The question, “How do I know if I am a Christian?” is usually asked by people who are afraid. My wife would frantically ask herself this question when she was growing up in the seventies. She was part of the generation that watched a series of different Left Behind style dramas. The dramas were used to strike fear into youth who would then run to their rooms and ask Jesus to come into their hearts for fear of being the only one left at the breakfast table next morning. I remember having a personal fear that I would be on an airliner when the pilot and co-pilot were raptured. Of course, the same fears arose when watching the next drama and the next. The fears didn’t go away and so the salvation didn’t stick, right?
The other fears that I grew up with arose from the ‘Turn and Burn’ preaching where hellfire, damnation and hot lava poured out of the pulpit and everyone in the congregation would duck and cover because they were sinners in the hands of an angry God. However, whether this was each night at a teen camp or a sermon series of revival, the guilt and hellfire came back. I was petrified that I hadn’t been saved as I wandered out in the fields of outer darkness to find my tent, where there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus is coming back. There is a real hell. There is a real God. There is a real need for fear. Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. However, these fears focus more on what I am running away from and less on who I am running towards. The desire to know whether you are a Christian may arise out of fears about hell and the Second Coming of Christ. However, peace comes from looking away from these things and focusing on the author our faith, Jesus.
The question “How do I know I am a Christian?” can be rephrased, “How do I know that I have a relationship with Jesus?” The Bible tells us that you know whether someone has developed a relationship with Jesus by their actions. “Oh, No!” I hear someone scream, “I still tell lies! My daily devotions are dry! I ate an extra burger for lunch! It’s all because I’m not saved!” To put your mind at rest, I heard Joe Stowell tell a story at Moody about a man who had become a Christian and then slept with three women in the next year. We all sat there questioning the man’s commitment. However, the previous year the man had cheated on his wife 300 times. Suddenly we saw the amount of improvement the man had made and we believed that he was saved. It is by works that you can see if someone’s faith is genuine, says the book of James. Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ apart from works. However, a thankful heart serves God out of gratitude and thanksgiving. This is seen by others in what we do.
This is where the health of those initial fears come in. If you understand hell and the story of Jesus’ second coming you will want to be saved. A person who is saved is overwhelmingly grateful and lives life accordingly. They are positive, encouraging, concerned with clean and healthy living ( at least a little bit more than they were last year).
Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” You can take that to the bank. If you have sincerely asked Jesus to come into your life, you are saved. You can know it. The peace of more fully knowing your own salvation comes as you exercise your new found faith and grow in it.
Ask friends who know you well if they see a difference in your life since you decided to follow Jesus. I would be concerned if they sincerely tell you that you are the same self-centred, egotistical slimeball that they once knew. Most of us weren’t quite like that to begin with. However, all of us should see evidence that our lives are no longer centred around ourselves, and forgetting the sin and fear that so easily entangles, we are focused on running a race toward more of Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.