JC Ryle, a 19th century Anglican Bishop, wrote a tract about the marks of a Christian:
But still after every allowance, here we find boldly painted six marks of being born of God. Here is an inspired Apostle writing one of the last general epistles (1 John) to the Church of Christ, telling us that a man born of God, Does not commit sin, Believes that Jesus is the Christ, Does righteousness, Loves the brethren, Overcomes the world, and Keeps himself. I ask the reader to observe all this.
The Bible basis for what Ryle says is found in I John:
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
Denominations, pastors, and individual Christians explain, or should I say explain away, these verses in a variety of ways. Some take the verses exactly as they are written, even though their lives are a direct contradiction to what the verses say. Others go to the Greek text and say that these verses say one thing in the English text but another thing in the Greek text. They do a lot of explaining to get away from what the English text clearly says. It seems to me that the writer of 1 John (and keep in mind some scholars think 1 John is a fraudulent text) is very clear. You SAY you are a Christian? Here is the standard to judge yourself by. Do you measure up? If not, you are NOT a Christian.
1 John contradicts other books of the Bible. 1 John and the book of James set a very different standard for what a Christian is than Paul does in his writings. Christians go to great lengths to harmonize, smooth over, and mediate the conflict, but since I am not a Christian I have no need to make everything “fit.”
I ask myself, if a person who had never had any contact with Christianity was stranded on an island and only had the book of 1 John to read, what conclusions would they come to? Would they say that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works lest any man should boast? I doubt it.
So much of what is called true, orthodox “Christianity” is actually someone’s interpretation of what the Bible says. As the centuries click by, the interpretations become more complex and varied. It is almost impossible to get a Christian to see that what they call true, orthodox Christianity is actually a man-made religion, shaped and molded over centuries. For the most part, modern Christianity is Paul’s version of Christianity and not Jesus’ version. I suspect the essence of the Judaistic Christianity of Jesus has been irretrievably lost.
Some may ask, since I am an atheist, why do I bother with matters concerning the Bible and Christianity? First of all, I like talking about these things. Second, our culture is deeply influenced and sometimes controlled by Christianity, and how Christians interpret the Bible affects our culture. Third, Christians tend to evangelize and preach at non-believers, so it is fair to hold them to the same standard they hold others to. Based on the verses above, it is quite evident that no Christian measures up to the Bible standard of what it means to be a Christian. Thus, no Christian is a true Christian.
I also know there are a lot of readers who are somewhere between leaving Christianity and agnosticism/atheism. They are still struggling with what they believe or don’t believe. Do they still believe the Bible, and if they do what parts? Do they believe Jesus existed at all? If they do, do they believe what the Bible says about him? Post like this one are meant to help them settle some of the issues they are struggling with.
For those of you who are or were a Christian, how did you or your pastor explain the 1 John verses mentioned above?
Repost, revised and corrected