For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, April 6, 2018

10 Characteristics of Followers of Christ

There is no message more important than the gospel. It is the means by which people can be forgiven of their sins and become citizens of the kingdom of heaven. For some, the message of the gospel is a new idea. They never had a chance to hear about Jesus and his death on the cross for their sins. For others, the message of the cross is common. There are many who follow Jesus and their impact is felt upon the culture in which they live. When the culture mimics biblical values, there can be a question about whether a person is a follower of Christ or merely part of the broader culture. To put in another way, some people culturally identify as Christians when they have never been born again by the Spirit of God. They are in great danger of counting on their culture rather than Christ for salvation.

As ambassadors of Christ who have been entrusted with the gospel, it is important to discern as best we can the condition of people around us. When Paul wrote to the church Thessalonians, he listed 10 things he saw in their lives which were signs that they had been born again by the Spirit through the power of the gospel message. These are a good starting point to use when trying to ascertain a person's spiritual condition.

1. They heard the clear articulation of the gospel. Simply going to church is not enough. Sadly, what is proclaimed in many churches today is not the gospel, but some sort of deistic moralism.  Prosperity preaching attracts large crowds of people wanting to gain wealth and "the good life." Other churches advance a generic humanistic message of loving one another while ignoring the eternal consequences of our failure to love. The cross, repentance, and faith must be central to the message that a person has accepted.

2. Miracles. Many cases of true conversion have a sense of the supernatural about them. Miracles may have been encountered in their life leading them to faith. Of course, not every testimony of conversion includes miraculous events or dramatic deliverances, nor does the fact that someone claims to have experienced a miracle mean that they are a follower of Christ, but God sometimes reveals Himself in powerful ways as he brings someone to himself. Remember, the new birth itself is a miracle!

3. The power of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an experience they should be able to talk about. The reality of the Spirit in their life may be difficult to explain, but it will be something that they should be able to talk about. If not, something is lacking in their experience

4. The overwhelming sense that the gospel applies to them. Many people can explain the gospel. The person that is born again is overwhelmed by the fact that each part of the gospel applies to them personally. It is interesting to ask people the question, "Who is Jesus Christ to you?" Some will talk about him like a figure from history. Others will say things like, "He is the Son of God" and "Jesus died to pay the penalty for sin." While these things are true in a theological sense, they are stated in an impersonal way. A person who has been born again will almost always answer the question "Who is Jesus to you?" in personal terms. "He is my Savior" is a common response.

5. A change of life so that they begin to imitate the lives of other followers of Jesus. Those who have been born again want to be like Jesus. It is part of the transformation that takes place. It is normal for new believers to look at other believers, particularly those influential in their coming to faith, as models of what it means to be a follower of Christ. 

6. They make their commitment to Christ in the context of suffering for their faith. There is little social risk in becoming a follower of Christ in countries where Christianity is the majority religion. As a result, in Christian-majority societies, there are those who will flippantly make a commitment to Christ for a number of spurious reasons. Perhaps they like a girl who will only date Christians, or they want to belong to a certain social clique who happen to be church-goers. While they may seem to fit into local churches, these people will inevitably walk away from Jesus when the going becomes difficult because of him. In countries where loss of job or family connections, imprisonment, or even death are the common experiences of belief in Jesus, it is much more likely that conversions to Christ are genuine.

7. Joy. The redeemed are filled with a deep and abiding joy that burns even in the midst of affliction. It is not that they are simply putting on a happy face and have a pollyannish view of life, the believer knows that whatever troubles they face now are only temporary and God will ultimately use them for their good. Thier joy is not based on the things of this world. Their joy is found in their relationship with Jesus.

8. Welcoming other believers. When a person becomes a Christian, they become part of a family. This fellowship of the redeemed causes them to be open to and welcome other believers. They sense a common bond in Christ that transcends race, nationality, or language.

9. Repentance from former idols. The redeemed person must turn away from serving idols. This includes physical idols made of stone or wood as well as other things which they looked to in hopes of receiving life.  A job, money, popularity, drugs, sex, athletics, or any number of other things can serve as an idol. Serving Jesus means renouncing those things and following him wholeheartedly.

10. The anticipation of seeing Jesus. Jesus is the greatest treasure of those who have been born again. As a result, one of the great longings of their heart is to see him face-to-face. This is not a nebulous going to heaven where there will be no more pain or sorrow, but a heartfelt desire to be with their Redeemer. It is Jesus that they are looking forward to being united with.

These 10 things are indicators that Paul saw in the Thessalonians that convinced him that they have been chosen by God. It is not a fool-proof list, but it can help us discern whether a person has been born again. This can help us know how to minister to the person. It may also convict us that we have not experienced what the Thessalonians did and can spur us on toward a relationship with Jesus.
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