The Acid Test of Being a Christian

by Timothy Keller

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." (1 John 3:1-3)

The mark of knowing God is that you see God's love for you as a miracle. Notice this [text]: it says "how great". In the old King James it says "behold, what manner of love." Here it says, "how great a love" [NAS]. There is a Greek word that is used here that they are translating as "great" and the problem with the word is that it is an idiom. Idiomatic expressions are very hard to translate literally. We have an idiomatic expression: "its raining cats and dogs." Ok so if you are trying to translate that into Cantonese, German or into Japanese -- if you just say literally in those languages "it's raining cats and dogs" they will look at you: "what are you talking about?" You will have to find an idiomatic expression that is parallel or coordinate to that. Literally it says "behold, what country this love comes from" What this statement is really saying is "from what planet... how the scale".

Remember there was a movie called "The Fisher King"? You wouldn't since hardly anybody saw this. Amanda Plummer plays this really klutzy, mousy, wallflower who has no friends. Robin Williams takes her out. At the end of the day he takes her in and says "I want to talk to you". She says "no, no, if you got to know me you would not like me. I am tired of rejection ... it was nice to go out. But everyone who gets to know me doesn't like me, so thanks." And Robin Williams says, "I do know you. I know that you think you are awkward. I know that you think you are clumsy. I know that you are kind of clumsy but I want you to know that I know who you are and I love you, and I will never leave you and I will never or forsake you." And she looks at him and its as if she is looking into the heart of what she thought was an enemy and she sees there understanding and love and she says, "Are you real?". This is a miracle that you love me.

[like this movie] This is saying, here is the way you can tell whether you are a Christian or just a moral person ... a Christian or a religious person. A real Christian is a person who says, "it is an absolute miracle that God's loves me. "It's just a miracle that I am a Christian." This is actually an acid test; let me just lay it on you here at the end. There are two kinds of people that go to church: there's religious people and real Christians. And the way you can tell the difference is that a Real Christian is somebody who sees everything that comes as a gift.  In other words a real Christian sees that you are totally in debt to God, but a religious person is someone who is working hard and making an effort and trying to be good, going to Bible studies and just saying "no" everywhere, and denying themselves a lot of pleasures, and so forth, and a religious person is someone who is trying to put God in their debt. That is the difference.  A religious person is someone who is trying to save themselves through their good works. A religious person is somebody who thinks they are putting God in their debt since they have tried so hard. A Christian is somebody who sees themselves as in God's debt.

Here is the acid test: If you are a Christian you have a spirit of wonder that permeates your life. You are always saying "how miraculous", "how interplanetary", "how unreal". You are always looking at yourself and saying, "me a Christian ... incredible, miraculous, unbelievable, a joke!!! " but a person who is trying to put God in their debt - there is none of that spirit of wonder at all.  For example, when you show up to get your paycheck.  I am assuming that most of you work hard for your money.  When you show up for your paycheck do you say "Ah, BEHOLD!!!, you've paid me, you've given me money!!! Oh!! Are you real?." No, you don't do that, you say "of course you paid me, I worked."  If you ask a religious person who does not understand the grace of God. you say, "Are you a Christian?" They say "Of course I am a Christian, I have always been a Christian. Sure I am a Christian. "  My friends, if you are a Christian there is no "sure" about it and there is no "of courseness" about it, not a bit.

The acid test is your spirit of wonder stays there even when things go bad.  You see when things go bad, when problems happen, here you can tell the difference between a moralist and a Christian.  A moralist says, "what good is all my religion, what good is going to God, I have tried hard to be a Christian, I am trying hard to be obedient to God, and what good is it? God owes me." And you see you get mad. You say, "I have been trying hard and look what's going on in my love life, look what's going on in my career", and you get bitter. Why? because God owes you.  But A Christian keeps that spirit of wonder.  A Christian may say "my career has not gone too well, my love life has not gone too well, it's astonishing... Its amazing that God is as good as He is to me. Its all grace. Its all grace.  That spirit of wonder. That sense of being a miracle. That everything that comes to you being an absolute mercy. That is an acid test.  In fact, in some ways I have made a dichotomy that is unrealistic.  Christians, to the degree that you behold the free grace of God, to the degree that you meditate on it and you let it become a holy fire in your heart, to the degree you experience and behold the love of God, to that degree you are going to find that to difficulties you will be able to say "oh well, my Father must have a purpose here because He loves me, and besides that, He does not owe me a good life. He owes me a far worse life than I've got." You can handle anything. And when good things come you will say "Behold! what a miracle"  And the very fact you can get up in the morning and say, "I am a Christian. Who would have thought it?" There is a spirit of wonder about you, and if you have lost that you are slipping back into moralism, you are slipping back into thinking "well I guess what it means to be a Christian is just to do."  Here is Christianity:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

The wonder is a mark that you know the Lord. The ability to handle anything with that sense of almost childlike wonder. That sense of being a miracle.  That tells you that you know him. 

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior's Name!
He has hushed the law's loud thunder,
He has quenched Mount Sinai's flame.
He has wash'd us with His blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.


Excerpt from the Sermon: Beholding the Love of God: Knowing that We Know God - 1 John 3:1-3" Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA)



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