Lately, I am hearing some of my evangelical friends vouching for the conversion of some present and past American politicians. I especially hear it stated with reference to our sitting President. To be sure, only God knows what is inside someone’s heart, nonetheless, it is also true that the Word gives us some ways we can test whether someone is giving signs of being a true believer or not. Here are some of them:

1. The test of early enthusiasm. I have been around brand new Christians a lot. My experience is that those who have been transported from the kingdom of darkness into the “kingdom of the Beloved” are usually chomping at the bit to share with others about their new found faith. They have that “we cannot help” attitude reflected in the way the early Apostles reacted when they were told by the authorities to shut up about the Messiah (John 4.19-20). In fact, early in their journey is when new believers are usually most enthusiastic about letting others know about the amazing transformation that happened in their lives. The thought of a reluctant new believer is at a minimum a historical anomaly.

2. The test of fruit. The Bible says in Matthew 7.15-20 that a good tree yields good fruit and a corrupt tree yields evil fruit. In the context, Jesus was pointing out that the way to distinguish between a false prophet and a true prophet was by the type of fruit each produces. Fruit hangs on the outside. In most cases, it is highly visible and when you see it you know right away what kind of fruit it is. No need to ask questions and one is left wondering about the true nature of the stuff hanging from the tree. You don’t need to be an agronomist to know that if the fruit is rotten, there’s something wrong with the tree.

3. The test of good vs. evil deeds. Speaking of fruit, Paul said that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23). In contrast, the “deeds of the flesh” are “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5.19-21). It shouldn’t be that hard to apply that litmus test to anyone you know, including yourself. Where you are caught lingering is where you long to live. And like fruit hanging from a tree, most of these things, especially the ones in the latter category, are things done in public, not hidden from sight. In other words, we are only deceived if we close our eyes and pretend not to see what we are seeing. Conduct betrays conviction, choice reveals character.

4. The test of readiness to witness. Peter encourages believers to always be ready to give an answer as to why they believe. A believer who is not ready to share is in the least a disobedient believer. And the one who shares must do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15). When speaking to others, God tells us to do so with love. To be contentious is universally condemned in Scriptures. One cannot be a believer and remain in a constant state of contentiousness.

5. The test of truth. If you want to judge someone’s character, listen to the words that come out of his or her mouth and compare them with reality. Paul is emphatic when he says that a true believer has put away falsehood and now seeks to speak the truth with his neighbor (Ephesians 4.25). Jesus identified lying as an aspect of Satan’s character and called him “the father of lies” (John 8.44). Now, to be sure, though the Word says lying lips are an “abomination” to the Lord (Proverbs 12.22), it is not the same as saying that it is the unpardonable sin. Nevertheless, someone who is a perpetual liar and doesn’t seem to care about putting up a fight against that practice should have a reason to suspect whether he or she is truly a believer in Christ. Everyone should know a believer first and for most for his or her unmistakable commitment to tell the truth no matter the consequences.

6. The test of Peace. Paul told Timothy that the man of God “must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (1 Timothy 2.24). In the passage Paul is talking directly to Timothy, but in a previous verse he uses a more universal language when he says that “anyone” who cleanses himself from wickedness “will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (1 Timothy 2.20-21). Regardless of the scope of application, it’s safe to say that someone who is known for constantly picking fights instead of promoting peace may not have the Spirit of God in him or her. A true believer, as far as it depends on him or her, will live in peace with everyone (Romans 12.18). A discontented, divisive, disruptive person is the antithesis of the God-fearing, people-loving, peace-making citizen of the Kingdom, which is not the same as saying that the believer is simply a mat for others to trample on. Believers can live in conflict but not live for conflict.

But after all our opinions are offered, as scripturally sound as they might be, in the end, only God can know perfectly and judge impartially. I am not going to try to usurp God’s place here. But neither will I solemnly swear that certain people are believers, unless I see tangible evidences of that in the way they live their lives. As Paul said, “The Lord knows those who are his,” but let us not forget that he also said, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2.19).

I wrote this piece for one simple reason: If evangelicals, because of political expediency, continue to lower the bar and contribute to redefining what it means to be truly saved, soon we will no longer need to have the word “again” added to “born-again,” which is the iconic, Jesus inspired-lingo for being truly saved. Nicodemus would then ‘get it’ the first time around! (see John 3.3-4).

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade