What is a genuine Christian?
I recently bought a genuine SA Rugby Springbok T-shirt. It came with a label with all kinds of certification, and even a little holographic sticker. I reckon half the price I paid was just for the label. I asked myself, why’s all that necessary anyway? Of course, the reason is that it’s difficult to spot a fake in today’s world. Fakes are so well-made that you need a special holographic label just to know you’ve got the genuine article.
Sometimes, as a pastor, I wish we could have the same thing for Christians. A little holographic label saying who’s a “genuine article” Christian… it would just make my job a whole lot easier. Because it’s often easy to be a fake Christian these days. Sure, that wasn’t true back in the day when Christians were fed to lions, and it’s sure not true even today in Somalia or Iraq or North Korea. But in our democratic society, there is not much official public price to pay for believing in Jesus. So we have a situation where many people will call themselves “Christians” when they’re not actually the genuine article.
The bible is quite clear on what a real Christian actually is. Namely, a Christian is someone who has God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in them, and who “lives… according to the Spirit” (Romans 8v4). But how do we know if God’s Spirit lives in someone? Well, in Romans 8 we discover at least five things that the Holy Spirit does in the life of a genuine Christian. Over the next few posts, we’ll be looking at each of these in turn. Before we do however, there’s the catch: these things are given to us not to judge or evaluate others, but to judge ourselves. If we call ourselves Christians, you and I need to be asking ourselves whether these are true of us…
A genuine Christian wants what God wants
This is the first ‘mark’ of a genuine Christian according to Romans 8. v5 says “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”
Abraham Maslow defined a “hierarchy of needs” that he claimed defined the primary drivers of human behavior. Basically, whatever level of need you’re at in that hierarchy will determine what absorbs your primary attention. The bible calls these things ‘what the flesh desires’. They’re our natural, human desires we don’t even think about (and they’re not all bad, by the way).
But the bible also describes an alternate set of desires called ‘desires of the Spirit’. These are not natural human desires. In fact, they’re desires that a person can only have when God’s Spirit lives in them, because they are the desires of God himself, transferred into people’s hearts. Furthermore, a genuine Christian will not only have these new desires, but they will ‘have their minds set on these desires’. That means that they will pursue and prioritize these desires over the desires of the flesh whenever the two are in conflict. This explains why so many genuine Christians have given money, careers or even their lives in order to follow Jesus and carry out the mission he’s given them. They’ve chosen to put desires of the Spirit above desires of the flesh. Maslow would be scratching his head, for sure. But this is a key way of telling whether the Spirit is truly living in us: are we putting God’s desires above our own? Let’s be praying that He would help us to do that this coming week and beyond…
(look out for more posts on “What is a genuine Christian”, coming soon…)