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Marks of a Christian

June 2002 | by John Palmer

Suppose that you need to sit two examinations to obtain a professional qualification. They carry equal marks. The second paper assumes and applies the knowledge of the first.

You sit the first paper and feel you have done well. Can you afford to stay in bed on the day of the second paper? Surely, that would invite failure, however well you scored on the first.

Careless

Sadly, however, this is the way some Christians treat the Bible’s teaching on the Christian life. They read the Scriptures diligently, pray regularly, and live a godly life among their family, and at work.

But they are careless in the extreme about their relationships with other Christians. They do not attend any church regularly. Certainly, they never join one. If asked how love for Christ and obedience to him should be shown, they would say little relating to their interaction in love with other believers.

The Bible has news for such people. There must be serious doubt as to whether they are Christians at all! For the mark of a disciple of Jesus is the love which he shows for other disciples (John 13:34-35).

Love for them (which mirrors his love for us) is Jesus’ new commandment, and the outward evidence of being a follower of Jesus.

Directions

The New Testament letters are full of directions concerning our relationships with other believers. A cursory glance suggests that well over 50% of the Bible’s practical injunctions regarding the Christian life are of this kind.

For example, almost all of Romans 12 to 15 relates to such matters. There Paul spells out what it means to offer ourselves to God as ‘living sacrifices’ in response to his mercies to us in Christ.

Almost all the outworking of this injunction concerns the communal life of the church. To ignore what he says and still to claim to be living a consistent Christian life is nothing short of absurd.

Daily devotions

In spite of this, teaching which defines Christian piety solely in terms that relate only to God and unbelievers is not at all uncommon. It takes two main forms.

The first is rooted in the sentimental pietism which characterised much of Evangelicalism for a century from, say, 1850 to 1950.

People were taught that Christianity consists of a personal act of faith; daily devotions; keeping the Ten Commandments; and abstaining from certain pursuits which were deemed ‘worldly’ (such as dancing, or, later, going to the cinema).

Of course it was assumed that such Christians would attend a church where the Bible was proclaimed. However, attendance was enough. If anything else was required, it would be in the realm of evangelism or Sunday school teaching.

One did not have to relate to other Christians, apart from the church leadership, beyond ‘good morning’ and ‘goodbye’.

I speak in the past; but this attitude is still alive and well. It is sustained by a failure to teach that meaningful fellowship with other Christians in a local church context is essential to an obedient Christian life.

Yet the Scripture says far more about inter-personal relationships between believers than about personal involvement in evangelism or even attendance at worship, important though these are.

No true church?

Yet pietism is healthy by comparison with a second area of teaching. This says, in effect, that true Christian churches are as rare as hen’s teeth; and that many Christians have to live alone, separate from all Christian fellowship, because there is no true church anywhere near them (or even anywhere at all, certainly in the UK!).

Extremes meet. Both ultra-Dispensationalism and the extreme wing of those who consider themselves ‘Reformed’ take this position.

Is there no one reading this who declines to associate with other Christians because he cannot find a church ‘Reformed’ enough ?

Test yourself by Scripture. Read carefully through the New Testament letters, and identify each passage that tells us how we are to behave towards other Christians.

Remember, they are your brothers and sisters, whom Christ has purchased with his blood, and with whom you will spend eternity.

Ask yourself: ‘How far am I striving, with God’s help, to obey his command to love the brethren, week-by-week?’

Then change what needs changing, in your attitudes and actions.