How do you know that you are really a Christian?
The trouble with Christians is that they tend to look at themselves too much. The trouble with looking at yourself too much is that you will eventually freak out.
Why? The longer you look at yourself, and I mean truly look at yourself, you will be forced to acknowledge the truth…that you are still a sinner. Not just someone who commits a few sins here and there, not just someone who has a few dark secrets, but a sinner. That is, someone who is very seriously infected with a bias toward evil.
There are only so many excuses you can make before you reach the inevitable conclusion. You’re a fraud. Christians should not think these thoughts, feel these emotions or act in this way. You cannot possibly be a real Christian. Can you?
Don’t Confuse Justification with Sanctification
The problem here is that we look to ourselves for assurance rather than to Christ. When we do this we confuse two categories: justification (our status before God) and sanctification (change in the way we live).
The German Reformer, Martin Luther, wasn’t kidding around when he spoke of Christians being “at the same time both righteous and sinners”. Neither was Paul confused when he described his own experience in Romans 7.
So I find this law at work: although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
The normal Christian is both righteous and sinful, wretched and delivered. How can that be possible? It is possible as long as we don’t confuse justification and sanctification. In terms of our justification, that is our status before God, we are righteous and we are delivered. On the other hand, in terms of our sanctification, the way we live our lives, we are sinful and wretched. We are changing, but we are always affected by our sinful nature.
If we look to the righteousness of our lives for assurance of our salvation we will be unsettled because our lives do not paint a very clear picture of the reality. Our justification does not depend on our sanctification. Rather than look at our ungodly selves, we need to look to Him who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5).