How to know whether you are a real Christian or not
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)
Paul tells us that we need to examine ourselves to see whether we really are Christians or not. Note that he said that in a letter written to the church in Corinth. It wasn't written to unbelievers. So, Paul did not assume that people in churches must automatically be Christians. We can not make that assumption either, whether in relation to others or ourselves.
We need to pause therefore and look at how to find out whether you are already a real Christian. This book may come into the hands of all sorts of people, of different levels of knowledge and understanding and from many different backgrounds. You may not necessarily know what you are and whether you have started out on "the Way" and become a Christian, or still need to do so. In other words, you may be confused about exactly where you stand.
Some people are obviously not Christians. They may be atheists or followers of some other religion. If that’s you, you will know quite clearly that you have never genuinely repented or believed in Jesus Christ and that you are not "on the way".
Other people may be quite certain that they are a Christian and with good reason. They know very clearly where they stand, what they believe, and that they have truly repented.
There is probably a much larger group in the middle who are unsure what they are. Perhaps that’s you? You may have been brought up in church, or made a decision to follow Jesus Christ years ago, but perhaps you have not kept it up. Perhaps you never quite realised what you were doing when you made that decision?
Or you may be nominally Christian by background, or family connection, but are living in a lukewarm, compromised way. Or perhaps there is active ongoing sin in your life which you know is wrong, but you have never tackled it. You may have been to church all your life, but you don’t feel any certainty as to what you are. Maybe your church is wishy-washy, with no clear teaching or preaching about the real gospel?
Possibly you are unsure whether you have ever really repented, or whether you have genuinely believed in Jesus Christ or given your life to him. If any of these things apply to you, it may be that you don’t know whether you are saved already, or still need to be saved.
People can find it very difficult to pin some of these things down and they can be very vague. However, before you can take the step of becoming a Christian, you need to be able to know for sure where you stand now, and exactly what you are at the moment.
If you are not yet a genuine Christian, and your sins have not yet been forgiven, then you do not have eternal life, no matter how many times you have been to church. Thus, you would need to make a clear and definite step now to become a Christian and to start out on the way.
There is no single test that will, by itself, show whether you are already a real Christian. However, I will now list many different questions or tests that you can apply to yourself. Go through them all, one, by one and carefully answer them as honestly as you can. Each question, on its own, will not be conclusive proof in either direction. But, taken together, if you weigh up the overall pattern that emerges, you will probably find that most of your responses are pointing in the same direction.
If so, then that is probably your answer. However, if the answers are a confusing mixture, then the safest thing to do is to assume that you are not yet a real Christian. If so, then take the necessary steps to make your position completely certain. This is much too important to leave to chance or to let it remain vague and uncertain.
If you are a person who goes to church or was brought up in church I would urge you not to be complacent just because of that. It may be that what you experienced of church was far removed from real, biblical Christianity. Millions of people all over the world are in churches, even genuine churches, but they are not necessarily real Christians themselves.
Therefore please consider all the following questions honestly and carefully. Don't be too quick to answer. Ask God to open your eyes and to help you to be brutally frank with yourself. There is no point pretending. You would only be fooling yourself.