The Mark of the True Christian


Sermon Text: Romans 12:9-21
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”

Main Points:
I. These commands we cannot keep!
II. Similar are also taught by other religions!
III. What then do these commands prove?
Conclusion: The mark of the true Christian

Someone put a list of things that do not constitute anyone a Christian. The list has 99 things and some of them are like these: ‘Having a Christian name does not make anyone Christian, nor does being born by Christian parents, nor being born in a church hospital, nor attending a Christian school, nor being baptised or christened as an infant.’ We fully agree that these things do not make anyone Christian. Some other things on the list are ‘paying tithes and offerings do not make anyone Christian, nor does giving to the poor and widows, orphans and the homeless, nor going to church, nor attending Bible study.’ I think you can see what the author of this list wishes to say. None of those things but faith in Jesus alone makes anyone Christian. Faith in the Saviour and Lord is the only way to salvation.

Unfortunately, however, some people do not distinguish faith from feat (I mean, as works of achievement). Faith in Jesus saves sinners but feat savours sin’s malodour. One can be baptised but that does not make him Christian unless he believes in Jesus, not by words only, but by heart and confession. One can do the works of mercy by giving to the poor and needy but that does not make her Christian unless she believes in Jesus and worships Him, calling Him Lord. Faith in the Saviour does make a believer Christian.

But, this does not mean Christians should not care about doing things. That’s because if anyone believes in Jesus, his faith becomes the powerhouse in him that motivates and leads him to do various things in the name of the Lord he believes and that pleases God. This is what James in the NT tells us, saying, “faith apart from works is dead.”

What we’ve just read from Rom. 12 is the Apostle Paul’s reminder to us of this important relationship between faith and deeds. He tells us what we should do according to our faith. In a word, this section is Paul’s ‘to do’ list for Christians.

But there’s something unique about this list and this is the main point of today’s sermon. Paul’s ‘to do list for Christians’ stems from a specific truth, that is, ‘you are God’s chosen and members of the true Israel.’ This is the truth Paul has emphasised earlier in Rom. 9-11. With this list, Paul is telling us that because we’re God’s chosen, we should live a certain way of life, that is, doing these things on the list and many more based on the truth we’ve learned.

As we listen to God’s message Paul the Apostle delivers to us, I’d like to begin with two facts with this list, then, see what marks anyone true Christian.

As I said earlier, this is a list of ‘to dos for Christians.’ The things listed here are the standards Christians should aim in their life. These are the goals of our Christian living. We ought to reach these standards. For example, ‘let love be genuine (or sincere or real or true),’ the quality of love we have ought to meet this requirement. The next one listed is to ‘love one another with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honour.’ I think many of us would question what this ‘brotherly affection’ or ‘outdoing one another in showing honour’ asks, let alone practicing it in our daily living. But these and more on the list are the standards or goals we ought to reach.

Talking about goals or objectives of life, we instinctively know that they imply complication, if not unattainability. To achieve any of them, we must put not just much effort but extreme and almost outrageous effort. This is why New Year’s resolutions are forgotten not too long after the beginning of a year. So, we sometimes consider a life’s goal – either consciously or unconsciously – like the polar star or the Southern Cross to look up and check whether we’re following the right path or not. We rarely dream of achieving such a goal.

That is what most, if not all, of us think of the standards we read from Paul’s list. In a word, these standards or goals we cannot achieve! I cannot ‘be fervent in spirit and serve the Lord’ as asked in v. 11. I might be able to do it perfectly once but not always in the rest of my life. I don’t think you can ‘bless those who persecute you, but bless and do not curse them’ as required in v. 14. We try to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep,’ as in v. 15. We cannot always rejoice and weep with others, let alone repaying evil with good.

In a word, these things on Paul’s ‘to do list for Christians’ we cannot keep, we cannot achieve, because they’re impossible for anyone to fully accomplish!

It is also true that what Paul lists are not exclusive Christian virtues. Rather, similar things are also taught by other religions. You might wonder what I’m trying to say, but have patience and follow me, keeping in mind that these commands we cannot achieve.

Let me give you examples of why these aren’t exclusive Christian virtues. Buddhism teaches what is called ‘the noble eightfold path.’ They are right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. These eight can be summed up in this phrase: ‘not to do any evil but to cultivate good, purifying one’s heart.’

Hinduism emphasises ‘ten disciplines,’ such as truth, non-violence, celibacy as non-adultery, no desire to steal, non-possessiveness, cleanliness of internal and external purification of body and mind, reading of scriptures, austerity as perseverance and penance, and finally regular prayers. Aren’t these similar to what we read in today’s text passage?

Let’s see what Islam teaches – declaration of faith, prayer, charity, fasting, prohibitions from things like gambling, taking interest, killing, lying, stealing, cheating, oppressing or abusing others, being greedy or stingy, engaging in sex outside of marriage, disrespecting parents, mistreating relatives, orphans or neighbours.

Confucianism is often regarded as philosophy but it is a pseudo-religion which teaches its followers the so-called ‘five virtues,’ that is, (1) unselfish benevolence, (2) righteousness in public responsibility, (3) sensitivity to one’s social place and willingness to play one’s roles, (4) wisdom and (5) trustworthiness.

Seemingly these religions teach much the same as Paul’s to do list for Christians. Putting these teachings side by side, you wouldn’t be able to say that those of the other religions differ significantly from that of Christianity.

Then, what do these commands of Paul’s list prove to us? We know that this list is different from the teachings of all worldly religions. These commands of God Paul delivers to us bring eternal blessings; these commands enrich the mind, soul and body of believers, adorning them with Christ’s righteousness and God’s glory.

But that’s not the case with all other religions of this world. Their teachings reject the only Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ. Their list of standards is based solely on human pride. Their teachings look colourful with all kinds of urge for right things and good will, but in fact, it is like colour paints added into a bottomless pool of blackness which will never beautify nor change the colour of that pool but deepen the depth of blackness which is hopelessness. That’s because no human being will ever be able to achieve any virtue those religions teach.

What, then, does this to do list of Paul prove to us? The answer is that these are not the goals we must strive to reach but constantly fail. That’s not what this list is. It is rather a list of standards we’re going to meet and fulfill as the outcome of a truth that is realised in us. And that truth is – again – what Paul has expounded in chs. 9-11 – in a word, God’s sovereign choice over you and me to be the members of His true Israel. Because God chose you, called you to be His own through the atoning blood of His Son, Jesus our Lord, He will lead you to meet all of these standards; He will enable you to not only reach them but also enjoy their benefits. This is an important and major difference between Christianity and all other worldly religions. No god or gods lead Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims or Confucianists; no deity is there to enable them to reach their goals; they alone must proceed in their penance, therefore, and achieve them which is impossible for all natural and sinful men and women.

The commands you read from Paul’s list in today’s passage are, in fact, God’s promise and guarantee for you, His will expressed in solid words, that He will bring you to meet all that is required in these standards. He will enable you to have a genuine/sincere/true love; He will empower you to love one another with brotherly affection; He will protect you from being slothful in zeal but make you fervent in spirit; He will allow you to rejoice in hope and be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer, and so on and on.

See how long this list goes. It reaches to overcoming evil with good, leaving vengeance to God instead of taking it into your own hands. Never can a natural man do that. He never leaves vengeance to God, but instead, he doubles and triples his payments for a grudge against his enemy. So, this list Paul spells out proves to us God’s gracious promise and plan for each of us, His chosen, thus, members of His true nation Israel!

So, what marks anyone true Christian? The answer is simple. One who remembers God’s sovereign choice over him/her before the beginning of time, before the creation of all things of the universe, then, understands what God has done for him/her in His grace through Jesus, that is, forgiveness of sins and giving Jesus’ eternal life. Then, realises God’s plan for him/her in the present and the coming ages.

This is not it; he who remembers God’s election, understands God’s salvation and realises God’s plan for him both now and eternity, works joyfully alongside his Triune God. I mean, as God plans to make a Christian’s love genuine, this Christian joyfully enjoys his Heavenly Father’s works in him and excites in working together with God, actively responding to the Father’s works in him. This marks anyone true Christian.

So, what is the challenge for you and me? Firstly, if any of you does not believe in Jesus, it is urgent that you meet me after the service or anytime during this week, and find out that Jesus alone saves sinners by forgiveness of sins and granting of His eternal life through faith in Him.

Secondly, if any of you who believes in Jesus has not understood what God did for you in the beginning of time, if any of you has doubts on God’s sovereign election, you should study the Scriptures and know the depth of God’s love for you! Read Eph. 1:3-10 at least and Rom. 8-9 and believe! I’m more than happy to help you with this.

And thirdly, all of you – including myself – should realise what God through His Spirit is doing in you. That is, He speaks to you even now, reminding you of His plan for you. He tells you that He’ll never leave you, nor forsake you, but be your Helper who leads you even now to make your love for God and for one another genuine, your joy in Christ pure and complete, even to enable you to pay evil with good which is the way of Jesus Christ who paid our evil with His perfect goodness!

I pray that all of you may bear this mark of the true Christian to the praise and glory of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! ***

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