The Primary Identifying Mark of the Christian

You may be the only Bible some people read.
You may be the only Jesus some people see.

There’s a lot to being a Christian.

There’s worship. There’s fellowship. There’s service. There’s generosity. There’s praying.

All of these things are vital components of what it means to live out the life of a believer.

And each of these components are some of the ways people outside the faith know who we are.

People generally know that Christians do things like:

  • Read their Bibles
  • Go to church
  • Support missionaries

All these activities serve as identifying marks of a follower of Jesus.

But the Bible says there is one characteristic  that stands out above all the rest.

The Christian is to be known for their expression of love.

Jesus said it plainly to His disciples just before He was arrested and crucified:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

Right in the middle of this directive from Jesus are these words: “Just as I have loved you…”

Which begs the question: “How had Jesus shown love to His disciples?

Answer: By the humble, practical act of washing their feet.

Jesus love wasn’t just theoretical or limited to feelings. No, Jesus love was revealed in the form of a verb. His love for the disciples was action-oriented.

The late R.C. Sproul put it this way:

In the New Testament, love is more of a verb than a noun. It has more to do with acting than with feeling. The call to love is not so much a call to a certain state of feeling as it is to a quality of action.

So, if I may ask, when it comes to this primary identifying mark of the believer, how are we doing?

Are the people who don’t know Jesus astounded by the way the people who do know Jesus care for others?

When people talk about their interactions with Christians, does the conversation usually go to discussing the great demonstrations of love Jesus’ followers display?

Sad to say,  but some of the words used to describe many of us might include words like: judgmental, angry, unfriendly, unavailable, or prideful.

But Jesus said that people will know we are His followers by our love! Not our condemnation…or our hostility…or our haughtiness, but love.

John later reiterated the importance of understanding that love is the mark of the Christian:

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. ~ 1 John 3:10-11

So, once again I ask: How are we doing?

Is love the thing that, more than anything else, other people see in our practice of Christianity?

If not, then can we say we that we are obeying and abiding in Jesus?


“Do I Feel Like Going to Church Today?”

Going to church regularly is the biblical norm for the person wanting to mature as a believer. This doesn’t mean if we miss a Sunday, we’ve sinned. The issue is how well we are orienting ourselves for growth.

Going to church isn’t about getting perfect attendance, and church isn’t meant to be something we are forced to go to, but a place we want to go to.

Sometimes, I believe, we make our church-going too much of an option. We wake up on Sunday and ask ourselves, “Do I feel like going to church today?” That is a recipe for an inconsistent church life. Such a perspective ruled my teenage years, and my lack of Christian growth was undeniable evidence of my immature attitude toward church attendance and involvment.

Instead, we ought to pre-determine to go to church – not out of legalism or obligation – but because we know it is a major component of our spiritual development.

See, when church is equal to the great variety of options set before us, we will have a hard time prioritizing it. And thus, we will have a hard time building a healthy habit.

So, rather than asking ourselves if we feel like going to church, it would be better to have a mindset that asks, “What is keeping from getting to church today?” The truth is, the answers to that question should comprise of a very short list.

“I Have a Bible Question”

It always seems to happen the day before I leave for vacation.

Last week while at the church office, I got a message from our office administrator that a person was on “line 1” with a Bible question.

Which seemed to make sense for a person to call a pastor when they were unsure about about something taught in God’s Word.

So, without hesitation, I stopped what I was doing and took the call.

The individual, who I’ll call John, told me he was on his lunch break, and decided to call a church with a question for a pastor. He immediately shared that he had a question about the concept of the Trinity (a concept which is core to orthodox Christianity).

Coming from several years of pastoral work in Utah, discussions on the Trinity were commonplace. Many former Mormons who joined our church came out of a practice that does not believe in the Trinity.

So, I know the issue of the Trinity can be a bit confusing. It’s a topic worthy of discussion.

As I started to open things up by asking a few questions (to get a feel from where he was coming from), John jumped in and told me (with great vigor) he found it completely untenable to believe in the teaching that God is three in one. His sticking point was what he believed to be a grammatical problem found in Genesis.

He then launched into a speech of sorts to blast anyone who didn’t think as he did.

Once again, I tried to speak up, but John interrupted and challenged me on his singular point of contention. It seemed John wanted to argue more than converse.

Pushing in, I tried to share a few points about why orthodox Christianity embraces the idea of the Trinity, even while admitting that the doctrine carries with it a measure of mystery.

But my input only seemed to make John more upset. He got louder and began to border on insulting me.

I finally stopped offering my thoughts on the Trinity and said to John, “I thought you called with a question, but it seems to me you are more intent on simply defending and arguing for a position to which you firmly hold.”

Amazingly (to me), John insisted that he wasn’t arguing. So, I gave conversing one more shot, but my sharing only made John become even more impatient and exasperated.

He resorted to questioning the intelligence of Christians who believe in the Trinity, comparing their understanding of scripture to those who hold a level of reading comprehension equal to a second grader.

At that moment, I realized I was in an ‘echo chamber” conversation.

John hadn’t called with a question.

He was looking for someone to assault with his pre-determined perspectives.

He came in like a lamb, saying he had a question for a pastor.

But within seconds of the conversation, John turned into a lion, looking for someone to devour.

By this time, John was in full assault mode. He sounded angry to the point of vexation. And he wouldn’t stop talking.

As John’s level of vitriol rose, I finally said “Hey, John, I’m hanging up now. Thanks for calling.” I’m not sure he even heard me over his own diatribe.

I was taught as a child that it was rude to hang up on someone.

But there is also a boundary to be maintained when a person is giving themselves full permission to go into a tirade. It made me think about the proverb that condemns the person who gives full vent to their anger (Proverbs 29:11).

Such interactions always give me pause to think about how I myself interact with other people. A lot of questions come to mind:

  • Am I allowing the fruit of the Spirit to flow through me? (attitudes such as patience, kindness, self-control, etc.)
  • Am I really interested in conversation, or am I just trying to make my point without any input from others?
  • Do I care about the other person? Or are they simply a sounding board (or punching bag) for me to bounce my views of off?
  • Do I trap people in conversations or arguments they never asked to be part of?

I would have loved to have a honest conversation with John. But that’s not what he called for. So, I had to make a decision whether I wanted to continue to be harangued. I finally came to the point when I determined the answer was, “No.”

I can only pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to John’s heart about what he is really searching for.




No “Off-Duty” Sundays

Sunday morning, July 15, 7:25 a.m.

This past week my family was gone for a few days of vacation, and as happens occasionally, this meas I have no “official” responsibilities for this Sunday morning.

  • We have guest speakers giving the message, so no message for me.
  • I wasn’t even on the schedule for announcements, which means I won’t be leading the guest forum.
  • And, I won’t be teaching the 8:30 am class until next week.

It’s kind of strange to head into a Sunday morning with no official assignments.

But. it can also feel kind of freeing, as typically my Sundays are quite full.

For all intents and purposes, I’m off!

Or am I? Just because I have no official roles to fill, does that mean that I have no accountability for my Sunday morning involvement?

The truth is, none of us who come to church on a Sunday morning should ever embrace such a mindset.

So much of the ministry that takes place in a church never finds its way on to an agenda or schedule.

If we are, as Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12, a functioning body, then each person has a part to play as we gather as a church community.

Sure, there will be those who are scheduled teach classes, lead singing, or guide our times of prayer. Some people are assigned specific positions such as being an usher or a welcome desk volunteer.

But even if we don’t carry an official title or have a specific station, we ought never think that we don’t have responsibilities to fulfill.

The writer of Hebrews wrote:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)

Don’t miss the point from verse 25: the ministry of encouragement is a calling for every Christian to pursue when we gather as a corporate body!

Meaning, even if I don’t have an official job, I always have God-mandated job!

And our calling doesn’t end at the ministry of encouragement.

Bottom line, Sunday mornings are an opportunity for every believer to find themselves involved in acts of:

  • Encouragement
  • Exhortation
  • Prayer
  • Helps
  • Counsel
  • Listening

Truth be told, there is never meant to be an “off-duty” Sunday morning worshiper.

We all have jobs to do. Some are assigned to us by church leadership, but even more importantly, we have jobs assigned to us by God’s Word.

I may be “off duty” when it comes to the Sunday morning schedule today, but I can rest assured that God always has plenty of tasks for me to complete.

And they are just as important as the responsibilities I typically fulfill on any given Sunday.


The What and Why of Baptism

What is the point and purpose of baptism?

Allow me share three points of purpose:

  • Water baptism is a public, outward testimony that indicates a personal, inward faith. It gives evidence of the inner change that has already occurred in the believer’s life when he or she was “born again” through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Baptism identifies the believer with the message of the gospel, the Person of Jesus Christ, and other believers.
  • Baptism associates the believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and signifies the believer’s death to the old life and his or her resurrection as a new creation in Christ.

See, baptism isn’t some rote religious activity, but is meant to be dynamic in all that it declares!

What God did by giving us baptism was to provide us a practical means to identity our connection to Jesus and announce our relationship to Christ to the world.

Why should a person be baptized?

Unlike our friend the Ethiopian official from the previous post, a lot of us may be prone to hesitation when it comes to baptism.

And I think there are a few reasons why we might hold back rather than step forward.


For some, the idea of getting before a crowd feels daunting and intimidating.

As much as we believe in Jesus, we struggle having numerous sets of eyes steered in our direction.


I believe another reason people don’t move forward in baptism is because they don’t feel like they are good enough.

It’s strange, we know we can’t save ourselves, and thus must rely upon Jesus to be our Savior. But baptism has a way of making some people feel unworthy.

The essence of salvation is the fact that we aren’t worthy, so we must go outside ourselves to be made right with God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it so clear:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The bottom line is this: We don’t save ourselves; God saves us.

And this salvation is based on mercy, grace and faith.

It is never a result of effort, works or merit.

And baptism is simply a declaration of that truth!

Yet some people think that at the point of baptism, they need to have it all together.

One writer put it like this:

Baptism is a sacrament instituted by Jesus and a reflection of God’s glory, grace and goodness—not a benchmark of our own worthiness or deservingness. ~ Wendy Wong, YMI Blog

It’s a weird thing, but it happens way too often when I talk to people about baptism:

Even though they know that salvation comes by faith and not through works, they still somehow equate baptism with washing them clean of their sins.

But the cleansing of sins doesn’t come through baptism!

The power for washing us clean from our sins come through the blood of Christ, not the water of the baptism!

May we never come to the conclusion that baptism is a means of salvation. Baptism is a means of declaring our salvation!


Sometimes the real reason we hedge when it comes to being baptized simply comes down to pride.

We look at something like baptism and simply decide it’s not for us.

Which makes sense, because I do believe baptism does carry with it a sense of humility.

To be baptized, we must submit ourselves into the hands of our baptizer.

In other words, baptism demands a measure of vulnerability.

For some of us, giving up control like that does not come easy!

In a nutshell, some people balk at baptism because of:

Fear, unworthiness and pride

Those are some pretty big obstacles! So, what does it take to overcome them?

What can overcome them?

Consider these prime motivators:


In my mind, these two motivators are greater than the “hesitators” of fear, unworthiness or pride. In Matthew 28:19-20, in describing the mission work for all his disciples, Jesus told his followers what types of activities they were to be involved in:

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Simply put, Jesus wanted his followers to be involved in three primary practice: making disciples, baptizing and teaching. Lead people to the point of trusting Christ, identifying with Christ and growing in Christ.

For the person who might say that baptism is optional, or no big thing, I would have to say that Jesus holds a different opinion. Baptism is the calling for every believer!

And so, out of obedience to Jesus, we are to be baptized. And our obedience to Jesus should always stem from a deep love for Jesus!

In John 14:15, Jesus made this bold statement:

John 14:15 (ESV)

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

When it comes to healthy Christianity, love and obedience always go hand in hand.

If we know what God wants us to do – and in some cases what NOT to do – out of our love for Him, we obey!

Allow me to offer another reason to become proactive when it comes to baptism:


Throughout the book of Acts, as people are coming to Christ and the church is growing, baptism is the absolute norm.

As I stated earlier, salvation and baptism were very closely related.

Though not perfect, the early church seemed to be firing well on a lot of cylinders:

  • They were a worshiping church
  • They were a learning church
  • They were a praying church
  • They were a sharing church
  • They were an evangelizing church
  • And they were a church full of people who responded to Jesus by being baptized

Who are we to say that we should not participate in a heritage and tradition so deeply entrenched in scripture?



The Urgency of Baptism

Ours is a culture that really likes to communicate our allegiances to others!

A couple of examples:

  • During the football season, I find it common for people to proudly “wear their colors” whether it be for a professional or college team.
  • More and more, people are using the back window of their car, truck or van as a sort of canvas on which to apply a multitude of stickers!

With these stickers we might communicate:

  • Which teams we follow
  • What brands we buy
  • What causes we support

It’s very interesting how we have a desire to let others know of our loyalties as well as our philosophies!

Baptism has some similarities to this idea of expressing our allegiances to those around us.

A few quick bullet points:

  • Baptism is a practice that is exclusive to Christianity.
  • And it is a central component to Christianity, something that every follower of Jesus is called to participate in.

Most of us know what baptism is, but just in case someone here does not know, allow me to provide a quick definition.

Baptism is the practice of a person, professing to have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, being dipped down into water and the being raised back up out of the water.

Which, on its own may sound sort of strange. We may wonder, what does being dunked in water have anything to do with my Christianity?

Well, in some ways, being baptized is a lot like the sports team jersey we wear, or the stickers we place on the back of our car.

Essentially, baptism is a biblically-prescribed way for us to communicate our allegiance to Jesus!

And when we read through the NT, we find that baptism for this purpose was happening all the time. People were placing their faith in Jesus, and in fairly short order, they responded by being baptized to communicate their new-found relationship with God.

See, in the Bible, salvation and baptism were closely linked.

In NT culture, people who came to Jesus were encouraged to let others know of their faith by being baptized.

Once amazing example is found in Acts 8

In this chapter, Philip (who was one of Jesus’ disciples) has a supernatural encounter with a man from Ethiopia.

But first a little set-up:

  • What happened was Philip was spoken to by an angel who gave him specific instructions to head to a certain road that existed between Jerusalem and Gaza.
  • This was a place out in the middle of nowhere, which may have caused some people to hesitate, but Philip obeyed the angel and took off.
  • When he got there, he found out that God had already planned an encounter for Philip
  • There he saw an Ethiopian official who served under the queen of Ethiopia, a woman named Candace.
  • This official had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning back home
  • As the Ethiopian official was sitting in his chariot, he was reading in the book of Isaiah
  • So, the Holy Spirit nudged upon Philip to go and talk to the official.

Now, let’s go to the text and see what happened next:

Acts 8:30-38 (ESV)

So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

I love the Ethiopian official’s sense of urgency!

Within moments of responding in faith to the message of Christ, he wanted to be publicly identified with Christ!

How about us? If we have not been baptized, do we feel the same need to identify ourselves with Jesus and proclaim our allegiance to Him?

And if not, why not?

I don’t think it is a positive that in our culture, baptism is something of little importance, and thus can be pushed down the road…or worse, pushed to the side.

If we claim to love Jesus and want to obey Him, one of the best ways to do so is by saying “Yes!” to baptism.


Freedom: Handle with Care

Recently my preaching schedule has led me though a section of 1 Corinthians where Paul writes about the wise and proper use of freedoms.

In the times of the Corinthian church, a question came up about buying or eating meat that had been previously used in a pagan ritual. (Such meat would often find it’s way into the meat market.) And in some cases, the meat would be served already prepared at the very site of the pagan temple.

Obviously for us in 2018 this is not a big area of struggle, but for the Corinthians this was a huge challenge.

Some people were generally appalled by the idea. Perhaps they were young in the faith, or perhaps their journey to Christ had come out a life of godless paganism. It could have been that some thought the meat was, in some way, inhabited by demonic influences.

Others in the church didn’t understand the internal struggle about eating such meat. And if such meat came at a more affordable price, why not get a great deal?

This question of “to meat or not to meat” made it’s way to Paul, so he wrote out a response.

In the first place, Paul affirmed that the meat used in pagan rituals was just that: meat.

Here’s how he put it:

1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (NIV)

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

In essence, Paul was saying that attributing so much power to the idols used in these paganistic rites was giving them too much credit. Truth be told, they were nothing more than rocks carved into statues.

Now, Paul’s assessment found in verses 4-6 could have been taken as a green light to the pro-meat-eating contingent in Corinth.

But verse 7 lets us know that Paul has more on his mind regarding the subject:

1 Corinthians 8:7 (NIV)

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.

In essence, Paul is saying, “Not everyone is where you may be at on the same issue.”

Even though “on paper” eating idol-sacrificed meat appeared to be okay, in the minds of some, participating in a meal of such meat would painfully stab at their conscience.

What Paul is doing here is creating a dilemma: to meat or not to meat!

I think the point Paul wants his readers to get is this: sometimes it’s better to forgo a freedom if we know it is really going to trip someone up.

Which demands great sensitivity to God, His Word and His Spirit.

Notice how Paul wraps up the chapter:

1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (NIV)

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

Isn’t it interesting that Paul wrote that eating ritually-sacrificed meat was not a sin, but wounding the conscience of a person who thought differently was definitely a sin!

The principle within this chapter reminds me of the challenge of parenting.

Hopefully, our goal is to help our kids to keep growing emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.

But in this process, what parent hasn’t placed their kids in a situation that was a bit over their head, and the result was a frightened or overwhelmed child?

We thought we were helping them make a huge leap forward, but in the end we realized we just took them a few steps backward.

To which, hopefully, we dialed back the pressure and lowered our expectations and let our kids grow at a more manageable pace.

That was Paul’s concern for all brothers and sisters in Christ.

His desire was that the mature wouldn’t flaunt their freedom, but rather would stop and consider how their freedom affects others.


I don’t think that a mature Christian can never exercise their freedom. I just think that if they really love their fellow Christian, they’ll take time to weigh the risks/benefits of any given situation.

That’s Paul’s point.

To do so is to exercise love.

And sometimes love says no to something we have complete liberty to do.