Wouldn’t Badges Be Easier?
Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011
We are called upon to make the glory of our Creator’s Lordship known. He is the Maker and King over all that is. He is the standard that defines what is good and holy. He is the loving Redeemer of all his people in all ages. This is good news, so we call it the gospel.
There have always been those who claim to be his, who with spiritual pride do more to exalt themselves and judge others than they do to walk humbly in God’s ways and to make his glory visible.
How can we recognize the true believers and faithful churches? How does anyone know that he is not among those who are deceiving even themselves?
a warning from Jesus
Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
Jesus warned his followers about these dangerous persons. He called them false prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing. This means they won’t be easy to recognize by their claims, and by how they present themselves at first glance.
I never saw a wolf dressed up like a sheep. I think I would be able to pick him out of a flock. However, would the sheep, not being as skeptical as a human, nor as used to recognizing a costume when they saw one, be able to spot him? How can we, as the flock of Jesus Christ, identify those who under the wool have the cunning, claws, and teeth of a hungry fox?
If you asked the deceivers, they would openly claim to be one of God’s sheep. They would tell you that they know what is right and true. Like the Pharisees, they may constantly quote Scripture, but they are not honest with themselves or others. They either add to God’s word, or distort it to come up with different meanings for what it says. They use the Bible as a tool to manipulate others, and to excuse themselves from their accountability to their Maker. They don’t view Scripture as a source of absolute truth, and as an infallible guide for holy living.
but are they recognizable?
Jesus explained in Matthew 7:16-17,
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
Twice in that passage, in verses 16 and 20, Jesus said, You will know them by their fruits.
So, what are the fruits by which we can recognize those who are not the true children of God? The Bible specifically lists what should be exhibited in every believer. Galatians 5:22-23 itemizes them for us:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
The Apostle Paul expanded upon the characteristics of love as God sees it in the classic passage of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Jesus told His followers in John 13:35,
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
is there an easier way?
We might imagine some quick thinking marketing expert or promoter coming up with a fast and easy alternative. He might have asked, “Lord, wouldn’t it be easier if we wore badges? or a uniform? or maybe we could use bumper stickers and T-shirts?”
It certainly would be a lot easier if all we needed to identify ourselves was a T-shirt, a slogan, a badge, or a well placed bumper sticker. But that’s not God’s way.
How shall men recognize true disciples of Christ? They will be the ones who show these evidences of changed behavior in their lives. This beaming testimony is what Jesus pointed to in his Sermon on the Mount when he said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
No one in this life will exhibit these characteristics perfectly, but all believers ought to treasure these attributes and be working on developing them in themselves. They should openly and humbly confess when they fall short, and point to the grace that restores them though they deeply offend our Holy Lord.
This means that true believers have the Holy Spirit at work in them to produce a love for God’s ways, and a quick repentance when they fall short. They will recognize the amazing grace that cleanses their souls from the stain that reveals what would emit from their lives if not for the Sovereign Power of a loving Savior.
It should deeply concern us to know these characteristics of the Christian life well, and to know how God says we are to exercise ourselves in them to strengthen their visibility in our lives for his Glory.
Those content to be Christians by mere profession, by the outward benefits they enjoy, or their outward dress, are in grave peril of discovering the hide of a wolf under their white coat of wool.
Love, that all encompassing word, is what Jesus said would mark out his people from the world. This is the first exercise of evangelism: to cultivate the evidences of the gospel in our own lives so that the work of grace will shine as a light upon the Father’s transforming power.
An outward show of words, claims, pragmatic reasoning, and a tendency to argue his way to a verbal conquest have always been the markings of the wolf dressed up like a lamb. Sticking out from under the costume will be unrepentant moments of anger, impatience, pride, selfishness, rudeness, bragging, and jealousy.
tragically these wolves don’t know who they are
Jesus went on to say in Matthew 7:21-23,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “
The false prophets are ones who claim to be real spiritual believers. They cry out “Lore, Lord!” They testify that the God of Scripture is their Master. However, since they are not faithful to His ways, he is not truly their Lord.
To argue their way past the Judge, they list all the good works they believe they have done for him. They believe they have prophesied God’s word, spoken and acted in his name. They claim to have cast out demons and performed many miracles!
We should remember that even the magicians of Pharaoh’s court, and the cultists of Canaan, did things they and others believed were supernatural acts.
Today many are taken in by claims of miracles in Christ’s name. TV and radio preachers combine their wild and irresponsible notions about God with supernatural signs and wonders. They deceive many. Paul warned the Thessalonian believers about such as these in 2 Thessalonians 2:9,
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,”
Jesus will tell the self-deceivers, and deceivers of others, that he never knew them. He will tell them to depart from him. And he will expose the wolf under the costume as those who practice lawlessness. Jesus was quoting from Psalm 6:8 where David cried out to those tormenting him, to leave him alone. God is likewise offended, not impressed, with all their outward show.
The tragedy is that there are indeed false Christians who lead many astray. How are we to distinguish the true people of God? How do we become assured by the Holy Spirit that we are truly His? Not by their claims, badges, slogans, or bumper stickers. Not by their outward show, Not by their clothes, rules, or knowledge. It’s by their fruit, the evidence that the fruit of the Holy Spirit growing inside the heart, that we recognize the true sheep and the true shepherds.
The best intellectuals, the best showmen, the best looking, the most vocal, the most active, the most envied. are not always the true disciples.
The ones whose lives show evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, these are the ones who evidence that God is at work in their lives. These are the real evangelists who exhibit Christ’s glory and salvation to the world in which God has called them to live.
the mark of the beast
There are always people discussing the mark of the beast mentioned several times in the Book of the Revelation. Sadly many see its fulfillment in tattoos, body piercings, UPC codes, and other such physical markings. Intriguing speculations about conspiracies, hidden codes, and futuristic prophesy sells books, draws audiences to TV and Radio show (not to mention the donations they elicit), and packs huge crowds into seminars and convention halls.
Few of those pop-theologians and marketers of religion deal with the full biblical significance of the mark on the head and hand which characterizes those who are followers and worshipers of what is called the beast.
There is an ancient warning in God’s word found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. It is found in the section instructing parents to teach God’s commandments to their covenant children. In verse 8 of that section it says,
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”
In the context the meaning is clear. God’s word must bind our hands, and be on our minds. In binding it on our hands, the word of God directs what we do. In binding it on our forehead, the word of God directs our thoughts.
In later times some of the Pharisees made this into a physical rule. They would tie straps around their hands and hang leather pouches over their forehead with the commandments written on them. But this outward obedience didn’t help at all in sealing their actions and thoughts with the binding power of the word of God. It was to be taught, not worn as jewelry.
The word of God must bind our lives. It should always direct our deeds and thoughts. When it does, it will produces evidences in our attitudes and lives. This is the mark of the true believer, the redeemed child of God.
Every person bears one mark or another. Either he evidences the binding of God’s word on his hands and head, or he evidences that he is still separated from God with a lost and deceived soul. The lack of the godly bonds to righteousness constitute the mark of disloyalty that brands and binds every lost soul.
Those who bear the mark of being a child of God have often been the victims of persecutions, shut out of business transactions, or denied jobs. It is increasingly difficult for young believers to find work if they determine to keep the Sabbath holy and refrain from labor as the fourth commandment requires.
Those whose acts and minds, whose hands and hearts, show that they are bound to a different standard, the standard of evil, of the beast, will find a welcome camaraderie in the world that is offended by Christ.
How much easier it is when we imagine the mark of the beast to be some futuristic tattoo or embedded computer chip in our hand or forehead. But how much it cuts to our soul when we realize that many have taken on that sign already by living and thinking according to the world, rather than as God’s word instructs us.
What then is the mark of the Christian? What characteristics set us apart and assure us that the Holy Spirit is truly at work in our hearts? It is to love the brethren which includes all the characteristics of biblical love as specified in God’s word. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments”
We already saw our Lord’s words in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
If we take these words of Jesus as our starting point, we see that badges or outward claims will not satisfy the need of identifying the true children of God. It would certainly be easier if that’s all we had to do to show Christ to others. But then again, wolves can wear badges, and they do.
Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.