In my last two columns, we have been examining an issue of eternal importance, namely, what is a real Christian? Dr. Billy Graham once observed that "Upwards to 90 percent of the people in our churches are unconverted." That is, they claim to be Christians without having any real allegiance to Christ.
In my most recent of these columns, we discovered that according to Jesus, unless you have had a born-again experience, you cannot rightly claim to be a Christian.
Think of it this way: If I were to make the claim that President Obama was my father, you would want to see proof of it, would you not? You'd want a birth certificate and, in our day, you would probably demand a DNA test. The only way I could claim any rights in the Obama household would be if I were family.
Same is true with God. The only way you can claim any rights as a part of God's family is through the birth certificate: you must be born-again.
In another passage, Jesus says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12 13, ESV).
If you have any questions as to whether or not you really are a Christian, these two verses should answer your questions.
First, note that despite common misconception, not every human being is a child of God. We receive the right to become a child of God when and only when we accept Christ and receive Him as our Lord and Savior.
Second, you are not a Christian by being born into a Christian home. That is what the phrase "not of blood" is referring to. God doesn't have grandchildren. A lot of people who claim to be Christian do so on the basis of their heritage, but they've never made a personal profession of faith.
I always worry about the person who answers my question, "When did you become a Christian?" by responding, "I've been a Christian all my life." In most cases, this is a person whose faith is in their heritage, in their bloodline, and our text says very plainly that a person is not a child of God by blood relations.
Third, a person is not a Christian because of their own efforts. In our text, we see this in that phrase, "nor of the will of the flesh." The Bible says, "Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it" (Ephesians 2:8 9, The Living Bible).
Fourth, a person does not become a Christian because they join the church, "nor of the will of man." No human being has the authority to declare you a Christian; we may recognize that you are one, but it is not any human authority's right, nor the right of the church, to declare a person a Christian.
You only become a true Christian when you are born of God, and you are only born of God when you place your trust in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next week, I will conclude this series by giving you the A-B-C's of becoming a true Christian.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.