Christians are meant to live with an assurance of their salvation. It’s God’s desire that all of his children know that they are his children. God doesn’t just want to save a person; he wants that person to know that they’ve been saved. So how do you know that you’re saved? How do you know that you’re among the eternal people of God? What are the marks of a Christian? In John 17, Jesus describes the Christian, and he gives four irreducible marks of every genuine believer. In other words, there are more than these, but there are never less than these.
You know the character of God
A Christian comes to know the true character of God, and there are two primary characteristics that you come to know—God’s justice and his mercy. Another way to put it would be God’s holiness and his love, or his righteousness and his grace. A great example of this is Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. They both go into the temple to pray. All the Pharisee does is recount the good things that he’s done, but the tax collector said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And Jesus concluded that it was the tax collector who went back to his house justified before God rather than the other. There is the mark of a Christian. Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector knew the height of God’s justice, but at the same time he knew the heart of God’s mercy. He saw the holy standard of God that caused him to admit that he was a sinner, but also the loving heart of God that caused him to plead for mercy. A Christian comes to the cross and sees the perfect character of God and it’s very personal to you. It is not simply knowing that Jesus died; you know that he died for you. He’s not just a Savior; he’s your Savior. It’s personal, and it’s amazing to you. It’s not just pretty good grace; it’s amazing grace.
You receive the Word of God
A Christian is someone who receives the word of God. For example, when a mother’s little boy comes to her and says, “Mommy, I’m starving. I’m starving!” she makes him a meal and puts it in front of him, but he pushes it away and says, “No, I don’t want that.” What does almost every mother say at that point? “Well, I guess you’re not really starving, then, are you?” If the child were really starving, then he would receive the food that was put in front of him. Likewise, if you’re a Christian, you’re going to receive the word of God. You’re going to receive what’s put in front of you. This means that when you read the Apostle Paul or Peter or any of the other writers, you recognize their words for what they really are—the words of God. You recognize them, and you receive them. You may not understand it all, but sheep know the voice of their shepherd and they follow. There’s a desire to know what God’s word means and openness to what’s revealed. There’s a willingness to be changed by it. How you relate to the word of God is one of the great tests.
You believe in the Son of God
A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus’ divine nature and his divine mission. A Christian knows God. Therefore, if you reject the divinity of Jesus, it’s evidence that you don’t truly know God because Jesus is God. Just because someone is a clean cut, all-around nice guy doesn’t make him a Christian. What you believe about Jesus matters. “I write these things to you who believe in the Son of God so that you will know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). You also believe that Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus wasn’t just a great teacher who accidently got caught up in a religious scandal and unwillingly went to the cross. Jesus himself said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
You live for the glory of God
A Christian also begins to live in a way that glorifies God. You desire to please him and honor him. There was an old Scottish minister who said, “When a man becomes a genuine Christian, his family notices something is different, his friends notice something is different. Even his horse notices something different about him.” Even his horse is now treated a little bit better. A Christian begins to change in a way that glorifies God even in the smallest details of life, and the main difference is love for others. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). These four marks will never be perfect in a Christian’s life, but they will always be present, because according to Jesus, these are the marks of every genuine Christian.
Jeremy McKeen is the Lead Pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in Communications and Philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Knox Theological Seminary.