“You Can’t Judge a Person’s Salvation” . . . And Other Stupid Statements

On a website separate from this blog, I recently made the comment that I did not believe Obama was a Christian. I don’t believe he is. I am not sure, but from what I know of him, it is more responsible for me to say (context allowing) that he is not rather than to remain agnostic or just give him the benefit of the doubt.

The uproar was tremendous and, often, vicious. Many Christians were appalled that I would presume to make such a judgment upon someone who claims to be Christian. It is as if once someone makes the claim, you had better have “hands off” even suggesting that such a claim may not be true.

I am not sure where people get this.

First, this post is not about whether Obama is a Christian. I will not defend my belief that he is not here and I don’t want this to turn in that direction. It is about whether or not we can biblically make such judgments about a person’s status before Christ once they have declared themselves to be Christians.

It is understandable in one sense. If you are a conservative evangelical such as I am, to say that someone is not a Christian when they claim to be is acting as if you know them better than they know themselves. More than that, saying they are not a Christian is the “lightest” way one could put what they believe about the person’s status before God. Think of these three things I could say:

1. Obama is not a Christian (mean)
2. Obama is not saved (mean and arrogant)
3. Obama is going to hell (past the point of rescue)

“So, you believe Obama is not a Christian? . . . So, you believe he is not saved? . . . So, you believe he is going to hell?” See the escalation? I am not comfortable starting with the last, but that is often all people hear.

First, I am not the judge of whether someone is a Christian or not. I am not the judge of whether someone has true faith or not. But why does this mean that I can’t make informed judgments about a person’s status?

Rarely would someone call foul if I believed someone was not a Christian when they themselves confessed that they weren’t a Christian. After all, if someone claims to be an atheist, since there is an element of embarrassment to this confession, then it is very easy to take them at their word. However, my belief that they are not a Christian does not judge them to be so, it just makes a judgment that their confession is probably true.

I have a couple of things I look for when someone claims to be a Christian:
1. Beliefs: Are their beliefs consistent with how historic Christianity has been defined?
2. Practice: Is their life consistent with the life expected of a Christian?

The more one has of both of these, the more I have reason to believe their confession to be true. The less one has of these, the less reason I have to believe that their confession is true.

Of course, neither of these have to be perfect. One can have some bad beliefs and I could still believe (at least to some degree) that his confession is true. For example, I know some pro-choice people whom I believe are Christians. I think the pro-choice stand is inconsistent with the historic Christian faith, yet this alone does not necessarily condemn them in my book. As well, I know some Christians who are drunks, but I still believe they are Christians. Bad doctrine and bad life choices are issues that we all have. However, when one has really bad doctrine or makes really bad life choices, I think Christians have an obligation to rank these things higher than a nude confession. I know of some Christians who have perfect doctrine (beliefs), but have nothing in their lives which evidence a true conviction. As well, I know some people who live wonderful lives, but don’t claim Christianity at all.

So, I don’t believe that once someone says he is a Christian, we are somehow obligated to take them at their word. In fact, my default position (at least here in America) is that this is nothing more than a verbal affirmation of their initiation into American culture. I normally start by not believing them.

Let me give you some other examples: Glenn Beck says he is a Mormon. I don’t think he is. I may be wrong, but I don’t think he embraces the central tenets of Mormonism. I am not too sure about this though. Norm Geisler says he is a Calvinist. I don’t think he is. I think he redefines Calvinism to make it fit, but I don’t believe he fits the mold. I am very sure of this. I did not believe my sister when she said she was not addicted to prescription drugs at the end of her life. But she said she wasn’t. Was I obligated to believe her? I don’t believe my co-worker Carrie is a Baptist. She says she is, but I joke with her all the time saying she does not fit the mold. Now, am I obligated by some Christian virtue to believe everything that people believe about themselves, punting to the “they-know-themselves-better-than-I-do” answer? No. That would be both naive and irresponsible. What if someone came to you and said that she was a car? However, she neither looked like a car or acted like a car. Would you say, “Well, if she says she is, who am I to say she is not? Once she have made the confession, God wants me to believe it”?

Is this judgmental? No. It is just making informed judgments the best we can. It is being discerning. Unfortunately, we use the word “judgmental” in such cases. Even well-meaning Christians believe that we can make judgments on everything else under the sun, but it is always wrong to make a judgment about someone’s Christianity, especially when they profess to be Christian. Where did we come up with this? Yes, judgmentalism is wrong. But judgmentalism is where you either 1) arrogantly believe that if you were in another person’s shoes, you would make better choices because you deem yourself to be inherently better than the other person, or 2) you place yourself in God’s position, making judgments about issues that God has not revealed (Romans 14). We can avoid doing both of these things, but this does not mean that we cannot have informed beliefs that turn upon the evidence.

There are some people who profess Christianity, whose confessions I absolutely don’t believe. Am I certain of my beliefs in such cases? No. Not infallibly certain. I am not that certain about anything. There are others whose confession I believe, but am not as sure about. There are some who profess Christianity about which I remain completely agnostic. And there are many who claim to be Christian, but I don’t believe their confession with relative degrees of assurance. Again, it all comes back to those two criteria: beliefs and life. The more of these one has, the more God expects me to believe them. The less they have, the less God expects me to believe them. However, I don’t believe that God ever expects us to have a naive approach to this issue. In fact, without a healthy skepticism, I don’t think we can change the world with the Gospel, as many will confess that their world does not need to be changed. In other words, I think we should let go of this “prime directive” that Christians cannot ever believe someone is not a Christian when they have confessed to be so.

And remember that this post is not really “Is it okay for me to say Obama is not a Christian when he says he is?” It is “Is it okay for me to say someone is not a Christian when they say they are?” Let’s keep off the Obama thing.

51 Responses to ““You Can’t Judge a Person’s Salvation” . . . And Other Stupid Statements”

  1. Well said!

    I have had this discussion so many times.

    “Who are you to judge if he (anyone) is a Christian?”

    As if we are ever told to just believe whatever someone claims to be! It’s insanity.

  2. I would argue that we do not have the ability to “discern” (I like that better than “judge”) the state of a person’s faith based solely on what we see on TV and the internet. It is basically just third hand information and we are determining something so important from what technically amounts to gossip.

    In reality things are too filtered and re-interpreted and taken out of context to gain any useful information to use in that endeavor.

    That isn’t to say we are unable to gain any useful information from those sources, especially about our political leaders. But as far as something as personal as the state of their salvation, I do not believe there is anything to be gained there.

  3. I completely agree with James, we stand at such a distance and have so many filters between us and the man we simply cannot know anything about the particulars of his life and faith.

    If someone says they are a Christian, I will always be generous with accepting that confession of faith.

    Why shouldn’t we?

    There is simply no way any interlocutor like us average, middle American folk can make a claim against the salvation and spiritual life of someone who lives in a manner and means completely removed from ourselves. Frankly, when we do, we sound more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day and less like Jesus. If President Obama says he is a believer I accept that testimony. I have no epistemic or spiritual means of disagreeing.

    As a pastor I can, and do, discern the spiritual vitality of the members of our chuch and have the ability to examine their lives (their whole lives) for evidences of faith. When it comes to the President and other celebrity figures in our land we simply don’t have the means to make such an evaluation.

    When we do make such judgments we become the exact dogmatist Jesus’ way opposes.

  4. In 1st John we see John calling the congregation believers (brothers and sisters in Christ). But then we also see him saying that those who “left” did not belong with the believers (1 John 2:19). Simply, if people stayed he assumed their faith was real because they would accept sound teaching. But when people “left” – he then assumed they never actually believed. John seemed to keep things simple regarding how we are to impact, influence, and interact with our relational world using an basic litmus test.

  5. Interesting post. I tend to agree with C Michael Patton on this (to a certain extent:)).
    There is no way can any human can be 100% certain of another person’s standing before God. Salvation is God’s plan/act and He justifies whomever He wants. However in saying that I believe the grace of God is never in vain. By His grace we are given genuine faith (belief; no matter how small and weak) and the Holy Spirit does produce real fruit in our lives (life-practice; no matter how little, or seemingly insignificant in comparison to our amount of sin). Currently we all have different capacities for growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ and we also all grow at different rates (so struggling with drunkenness, having bad theology, endorsing same-sex marriage, & etc doesn’t condemn a Christian)

    However in saying all that, the fact of the matter is simply saying you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one. Matter of fact the scriptures seem to promote and give high value to a sense of walking out your talk and proving you are, both who God now says you are and who you say you are. (2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Timothy 2:15, Philippians 1:27, 2 Peter 1:10, & Philippians 2:12-13….not saying these verses are indicating we need to “prove ourselves” to anyone but that we should SHOW OURSELVES APPROVED)

    So I dont think it’s possible to be cocky and confident about someone’s salvation when confronted with certain evidence (i.e. “You get drunk all the time!!! Drunkards don’t inherit the kingdom! You’re goin to hell!!!”).
    But I dont think we should be naive and believe everything that comes out of folks mouths either (i.e. “I know this guy is saved because he said he was….even though he’s a proud racist, an alcoholic, and a womanizing wife-beater. But hey, he loves Jesus!”)

    At the end of the day I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling trees apart from one another by their fruit…as long as we are not trying to cut down the ones WE deem unworthy…

  6. I accept that someone is an atheist if they say they are an atheist. In my part of the world, there is no embarrassment in being an atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim or whatever. The suggestion that “there is an element of embarrassment to this confession (of atheism)” is a concept that is completely foreign to me (when I was younger I was rather proud of the fact that I was an atheist). A confession of an adherence to a certain belief system suggests some degree of self-identification, unless there is also secondary gain involved with said confession. If I am not aware of any secondary gain, I tend to trust whoever makes the claim.

    Likewise I tend to trust whoever that says that he’s a Christian to be a Christian. One of the reasons is because my definition of Christianity is fairly broad. It includes anyone who accept 1) monotheism; 2) redemptive sacrifice and resurrection of Christ; 3) acceptance of Christ as one’s savior. (So no, by this definition neither Glen Beck nor Mitt Romney are Christians, however conservative Christians want them to be.) By those criteria I am not confident that Obama is NOT a Christian. But perhaps my criteria should have included something else that exclude more people?

  7. While I do agree with James saying that there are too many filters between Personality A and myself to make a fair judgment call, I also think that somewhat ignores Mr. Patton’s encouragement for us to “keep off the Obama thing.”

    This is a discussion over whether it is okay for us to say someone is not a Christian when they say they are. So there are NO filters (or at the very least very few filters) between me and the other person in this case.

    It’s a fine line to walk between being presumptive on one hand and coming off as a near-universalist on the other.

  8. 1 Corinthians 4:5 – Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.

    Philippians 2:12 – Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

    Sometimes the Holy Scriptures are impossible to misinterpret.

  9. And sometimes they are very easy to take out of context.

  10. There have been several in depth pieces about President Obama’s faith … I think it is natural for someone to take those and compare them to their definition of “Christian” and make a judgment.

    I think the phrase “Christian, as I understand that to be” is what most people believe is missing … but in this case, I think Mr. Patton very clearly says he means how Christianity has been historically defined …. now you can argue that his definition might be wrong; but simply matching up one set of beliefs to another and comparing is not judgmentalism, it is just observation.

  11. There may be plenty of people who profess to be believers who won’t be saved. And there may be a lot of the reverse, as well.

    God likes to throw a monkey wrench into things when we believe we have got it all figured out.

    In any event…Christ Jesus will be the Judge.

    I find it a great comfort to know that the one who died for me, will be the same One who will be judging me.

  12. Thank-you for saying this, Michael (the blog). I’ve thought this many times. Sometimes it is not the best part of wisdom to continue to assume that someone is a Christian when the evidence continues to mount against that profession. I tend to go to Matt. 7 on this one. There is a time to evaluate the fruit. A good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit…

    If I hadn’t come to the place of doubting my husband’s profession of faith he would arguably still be a false convert.

  13. WOW! Stop the presses (or the electrons…or whatever)! CMP embraces Lordship Salvation!

    There are SO many things I want to comment on in this post. For example, Carrie is a BAPTIST??!! I know what kind of music she listens to, and it ain’t George Beverly Shea!

    But seriously, I tend to agree with C.S Lewis’ thought that it may be better to call a professing believer a bad Christian rather than a non-Christian when his/her actions don’t seem to fit in the Christian corral, so to speak.

    And this article from Scot McKnight is interesting:

    I would feel comfortable saying Obama is not an evangelical, but to call him non-Christian is, IMO, going too far.

    Hey, I don’t often disagree with Michael. This is kinda fun! (As long as I keep blocking Matt 7:15-23 from my mind)

  14. The line of reasoning in this post is contradictory. First, we are told, “I am not the judge whether someone is a Christian or not,” but the author asks, “Why does this mean that I can’t make informed judgments about a person’s status?” What is meant by “status”? Status as a Christian? If I accept the first premise, no, we are not to judge a person’s status as a Christian.

    Elsewhere we are told Obama is not a Christian, despite Obama openly confessing his faith. Has the author considered that such a proclamation might be offensive to God?

    While it is interesting to debate whether one can determine another person’s status as a Christian, such debate is not generally fruitful. In a word, there is no practical way to apply such knowledge.

    Consider, lastly, that if one is wrong about Obama’s faith, for example — that it turns out Obama is a Christian, as he confesses — how terribly wrong one would be… how desperately wrong one would be… It is terrible to contemplate.

    • I am indeed interested in this. I am not too sure of my position. I do see the “You will know them by their fruits…” As being “you will be able to tell if they are Christ’s (judge their status in him) by their fruits. However, I do acknowledge that there is no way we can say with any certainty whether someone is in Christ (and not going to spend eternity in hell).

      But just because we can’t know with God like certainty does not mean we should not make judgment for the sake of the Gospel. Right now I live in OKLA where everyone claims to be a Christian. I get to the point where I say “Big deal…I normally don’t believe you. Show me some fruits (belief and life) to dispell my doubts.”

      I have someone I am constantly giving the Gospel to who already claims to be a Christian. He lives at the bars and has a confession of skepticism continually. But he claims to be a Christian. Am I supposed to believe him and back off?

      What about a pastor who is running a Church. Someone claims to be a Christian (like Marcus Borg). Yet his confession is way off in many areas. Should you just take him at his word and plug him in to the church?

      It is a nice thing in distant confession to say “I just let God be the judge.” However, when the rubber meets the road this prime directive either goes out the door or sterilizes the discharge of the Gospel.

      I just don’t see anything in Scripture that would say that we can’t doubt a professing believers status before God.

  15. CMP—

    I knew before I read the first comment on your article that all would flee to Matt 7:15-20

    But what is interesting is that the text never equates the “fruit” with good works, alms, obedience, law keeping, charity or kind deeds.

    What is the fruit of a prophet? HIS WORDS.
    You judge the fruit of the prophet by the words of a prophet.

    How much more so the person who claims to be a Christian.

    If a person tells me that they became a Christian because they “made Jesus Lord”… “surrendered their life to Christ”… “forsook their sins”… “gave their heart to the Lord”…”took up my cross and became His disciple”…. etc. (or even say “I did nothing— God sovereignly regenerated me”)

    Then by their own words they are either confused, deceived or not a Christian. Since Paul, Jesus and Peter are all very explicit that the way one receives eternal life is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Acts 16:31 and 1 Timothy 1:16 … for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

    John 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.

    Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

    So the point is I let their own words about HOW they became a Christian let me know if they are saved or not.

  16. Hmmm… Christian is just a word. A word seemingly coined by non-Christians in Antioch. Perhaps the issue isn’t so much discerning the inner workings of our fellow man, as the fact that words are malleable and not so well defined.

    It seems to me that a definition of Christian, that is as good as any, is whether the person is in good standing at a church, attending on a reasonably regular basis. I mean, if you say you’re a gymnast, but you never do gymnastics, are you really? Anyway, people can differ on the meaning of the word Christian, it’s just a word. Why get upset about it?

  17. I have heard (and think it is true) that the most known verse in the whole Bible is Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This is used as a end-all to anyone (especially a Christian) who would question another’s behavior. However, this misses the context and intent of the whole passage and especially Jesus’ words in 7:16-21

    “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”

    Hmm. Sounds a bit judgmental.

  18. CMP—

    I knew before I read the first comment on your article that all would flee to Matt 7:15-20.

    But what is interesting is that the text never equates the “fruit” with good works, alms, obedience, law keeping, charity or kind deeds.

    What is the fruit of a prophet? HIS WORDS.

    You judge the fruit of the prophet by the words of a prophet.

    Likewise, you judge by their words the person who claims to be a Christian.

    If a person tells me that they became a Christian because they “made Jesus Lord”… “surrendered their life to Christ”… “forsook their sins”… “gave their heart to the Lord”…”took up my cross and became His disciple”…. etc. (or even say “I did nothing— God sovereignly regenerated me”)

    Then by their own words they are either confused, deceived or not a Christian. Since Paul, Jesus and Peter are all very explicit that the way one receives eternal life is by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Acts 16:31 and 1 Timothy 1:16 … for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

    John 6:47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.

    Acts 10:43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

    So the point is I let their own words about HOW they became a Christian let me know if they are saved or not.

    • Jeff. I don’t think I disagree. But I do think that this testimony is one that characterizes their lives. Someone very close to me says he is a Christian and give the testimony of when he was saved when he was 12. He does not talk about or follow The Lord otherwise. I don’t think the tree could have produced a one time fruit fifty years ago and that’s it. The whole idea of bearing fruit in witness is progressive and persevering.

      Then, we must combine this with James 2 and the one who “says” he has faith. In this instance the confession IS progressive, yet the faith is not.

      However, this is definitely not an easy issue. I am no Lordship dude as I don’t like the implications toward repentance that they have, but I am very reformed with regard to faith and perseverance.

  19. Dave Z, while you are having fun disagreeing you might note that Michael asked that this discussion not be about Obama.

    John, a Christian is one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. If a person is indwelt by God’s Spirit there will be some fruit to evidence this…rather than a continuation of fruit to the contrary (Matt. 7)

  20. Jeff, I let my husband’s own words inform me that he was a Christian when I married him. As soon as we were married he began to behave in ways that were the complete opposite of that verbal profession. I won’t go into detail but it was scary. As the years wore on there was NO evidence of the Spirit in his life. The fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, meekness….) was not at all evident in his life.

    I finally asked God to help me to know if he was a believer or not so I would know what to do. God answered that prayer and helped me to know through a circumstance that caused the floodgates of my husband’s own words to reveal to me his thinking. After that time I asked God to help me know what I should do. Within a month or so God prompted me to express my doubts about my husband’s spiritual condition to him. This got his attention.

    He wrestled with God over this for the next 9 months. God did some incredible work in his heart during that time to bring him to a point of conviction over his sin–to the realization that he was not living in obedience to Christ’s words (the last straw being a sermon from
    Matt. 7:24-28 . A week later my husband told me that he had finally given himself completely to Jesus. The transformation that has been taking place in him since that time is incredible. The first 21 years of our marriage were brutal. SO much has changed in the past 4 years.

    So, there definitely IS a good reason to not simply go with a person’s profession if their life doesn’t line up with it. To not question this means that you might allow them to continue down the path to eternal destruction.

    In fact, I think it is better not to assume that people are Christians just because they say that they are…our children included. It can cause us to give them assurances that we should not give them, like “you are forgiven for that”. We need to be careful about how we word things!

  21. An important part of this discussion is why God would want us to know whether someone is a Christian or not.

    First, would be evangelism. We are commanded to go out and make disciples. If we only focus on people already saved, we aren’t fulfilling this call.

    Second, would be orthodoxy. Here, I’m not talking about whether someone is Reformed, or Lutheran, or Orthodox, etc., but whether someone is preaching orthodox truth. John addresses this question in his letter, focusing his warnings on Gnostic groups — those who deny that Jesus is Lord. God would want us to know this in order to protect and preserve the church.

    The third point regards prophecy. We lately had a man who predicted Jesus would return in 2011. That man was wrong. I’m reluctant to cast judgment upon the man, as he has repented, but that’s between him and God.

    The question does become a “stupid” statement when it is asked pridefully. If I see my brother stumbling, I should be prepared to rescue him, not condemn.

  22. Well-said, Susan. And, praise God for your husband’s salvation and your renewed marriage!

  23. Paul seemed to think there was some level of certainty about others we could have otherwise he would not have instructed us to be equally yoked.

    If we weren’t able in some sense to discern if other people are truly regenerate believers, how then could we be equally yoked?

    And yes I am a Baptist –

    I hold to strictly credo-baptism (believer’s baptism) and the autonomy of the local church.

    Those are the only two Baptist distinctives thus making me a Baptist for holding to them. :D

  24. All of this is good “fodder” for those who like to talk “theolgical fodder.” However, 1 John gives specific criteria for discerning whether a person is CHRISTIAN or not. Three that comes to mind are: 1] Doctrinal: Does the person believe that Jesus is both human and divine? 2] Does he/she love other Christians, which is concretely evidenced by providing for their needs even to the point of personal sacrifice? 3] Does he/she consistently practice a life of godliness/righteousness? The Apostle John does not leave a middle ground, you are either CHRISTIAN or you are not, based on how one “fares” in these three areas.

    Also, saying one is “A” Christian” and BEING CHRISTIAN are two different things in today’s society. “A Christian” is now more a social status rather than a way of life. However, BEING Christian” is another thing altogether. One has to do with external characteristics, the other with one’s spiritual DNA or “nature.” Selah!

  25. Followup: In other words, being “A’ Christian and being Christians” are two different things altogether in today’s “post-Christian world.”Selah!

  26. Michael-
    One thing that disturbs me is that you make no distinction between people who you know personally and those in the public sphere. I would suggest that someone who you know personally would be a lot easier to judge their actions and motives. People in the public sphere are a lot harder to judge. First, their actions are filtered by second and third party sources who wish to put their own spins on (both negative and positive). Second, we are not often privy to the motives and thought process.

    You seem to address both as if you have access to the same information, when in fact you don’t.

  27. I agree with your points, but I think your argument could be a lot stronger from a Christian perspective by using the many verses in the New Testament that speak to what the EVIDENCES of one’s salvation are, soberly examining the fruit of your own life to see whether you’re saved, not calling someone ‘brother’ who is in unrepentant sin, etc. etc.

  28. I like the way you laid out your thoughts on this, Michael. It is a something that we all come up against constantly.

    For those that protest that we cannot really have any basis for discernment about a public figure, I don’t buy that. We have plenty of opportunity to go past the “filtering” and see for ourselves whether the person’s life is consistent with their stated belief. It doesn’t take much effort, given that there are so many channels of information that we can access.

    I think our actions are driven by the things that are most important to us, whether God or not. I would not want to judge a person on one thing, but if I keep seeing smoke, I reckon there’s fire.

  29. I agree that we can know whether someone is a Christian or not. There are several places in the Bible that give markers to know whether or not someone is a Christian (1 John, places in Gospel of John, etc…) But I would add another thing to look for when seeing if someone is a Christian: Belief, Practice and Affections. A person who has been born again will have affections for God. I don’t think having Beliefs and Practice is enough because a person can be Biblical in their beliefs and strive to obey the word of God but still be dead.
    Another thing that needs to be talked about is people who are born again but who have backslidden. There is the danger of saying that these people are not saved when they are. I have seen this potential danger in communities that hold to Lordship Salvation and hold to it very strongly. It almost leads to a performance environment where you have to persuade or convince people that you are a Christian. And the talk in these types of environments is repeatedly about “examining ourselves” or “being deceived about your salvation”. I think there is a danger when it comes to Lordship salvation and the danger is saying you are either saved and bearing evident fruit or your unsaved and don’t bear any fruit. I would say there should be another group, those who are saved but have become lukewarm or have grown cold in their affections for God.

  30. I think Matthew 7:21-23 also needs to be talked about. Jesus says there will be people who cast out demons and prophesy but who are not saved. My question is: does that mean someone can have a gift of the Holy Spirit and not be saved?

  31. As I read this article, one thought comes repeatedly to mind – There are actually Christians who think that President Obama is a Christian? In all seriousness?

    I know this was somewhat off-topic, but this just blows my mind. Wow.

  32. Only God knows a person’s heart. People always seem to have motives about their judgements. I was ex-communicated from a large Megachurch (and slandered so my visits to another nearby Megachuch were stopped) for pointing out hypocrisy by the employees of the church, and labeled by those in church power as “Satanic” when it was their behavior that was legalistic and compromised the message of love and grace. Some people have powerful friends and despite the message of evangelism they promote on a natiowide scope, they with railroad someone that has dirt on them very quickly. So it is appalling that people seem to think they are objective judges on weather someone is truly “saved” or not. True, behavior is often a good judge of faith, but when someone is booted out of a church in full view of friends and family, and even when this information is leaked to neighbors by people in the community about this occurance in an effort to damage the person outside of the church, you know these so called “people of God” are a bunch of self righteous frauds and they damage the name of God. Some people have more right to salvation than others–people in power, and the people with money and political connections,. They don’t want anyone to find out about them so they label people to satisfy their own political agenda. Christianity is a dirty, vile practice when employed for personal gain by those in the Church.

    It is all about the money for many of these big churches, and any thing that rocks their boat or threatens their “image” in the community is labeled as demonic.

  33. Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.
    If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
    Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. (1 John 3:7-10, 14, 17-19 NLT)

  34. Brian: “I don’t think having Beliefs and Practice is enough because a person can be Biblical in their beliefs and strive to obey the word of God but still be dead.”


    How can that be?

    “Another thing that needs to be talked about is people who are born again but who have backslidden.”

    Erm.. how do you know they are born again if they are backslidden? It’s all very well if you know they are born again.. but that is the point of the argument, right? How do you know?

  35. Are people here totally devoted to the idea that “Christian” is the same as “will be saved” ? Nothing wrong with that per se, but it opens up another theological question.

    I mean for one thing, is everyone here who takes that approach (and reading the comments, it seems like everyone does), does that mean that everyone here is totally in the camp that only “Christians” will be saved?

    For all Prez Obama’s faults, is it possible, just possible, that God might save him? If you’re sure not, then fine. If you’re not sure then the question arises, can we say he is not a Christian yet might be saved?

    I go back to my original comment that “Christian” is merely a word, and doesn’t have any well defined meaning. To me, proper Christians go to church nearly every week and believe the tenets of the faith. I don’t therefore assume that people who don’t go to church every week, or whose theology is screwed up necessarily won’t be saved. I just don’t particularly think of them as Christians. But its just a word. If people want to define that word more or less broadly, it doesn’t get my nose out of joint too much.

    Who will go to heaven is for God alone to know. Who is a Christian: I’m content to pronounce my own definition, and therefore say with certainty who belongs in it.

  36. Hey John,

    It’s entirely possible that a person holds to Biblical beliefs and are orthodox in terms of their doctrine or theology and who seeks to obey the Bible and yet they have not been born again. There are stories of former evangelical (theologically conservative) seminary professors who have abandoned the faith. I think there are also stories of pastors who were evangelicals (doctrinally sound) who have also abandoned the faith. And there are also former Christian apologists who have fallen away. So the question is were these people “alive” or born again or born from above? I think the answer I lean towards is No.
    There are many reasons people choose to “follow Jesus” or become a Christian.
    To your second point I think it would be hard to find out if someone may be a backslidden or lukewarm Christian from a distance because I would conclude they were not born again. It comes down to talking to that person and listening to how they became Christians and what happened after they became become a Christian. I would look for things common amongst testimonies of those who have been saved, such as a new desire and love for and belief in the Bible. A new hatred of sin. A new desire to go to church and fellowship. I would look for new behavior and new affections and new beliefs. I think if those things are evident in their testimony I think most likely that person has been made alive but may be struggling with some sin or going through a particular “season”.

  37. Let me also add there are also stories of former evangelists and missionaries who have abandoned the faith.

  38. @Brian:

    Are you talking from some kind of Calvinist style position that you cannot truly fall away? So therefore anyone who seems to fall away, can’t have been saved in the first place?

    but… that would kinda defeat your previous point that we can know who is a Christian, because of your new point that there are people who seem fine, but then seem fall away.

  39. Dwight Gingrich November 5, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I agree with the essence of the original post. In fact, I would strengthen it by observing that the NT teaching on church discipline not only permits and enables, but requires Christians (gathered as a church) to discern false faith claims. Jesus promised that he himself would be present in the midst whenever believers are responsible to weigh such momentous matters. The failure to responsibly practice such discernment through church discipline gives space for false teachers within the Church–and the presence of false teachers is one reality that is feeding into the collective doubt about the Church’s authority to discern and identify false faith claims.

  40. I we are to judge a persons Christianity by what they say, then we judge by all that they say. If they say “I’m a Christian” that’s one piece of information. If they then say “I don’t believe Jesus was divine and wasn’t resurected” that’s another piece of information. When we compare their statements to scripture we can safely conlude they’re not what they claim to be. They have made a false profession. They are not a Christian, and sadly, yes they are going to hell. Now what do we do in such a case? Do we want to be “irenic” and not offend them by telling them their proffession is false, or do we want to correct their misapprehensions in the hope that they will repent? Which is really love? What does the scripture teach. Will we sometimes make mistakes, accepting false proffessions because they are accompnied by orthodoxy and outward works? Sure. But if their proffession is false it will always show out in the end, barring of course they get hit by a bus or something prior to the revelation of their apostacy. Even then their false proffession will ultimately revealed. Just because I claim to be a Ford F150 that doesn’t make me a truck. How is it that so many “christians” miss so obvious a fact. Maybe their proffessions are false also, food for thought.

  41. It seems to me that when a theology blog hosts a discussion about whether Obama is a Christian, it has finally jumped the shark.

    But that’s just my personal opinion, and it’s not my blog. So, on the topic I think that Obama has given evidence of an increased walk with God, if we can trust the reports about his morning Bible reading and prayer. And though he is pro-abortion and gay marriage, that does not disqualify him in and of itself because there are entire Christian denominations that affirm abortion and gay marriage.

    Furthermore, calling someone out, outing someone, as “not Christian” seems tantamount to excommunication especially when done by Christians with a large public audience. Certainly on a personal level one would not take communion with someone he/she believed was not a Christian. To make the claim more widely is to attetmpt to persuade other Christians to share that view. Exclusion of someone from communion with fellow Christians is the essence of excommunication.

    I can agree conceptually with judging someone’s faith, but I think that the judging has to be related to the circumstances and be proportionate to them. For example, if CMP were hiring for his Credo organization, and Obama applied, then in the context of that interview it would be warranted for CMP to tell Obama that he’s not being hired because he’s not a Christian vis a vis the Credo view of what constitutes a Christian, and because Credo only hires Christians.

  42. Those who do the will of God, are the sons and daughters of God.

  43. I realize this is a bit dated, but what if someone claims to be a Christian but contradicts fundamental aspects as to how and why they’re a Christian as is taught in the Bible? I’m not so sure if the benefit of the doubt as mentioned should be accepted in every case. Perhaps this is God presenting an opportunity to speak to someone who is confused, rather than a judgmental attitude? Lots of people claim they’re Christians because they’ve just always have been and went to church all their life. Although that’s a great thing in itself, according to the Bible that doesn’t make one a Christian.

  44. I have a family member who has claimed for many years to be a Christian and in fact is active in the church, and shows some fruits at times. He’s also 37 years old and a serial adulterer/marriager (last year divorced his 4th wife and remarried a 29 year old two weeks later). Had a baby with her before the first wedding anniversary (4th child by 4 different wives). The senior pastor at his church, who BTW was just elected to a fairly position in the SBC) is aware of all this and tolerates it, even though this pastor is well aware of the marriage history (he and his last ex wife were very active in this same church). So by your logic, Michael, neither this man nor the senior pastor of First Baptist M***** are Christians and as such are hellhound. Bottom line: yes we are to be discerning, but salvation and faith are not to be analyzed by anyone other than The Lord.


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