(Lisa Robinson)

No, I am not talking about color as in race, although that may play a factor in some cases.  I am talking about the colors red and green.  Let me explain.   One of my theology profs opened up a lecture with this statement, loosely quoted;

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone came with an LED device on their forehead with two probes – one red and one green.  Green indicates they are Christian and red indicates they are not.  That way there would be no guessing as to whether you were dealing with a regenerated person or not.  Unfortunately, we don’t get those kinds of clues, which does leave some doubt in some cases.

In most cases, I think we know whether one is a Christian or not.  But in some cases, there is doubt on varying levels.  It occurs to me that we can approach this determination through the lens of glass half-full and glass half-empty perspectives.  The glass half-full Christian will want to see green.  They will tend to accept the person at face value or otherwise base-line levels of articulation of the faith.  The glass half-full will see the examinee as innocent until proven guilty.  Conversely, the glass-half empty will tend to see red.  There is a high level of scrutiny that is required in order to reach a satisfactory determination of one’s Christian status.  The examinee is guilty until proven innocent.

Now please  understand that I am not suggesting that we “go green” without any examination or discernment.  We don’t want to go to extremes and give someone a pass just because they go to church or use Christian verbiage.  We do not want to be naive but we do want to be discerning.

It is the glass-half empty perspective that I want to focus on – the one who tends to see red.  And I have some concerns.  The glass half-empty automatically suspects and distrusts one’s Christianity.  Why is this so?  Perhaps it is because of an abundance of knowledge and learning that raises the bar for the red.  This probably comes from years of in-depth study.  The Christian who sees red may want for others to have a level of articulation that accommodates their own.  It might have to do with denominational distinctions that narrowly constrict the definition of salvation in ways that other denominations or groups don’t.  Or it could be other reasons why strenuous scrutiny is placed on the examinee.  I cannot speak to motives only observations.

No other observation provides such clarity in this red/green lens as when such examination evolves around visible or public figures.  We have seen this in the case of the president’s confession of faith that has drawn polarized conclusions.   It was not that long ago that remarks have been made publicly negating validity of his faith.  Apologies were made but the polarization continues.  A friend and professional colleague had some interesting things to say here about the raised standard of Christianity for the president.  We saw this recently with the TD Jakes/Elephant Room situation.  Is he or isn’t he?  Some saw green and some saw red.

Whether its the president or TD Jakes or Roman Catholics or whatever person we question, the bottom line is some will just see red.  No explanation or articulation seems to suffice.  There is a reluctance to admit that person into  Christianity.  And this points to what I think is a greater concern.  I wonder if Christians who see red actually wants that person or persons to be Christian.  Because it does appear that such negation and protests can be construed as putting up road blocks so the one confessing Christianity will never get a pass into the elect club.   Why is this so?   Such motives are worthy of examination.  We should not forget the free gift offered to us in our own ignorance.

Folks, I suggest that we should want to see green.  We should want that confession of faith to be genuine and confessor a bona fide member of the body of Christ.   I see in scripture that God appears to want this too.  He sent His Son for his creation He loved so much to save and not condemn (John 3:16-17).  He wishes that none would perish but all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  We see simple confessions of faith, such as the Philippian jailer who was told “believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts16:31).  Again, discernment is needed.   Wishing someone to be Christian will not make them one.  Not all who profess Christianity actually are Christians.   Not all will come to saving faith in Christ.   But at the same time, let’s not impune the ones who genuinely might be Christian in the quest to validate our own unreasonable standards, if such is the case.

With 2,000 years of church history, splintering, doctrinal articulation and deviations, we are not all going to agree on many things.  But we should agree on what makes one a Christian – belief in Jesus such that one is admitted into the kingdom of God by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  That means that sometimes the person may not articulate faith in a manner that we would like, or according to a culture or denomination we don’t understand or that they even know all the verbiage.  It means that maybe we should put down the rocks and pick up books on church history to understand tradition and denominational distinctions.  It means that we are not always going to know which light is lit on the LED indicator.  But perhaps it would be better to be people of hope instead of condemnation.   Maybe we should be people of grace who want that person to have crossed over the bridge rather than looking for ways to burn it so he or she can’t get to the other side.

So what color do you tend to see, red or green?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    21 replies to "Determining If One is Christian Might Depend on the Color"

    • Chris Nelson

      The doctrine of depravity militates against a Polly Anna ish understanding of professions of faith. The Bible also dictates that the proof is in the pudding, er, fruit. If someone consistently denies Christ’s command, they deny Him. This does not mean perfection but a Christ honoring direction in ones life. I blogged about depravity and how it helps Christians to not be flummoxed by those who profess and those who are outright unbelievers. The example of TD Jakes is illustrative. He is an outright and total heretic who needs to repent of his evil teachings. His denial of the Trinity and his prosperity garbage slander the name of Christ.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Chris, while I am no fan of Jakes I’m not sure its fair to say he denies the Trinity. He just didn’t articulate it to everyone’s satisfaction. But the thrust of this post on is not on particular people per se, but on how much should we give those in question the benefit of the doubt.

    • Aaron Walton

      Greetings Lisa,
      I myself have struggled in regards to seeing “red” and seeing “green”. I was raised a fundamentalist and thought dispensationlists were the last Christians on earth (my professors called all others heretics, basically). Once I opened up, through a friend I started seeing much more “green”. I still see a lot of “green” but from reading the scriptures, I am being convinced there is much more “red” than I realized. For example, with I have never heard anyone quote 2Cor 11:15 as a warning “[since Satan disguises himself as an angel of light] it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” No one in my life has ever given me this warning. Honestly, I think there are a lot of teachers today which aren’t Christians but look/sound like they are (I could name them, or why, but that is not my point).
      While I would like to be optimistic, the Bible seems much more pessimistic. 1st Cor 10 struck me recently: what happened to the Israelites is an example to us, they all looked like they were under Moses, but most of them never saw the promised land. Likewise, there are many who look like they are under Christ who will never enter “the promised land” because they set their hearts on evil things as some of the Israelites did.

    • Chris Nelson

      Jakes clearly and repeatedly has denied the Trinity and even so in the ER 2 debacle. We now have Driscoll and McDonald endorsing this heretic and this silly ecumenicalism is swallowing up the Church. We are told to judge people by their fruit. The Bible states, often, by every writer, that we are to recognize and harshly, harsher than any other sinner, rebuke them. But we are concerned with the flattery of men and not the fear of the Lord.

    • Ken Garrett

      What a creative, challenging way to articulate two common approaches to this issue of assurance/certainty of salvation! I don’t think I’m a Polly-Anna, by any means, and hope I’m not being duped…but, it seems to me that our gracious God’s heaven might be a bit more populated that some of us would assume, based on our own, often-flawed, powers of observation! Yes, the adult Israelites (sans Joshua and Caleb) DID die in the Wilderness for their sin at Kadesh, but I do believe that all of them who applied that precious blood of the Lamb on the night of the first Passover are certainly, eternally, saved. Guess I’m a greeny. Thanks for articulating yet another wonderful facet of the grace of God!

    • Austin Linderer

      I’d like to know where in the Word we find that it is ours to “examine” the lives of others. in the second to last paragraph you say that we ought not impune the ones who might genuinely be Christians, how bout we simply don’t impune any one. The biggest problem with churches today is that they think it is their job to judge the people in their congregation and change them rather than simply listening to what they say and teaching them, loving them, and leading by your own example. The fundamental error of this article is that it assumes we need to know whether the person we are “dealing with” is a Christian or not, we don’t need to know. If we are operating on the basis that all you have to do to be saved is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and then you will be saved, (which I believe we both are) then there is absolutely no way we can tell definitively whether some one is a Christian or not because their own thoughts and beliefs are in their head. God knows, and we don’t need to.

      My second issue is that, though you probably won’t say it as harshly as this, you opperate on the assumption that pessimism is synonomous with non-Christianity. This rules out Owens, john calvin and myself. Just because the glass is half empty doesn’t mean that Jesus didnt do something extraordniary or us. And it doesnt mean that we dont believe that.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Hi Austin,

      You said

      “you opperate on the assumption that pessimism is synonomous with non-Christianity.”

      Nope. Christians can be optimistic or pessimistic. I am also confused by your last 2 sentences and how that relates to how we perceive others.

    • Aaron Walton

      Austin, Ken,

      Austin “I’d like to know where in the Word we find that it is ours to ‘examine’ the lives of others.” The exhortation is in a number of places, but one example is 1st Corinthians 5:11 “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ ”

      Here we are clearly told to judge those who don’t live in accordance with the gospel, and to exclude them from fellowship.

      Ken, the above comments partially address your reference to the Israelites in the wilderness. I fear your “green” view of the Israelites does not take seriously that God swore in his wrath “they will not enter my rest.” (Hebrews 3:11ff). I also don’t think it takes the 1st Corinthian passage seriously, “You cannot participate in the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?”
      The question “are we stronger than he?” and the examples of wrath are clear expressions that they came under God’s wrath, and as in Hebrews, we should not take that wrath lightly, he swore “they will never enter my rest”.

    • Ken Garrett

      Hi Aaron,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to address my reply to this post. I suspect that we simply have disagreements over the interpretation and application of the passages that you’ve mentioned in reply.

      I once subscribed to your beliefs regarding exclusion from fellowship, and the theory that “rest” in Scripture must always correlate to the presence/absence of eternal security. As I’ve explored the issue further, those initial beliefs have failed to remain compelling to me. I find it plausible, and more compelling, that the “rest” spoken of in Hebrews, as the writer encourages his “brethren,” is referring to the temporal rest of a life that is consciously right with God (a type of Promised Land for believers today), and a future rest in which a person stands before Christ, experiences commendation and reward for a life faithfully lived on earth, and then is welcomed into His kingdom and its final, eternal experience of rest. Jesus promised such rest to all who came to Him. Why would the writer of Hebrews ever presume to call his readers “brethern” if he in fact wondered or questioned whether or not they were actually saved? That would seem a bit decietful, manipulative, or at least confusing.

      If you’re interested in exploring this perspective you might check out the statement of faith of the Free Grace Alliance. They’re great folks, and very respectful of differing conclusions and Christian doctrines. http://www.freegracealliance

    • Aaron Walton

      Ken,
      Thanks for the reply.
      At my Bible College a number of professors taught the idea of “Free Grace”. Most of the professors had come from DTS and studied under Zane Hodges. Some of them have also taken the form of teaching that you are commented, understanding “brethern” and talking about Christians. However, these same professors teach, like Zane Hodges did, that a Christian can live without “loving God” which is in complete contradiction to Paul’s curse on those who “have no love for the Lord” (1Cor 16:22).

      If you are willing, I would like to share with you more why I fear this teaching is contrary to scripture and why it is so dangerous, let me give one brief warning: both Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy against the false prophets because “they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil;” (Jer 23:14, cf. Eze 13:22). Because of the exclusion of repentance and allowing people who claim to be Christians to continue in sin, and not excluding them from fellowship like Paul said to, they are doing the exact same thing the false prophets were doing: they allow people to continue in sin, sin which God punishes and will punish.

    • Ken Garrett

      Hi Aaron, I’m sure we both share a love of Jesus, wonder at His scandalous grace, and a desire to please Him. I sense that you are pretty committed to your particular viewpoint (although I would not liken it to the ministry of a false prophet, as you have suggested of mine!), and so really don’t think it’s productive to persist in debate of the issue.
      Blessings, brother!

    • Aaron Walton

      Hi Ken,
      I am thankful that you have communicated with me so kindly. I hope you have taken my messages just as kindly, understanding my sharpness being due to this matter effecting the gospel and the work of Christ. Please understand that I myself have desired to see the scriptures giving the “green” indication to many more people, but I honestly see it as too hopeful and reading too much into words like “brethren” (I’m not saying this just because of a bias, but because I am a linguist and I study how people use words). While Lisa has talked of optimism and pessimism, I encourage everyone to be realistic and search the scriptures to see what they say on this matter.

    • Ken Garrett

      Thanks, Aaron, have a blessed Sunday! Ken

    • Shane Dodson

      “Whether its the president or TD Jakes or Roman Catholics or whatever person we question, the bottom line is some will just see red.”

      Actually, the bottom line is the Gospel. Does the RCC possess the gospel of Jesus Christ? Does TD Jakes preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

      Where the Gospel is not, error abides.

      We need to start asking the right questions. “Are (insert cult/religion/denomination members) saved?” is not a helpful question.

      “Does (insert cult/religion/denomination) possess the gospel of Jesus Christ?” is a helpful question.

      Blessings!

    • david carlson

      one post to degenerate into a antiJakes screed and then a dogpile on DTS.

      I guess we know what those commenters typically see…..

      Back to the actual post. This is very interesting Lisa. I think the analogy holds up very well when looking at both ourselves, our churches, and our participation in the blogosphere.

    • Chris Nelson

      This is too important an issue to just let slide. If anything, modern evangelicalism is flaccid in regards to sin and church discipline. The free grace/Zane Hodges heresy has been destroying the Church for years. We cannot love Christ and hate His commandments. We can’t allow heretics like Jakes(he was mentioned in the article) in the fold and not expect him to devour others as wolves always do. The doctrine of depravity is essential in this as well. We are not to be optimistic about professing Christians. We are to be observant. If they do not bear fruit worthy of repentance than we should not believe their testimony.

    • mbaker

      I think oftentimes we mistake ‘color’ one from to the other based upon our personal views, rather than what Christ defines as His grid, and we want to go there instead because we we’ve been unduly influenced instead by one side or the other. That’s all distraction, in my opinion because it takes us away from where we really need to be and into taking theoloiocal sides.

      I’m not there.

    • Francis

      I have little doubt that on the day of judgment, countless number of people will be shut out from the Kingdom of Heaven because the LORD does not recognize them despite their claim to “prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name”.

      Jesus said it Himself, and there simply isn’t any other way to interpret this passage unless we think our Lord to be deceitful. And I personally think that “Free Grace” as a theology, is dangerous. It may not rob a person of his salvation (because salvation is pre-ordained), but it will rob many of their rewards, and cause many more to stumble.

      I also think that “Lordship Salvation”, when taken the wrong way, is just as dangerous (that is, when people think they have to “work”, or to “do” things to be saved). We have too many LS Christians who think that they, not GOD, get to decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

      To be fair, neither FG nor LS Christians will be going to KoH because they believe in FG or LS. If they do go to heaven, it’s only because God has foreordained them, prepared them, helped them, sanctified them, so they’d bear the fruit of Holy Spirit.

    • Roger E. Olson

      Hey Lisa, long time.
      At least the green and red LEDs would be a definite support of our separatist ways. The reds would show up better in the dark too!

    • david carlson

      So let us not always be the spot-finders, but let us look at the bright side of the brother’s character rather than the dark one, and feel that we rise in repute when other Christians rise in repute, and that, as they have honor through their holiness, our Lord has the glory of it, and we share in some of the comfort of it.”

      Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Treasury of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, n.d.), I:65. (HT to Ray Ortland)

    • Michael

      “There is no one who can live in sin,—drinking, swearing, lying, and so on,—who can truly declare that he is one of the Lord’s chosen people.”
      – Spurgeon’s Autobiography

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