Have you ever wondered to yourself, “Am I really a Christian”? Perhaps you recognize you have fallen for that same old sin once again or you’re just not sure there has been that much change in your life. Or maybe you feel you’ve been a Christian all your life but you are now beginning to question your salvation. Whatever may be the reason you have engaged in such self-reflection, I want to assure you it is a good thing!
Paul instructed Christians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. (Philippians 2:12 NIV) This direction refers to sanctification, which is the process of bringing to fulfillment that which started with our salvation. So, becoming a Christian begins with justification, which happens when we first accept Christ as our Savior, and continues with our growth in holiness, or sanctification. Once a person is saved, changes begin to occur. For some these changes may come more slowly than for others, but they always come.
When Paul refers to “fear and trembling” he is referring to the attitude with which the Christian is to pursue his or her sanctification. It involves a healthy fear of being offensive to God and a conscientious awe and respect for Him. Peter likewise tells us to “work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen” (2 Peter 1:10) and that “the more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)
So, asking yourself the question “am I really a Christian” can be part of the process of sanctification in your life and is, therefore, a good thing. Though you may also wonder: “isn’t being a Christian just a matter of asking Jesus into your life and then you are saved?” And we should address that first. Yes, once we repent of our sins and believe in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, we are saved and thus we are saved by faith alone and not by works. However, the issue lies in that little word “repent”.
The Greek word from which we get our verb “repent” is metanoeō and signifies a changing of one’s mind or purpose for the better and includes remorse for sin. So when we “repent” we change our minds about the way we are living and we accept that God’s way is true and correct. King David displayed true repentance in Psalm 51 concerning his sin with Bathsheba: “For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.”
Wondering if we are truly saved, then, can start with reflecting on our repentance. Did we truly repent? Are we truly remorseful? Are we truly seeking to live God’s way now? If you cannot point to a specific time and place where the answer to these questions became “YES” then perhaps you are not truly a Christian yet. You may still be at the justification stage, and I encourage you to really work through this. But if you can point to a specific time and place where you repented, you are likely in the sanctification process and reflecting on your spiritual growth is healthy and productive.
When we repent and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit that works in us during the process of sanctification, helping us to change the way we think. In Romans 12:2 we read: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” When Paul says “let God” in this verse he implies a willingness, on our part, to let God act in our lives. We certainly can, at times, have less such willingness than at others. But, if we are truly Christian, the Holy Spirit nudges our conscience and we eventually grow in the direction of God’s Word and we come to know that “the old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
To the Galatians Paul wrote: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25) When we repented, we agreed with God that the way we were living is wrong (and thus we nailed our passions and sinful desires to the cross of Christ), but that doesn’t necessarily mean we immediately overcame the sin in our lives. That process, the process of sanctification (following the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives), takes a lifetime and we are never 100% free of sin until we are in heaven with Jesus.
But Paul did provide a list of the results of our sinful nature (we’ll call this the “bad things” list). According the Galatians 5:19-21, the bad things are – “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
And he also provided a “good things” list, in Galatians 5:22-23, the good things (fruits of the Spirit) are – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
These lists may be a bit of a theological oversimplification in our context here, but if you can point to that specific time and place of your true repentance and you can honestly say you are desiring and realizing more from the “good things” list in your life and less and less of the “bad things,” then it is likely you can honestly answer that you truly are a Christian. A true Christian also recognizes that the Bible, God’s Word, is the final authority for all things right and wrong. For it is written that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
I hope this provides you some insight into “working out your salvation with fear and trembling”. If you desire more information, we recommend the following resources:
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