How to Identify a True Christian

Posted on September 5, 2013


“…if there is no evidence, there is no transformation.” – John MacArthur

Pastor John MacArthur preaching on 1 John 3:4-8 in his message titled “The Christian’s Incompatibility with Sin – Part 2“:

“John is concerned for us to understand how to identify a true Christian. There are doctrinal tests, that is what they believe. And there are moral tests, that is how they behave. There is the matter of doctrine and there’s the matter of conduct. And what we’re looking at in 1 John chapter 3 verses 4 through 10 is summed up in several statements. The first one is in verse 6, ‘No one who abides in Him sins.’ And then said another way in verse 9, ‘No one who is born of God practices sin.’ And then the summary in verse 10, ‘By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious.’ Shouldn’t really be any difficulty in discerning because anyone who doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

“Really, John is saying it’s obvious who belongs to God and who doesn’t. Those who belong to God practice righteousness. Those who do not practice righteousness do not belong to God. Another way to say that is that when a person is truly reconciled to God, when a person is truly converted, to use that term, when a person is truly regenerated, or born again, saved is the general term we like, when that occurs, when there is new birth and regeneration, and redemption and conversion, a real transformation of that person takes place. ‘If any man be in Christ he is a new creation,’ 2 Corinthians 5:17. We were basically created unto good works which God has before ordained that we walk in them. We used to be the slaves of sin and now we are the slaves of righteousness. This marks a true Christian. What was absolutely impossible to the sinner, that is righteousness, Romans chapter 3, ‘There is none righteous, no not one. There’s none that does good, they’re all evil,’ what was absolutely impossible to the sinner, namely righteousness, is now the truest expression of the saints inner person. We are manifestly righteous, we who are truly regenerated.

“And in our text, as I just read, John distinguishes true Christians by this dramatically altered relationship to sin. This is unmistakable truth. It is really not arguable, it is so clear. We find that your life and my life provides the evidence of our transformation. And if there is no evidence, then there is no transformation. I am, as you well know, constantly amazed at the expanding acceptance of a minimalist gospel, no repentance, no confession, no submission, no obedience, no love, no righteousness necessarily and yet a person is still saved. That is exactly the kind of deception and error to which John is addressing this epistle. That unimaginable idea had come into the church in John’s day. As we remember back in chapter 1, John was concerned about those people in verse 6 who said they had fellowship with God and yet walked in the darkness. And anybody who says they have fellowship with God, that is they have a relationship with God, a partnership with God, and still has a life pattern in darkness, meaning absent from divine life and characterized by sin, no matter what they claim, if they do not practice the truth, they lie. So that’s of grave concern to John that there were false teachers who had come into the church and said that they had ascended to the true knowledge of God, and then continued to live in patterns of unbroken sin.

“The trend now is very much similar to this. The trend now is that it isn’t even necessary to have the doctrines of the gospel right. I suppose through the years I’ve spent most of my time trying to bring the moral tests to bear upon evangelical understanding of salvation, that’s why I was writing The Gospel According to Jesus, The Gospel According to the Apostles and having preached so many, many sermons on that, perhaps preached hundreds and hundreds of times around the country and around the world on that subject, trying to make it very clear that the Bible says if a person doesn’t manifest righteousness, and a pattern of righteousness, that person is not a Christian, no matter what spiritual experience they might have had or what they profess. They must pass the moral test…

“…Some people have thought that this is just an Antinomianism that has crept into the church and you’ve got sort of lawless Christians running around and they really shouldn’t behave the way they do. They need to rededicate their lives. They need to recommit their lives. They need to have some sort of major spiritual traumatic experience that will catapult them out of constant carnality into spirituality. They need to come to the second level. They need to reach the higher plain, the deeper life, the ascended life. They need to be self-crucified, to borrow the old Keswick(?)terminology.

“It’s not just that. It’s not just that these people are sort of stumbling around in Antinomianism, even though they’re Christians, they’re living these lawless lives and they really need to dedicate their lives and get serious about Christ and move to the next level. There isn’t anything about that in the Bible, that doesn’t even exist as an option in the New Testament. Nothing like that is taught anywhere. When a sinner is reconciled to God, when a sinner is regenerated, converted, given eternal life through faith in Christ, he obeys, follows Christ, loves, rejects the world and righteousness prevails in his or her life. There’s no such thing as being a Christian and not having prevailing righteousness in your life. Christians do sin, back to chapter 1 verses 8 to 10, ‘If we say we don’t sin, we lie.’ Christians do sin. But here’s the change. We don’t have to. Chapter 2 verse 1, ‘My little children, I’m writing you these things that you may not sin.’ We do sin but for the first time, we don’t have to and thirdly, we do not sin habitually. We sin occasionally, our flesh is a debilitating reality, our unredeemed humanness. That’s why we cry out for the redemption of our body. Whereas before we habitually sinned, we now follow the path of righteousness. John and other New Testament writers have told us the reason, ‘We have been born again. We have been given a new nature, or new disposition. We are being sanctified which means set apart from sin.’

“So John is simply saying here, ‘Look, you want to know whether someone is a Christian,’ and he couldn’t say it more black and white, ‘if you abide in Him, you don’t sin. If you’re born of God you don’t practice sin.’ That’s where you see the dramatic change. No sense in saying, ‘Well, you know, I know So-and-so is living in the midst of ongoing sin, and has for a period of time and doesn’t have any interest in the things of Christ, but I remember when that person was converted…’ There’s no point in talking like that…”

Read full transcript or listen to the full audio here