How To Tell If You’re Really A Christian

Have you ever taken a spiritual gift test? These are quizzes that typically ask about your likes and dislikes, how you view your personality, and what you think about God and the Bible. Most spiritual gift tests will then tell you who you are and what your spiritual gift is (at least according to the people who made up the test).

A pastor told me he’d discovered that the best way to discern one’s spiritual gift is to see what the person likes to do. He said likes, abilities and spiritual gifts usually end up being in alignment, and that taking spiritual gift tests only served to confirm this for most college students he worked with.

One thing I’d add is that the Bible doesn’t have a single spiritual gift test in it. Not one.

The Bible does have a spiritual inventory, though.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5;22-23.)

You’ll notice these are called fruit of the Spirit rather than gifts. I think it’s good to focus on the way we exercise the gifts God has given us rather than spend time trying to identify what the spiritual gifts themselves may be.

Spiritual Matters in the Life of a Christian

The passage on the Spirit’s fruit in a person’s life comes immediately after a very different list:

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. … The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Galatians 5:17, 19-21.)

As the passage says, these things are contrary to what the Spirit desires in our lives, the fruit the Spirit wants to bear in us. Yet in our flesh (apparently the Bible’s name for desires working in us that are not from God) we still do these things to varying degrees. Sometimes we can even fool ourselves into thinking that an act of the flesh is a fruit of the Spirit.

How can we tell the difference at any given moment?

There’s a simple way to identify whether actions are in line with one or the other. An earlier portion of the passage introduces the two contrasting lists:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14.)

That’s it. If you are acting in a way that truly loves your neighbor, or yourself if other people are not affected (and they are rarely unaffected by your actions in some way), then it’s a good bet you are showing evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in your life rather than an act of the flesh.

So don’t start by analyzing whether you’ve engaged in debauchery, selfish ambition, lust and the like. First look at whether you are showing love for your neighbor and yourself.

If you are, then I think it’s safe to say you will see the fruit of love and self-control, gentleness and peace, joy and faithfulness, goodness and kindness and patience as the Spirit works out God’s divine desires in you.

***

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33 Responses to How To Tell If You’re Really A Christian

  1. Christian. says:

    Great stuff. Anytime we visit a church and they have a questionnaire, there’s usually a question “Do you know what your spiritual gift is?” I always write “devil’s advocate”. It always gets me a call. 🙂 In reality, it’s true though; my “gift” is asking questions and being skeptical in helpful ways I hope.

  2. Jeannie says:

    This is a great sentence, Tim: “If you are acting in a way that truly loves your neighbor, or yourself if other people are not affected (and they are rarely unaffected by your actions in some way), then it’s a good bet you are showing evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in your life rather than an act of the flesh.” It’s true we can get hung up on surveys and questionnaires (“Do I have the gift of prophecy?”) rather than just focusing on living a Spirit-filled life.

    • Tim says:

      Exactly, Jeannie. Rather than asking myself “oh no, did I just sin again!” I’d like to have these types of conversations with myself: “I just loved somebody. Yay, the Spirit used me to help that person!”

  3. Laura Droege says:

    I like your take on this subject, Tim.

    I’ve taken spiritual gifts inventory tests multiple times over the years, and it always comes up with the same one: teaching. But the traditional “roles” available for teachers always sound horrible to me! I’ve done enough teaching to know that I dislike it, no matter what subject, and no matter whether it’s for adults or elementary kids or preschoolers. (Oddly enough, I used to enjoy teaching little kids, but then I had a second child and the thought of spending church time with little kids makes me shudder.)

    But thinking of what I like to do–the ways that God has gifted me–along with the fruit of the Spirit takes the question from a different angle. The question isn’t, am I using my gift correctly?, but am I truly loving others with the things that I enjoy doing? Or are they belittled, beaten down or oppressed by my enjoyment of a particular thing? It’s not enough for me to enjoy writing fiction. Am I writing fiction (or non-fiction) in a way that is loving to other people and reflects God’s character, His creativity and beauty and truth? (Which doesn’t mean, as some Christian writers seem to think, writing squeaky-clean material that neither offends nor benefits.) If I can’t answer yes, then I need to rethink whether this is what God wants me to do.

    • Tim says:

      I like the way you frame those questions, Laura. If the answer is that God has used you to love others, then there is no need to wonder further on whether you’ve honored him with the gifts he’s given you.

  4. Brian says:

    Tim I loved this post,can you speak to the meaning of 1Corinth. 12:1 and 12:31 then 14:1 it is throughout these chapters that Love is the ultimate and 14 :12 is a beauty that edification is the priority but it appears we are to pursue & desire gifts ? Many family members gets pretty goofy within the church because worldly type co-corporate thinking comes in rather than
    Love & humility.

    • Tim says:

      I think you’ve got the right take on it, Brian. In 12:31 where he talks about desiring greater gifts, he then immediately discusses faith, hope and love, and then shows that everything is worthless without love. The context of the letter seems to show that Paul was writing to those who wanted gifts for reasons other than building up the people of God, and he told them that was no way to honor God.

  5. William G. says:

    One thing I struggle with is remaining calm. I really have a terrible problem with fear, and I pray for deliverance from it. Most of the vast corpus of literature my denomination publishes relates to maintaining calm and being unruffled in the face of temptation et al. However, it’s one thing to know the theory, another thing to put it into practice. Would a continual struggle with fear, both justified and irrational, suggest to you a lack of Christianity, or just an anomaly in the individual believer of a psychological or other nature?

    • Tim says:

      I think such struggles might actually be a sign that one is growing in the faith. Then again, struggling over things that God has not asked us to wrestle with aren’t worth our time or effort. This idea that you are supposed to remain calm and unruffled in the face of temptation: do they have sound Scriptural basis for these teachings? It would be interesting to see where they are coming from in it.

      In any case, my own advice to you – unsolicited, I know – is not to stay unruffled in the face of temptation but to focus on Jesus whether facing temptations or rejoicing in God’s blessings or anything else you are doing at any given moment. It’s like the old hymn says:

      Turn your eyes upon Jesus
      Look full in His wonderful face
      And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
      In the light of His glory and grace.

      Gary Chapman gives the story behind the hymn, then performs it for us from his living room couch:

      • William G. says:

        Well our Lord said to not worry about anything, but to pray about everything. But because I struggle with calmness I find it difficult to pray. This is the scriptural basis for my concern. It’s one thing to know one should be patient, long suffering, and not afraid, and another thing to achieve it.

        • Tim says:

          I hope there’s comfort in knowing Jesus is with you all the time, William. He cares for his people always.

        • Laura Droege says:

          William, I hope you don’t mind another person commenting on your comment. As I read your words, I wondered if you might have a physiological issue going on, too, something like an anxiety disorder. It might be worthwhile researching the topic, especially if the anxiety is constant and not only when you’re attempting to pray or are tempted (which would indicate to me that it’s more spiritual in nature). I’d get more advice on it from someone who knows you well, is a strong Christian, and understands medical issues and the interplay between the body, mind, and spirit.

          BTW, I’m not a doctor or a psychologist! Just wanted to see if you’d considered that as a possible reason for the fear you feel. But whatever you do, like Tim and Jeannie said, focus on Jesus. He’ll guide you to the right answers.

    • Jeannie says:

      Hi William, I hope you don’t mind my commenting on your comment, but I could relate to it, although this example is not being calm in the face of temptation; it’s something else. I am not a frequent flyer, but the older I get the more fearful I am of flying. I went on a trip last month and before I left home I was so anxious I threw up (twice). The night before my return trip I did not sleep for a single minute. Although that second flight was textbook-perfect (not even the tiniest bump of turbulence) I was absolutely petrified for the entire time. I had prayed and entrusted my flights to God; I tried to focus on Him and ask Him to calm my fears; I used my rational mind to ponder the minuscule chance of anything going seriously wrong; I reassured myself of my total confidence in “where I would go” if the worst DID happen; I used my eyes/ears to observe other passengers who were willing to take on this risk. Yet … I was still petrified. Now, I can look back on that last flight and think, “Look how well things went that time!” And I can remind myself that although I was fearful, I still walked on to those airplanes and took the flights. But I would be very reluctant to believe that my fear constituted a lack of Christianity — instead, I’d say it’s like you describe it, “an anomaly in the individual believer of a psychological or other nature.” I can’t explain it; it’s not based on terrible flying experiences; no one I know has ever been in a plane crash or even close; it doesn’t really make sense … but it’s there. It doesn’t interfere with my overall quality of life since (as I said) I don’t often fly. I guess I would just hope that next time if I had to fly, I’d (again) not run from the thing I fear, but do what needs to be done even if God doesn’t magically take the feelings of fear away. Anyway, this is a long comment but yours made me think of this experience.

      • Tim says:

        Jeannie, those types of fears happen to many people whether it’s about flying, or needles at a doctor’s office, or spiders or whatever. These are evidence we live in a fallen world but there’s no lack of faith involved at all. How ridiculous to tell someone, “If you had more faith you wouldn’t be afraid of heights.” Balderdash.

        • William G. says:

          I actually enjoy the sensation of acrophobia so that’s never been a problem for me. There is a sort of benevolent fear or chill that you get on a roller coaster or the Eiffell Tower that’s provides a rush.

        • I agree, Tim! I also think fear is a hurdle Jesus delights in transporting us across. He says so many times there is no need to fear: this tells me that being afraid is going to happen! But it also tells me he’s watching out for me, taking away the obstacles I’m afraid of.

          Having faith in / trusting what we have not seen is praised in the scriptures. I can trust in God’s rescue even though I haven’t seen it yet — as evidenced by my bodily fear response. I can rejoice in Christ’s love even when my brain is sinking in depression.

          If I’ve learned anything about grace, it’s that I don’t overcome to get closer to his Holiness: he overcomes in me.

          William, I totally relate with anxiety and fear. I hope you have people around you offering you God’s non-judgmental love 🙂

        • Tim says:

          “He overcomes in me” – great description of what God’s grace looks like at times, Liz.

    • EF says:

      Hello William, would you mind me saying something on this. Sometimes when something doesn’t go away when we confront it it can be because we’ve identified it as one thing but it might have it’s roots elsewhere. Like have you checked with your doctor incase you have a little underlying health issue like a thyroid imbalance or blood sugars or depression, or maybe you have unmet social needs like old fashioned loneliness and taking up a hobby or night class would help. Like Tim says, sometimes we over analyse into spiritual roles or problems when it’s who we are being that God’s working on..

  6. Pastor Bob says:

    Fits in nicely with something I wrote about why church attendance is going down. After writing what I did, I read your column here, and find a loose parallel.
    What an awesome God!!

    • Tim says:

      What parallels did you see, PB?

      • Pastor Bob says:

        One example:

        “That’s it. If you are acting in a way that truly loves your neighbor, or yourself if other people are not affected (and they are rarely unaffected by your actions in some way), then it’s a good bet you are showing evidence of the Spirit’s fruit in your life rather than an act of the flesh.”

        What you do says more about who Jesus is in your life than all the words you speak. When the loved one repeats mistake in public, how is it handled? that which is done in public is practiced in private.

        I had written something along the lines of, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence for a conviction?”

        An just what would that evidence be?

        • Tim says:

          “that which is done in public is practiced in private” – So true, PB. We rarely carry things off well without practice or experience behind it.

  7. senecagriggs says:

    Hi Tim, I do read your blog periodically. At times I disagree with some things but I’m impressed that neither you nor your readers go out of the way to make ad hominen attacks on others.

  8. Ruth says:

    Oh my, just returned from a marathon read of various blogs about female equality! Made feel that if I succumbed to the ideology, I would disappear as an individual and have no gifts worth using except in servile, self-denigrating, oppressed ways for my ‘god-husband’…terrible knowing so many are caught up in this awful misuse of Scripture. So glad to be back where there is a sense of reason and love of truth.
    Whatever God gives us to do, I believe He gives us the gift of His strength and love to carry on, enough for me! Good to be back where the voice of reason and kindness is heard!

  9. clarissa says:

    Wow, just really wow. That is one of the best short homilies on faith I have read in a long time. Thanks so much.

  10. I have always had soooo many thoughts on the whole spiritual gifts thing, mostly critical. (For instance, sometimes you have to do something hard…something in which you’re not “gifted.”)

    But this is a more complete and beautiful picture than any I’ve heard. Everything comes down to love.

  11. EF says:

    Thank you for this, Tim. I whole heartedly agree. Funny how no spritual gifts are mentioned in the list of qualities required for potential leaders in Paul’s advice to Timothy. An old pastor in my region called John Philipps used to preach “Relationship, Recognition, Release” I don’t’see how the gifts can function in a 1 Corinthinthians sort of way if the meeting groups don’t subdivide small enough to be able to make friends and see what fruit is fruit hanging off those promising looking boughs. x

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