Mike McKinley, Am I Really a Christian? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011). $12.99, 160 pages.
Matthew 7:21–23 may be one of the most difficult passages of Scripture for Christians to contemplate. There, people asked Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” (Evidently, they were Pentecostals, like me.) Instead of commending them, however, Jesus said, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.” These people were self-deceived about the authenticity of their Christianity.
In Am I Really a Christian? Mike McKinley outlines five things all Christians have:
- Belief in true doctrine.
- Hatred for sin in your life.
- Perseverance over time.
- Love for other people.
- Freedom from love of the world.
McKinley backs up his assertions with Scripture. He uses illustrations, often funny and self-deprecating, to make his points. And he writes in a simple, easy-going manner that makes this book perfect for use by small groups. Each chapter concludes with study questions and suggestions for practical action.
Crucially, McKinley grounds his teaching in grace, not works. “Our goal in this book,” he writes, “is not to ask whether we have done enough to earn God’s love and favor. Instead, our goal is to begin learning how to look for the evidence that God has done his mighty work in our lives.” This goal admirably encapsulates balanced biblical teaching about justification by grace through faith that leads to sanctified works.
Given that 76 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian, it is important for American believers to understand what being a Christian really means. Mike McKinley should be commended for helping us ort out this issue.
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Usable Quotes from the Book
Jesus taught that the world was divided into two groups of people who would experience two radically different fates in this life and in the next. Those who are his followers will receive abundant life now and eternal blessings in his presence (John 10:10; Matt. 25:34). Those who are not his followers will squander their time on earth and ultimately experience the just wrath of God against their sins for all eternity. Friend, you have a lot at stake in knowing whether you are genuinely a Christian. (14)
It is true that we need to make a onetime decision to follow Jesus. But a true onetime decision is followed by the everyday decision to follow Jesus. Jesus did not think that it was enough just to superficially identify yourself with him. There is more to being his follower than just a profession of faith. My fear is that too many churches have encouraged people to expect that Jesus will one day say to them, “Well done, faithful servant.” But in fact, they will hear him say, “Depart from me.” Such people will discover the truth only after it is too late. (23)
What constitutes reliable evidence of regeneration?…
- Belief in true doctrine. You’re not a Christian just because you like Jesus.
- Hatred for sin in your life. You’re not a Christian if you enjoy sin.
- Perseverance over time. You’re not a Christian if you don’t persist in the faith.
- Love for other people. You’re not a Christian if you don’t have care and concern for other people.
- Freedom from love of the world. You’re not a Christian if the things of the world are more valuable to you than God. (39)
Our goal in this book, in other words, is not to ask whether we have done enough to earn God’s love and favor. Instead, our goal is to begin learning how to look for the evidence that God has done his mighty work in our lives. So let’s get to work. (41)
The faith of a Christian, the faith that Jesus says marks the difference between eternal life and eternal condemnation, bears two essential elements: objective content and heartfelt trust. (46)
Objective content (47–52):
- You are a sinner.
- Jesus is fully God and fully man.
- Jesus the God-man saves through his death.
- Jesus was raised bodily from the dead.
- Jesus is Lord.
The late Leon Morris wrote, “To put it bluntly and plainly, if Christ is not my Substitute, I still occupy the place of a condemned sinner. If my sins and my guilt are not transferred to Him, if He did not take them upon Himself, then surely they remain with me. If He did not deal with my sins, I must face their consequences. If my penalty was not borne by Him, it still hangs over me.” Every believer in Christ must affirm the truth that Christ died a sacrificial death in the place of sinners. (51)
What does any of this have to do with whether you are really a Christian? Well, I think the question of what Jersey you’re wearing helps us think about sin in the life of a professing Christian. To call yourself a Christian is to say you’ve changed teams. It’s to put on a new jersey that says to everyone that you have new allegiances. But what would you think of someone who put on a new jersey but kept playing for the old team? That’s what we’re doing a Christians whenever we sin. We’re playing for the old team even though we’re wearing the new jersey. Sin for someone who claims to be a Christian is a strange kind of treason. It is taking Satan’s side in rebellion against God even though you’re saying you’re on God’s team. (60; this illustration talks about McKinley’s disappointment when Reggie White stopped playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and started playing for the Green Bay Packers)
Just as believers’ salvation is not their own doing, neither is their perseverance. The amazing grace which saves wretches is the same amazing grace that brings them home. (87)
Wealth is like anesthesia: it can be a great thing, but it can also be dangerous. If you have a life-threatening wound, you don’t want to be so numbed on anesthesia that you don’t recognize the danger. Anesthesia does not fix your problems; it does not heal your wounds. It just makes you less aware of the problems that you have.
All your wealth is dangerous because it has the power to numb you to your need for God. It has the power to draw your love away from God and deceive you into thinking that it can satisfy and save you. The apostle Paul concludes bluntly, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). (112)
Friend, anyone who told you that being a Christian requires nothing more than saying a few words or praying a prayer as if it were a magic spell, was dead wrong. Anyone who told you that coming to Jesus would make your life easy, pleasant, and fun, was dead wrong. Anyone who told you that Jesus wants you to be rich, was dead wrong. No, following Jesus means picking up your cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (117)
I once heard a very helpful illustration of what the Christian life should look like from counseling professor David Powlison. He said the pattern of Christian life and growth is like a yo-yo: up and down, up and down. That is pretty depressing, but also pretty true. One day I feel as if I have sin beat; the next day I feel as if I am back at the beginning.
But there is more, Powlison said. The pattern of Christian life and growth may be like a yo-yo, but it’s a yo-yo in the hands of someone walking up a flight of stairs. That is a much more encouraging image. In the day-to-day, we are acutely aware of the yo-yo feeling, the ups and downs of the battle against sin. But we miss the larger picture of growth and maturity that God is graciously working in us—he is carrying us up the stairs. Even our low points are now higher than our high points used to be. (131)