There are many churches today that keep a strict accounting of how many people they drew to Christ, whether through street witnessing, evangelistic crusades, or other means of outreach. This is all well and good, but too few keep an accounting of how many people they turned off to the gospel of Christ, by not living what they preach, by focusing more on the things of this earth than the kingdom of God, and by not being a living testimony of the grace and work of Jesus.
One of the most subtle and destructive works of the enemy, is that of taking sincere souls and convincing them to practice a false Christianity, a hyper spirituality that has nothing to do with the work of God in their lives, but that is simultaneously close enough to doctrinal truth that they feel justified in their practice.
Before going any further, I need to make two points that I realize will not sit well with some. First, true Christianity does not require a publicity agent, and it does not require a public relations campaign; true Christianity requires true Christians, devoted Christians, humble Christians, and obedient Christians. Second, there are clear signs, unmistakable signs that define and characterize a true Christian, living a true Christian life.
In defending his apostleship and his authority to the church of Corinth, the Apostle Paul presents four clear signs, four unmistakable characteristics of a true Christian living a true Christian life.
2 Corinthians 2:14, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”
The first sign that an individual is living a true Christian life is undying optimism. Now before anyone starts rolling their eyes thinking I’ve switched camps and will soon start giving you the ten secrets to living prosperous lives, I did not say undying positivity, I said undying optimism.
Although the two words might seem similar, in their definition they are quite different.
Positivity is defined as a quality or state characterized by certainty or acceptance or affirmation and dogmatic assertiveness.
Optimism however is defined as the belief that in the end all is going to turn out well or that good will eventually triumph over evil.
In spite of all the hardships, in spite of all the persecution, in spite of all the trials and tribulations that Paul endured, the most dominant note in this particular verse is one of thanks.
“Now thanks be to God” because we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and those who are called according to His purpose.
“Now thanks be to God” because although today I might be hurting, today I might feel helpless, today I might be tried, I know that I have already obtained the victory, I have already overcome in Jesus and through Jesus.
“Now thanks be to God” because although the world might see me as an outcast, as a nuisance, as a strange thing worthy of scorn and pity, God sees me as His beloved child, and He cares for me and loves me more than I can say.
This is not the kind of thanks that comes from a pious heart, which doesn’t really believe what it is saying. These are words penned by a man who endured more than we can imagine, a man who was rejected by his contemporaries for his faith in Jesus, a man whom God had to bring low in order to remake, and through it all, he is able to stand and say, “Now thanks be to God.”
A true and authentic Christianity feels pain, it feels hurt, it feels rejection, it feels isolation, but it also knows that if God allowed these things, He has a plan, and in the end it will work together for good. Our optimism isn’t rooted in earthly things, it isn’t rooted in men or in ourselves, it is rooted in the promise of God, and the omnipotence of God.
When Paul and Silas found themselves in prison, their feet fastened in stocks, with an uncertain future before them, they were able to sing, they were able to rejoice, they were able to praise God because of their undying optimism and belief that it would all turn out well. They had received no special revelation as to what was to occur, but because they trusted God they were able to praise Him.
The second defining characteristic of a true believer, and one who is living a true Christian life, is the certainty of success.
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” It’s not occasionally, it’s not some of the time, it isn’t even most of the time that God leads us in triumph in Christ, but always. When Paul speaks of this triumph, he speaks of a constant, unchanging, consistent and invariable triumph.
These words were not penned by a pastor of a mega church, they were not penned by someone living in a mansion with an indoor pool and chauffeured limo service, they were penned by a man who was beaten, persecuted, shipwrecked and whipped, but one who knew that every obstacle becomes an opportunity. This does not mean that Paul’s plans always came to fruition; it does not mean that Paul’s goals were always realized, but it does mean that the will of God was always done. Paul was in prison, yet the gospel of the kingdom of God was still being preached.
Philippians 1:12-14, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Even in his shackles, Paul discovered freedom, and even led those of the house of Caesar to Christ. Hearing of his imprisonment other brethren also became more confident, preaching the gospel fearlessly, with boldness and conviction.
What amazes me, is that it’s not the churches Paul planted while he was free that remained, it is not what he did in his freedom that stood the test of time, but the epistles he wrote while in prison. These are what remained to this day, and will remain in perpetuity.
The impact that a true Christian makes in the lives of those they encounter is unforgettable. As Paul so aptly puts it, we to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. A true Christian leaves a mark, a Christian life makes an impact. When a true Christian is encountered by one in the world, that one cannot remain neutral concerning the things of God.
There is an incontestable reality in one who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk of a believer. Their lives are visibly transformed, and they are no longer as they once were, slaves to sin and corruption. It is not calling ourselves Christians that produces these qualities, these visible fruit, but living the life of a believer.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.