What Is a True Christian?

What Is a True Christian?

Based on Article http://www.reformation21.org/articles/what-is-a-true-christian.php by Jeremy Walker

2 Corinthians 5:17 is foundational in that it makes a clear declaration that one who is a Christian is one who has been changed! Read and consider it carefully: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Does this describe one who is in love with the sins of his flesh, one who cares not for the Word of God or the ways of God? Or does this describe one who should love the things of God and grow in his understanding of God’s Word and repentance of his sin?

But how can you tell if you really are a Christian? How can you know if you have been born again? What are the definite marks of a new creation in Christ?

An excellent book by Gardiner Spring called The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character suggests seven things that are not, in themselves, conclusive marks that a professed work of grace is true or false (commentary on each of these points in Walker’s article).

  1. Visible morality
  2. Head knowledge
  3. A form of religion
  4. Eminent gifts
  5. Conviction for sin
  6. Strong assurance
  7. Notable time or manner of one’s professed conversion

    While a Christian will display these in some degree, the mere presence of any or all of these does not prove one’s salvation.

There is almost nothing more dangerous than to imagine oneself saved and yet to remain unsaved. There is nothing more blessed than to know oneself a Christian grounded on a solid foundation.

From the Word of God, we gain a divine understanding of how we can be sure of our own standing in Christ – secure in His righteousness. 1 John gives us at least four indispensable indications of true Christianity (again, commentary on each of these points in Walker’s article).

  1. A humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin
  2. A humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory
  3. A principled pursuit of godliness with an increasing attainment in holiness
  4. Affection for and attachment to God’s redeemed people

These four marks will invariably be present in a true child of God. They will not be perfect until glory, but they will be present now.

We cannot afford to be fooled, imagining ourselves saved when we are not.

If these indispensable indications, these marks of a true believer, are not in your heart and life, then you are not a Christian, whatever you claim or imagine, and you should not fool yourself nor dishonour Christ by claiming his name without walking in his ways. You blaspheme Jesus and expose him to scorn by taking the label of a true believer but living apart from his gracious power and saving wisdom.

But if these things are present in you and true of you then you are a Christian, and you should not dishonour Christ by denying the source of grace in you. Some doubting and fearful saints are terrified that they will lay claim to God’s grace in Christ without having it, and so walk in shadow if not in darkness, robbed of joy and neither being blessed nor blessing others as they might.

Jeremy Walker is a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church. He blogs at The Wanderer and is co-author of A Portrait of Paul: Identifying A True Minister of Christ (Reformation Heritage Books, 2010). My comment: This book on Paul is a most wonderful book that will benefit any Christian and every pastor.

30 thoughts on “What Is a True Christian?

  1. It’s your oft-to-ask-a-question gal here! I suffer with having strong assurance of my salvation…not because Christ’s grace isn’t sufficient…but rather because I find myself living often frustrated with “Christians” around me…many of which are hardly distinguishable from the world (although they use the **Jesus ate with sinners** reason for still going to the bar and such). Many have no idea of modesty or purity…and more. But when I struggle with these things, it makes me appear like I find myself to be *better* than others. But that truly isn’t my intent…rather it is that I *know* I am striving to become more righteous all the time and don’t understand why others don’t seem to do the same. I feel that maybe I am more of a pharisee than I want to be….and then what hope do I have of being saved?


  2. In what sense? (I’m sorry that I don’t truly know how to answer your question…are you asking what I would be willing to give up *for* my salvation or just *for* assurance that I am saved?)

    I have expressed how much it would be easier to die and just know if I was saved (not that I am suicidal, at all) rather than struggle with the fear that I am not…and also the frustration with myself over what, I suppose, could be called my “judgmental” attitude of Christians who don’t seem to live like true followers of Christ.

    I am not sure that I understand your question CD….I wouldn’t be willing to part with my salvation for anything.


  3. Katy,
    Hello. I have a couple things to contribute here. 1st of all, those whom you talk about are possibly (likely) unrepentant lost souls who attend church and play “church” but they may never have been truly regenerated. Those who are saved are different. Not because we are trying to gain favor, but because we are new creations. Following Christ through the pursuit of holiness doesn’t make you a pharisee. You probably should seriously examine the Christians you are surrounded by and ask if they are in fact Christians. You will know them by their fruit. Read Colossians 3, Ephesians 5, Galatians 5 and the comparisons between the fruit of the flesh and fruit of the spirit…which are they bearing? Which are you bearing? You can have great assurance in your salvation through John 15, vine and branches, you bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit working through you. Or Romans 3-8, Ephesians 1&2! These are amazing passages and chapters of scripture that give us assurance in our faith and of our salvation.

    With all that said, you should readily, and frequently check yourself to ensure that you are not falling into legalism and in fact becoming a pharisee. This is very common and easy to do. We all struggle with legalistic tendencies and we can fall into a fear that we can somehow lose our salvation or that our sins will not be forgivable…so we start to do “stuff” and live in a certain way in order to gain favor…to give us a little buffer. But there is no buffer. Its grace alone! Amen?

    This might help you a bit as well if you haven’t read it:

    Also, my “What Vine are you Abiding In?” series (part 3 coming soon) deals with this topic as well.

    faithfully abiding through His grace alone,


  4. Katy said: “I am not sure that I understand your question CD….I wouldn’t be willing to part with my salvation for anything.”

    That seems a strange answer for someone who seems unsure of Christ’s ability to save her. Maybe you could ask your pastor to allow you to take the pulpit Sunday and tell the congregation that you believe Christ might be a liar, at least insofar has His ability to save you, and therefore that you cannot trust Him. Would you be willing to do that?

    In Christ,


  5. It’s not His inability to save me that is the problem….more that I wonder *do I have enough faith?* I would never call Christ a liar. I hope you aren’t angry with me CD….for your words seem harsh…?


  6. I have to agree with Katie; we MUST not forget the command to love one another, not attack one another. Let me re-emphasize the link I posted in my first comment. I urge love to be the motive that guides us as we respond to one another. Too often I have been guilty of being too harsh when responding to brothers and sisters in Christ, I see this quite frequently and it seems to be an increasing problem, how our Lord must be greived when He looks upon His bride!

    Kate, I know your concerns about others who claim Christ but bear bad fruit. They do rub one the wrong way. Pray for them, and steer clear if possible. Also, may I suggest to quit striving for righteousness and trust in the imputed righteousness of the perfect, sinless Son of God? Do strive for holiness dear sister, and know that I am praying for you. Please, pray for me as well.

    Bless you,


  7. I am here to learn and glean wisdom…and ask questions in honesty and in seeking answers from those older than me.

    Lyn, I truly don’t mean to seem so clueless…but I thought striving for righteousness and striving for holiness were the same thing? I just want to live to please God and can often get confused on how to do that. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. 🙂


  8. My words aren’t harsh, they’re just questions.

    It seems to me that you may be a “smoking flax” or a “bruised reed”.

    What will the Lord *not* do with those things? Turn your eyes away from self, and fix them upon Christ!

    In Him,


  9. Katy – our faith is a gift from God, something He builds up as He sanctifies us. It is not, at any time, something we muster up and bring to Him, as if we could or even would. The more clearly we see and understand the Lord, the more we know we are wretched and unworthy of being rescued. But God, Who is rich in mercy, has chosen some – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

    As Randy Alcorn put it in one of his wonderful novels, “Trust in the King – NOT your ability to follow Him.”


  10. Katy,

    Allow me to shed some light on your issue. When you say, I suffer with having strong assurance of my salvation…not because Christ’s grace isn’t sufficient…but rather because I find myself living often frustrated with “Christians” around me…many of which are hardly distinguishable from the world, you are actually following Paul’s advice in 2nd Corinthians 13:5-6–“5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.” First, you have said in your own words that you know Christ’s grace is sufficient for you (2nd Cor. 12:9). You are looking at your life, not seeking your own righteousness but that which comes from Christ (Php. 3:9-11), seeing sin as being exceedingly sinful (1st John 1:8-2:2; Rom. 3:20), and if you are indeed living by faith in Christ (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 2:20), then you can have assurance that you have been born from above (John 3:3). In fact, John wrote his epistles so that “you who believe in the name of the Son of God…may know that you have eternal life” (1st John 5:13).

    As long as we live, we will be stuck inside these bodies of flesh. These bodies are weak, our minds are frail and feeble, and we may even have doubts about our assurance from time to time. It’s natural. But remember that we have been made children of God (John 1:12; 1st John 3:1) and that we have not been given a spirit of fear, but rather the spirit of adoption (2nd Tim 1:7; Rom. 8:15). And if your “friends” desert you or talk evil of you, remember the words of our Lord in John 15:18-19–“18 If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”


  11. I wanted to thank you for mentioning Heavenly Springs. Given how Defending & Contending has strengthened my own faith, I am honored that you would mention HS.

    May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you near the cross.



  12. Katy:

    You are not alone. I too struggle greatly when I examine myself. I can suggest JC Ryle’s book Assurance but his writing may only make your struggle worse (it did for me).

    Then there’s a book I’m currently reading entitled Am I Really a Christian? by Mike McKinley (and endorsed by Albert Mohler) that so far is pretty good.

    Do not be discouraged, even when some Christians can’t seem to understand your (our) struggles in this area (oh, if only we could have their assurance). A portion of Scripture that has helped me has been Romans 7:14 through Romans 8:4.

    And regarding your struggle with how other professing “believers” live, I too have wrung my hands over that for years, and frankly, I’ve grown weary trying to open their eyes. I’ve come to realize that they’re not so much victims of their loving entanglement to the world, as they are willful participants.


  13. Thank you…that was a great article…I learned much. My struggle doesn’t so much come from judging unbelievers, though. I find that I am frustrated with those who claim (and maybe *are*) believers…not because they aren’t *perfect* enough…but rather because most of the time, you can’t distinguish them *from* the world. Maybe, because I am still growing in my sanctification and maturity in Christ I need to just be humble and ignore it? I don’t know….? I felt as though the article was based on not judging unbelievers.


  14. Katy:

    Not sure if this has been brought up yet in the discussion, but we are commanded to judge those who claim to be believers, yet betray that by the behavior which they practice, and disfellowship from them:

    “But now I am writing to you NOT TO ASSOCIATE with anyone who 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. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” 1 Cor. 5:11-12

    “Such a one” is anyone who is practicing that which is forbidden (by God’s Word) for Christians to practice. We are to take notice, and make the judgment to disfellowship from them. This is not Phariseeism, it is simple obedience.


  15. Kathy do not let others people actions make you doubt your own salvation and there always going to be fakers In this world, who claim one thing but have no conviction to live in the commands of God and there always going to be people who give Jesus lip service but there hearts being far from him.

    Do not let them get to you, stay on the path of striving to do what is Right and following Jesus and remember when we fall in our walk the scripture says No one can take you out of my hands and jesus will just pick you back up, we are not perfect but we are change from our worldly state to strive to do God will unlike before.


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