Summary: What are the marks of a true Christian? Perhaps it would be helpful to look at what is not a mark of a Christian first, then what the mark of a Christian is
This morning I want to talk about marks. Most of us are familiar with marks. When you mark something, you want to identify it. For instance, people that cut down trees will mark which ones stay, and which ones get cut down. Auto parts stores will mark the parts they sell that have lifetime warranties. Usually they will be painted a certain color. When I went to summer camp, my mother used to mark my clothing with my initials. And it didn’t stop there. When I joined the Air Force, we still had to mark our clothes, including our shoes and boots. I had “T1234” on every article of clothing. There was not problem identifying whose clothes were whose.
This morning’s text also talks about marks. Paul describes what the marks of a true believer are. Sometimes its helpful when you are defining something to first define what it is not. That is what Paul does here. He begins by describing what the “un-marks” of a believer are.
“But if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," just as it is written (Rom 2:17-24).”
The first “unmark” of a believer is mere membership.
Paul is speaking to those Jews who place confidence in belonging to the Jews. It was a good place to be. After all, they were God’s people and possessed God’s written will in the Torah. Because they possessed truth, notice how it affected them. They were confident that they were a guide to those in blind darkness and a corrector of the foolish and immature.
Can you identify with this feeling? We know the truth and have the responsibility of admonishing others to obey his will. There are a lot of foolish and immature people around us and it is our responsibility to teach and correct them with the word of God. After all, we have the instructions, and many people do not read the instructions. We are surrounded by “unenlightened people” who do not know their right hand from their left. We live among people who need us to show them right and wrong according to God’s will.
Notice Paul’s serious of questions to those of us who know God’s will. Do you do what you teach others not to do? Then he has the nerve to answer our question for us! He assumes that we all break God’s laws. In addition to this, he accuses us of being responsible for unbelievers speaking badly of our God!
It is sort of like brother Brighton. Brother Brighton was a pompous man who was meticulous about his appearance, especially when it came to his reputation as a Christian. He was a member of the most prestigious church in town. He felt very strongly about the appearance of other members of the church as well. He had no tolerance for those little boys who were anything less than perfect in church or in the community. So he volunteered to teach the Bible class of young boys. On his first day of class, he decided to begin by teaching the boys the importance of living the Christian life. He began with this question: "Why do people call me a Christian?" After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, "Maybe it’s because they don’t know you."
Brother Brighton knew about appearances, but those who knew him knew that this was all it was. Appearances. Oh sure, condemning those who were not a member of his prestigious church made him look and feel better. Putting down those who did not meet up to his standards made him feel superior. He felt it was his responsibility to enlighten everyone. But that is as far as it went. That is precisely the sort of thing Paul is talking about. Just knowing what it looks like to be a true Christian is not enough. Teaching others what it means to be a Christian is not enough. Just bearing the name “Christian” or being a member of the “Church of Christ” is not enough. The loudest most impressionable sermon a person will ever hear is the one they don’t hear. It is the one they see and witness in your own actions even when there is not a crowd to applaud you. So mere membership is an unmark of a true Christian.