What or Who is a Christian? Churches Don’t Seem to Know

1Jn 2:3-4 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (4) Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

1Jn 2:9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.

1Jn 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

1Jn 3:6-9 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (7) Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. (8) Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. (9) No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

I grew up in Bible and Baptist churches. As a kid, I didn’t really know much of what went on in the churches we attended, but one thing happened with a fair degree of regularity- suddenly one Sunday we went to a different church.

I also was privy to conversations I heard adults having. My grandmother for instance would be on the phone every Monday morning talking about the doings down at the church. More often than not the “doings” involved divisions, arguments, factions, accusations – one party trying to give the other party the boot. Often the pastor would resign, having been “called by the Lord” to a new church.

When I went to seminary, the courses included things like church management, leadership, and so on. The subject matter always covered things like “how to deal with difficult people,” “how to resolve conflicts,” communication “problems,” and so on.

All of these things taught me and people like me that Christians can be quite trying to deal with. That squabbles and conflict in the church is the norm. Something to be expected. After all, you know, we are all just sinners.

And so, when I became a pastor, I dealt with the large majority of church members as if they were Christians. There was constant tension and even pretty harsh battles. But, you know, we have to forgive one another and endure with one another until Jesus comes. Everybody is a sinner. Right?

Wrong.

How can we possibly read John’s first epistle for example, and see him say things like the verses quoted above, and yet maintain that a real Christian can be a habitually and characteristically difficult, divisive, reviling, arrogant, immoral, world-loving, or mean person who makes the lives of those around him miserable? We can’t, unless we just flat refuse to believe God’s Word:

1Co 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, (10) nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

In contrast, Paul says of the genuine believer:

1Co 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

There are many other such examples in Scripture. You are, or you aren’t. You are salt or you are not. You are light or you are darkness.

But this is not what the churches have been teaching for decades and decades. Nope. What we have been told is that the very height of spirituality is that we forgive no matter what, that we forbear, no matter what, that we “love” no matter what. And the “no matter what” typically means “no matter if there is no repentance in the person at all.” In fact, in cases where there is a continuance in evil, our “forgiveness and love” is all the more wonderful you know!

God does not think so apparently:

1Co 5:1-2 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. (2) And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

Do you understand that the local church is supposed to be a microcosm of Eden? Of the New Heavens and New Earth? And that therefore it is to be inhabited by people who are New Creations in Christ? So that the world will see us and say “look how they love one another.”  Is that what is happening today? No. And the reason is because churches are calling unsaved, unregenerate worldlings – Christians. They aren’t. And we know they aren’t because as Jesus said, you will know them by their fruits. Rotten fruit. Rotten heart.

This is why local churches are so often terrible places to be. Terrible places for children because the infighting models a twisted view of Christ to the little ones. Terrible places for real Christians to be because the hypocrites hate the light they shine. Terrible places for a real pastor to preach Christ’s truth. And terrible places for the oppressed to be because the pews and even the pulpits are so often filled with oppressors.

No matter what you have been told, no matter who has told you, please carefully re-examine your concept of what a real Christian is to look like, of what a local church is to be like, of what our experience in the body of Christ should be. Chances are you have had it all wrong because you have been taught all wrong. Pick up your Bible and read it as if for the first time. Start with 1 John for instance. Don’t try to explain away what he says, lest he rock your world. Our world needs some serious rocking.