How do you know if someone is a Christian?
How do you know if you are a Christian?
Those are tough questions because they can make us feel judged. But Jesus tells us in John 12:47, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” As you read John, you’ll see that Jesus is not judgmental like the religious people in his day (and ours!). But he does set a standard for what it looks like to follow him – not to judge us – but to show us how to be saved. So, the total opposite of judgment! We don’t have to guess about something so important as salvation. Jesus shows us thew way.
What do you think makes a person a Christian? A cross necklace? A killer Bible verse tattoo? Sounding like the King James Bible when they talk? Those people could be Christians, but let’s look at what Jesus says about what it means to truly follow him.
The Way Of Love
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35
Jesus was a rabbi (teacher). His followers were called disciples (students). So, when Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you…” I can imagine the disciples excitedly leaning in to hear a new teaching from their rabbi. And then I can also imagine them being confused and maybe even a little disappointed when this “new” command turned out to be one of the oldest in the book (or any book for that matter): “Love one another.” They had definitely heard that one before!
What is love?
This is a question that seems like it should be easy to answer. But go ahead and try to define love – it’s not so easy! For many people, what we call love is actually just what we passionately like. For example, I have often proclaimed that I love tacos. But applying the word love to my enjoyment of tacos cheapens what love really is. Unfortunately, we do this with people too. We say that we love a person but when we they do something we don’t like we take our “love” elsewhere. This is not love – it’s infatuation, it’s a like button that we can later unlike. The people in Jesus’ day were also confused on this and that brings us to the “new” part of Jesus command. He doesn’t just tell them to love one another. He tells them what love for one another means:
“Just as I have loved you…”
When Jesus gave his disciples this new command they were sharing the last supper. At this point only Jesus fully understood the extent of the love that he was about to show. But over the course of the next few days his followers would see true love defined by their friend and their savior who was willing to die for them to remove their sins and make salvation possible. Jesus’ brand of love (true love) is sacrificial and unconditional.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This command to love one another with the sacrificial love of Jesus is so important that Jesus tells us that this is how you recognize if someone is a Christian. The litmus test is not what they look like, or what church they go to, or what they say they believe – it’s do they love?
Jesus has a target in mind for this selfless love. They are to love and care for one another. One of the reasons that Jesus came was to establish his church. A church is a group of Jesus followers that gather to grow closer to God, bring others to God, and grow closer together. Churches get really off track and can actually be quite un-loving. Are you actively participating in the love of Christ with other Christians? Church is not something we go to – it’s something we become when we follow this command of Jesus. You can’t do this alone!
The big question: When people see you, do they see the love of Jesus?
Later, on the same evening, Jesus says this:
I am the vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.John 15:1
When we love like Jesus our lives produce fruit. We make an impact on the world. This is the sure way to know that you are following Jesus: your life is making a positive difference in the world. Jesus goes on to explain that if we are connected to the vine we will bear fruit. We will help others find God, we will help the hurting, we will grow in the fruits of the Spirit like love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control. These things just happen when we are connected to the vine. If you had an apple tree that never produced any apples you would wonder what was wrong with it. You might wonder if you planted the wrong tree. Even if it is labeled “apple tree,” if it doesn’t give you apples then it’s not fulfilling its purpose. Likewise, so many people wear the “Christian” label but produce little or no fruit. God’s salvation and Christ’s love should fulfill the purposes of God and bear much fruit.
Are you willing to be pruned?
How are you feeling as you read this? Jesus says that even when we produce fruit we will be pruned so we can be even more fruitful. It takes a lot of humility to be pruned. Are you willing to examine your heart for God and be honest about ways that you could grow? Getting connected to people who truly love God and one another is the best way to grow. After the next two Bible studies you’ll have an opportunity to get connected and experience God just like John and his disciples did as they lived out this new command and showed the world Jesus by their lives and love.