What is a Christian (And Why this Question is Vital in Exposing Abuse)
Gal 2:19-20 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If you have spent much time at all here in our little blog community reading the posts and interacting with others, you already know that one of the greatest problems facing Christians who are abuse victims is the deception of their abuser. By deception, I mean the abuser’s ability to lie, to wear a saintly facade, and to deceive others into believing that the abuser is just one fine Christian. By these diabolic means, the abuser gains allies to side with him against his victim.
You also know that one point that Christian abuse victim’s wrestle with as they are targeted by the crazy-making, Jekyll-Hyde flip flops of their abuser, is trying to discern if he is a Christian or not. This issue often keeps victims tied to the abuser. After all, if he is truly a brother in Christ, then surely the abuser is not his real persona. Somehow, in some way, fingers crossed, the victim thinks that the lights will come on one day for him and he will be freed of his old abuser ways. It is very difficult for victims to come to the conclusion that this person they are married to, whom they have seen pray in such a holy-sounding manner, who possesses all kinds of Bible knowledge, who perhaps serves in a church as an officer, is in fact not a child of God at all.
You see then that this question — “So what is a Christian, anyway?” — becomes a vital one to have the answer to. Scripture gives numbers of descriptions of genuine Christians, and describes qualities that are true of EVERY Christian without exception. We certainly cannot list all of them here, but I want to zero in on one particular truth which, if applied as a test to anyone who claims to be a Christian, will certainly expose what that person is or is not.
This test concerns a person’s relationship to the Law of God.
The Apostle Paul, as quoted above, states that he (and every Christian) has died to the Law, through the Law, SO THAT he might live to God. As a result of this death, Christ now lives in him and in fact, is his life. This is profound and I do not claim to understand every aspect of it, but I do get some of it and here it is. A Christian is a person whose relationship to God is no longer defined by the Old Covenant of the Law which curses and pronounces an eternal death penalty upon everyone under it, but has died to that old principle and now relates to God by an intimate union with Jesus Christ. That is to say, a Christian is a person who is not working and working to merit God’s favor (and perhaps even boasting that he can do so), but who already possesses God’s favor because of Jesus Christ and now is impelled to obey God out of love for Him.
As a result, Paul can say the following about the Christian as compared to the unsaved man:
Rom 8:1-14 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
See it? Paul is not talking here about a Christian who sometimes sins (in his remaining sinful flesh) and who characteristically obeys the Spirit of Christ. You can read about that kind of tension in the Christian over in Galatians 5. No, here in Romans 8 Paul is talking about a Christian vs. an unregenerate person. So that these are descriptions which are absolutely true of every Christian (he is led by the Spirit of God and walks according to the Spirit) and of every unsaved person (he lives according to the flesh).
A Christian is a person in whom Christ’s Spirit dwells and who is being led by the Spirit. A Christian is a person whose MIND is SET on the Spirit, who is so led by the Spirit in him that when his flesh rises up to embrace temptation, this new dominating principle in him, the Spirit, springs into action working to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to obey Christ instead. Sometimes, sadly, the Christian fails and yields to temptation. He sins. BUT that same Spirit in him urges him to repent and produces godly sorrow that leads to that repentance. The Christian cannot enjoy sin over the long haul. The Christian is a person who walks in the Spirit, whose life is characterized by a habitual love for God and obedience to Him.
This is why I maintain that an abuser is not a Christian — at least an abuser as we have defined him on this blog. Any person whose life is characterized by a selfish entitlement to possess power and control over another (“I will be like the Most High”) and who can utilize all kinds of evil, deceptive tactics against a victim to get that power and control with no pang of conscience is patently not a person who is led by the Spirit of Christ, who is not a person who walks in the Spirit of Christ, and who is in fact hostile to God — cannot be a Christian. The thing is impossible.
So there it is. In unguarded moments when a person is “himself’ what is the self that you see? Someone who evidences the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, etc), or who walks in the deeds of the sinful flesh? “Walks” is a key word here. Every Christian sins. Every Christian yields to his or her flesh at times. But the Christian is not characterized by the flesh. They are led by the Spirit and they walk in the Spirit.
Finally, here is another helpful truth that every Christian who is an abuse victim can know with certainty about their abuser who claims to be a Christian: He is under the law in his relationship to God. He is dead to God. The Spirit of Christ is not in him. And therefore his religion will be and can only be an external sham. He is a person who draws near to God with his lips, but his heart is far from God. He is hostile to God. And as a result, he is hostile to those whom he abuses.