Someone once said that everything of great value is counterfeited. My son traveled to New York City and came home with a Rolex he bought for $40. He knew it wasn't a real Rolex, but it seemed like a good souvenir from a place like New York City.
If one's theological orientation is derived from the Bible, he or she confesses that the Lord Jesus Christ has infinite intrinsic value. It should not surprise us, then, that there would be counterfeits. If the Christian faith had no value, it would be pointless to conjure up a reasonable facsimile and try to peddle it as genuine. I truly do not have an exhaustive knowledge of the world's religions that lie so completely outside the boundaries of Christianity that they could never be mistaken for Christianity. But within the often fuzzy boundaries of Christianity there are a great many counterfeits. But my concern is not to critique the counterfeits, but rather to explore how we should answer the question, How do we tell if someone is a real Christian?
It is often the case that people believe they are Christians with some measure of sincerity and feel deeply offended if their "version" of Christianity doesn't meet with someone else's approval. The door closes (loudly). There's a certain demand for autonomy that ought not to be questioned or doubted, just accepted for what it is. I understand that. But my interest is in what is genuine, authentic, biblical, and therefore true. I do not want to find myself in a place where my unwitting pretense is exposed and it's too late to escape the consequences of a falsified faith.
There are two general areas that need to be investigated as we consider the answer to the question. First, and not necessarily foremost, what is one's connection to the Scriptures? My presupposition is that the Bible is the living word of the living God. The Bible is authoritative. Whatever Christianity may have become over the past two millennia, only the Bible can give an authoritative answer to this question. The Bible is the origin of Christianity and therefore the final authority in defining Christianity.
So what is a Christian's connection to the Bible? How would you describe the role of the Bible in your life? What is your current attitude toward this ancient book? In the Old Testament book of Isaiah we hear God speaking in the text:
"All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2).
From the Psalms we hear the voice of God:
"I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word" (138:2).
Can you actually say these things in describing your connection to the Word of God? Jesus, quoting from the book of Deuteronomy, said "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4 quoting Deuteronomy 8:3).
The true Christian is connected to the Bible intimately and powerfully. He or she loves God's word and opens all of life to what it teaches. The true Christian places appropriate value on the Bible such that all of life is built on what it teaches. But rising above all things is the truth that the Bible (and the Bible alone) reveals who Christ is, what he has done (in the past), what he is doing now (in the present) and what he will yet do when the years of this age are brought to an end (in the future).
In the past, Jesus Christ lived, died, rose again and ascended to the right hand of his Father in heaven. In short, he give himself to bear our sins and remove our guilt. This he did some two thousand years ago.
In the present, Jesus Christ is sanctifying his church by "the word of truth" (John 17:17). He is, by his word and the Holy Spirit, making us less and less like we were before we repented of our sin and turned to him for forgiveness, and more and more like what we shall be when we are brought into his physical presence.
In the future, Jesus Christ will consummate our salvation from sin in bringing us to that final "glory" when all who are truly his are glorified in his presence forever.
The Scriptures reveal Jesus Christ. He is exclusively the one by whom the Christian is reconciled to God--a reconciliation that required Christ's death and the sinner's union with Christ in that death (a union that is spiritual, and effected by a Spirit-empowered faith). It is impossible for someone to be a genuine Christian and yet neglect the word of God.
It seems reasonable to think that one's connection to the Bible can be described objectively. You know in your own mind what your connection to the Bible is. You know objectively what the Bible is and what its rightful place in your life ought to be. You know your own appetites and you have objective verification of your hunger for God's truth. You may be able to counterfeit your appetites for others to see, but the counterfeit is not concealed from your own self-awareness.
For the true Christian, the Bible has the highest place of authority. No human philosophy can compete with the truth of God's word. The Bible is the plumb line by which all other truth claims are evaluated. And though the Bible is the truest friend of a truly empirical science, science in the hands of of the godless can be perverted and distorted and given an authority it has neither earned nor proved. If knowledge comes to the point of choosing between science in the hands of godless men and women and the Bible, the Christian chooses God's word without a sheepish embarrassment that one might feel if he or she were abandoning all rational knowledge in order to take a "blind leap of faith."
"Let God be true, though every man a liar" (Romans 3:2).
(Part two is coming.)