The marks of a true Christian

The marks of a true Christian – a sermon on 1 John 5:1-5 by Rev. Ralph Adams.

Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the title of my sermon this morning is THE MARKS OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN.   To discover what this is about, we are going to look at chapter five of John’s first letter, the verses one to five.  Here, in this one small paragraph the apostle brings together three very practical tests of authentic Christianity.


People may say, ‘I’m a born-again Christian!’  And if this should be true of them, then they’re very fortunate indeed.  Because being ‘born-again’ is not just a catchphrase that belongs to a certain group of Christians or to a certain denomination.  It’s a Biblical term.  In John’s gospel, Jesus is recorded as telling Nicodemus, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is ‘born again’.  Also, the apostle Peter adds, “you have been born again… through the living and abiding word of God.”

John continues this theme into his first letter, speaking of being ‘born again’ in terms of being ‘born of God’… e.g.

  • everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (2:29)
  • “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (3:9)
  • “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (4:7)

And finally in the text for this morning:

  • “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” (5:1)

These verses can mean only one thing: in order to be part of God’s Kingdom, we have to be ‘born again’… or ‘born of God.’  We have to be ‘born again’ before we can believe the gospel.

Yet, some people find their way into the church without ever being ‘born again.’  Perhaps they were moved by the emotion of a memorable worship service and mistook this for true Christian faith.  Others perhaps count on being born to Christian parents, to secure their salvation.  The truth is the Holy Spirit must change our hearts so that we can love God and become His children.

So, let us use this opportunity to seriously consider the question, “Am I a true Christian?”  “[An old saying has is that] ‘Clothes maketh the man.’ But do they? [Crooks] can be dressed in the best fashion, but they are still [crooks].  Conversely, saints may be clad in rags, but they are still saints.  The clothes on the person are not what counts but who is in the clothes. What are the marks of a true Christian faith?

Theologian John Stott, in his commentary on the letters of John, writes of the three tests I mentioned earlier, saying, “This compressed paragraph [i.e., the verses 1-5] begins and ends with ‘belief,’ but between these two termini [John] writes about ‘love’ and ‘obedience.’  The real link between the three tests is seen to be the new birth [from above].  Faith, love and obedience are the natural growth which follows a birth from above, just as [earlier, in chapter four (4:13-16) John showed faith and love to be evidence] of the mutual indwelling of God and His people.”

John’s tests are namely,

  • i) the Test of Faith;
  • ii) the Test of Love;
  • iii) the Test of Obedience.

These provide us with a convenient means by which you and I can know that we are true Christians.  But please be careful to note that these are not three things we do to earn salvation.  No! These are simply John’s signposts to assure us that we’re on the road to eternal life, three signs pointing to the fact that God has already saved us.  For doesn’t Paul say “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…”  to indicate that ‘salvation’ is really a GIFT of God’s grace.

So, let us now look at these tests in turn……