Ever wonder how someone who says they are a Christian can act so sinfully, or be so filled with anger and hatred toward others in the church? That’s not a new problem. Ever since the church was established there have been those who didn’t seem very “Christian.” It’s a real possibility they weren’t Christians, but imposter who were deceived or sought to deceive. Billy Graham made the statement several years ago that he felt that as many as 80% of church members in America are lost – without Christ! No wonder there is such disharmony in so many churches today. God’s Holy Spirit is our source of harmony and peace, but Satan sows a spirit of anger, jealousy, and pride.
How can we know the real thing from the imposter? As always, we should look to the Scriptures for our answers. I John 3:10 gives us a definitive answer . . . “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”
“Does not practice righteousness.” What does that mean? To practice righteousness basically means to make it a habit to live in obedience to God’s Word. In Romans 6 Paul explains that God makes righteous living possible because of our union with Christ. When we accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and accept His lordship over us, His righteousness becomes our own. Paul tells us that “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). Later in that chapter Paul say, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (v. 18).
Does this mean that once you come a Christian you will never sin? Of course not. If this were the case, we would all be miserable failures. Even Paul spoke of struggles to not do what he knew not to do, and to do what he knew he ought to do. After becoming a Christian, we all have to begin and continue a growth process through which our tendency to sin should diminish (yet will never be complete). We are a new creation in Christ, and our desires will increasingly come under His control, and we will no longer “practice” or habitually engage in sinful actions. The person who claims to be in Christ and yet gives no evidence of such control may indeed be a believer in name only.
Now briefly, let’s think about the second part of verse 10 in I John 3 . . . “nor is he who does not love his brother.” Love is at the central core of what Christianity is about. God sent His Son to die for sinful mankind because of His love for those He created. John describes God in the simplest of terms when he declares, “God is love” (I John 4:16). Then it should come as no surprise that one of the most important evidences of the true Christian life is love. More specifically, John says the evidence lies in our love for our “brother.” This refers to our fellow believers. Therefore, he is telling us that how we love or don’t love those in the church indicates the sincerity of our profession in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
How then should we respond to those in our churches who don’t demonstrate a very strong love for the brethren? Should we confront them demanding that they turn in their “believer badge” and leave. Now, that wouldn’t be very loving would it?
First, we should pray for those we are most concerned are members of the church, but not members of God’s forever family. Most likely they truly believe they are a Christian. They “walked the aisle” and were baptized, and they many not have missed Sunday School in 50 years! Our prayer for them should be that the Holy Spirit would lift the veil of deception from their eyes so that they might see their need for Christ.
Second, love them and those around them with the hope that God might use your life as a means of setting an example and prompt them to consider what is different about your life from their own. If a time comes when that person acts out toward you or around you in an attitude unbecoming a Christian, don’t respond in kind.
Third, pray that the Holy Spirit would give you an opening for sharing the truth of God’s Word in a loving and caring manner with the person in question. This can be a rather delicate situation, but boldness coupled with God’s Spirit is a powerful tool.
Let’s all remember Jesus’ admonition, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).