“You’re Not A Real Christian!”

Whenever Christians engage in an exchange on the Internet about anything of almost any substance whatsoever—gays, hell, universal salvation, infallibility of Scripture, women as clergy, cushions on pews, colognes worn by pastors, cookies vs. donuts, off-key hymn belters—it’s inevitable that some Christians will start declaring that other Christians in the conversation aren’t really Christian at all.

I can’t imagine being at an Elk’s Lodge meeting, and having one of the members stand up and say something about the minutes of the last meeting, or whatever—and then having another guy stand up, point at the first guy, and bellow, “You’re not a real Elk! You’re not Elkian!”

Right? You’d think that guy is crazy. Of course the first guy’s an Elk. He’s at the Elk meeting. He’s wearing the Elk parade-leader’s hat. He’s Elkian.

If you’re a Christian who has ever declared that someone who says they’re a Christian isn’t, please stop doing that. It makes all us Christians seem just a little more stupid. You have no idea who is and isn’t a Christian, okay? Worry about your own soul. Let God worry about everyone else’s.

Okay! Happy Friday! Love!


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • You know, you're joking, but … that's about exactly how it goes! Funny of you!

  • Oh boy… John, tell me you logged out and then posted as an anonymous "Lisa" to simply drive your point home.

  • Oliver: No one should EVER forget the great Anthony Flew. His "Dictionary of Philosophy" has long been a staple on my nightstand. An astounding work. (Thanks for that great quote, too.)

  • Ric: I SHOULD do that sometime!! But I didn't this. I'm sure (well, I'm QUITE sure) that ol' Lisa was joking.

  • What would be your definition of a Christian, John? Or do you prefer to leave that up to God?

    I run into this problem all the time when some Christians will tell me that Christians have never done anything wrong. When I mention some who have done things wrong, I get the "they're not a real Christian".

    The way I figure it, if you believe that your god happens to have the name Jesus and is referred to as the Christ, you're a Christian. But what do I know?

  • I'm with you. As I said, if someone tells me they're a Christian, they're a Christian. That's not quite the same thing as actually defining "Christian," but that's a merry-go-round I'm not about to climb onto.

  • Mike

    God help those that don't worry about other people's souls. And we have to grant (I would think) that there is a difference between being sinfully judgemental of someone (e.g., "You're not a Christian because you listen to secular music.") and grieving for a person's eternal state based on what they believe about the gospel.

    And regarding the Elks analogy: I hope we can agree that being a Christian is about far more than "showing up at the meeting."

  • Neither what I say, nor what I believe, nor what church I do or don't attend makes me a Christian. The only thing that makes one a Christian is too acknowledge oneself as a sinner and surrender one's soul to Christ for salvation. Problem is, no human being can stay surrendered all the time. That's where all the un-Christian behavior of Christians enters the picture.

    With that clarification, as Dr. August Cury says, "My own process of self-dialogue has made me aware that I have too many failings and limitations to be occupied with others' imperfections." (Think and Make it Happen) If you say you're a Christian, fine. If I don't believe you, that's called a disagreement. We're allowed to have them. But you don't need my opinion of your Christianity unless you ask for it.

  • wistle

    Here's another problem with Christian identity: Antichrist. Looks like Christ, acts like Christ, but if you follow him you go to hell. The road thereto is paved, by the way, with good intentions. How do you feel if you do something you thought was good and "Christian" and it ends up producing misery and suffering? Were you following Christ or Antichrist?

    If you are interested and want to hear more, check out my blog.

  • The only relevant standard to use is the Bible. While in certain situations it might be completely appropriate to rebuke someone who is teaching false doctrine or encourage a friend who is deceived in some way, the act of questioning whether someone is a "Real Christian" is, frankly, just plain stupid.

    It can make the speaker feel morally superior, perhaps, but consider what that speaker was trying to do in the first place:

    Evangelism? Well, a comment like that is not likely to lead anyone anyplace but further away from the speaker at best and the Lord at worst.

    Rebuke of someone deceived or teaching falsely: C'mon. If you're really trying to help someone change, stick to the issue. If the person being spoken to is in error, find a way to point out the error that leads them back to the Lord. And use the Word as the standard. Jesus never rebuked the Pharisees by claiming, "You're not a real Jew!"

    To "win" some argument, drive the listener away, or prove moral superiority? We're warned Biblically not to argue about words. We're also called to lovingly, patiently, gently present the truth. Even if the speaker is "right" (and how can the speaker truly judge the condition of another's soul and their relationship with Jesus?), the damage he could do by that kind of condemnation-speak (all in the name of Jesus, of course) is unjustified.

    We'll be called into account for the people who walked/ran away from the Lord because of irresponsible witnessing like "You are not a Christian."

    Being in a church, wearing christian-y clothes and acting like a christian-y person, doesn't make someone a Christian. If one was really concerned for another, the key to communicating about that would a heart of compassion and genuine concern for the eternal consequences of the other person's "issues." Condemning, sniping, nasty communication doesn't come from a concerned, compassionate heart.

    The world, secular humanism, and new-age, all communicate more effectively than this. Christians certainly can hold themselves to a higher standard!

    Thanks for the post. Enjoying your blog and I'll be back.

    Shannon Smith

  • "The only relevant standard to use is the Bible."

    The problem with that comes from my blasphemous nickname for the Bible. I call it, lightheartedly and without the intent to offend, "The Big Book of Multiple Choice".

    It seems to be written in such a way that you can justify anything. There are verses that justify preaching and ones that say preaching is wrong. Verses that say you only need a good person to be saved, and others saying that only being a good person is not enough. And so on…I could get more controversial, but I won't.

    There's a reason that there are thousands of denominations of Christianity. That reason is the Bible.

  • mcoville

    moresecode: show me where the Bible says that you only need (to be) a good person to be saved? (I added the parentheses words out of grammatical correction and if you did not mean it that way I am sorry and ignore the question).

    I do not think it is our place as Christians to point out that someone is not a Christian, but we can point out if their theology is un-Christian. The are wolves in sheep's clothing among us and there is nothing wrong with pointing out their bad teaching. If they still profess to be a Christian then maybe they will stick around and learn something.

    I think what makes us look bad is when a Christian calls someone out on a non-essential or in front of non-believers. If someone was concerned with my salvation because of some of my doctrine I would hope they loved me enough to take me aside and ask me about it.

    And one last thing moresecode, a true Christian does not willingly commit a sin without being ashamed of it afterwards. Christians can commit horrible deeds, and remain a Christian, as long as they repent of the sin and never commit it again. It is also hard for a non-believer to understand that once you are saved and indwelt with the Holy Spirit you just can not stomach doing horrible things. Before I was saved I had a mouth like a sailor, well an Army soldier is more accurate, but once saved I now cringe at hearing or even reading profanity. There is no 'scientific' explanation for this occurring in me except that I am a new person in Christ.

  • Shannon Smith: Excellent points –> "Even if the speaker is “right” (and how can the speaker truly judge the condition of another’s soul and their relationship with Jesus?), the damage he could do by that kind of condemnation-speak (all in the name of Jesus, of course) is unjustified."

  • "It is also hard for a non-believer to understand that once you are saved and indwelt with the Holy Spirit you just can not stomach doing horrible things."

    It's quite arrogant of you to assume that all non-believer in Christianity don't feel bad about doing horrible things, when in reality it was merely your own issue.

    And swearing is not a horrible thing.

    Faith vs. Works:

    Romans 4:2 and James 2:21

  • mcoville

    Now where talking here morsecode. Clearly you reference Romans 4:2 to show that Abraham was not saved through good works before God, great point. But I do not see how James 2:21 contradicts that point. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?", it is made clear just 2 verses later in James 2:23 "And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.". His works, willingness to sacrifice his son on the alter, that justified his Faith but it was his faith that justified him before God, as it states in Romans 4:2. Context, context, context.

    I do not assume that "all non-believer in Christianity don’t feel bad about doing horrible things", they do and it is called a conscience (given to them by God I may add Romans 2:15). Yes profanity was an issue for me, the use of witch lessens the image of the user before others, and I would never say that some one dropping an f bomb is going to hell. Profanity is one of those non-essentials I mentioned before. But a Christian needs to look at what kind of example of Jesus they are if they are dropping f bombs, check out Proverbs 8:8 and Ephesians 4:29.

  • Well, morsecode, since you mentioned that you questioned the value the Bible as a standard, I'd love to hear in the "Big Book of Multiple Choice" (also meant lightheartedly and without intent to offend) where there could be confusion about whether the Bible deems swearing to be horrible. I'm only using this one teensy example because you brought up the controversy.

    Shannon Smith

    I'll start:

    Choice A: Ephesians 5:1-7 (verse 4 is most relevant, but the rest is included for context–'cause don't you know you can take a single verse out of the Bible and make it justify almost anything).

    1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

    3But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.[a] 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

    If you go to biblegateway.com, you can take this scripture and easily look at the different translations, which all say the same thing, but with a little different word choice.

    Biblegateway link at:

    This seems pretty clear to me, but I would be happy to entertain your Choice B (or C or D) from the Bible that contradicts this position or supports your position that swearing isn't horrible.

    The point I make is not whether swearing is horrible–I think the Bible is the final standard on that. The point I'm making is that the Bible is clear on the issue.

    Now whether the Holy Spirit immediately gives you an immediate inability to stomach your own sin (or even see all your own sinful nature) upon being saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as presented by mcoville, I don't find that specifically in the Bible or in my own experience (a far less reliable indicator or Truth). I personally believe that if the Holy Spirit allowed us to glimpse the totality of our own ugly, sinful nature in one shot, we would completely collapse in despair. I mean, who could stand? Not one. I think that this is what the Bible refers to when it says that we are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Some parts of our sinful bondage are eliminated immediately and other parts are "worked out" as we mature in Christ Jesus.

    John, I don't think it matters what you call a person either. If they want to call themselves a Christian or a lilypad or a french fry it would be just fine with me and I would leave them alone. If they were trying to explain, encourage, teach or evangelize others–well then there would be the time to butt in, it seems. I wouldn't want some well meaning french fry or lily pad calling themself a Christian and leading others into error.

    Bottom line is that "being a Christian" isn't an eternal issue. Repentance and reliance on Jesus Christ, the resurrected Son of God, as Savior and Lord, is the eternal issue. Lots of Christians have this down. Lots don't. The eternal consequence rests in the personal matter, not the label. And the manual for that is the Bible, not a specific church or denomination.

  • (Shannon: Welcome; you're doing a great job here! One thing, though: You don't have to include the url in the text of your comments, since everyone already knows that your name links to your blog.)

  • Oops! Thanks John. I'm a rookie–can you tell?!

  • We aren't supposed to judge another person's salvation but we are supposed to judge false teaching and fruit. The real question for me is how do we do the latter without falling into the trap of doing the former.

  • Shannon: No worries. You've got a nice blog. You'll draw people.

    Shauna: Yeah, good luck with that.

  • Lynn

    Woo boy. You go John.

  • Shauna: One tip would be to keep the disagreement where it belongs.

    For my own part, I'm more or less right of center politically, but I don't assume that every liberal is unsaved just because I disagree with him/her. Nor do I assume that right-wingers are unsaved because I don't agree with them.

    I happen to favor contemporary worship to hymns played on organs. That doesn't mean that the fans of hymns (my mother the organist, for example) are just Pharisaical pseudo-Christians. We just disagree.

    For my own part, I figure that if anyone says s/he's a Christian, I'll accept the claim, even if it's someone who disagrees with me about something.

    Great post, John. Having been declared not a real Christian quite routinely lately, it's nice to see that there is some sanity left.

  • Yeah! What he (John in his original post) said!

    Is this post in direct response to the responses you received from yesterday's post?


    The bar has been set by whomever is doing the observing. It's the whole creating God in our image schpeel. It's the whole splinter/plank deal. That person voted Democratic? They can't be a real Christian. That person has gay friends they don't daily attempt to shame into conversion? They can't be a real Christian. Am I loving (agape style) my neighbor as myself? Am I loving (agape style) my enemy? Am I blessing those who persecute me? Am I not judging lest I too be judged? Well, uh, what does that have to do with being a Christian? I'm in the middle of a very important witch hunt, here, Brother & if you can't help me burn this one up at the stake, you must not be saved.

  • John, sounds like you 'stirred up a tempest in a teapot' with your blogs of yesterday and today . . . my personal dissatisfaction is with christians who have to 'engage their tongue' whenever they meet, in their mind, a 'non-christian. Jesus said we are to be salt and light in the world. Duh . . . salt and light don't talk!They just be! Both are silent influencers of change … light in the darkness and salt where there is decay of integrity.

  • Lisa

    What? Are you saying that I can’t declare someone else Not-A-Christian if that’s what I believe? Well that’s the most un-Christian thing I’ve ever heard! A REAL Christian wouldn’t say a thing like that.

  • Interesting anaology, but…Elk membership is something that can be put on paper, but the condition of a heart is something that only God can know. Paul does define certain types of people that we should not associate with (accept into the fellowship of believers), owing to the destruction such people can wreak on the body of Christ.

    While it is true that we should not judge others like you say, it is also true that we must judge doctrines like a bulldog. Unfortunately, there’s this problem that a Christian is defined by faith, not works, so false doctrine does not a real Christian make. If we judge a person’s doctrine to be false, then the next logical step is to judge the person’s Christianity. I’m not saying that this is what we should do. I’m only saying that it comes quite naturally, under the circumstances.

    Incidentally, the same thing happens in the field of science. A man claims not to believe in Darwinism, and the next thing he knows, someone’s pointing a finger at him and saying that he’s not a real scientist. No dogma there….

  • Let’s not forget Anthony Flew (who went from atheist to I’m not sure what) who coined the term “No True Scotsman”.

    Should there be a lowest common denominator established to identify Christians to keep this mess from happening? That’s one for Christians to decide. (I’m not one!)

    Here’s a popular quote found on websites promoting non-religion:

    If all the Christians who have called other Christians “not really a Christian” were to vanish, there’d be no Christians left.

  • Charlie

    That sounds kinda like the book, “I’m Fine with God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand.” Very good read.

  • M. Patterson: You said, “Interesting anaology, but…Elk membership is something that can be put on paper, but the condition of a heart is something that only God can know.” But … that was my whole point.

  • Lisa

    Yes, I was joking! 😀

  • Mark Lattimore

    Excellent post and comments. At the risk of repetition…It is one thing to say “I think you are wrong about this issue or that point of doctrine and here is why.” It is quite another to say “I know the state of your soul.” In fairness, many on both sides of the argument miss this point. While many Christians dismiss the salvation of others simply because they disagree on one point or another (those about whom John has blogged), many others read an honest attack on one’s views as an intolerant questioning of their salvation. The fact that I disagree with John on the hottest of the hot button social issues and how to evaluate the issue through the lenses of a Christian worldview (i.e. abortion — the subject of my very first exchange with John. Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday), this gives me no right to question his salvation. I can tell him why I think he’s wrong (and he can return the favor, which he has on occasion). This is the healthy exchange of human minds. But we cannot usurp the the province of God, himself.

    By the way, John, you are the first Christian I have ever heard describe Antony Flew as “great”. I’m not entirely sure that “great” is the word I would use, but I certainly would consider him significant for raising the level of the discussion on theism.

  • I realize that i'm late to this party, but I have been off-line for a couple of days. I should also apologize in advance in case this comment runs long. I’m sorting this out as I go.

    It’s funny to me that you should write about this John, because I have been contemplating a post of my own on this very topic, but I am still trying hard to sort out exactly what I want to say. I don’t want to be misunderstood. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about such things, right?

    I agree that using the “not a Christian” argument is foolish and risky. I come at this having grown up in a religious tradition that stressed getting every jot and tittle of scripture exactly right – and those believers who disagreed with us were obviously wrong and putting their salvation in jeopardy. As an adult I have rejected this. To say that someone is not a Christian simply because they use musical instruments in worship, or the type of instruments they use, or their church uses a different Bible translation, or whatever – that way lays madness.

    On the other hand, this can be a complex issue. Remember, the U.S. is ostensibly a Christian nation. Of course, many Americans think that an epistle is a female apostle and that Golgotha was the giant who slew the apostle David, but knowledge alone does not a believer make, right? I have always contended that most Americans (or even throughout the western world) identify themselves as Christians by default.

    “Mom and Dad were Christians, so i’m a Christian.”

    “I attend Easter and Christmas worship, so i’m a Christian.”

    “I have a Bible on my bookshelf, so i’m a Christian.”

    You get the idea. Many Americans have never thought about what they believe or why they believe it, or even if they do believe it. This is the natural result of growing up in a society where church attendance was just a given (not to mention socially expedient) for most of our history – and where Biblical ideas have had an undeniable impact. Christian influence on the culture appears to be on the wane, so this acculturated form of the faith may be moot in 20-30 years. But this is where we are now.

    I agree that we have no business judging another’s sincerity and/or salvation, and I have taken issue with such practices many times on my own blog. But we do have the obligation to call out other professed believers who are stepping in it, making terrible mistakes because of a misguided faith, and generating false impressions among non-believers. Televangelists and other preachers of the “health and wealth” gospel come to mind – spiritual whores who peddle the Word for profit and bilk poor folks out of everything they own. Or Fred Phelps and his crew who have turned the gospel into a crusade built around their own pathological obsession with homosexuality. Do believers have the right to say of such people, “They are not Christians”? I don’t know. Do we have an obligation to say of their behavior, “That’s not Christianity”? I would say, absolutely.

  • Candace

    So many awesome comments. I've enjoyed them all.

    Dianne Harris, what you wrote really resonated with me; perfect. And even better — I went to your blog to check out more, and found you have written a book I have been looking for! I was just saying to a friend yesterday that it would be cool to have a book directed specifically at the new adult convert.

    God musta heard me; that answer came pretty darned fast!

  • Jeep

    I agree that no one should sit in judment of another, whether he/she is a Christian or not. God knows whose are His (2Tim.2:19). that is what counts.

    During the ages/eons, only the elect will be given the free gift og faith (Eph.2:8) and an earnest of God's Spirit (1Cor.2:10-16; 2Cor.1:22).

    The rest of mankind will be given these gracious gifts at the consummation of the eons (1Cor.15:22-28).


  • Thought I’d mention…I shared this post on my own blog, and a friend wasn’t too happy with it. You’ve gotten me in trouble, are you happy?!? Anyway, I totally backpedaled and said I had no idea who you were. That’s okay, right?

  • To what in this post could your friend have possibly taken objection? Does he or she think it’s COOL when some Xtians accuse other Xtians of NOT being Xtian? What kind of Nazis do you hang out with?

    And sure. Disavow me. Sure. No problem. I’m sure hell’ll be lots of fun for you. Bring marshmallows!

  • Okay…I didn’t say all that. I actually plugged your book! NOW are you happy?

    On a more serious note, I was talking about this to my husband, and reminding him of a very specific moment in my life when I realized I was judging other Christians’ hearts. It broke my own when I realized what I was doing, and let me tell you, I was being mean about it. Not to their faces, just saying things to my husband about them and, well, he called me on it in a big way (although lovingly). I cringe looking back on that day, and yet I see that in others’ comments quite often. Sigh.

  • Yeah, and to me, there’s a HUGE difference between judging the state of someone’s Christianity in a private conversation with your spouse, and doing it to their face. It’s been my experience that there’s a certain type of Christian–and that there’s way more of them than I, for one, ever thought could possibly exist–who, when they want to criticize you, can’t fast ENOUGH tell you how un-Christian you are. Those are the people that I think need to be …. put out to pasture.

  • psybird

    mcoville Says:

    But I do not see how James 2:21 contradicts that point. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”, it is made clear just 2 verses later in James 2:23 “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”. His works, willingness to sacrifice his son on the alter, that justified his Faith but it was his faith that justified him before God, as it states in Romans 4:2. Context, context, context.

    I do not assume that “all non-believer in Christianity don’t feel bad about doing horrible things”, they do and it is called a conscience (given to them by God.

    This underlines an ethical conundrum which revolves around how and what defines as "horrible things".

    In any normal context what Abraham did to Isaac would be considered child abuse. The result would be a post-traumatic stress disorder that the boy would probably never entirely recover from. The father would have the child removed from his care and his access restricted. Either he would be treated for psychotic delusions (hearing voices telling him to kill his son) or the real person who told him to do this would be charged with mental cruelty (or whatever legal equivalent is on the local books).

    Then we would have a Nuremburg-style trail where Abraham pleaded that he was merely doing what he was told by an authority and Yahweh pleaded that Abraham misunderstood what he was asking him to do to prove his loyalty and/or that he never expected the man to actually carry out the instructions and, besides, he wasn't dead so where was the problem? Meanwhile Isaac would be in intensive and lengthy therapy for severely traumatised children.

    Nowhere does the Bible acknowledge that the Yahweh god was directing that Isaac be subjected to pain and suffering and permanent psychological and physiological effects resulting from the trauma. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that the Yahweh god did anything to remove the traumatic memories from Isaac. He would have had to strike him deaf as well, since the story was obviously part of the often repeated folklore of the day.

    So here we have a horrible act by Abraham under the direction of the Yahweh god which Christians do not recognize as such. Instead, the authors represented in the Old and New Testaments re-labeled this sick behaviour as "righteous" behaviour. In the next literal breath the Biblical authors are raging against cussing which does no significant long-term damage to anyone. I happen to find overuse of swear words (such as f*** and s***) to be irritating and, sometimes, offensive. That, however, is nothing compared with what Yahweh is reported to have made Abraham do to Isaac.

    It seems that many (all?) Christians have a damaged moral perspective. In spite of the fact that Jews and Christians believe themselves to be tainted from birth because an ancestor ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they cannot effectively tell the difference between the two. If "god" or a "christian" does something it is "good", but the same act is "evil" if someone who is not-a-christian does it. Context. Context. Context.

    Obviously, the christian "conscience" is not to be trusted here.