How do you know if a Christian is for real? How do you know if somebody’s a legitimate Christian? Who are the real disciples? How do we know?
In radio, they gave us huge badges with our pictures on them to identify us as legitimate members of the press. I belonged on the court before a Mavericks game or in the clubhouse after a Rangers game. I had the badge. I was authentic. I had the proof that I was who I said I was.
Teachers in our schools wear ID badges. Police officers and delivery truck drivers, doctors and jurors and the kid operating the roller coaster at Six Flags. You may be wearing one at work today. The badges identify us as the people we claim to be. It clears up any doubts. It answers all the questions.
How do you know if a Christian is for real?
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Baptism is not the badge of true discipleship. A certain worship style is not the mark of a Christian. Neither is the name of your church or its leadership structure or your opinion on the hot church issue of the day. The authenticity of a follower of Jesus is proven by his love for others. Genuine love. Sincere love. Self-giving, sacrificial love. The kind of love Paul describes in Romans 12:9. Unhypocritical love. That’s how people know.
It’s not baptism. We all know people who’ve been baptized who aren’t living for Christ, right? It’s not church. You and I both know people who are at church all the time who are filled with anger and bitterness and hate.
The world looks at our love to determine whether we’re for real. And so does Jesus.
You can be baptized, you can claim Christ as Lord, you can sit in the pews four times a week. Without love for others, though, you’re a liar. And everybody knows it. It’s like walking into the Cowboys lockerroom without a badge. You stick out as an imposter.
You might say, “love is not the only badge of discipleship, Allan.” And you’d be right. It’s not. But it is the most important one. It’s the primary one. Without it, the others don’t mean a thing. John couldn’t be more clear: If you don’t love your brother, you’re not a child of God (1 John 3:10). If you don’t love your brother in need with actions instead of words, the love of God is not in you (1 John 3:17-18).
Authentic love — agape without hypocrisy — is the thing that characterizes children of God. And it’s the thing that characterizes the Christian community. It marks us as disciples.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.” ~1 Peter 1:22