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Are Your People Real? 6 Marks of a Real Christian Inspired by Jonathan Edwards

Categories Theology Ministry

What is a real Christian?

This seemingly basic question was one Jonathan Edwards himself grappled with during the intense movement of the Spirit in America, known as the Great Awakening.

Of this question, pastor and author Todd Wilson notes that Edwards realized “this is a perennial question for the church. Each generation must wrestle with this issue and draw on the wisdom of Scripture and the saints of old to offer the church a faithful and relevant description of the marks of authentic faith.” (24)

In his book Religious Affection, Edwards answered his question by outlining twelve marks of genuine Christian faith. Inspired by this description, Wilson aims to provide the contemporary church with a similar description of what it means to be “real.”

In Real Christian, he outlines six important marks of real Christianity, which provides “a biblical standard for whether we are real” and unpacks “the substance of what mature faith looks like.” (25)

Read the six marks of a real Christian below, as inspired by Edwards. Because there’s no better time than the new year to inspire your people to ask and answer the only question that matters this year:

Am I real?

1) Humility: Transcendent Self-Confidence

“[T]he purpose of humility isn’t to make you think less of who you are, but to enable you to love others regardless of who they are.” (58)

OK, so what is it? “In short, humility is transcendent self-confidence—a quality of character that liberates a person from having to compare themselves with others and frees them to love everyone equally.” (59)

In reality, then, humility isn’t the goal, love is:

“Humility is simply the mind-set needed to love others as God calls us to love,” which is achieved by having the mind-set of Christ. (60)

2) Meekness: A Lamblike Disposition

“Christians must forgive all. Followers of Jesus will suffer mistreatment with a lamblike disposition—the kind we see in Jesus. Slights and slanders, hurts and harms are met with meekness, not hostility.”

In other words, “Forgiving others is one of the defining marks of a real Christian.” (76)

Again, we look to Christ for a compelling, complete picture of this mark:

“If we’re real…our lives will be defined by the same disposition we see in him. We will be marked by meekness, a posture of forgiveness, a willingness to suffer wrongs.” (82)

3) Contrition: The Gospel Emotion

“Contrition is brokenheartedness over sin. It is how real Christians respond to sin in their lives, while a lack of contrition shows us that a person isn’t real…Contrition is a uniquely Christian response to sin—it is a gospel response, indeed, a gospel emotion.” (94-95)

Both sorrow and joy are the simultaneous experiences of contrition: “grief because of the depravity of your heart, yet joy because of the prospect of God’s grace.” (95)

Wilson notes an important sign of contrition is when we look to Jesus for salvation from our sins, not merely salvation of our sins: “A contrite heart wants salvation from sin — deliverance, purging, cleansing” from its power and dominion over life. (104)

4) Wholeness: The Full Image of Christ

“Real Christians are Christlike; they’re whole, balanced people. Just as we see in the life of Christ a beautiful symmetry and proportionality, so we see the same in the lives of real Christians.” (115)

Unlike non-Christians, who are spiritually off-balance and morally lopsided, real Christians are marked by wholeness. “[B]ecause when you’re real, you’ve received not half of Christ but the whole Christ…No one gets a part of Christ. You either have him whole, or you don’t have him at all.” (115-116)

5) Hunger: A Torrent of Spiritual Desire

“Hunger shapes the lives of real Christians. It’s the secret to their spiritual vibrancy.” (129)

Here, Wilson warns of an important difference between real hunger and “fake” hunger:

Those who aren’t real only hunger for God until they find him—or at least find what they are looking for. Once they get from God what they are looking for, they stop seeking him. On the other hand, real Christians are truly hungry for one thing—God. They continue to desire God even after they have found him. (131)

6) Perfected Love: The Mark of Marks

This sixth mark is the ultimate mark: “all the other marks of a real Christian, from humility to hunger, express themselves in love, or are different ways in which love works itself out in our lives. Furthermore, perfected love is the goal of the other marks.” (150)

Perfected love is four things: it is visible, tangible, practical, and sacrificial.

Ultimately, it is from above: “God is also the one who defines love—not through the use of a dictionary, but by means of setting forth a living pattern in Jesus.” (152)


In the end, we could add a seventh mark, because Wilson insists perseverance proves the above six sturdy and sure:

Real Christians persevere in the faith. If you’re real, you’ll arrive at the end of life and join the apostle Paul in saying: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And on that day those won’t be mere words, but cross-purchased, Spirit-wrought, hard-fought-for realities in your life. (169)

I can think of no better way to start the new year than with a good dose of real Christianity.

If you’re a ministry leader consider using this book as a study or sermon series to get your people asking the only question that matters this coming year.

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