I was researching Scriptures for a blog recently when my eyes fell on a sub-heading in Romans 12 in my Bible called: “Marks of the True Christian”. As I pondered this phrase covering verses 9 to 21, it occurred to me that if there’s such a thing as a true Christian, then there must also be such a thing as a false Christian. Which one was I? What a tragedy it would be if I spent my life believing I was a true Christian, only to find out when it’s too late that I wasn’t. Jesus warned us about this during the Sermon on the Mount: “…on that day, many will say to Me, ’Lord, Lord…and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you…” [Matthew 7:21-23]. That sounds terrifying. So, I think it’s wise to evaluate oneself against the criteria set out in this passage. How are we doing? Where do we need to adjust our paradigms so that we can conform to this passage?
In those 13 verses, Paul describes the character and conduct of a true Christian, which dovetails nicely with the Sermon on the Mount. He begins with possessing genuine love for others, the hallmark of a true Christian [1 Corinthians 13]. Next, such a person must loathe ungodliness and hold fast to what is good. A true Christian practices honour and demonstrate diligence and zeal for the things of God, fervently desiring to serve His purposes. They possess a joyful hope, demonstrating patience in trial and steadfastness in prayer. Such individuals seek opportunities to be generous and hospitable, and actively bless those who curse them. They also genuinely celebrate and comfort others as they go through the peaks and troughs of life. True Christians strive to live in harmony with others. They flee from pride and court humility. They pursue peace and refuse to take revenge. Ultimately, rather than succumb to evil, true Christians overcome evil with good. Would you like to be around this sort of person?
I was struck by how practical this passage was as I read it. It’s unambiguous about how a Christian is to live within a community. It’s even more arresting when you consider that Paul wrote it to people who were a minority in their community, wielding little or no political power, and were possibly victims of oppression and injustice from their pagan overlords. They had it worse than most of us do today. Nevertheless, God insisted that they live a certain kind of life. They had every excuse we could muster to ignore these instructions. Yet, many took this Scripture to heart, and some even died as a result, but their faith outlasted the Roman Empire. As Peter reminds us: “God has given us all we need for life and godliness…” [2 Peter 1:3]. So, living out this standard of godliness is possible because God has supplied the grace to do so.
It’s worth highlighting that grace makes godly living possible, not easy, and that’s what I’m beginning to understand about my faith. There was a time I thought choosing Jesus was the easier path, but the further down that path I travel, the more I realise that it’s anything but easy. On reflection, that shouldn’t be a surprise. When the only perfect person to ever live says: “Follow Me,” that is, emulate Me, live as I would live if I lived your life, you shouldn’t expect a walk in the park. Nevertheless, Jesus isn’t oblivious to the challenges we face as imperfect human beings [Hebrews 4:15], but He’s simply asking us to trust Him and do life His way. But, will we trust Him and His methods, even when they seem foolish [1 Corinthians 1:27]? That’s the question we must all answer.
Jesus once said to His disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:20]. His words left them stunned. The Scribes and Pharisees were renowned for their strict adherence to the Laws of Moses, all 613 of them. Everyone else could only aspire to that. Yet, here was Jesus raising the bar. So, where does that leave us today? How can we live to seemingly impossible standards of godliness? The Bible makes it clear that we can’t on our own because of our inherent imperfections [Romans 3:23]. Attaining the righteousness Jesus requires of us has little to do with effort and a lot to do with faith [2 Corinthians 5:7] because grace comes through faith. But, the grace we need for godliness is supplied when we take the step of faith to obey these instructions. You can’t walk on water until you step out of the boat in faith [Matthew 14:22-33].
Having established how an authentic Christian should live and the role of faith and grace in such a life, I must confront an important question: “Do I want to live like this?” It’s countercultural and risky. People could take advantage of me and, I may not get ahead in life. I won’t get my way often either, and I’ll need to trust God’s justice if I’m ill-treated rather than take matters into my hands. I’ll also need to be kind to people who wish me ill and go out of my way to bless them in practical ways. I can’t accomplish this by trying alone. I would eventually snap! I need to become a fundamentally different person whose default disposition embodies the characteristics listed in Romans 12:9-21. That can only happen if I submit to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in my life [Romans 12:1-2].
In conclusion, how yielded we are to the Holy Spirit will always manifest in how we live. Hopefully, like those disciples in Antioch, our character and conduct will compel others to compare us to Jesus [Acts 11:26].