and discarded.” We live for righteousness’ sake. John points out that Jesus appeared to destroy the works of the devil in the first place. He came to set us free from the devil and his ways, from the darkness, for us to not go back to him. Following Christ means being in an all-out war with evil and the devil as our Lord was. We are on Christ’s side now. We’ve been transferred from the old kingdom into His kingdom.
John says, Little, children, don’t let anyone deceive you. Practicing righteousness matters to God. It’s how we, who have received the status of righteousness through Christ’s death on the cross, live. We live it out in response to His love for us.
So there we have it from John!
• Real Christians walk in the light of God.
• Real Christians walk as Jesus walked – obediently.
• Real Christians walk the paths of righteousness doing the right thing for an audience of One.
Personal question – How is your walk going these days? Are you walking the talk? Would you like to go deeper in your relationship with the Lord? That is what John is trying to help us do today, because it is where growth and a deeper relationship with God happen in one’s life. After you’ve said yes to Jesus Christ, going deeper doesn’t just mean knowing more about Christ, but becoming more and more like Christ, walking as He did, living as an apprentice to Him and learning the abundant life.
Why not take a step today toward a deeper walk with your Lord? Let your light shine as you commit yourself to walking in the light of God, obediently doing life God’s way, Christ’s way, the right way. It is in doing that, my friends, that you will find the depth and the real life Jesus Christ came to give to you and to me.
Do you want a deeper walk? Walk in the light. Walk as Jesus walked. Walk the way of righteousness. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer