Of course joining a church does not make one a Christian. In my youth I was surprised when the Methodist pastor announced to the congregation "Larry is a Christian now. He got a A in catechism class." I was as surprised as anyone because I was no more than a smart sinner!
Others will say "I have always been a Christian! I was born into a Christian home." Surprise! Christianity is not hereditary! It can increase the chances of a person becoming a Christian, but the spiritual condition of one's parents does not a Christian make! Christianity is not genetic!
In another experience at a Missionary Baptist Church camp the preacher said "If anyone wants to stay after service and pray, feel free to do so." I looked at the kid beside me. He stayed and so did I. At church that evening the preacher announced that I had been saved. Again, I was more surprised than anyone because I was a follower of George the Kid, not Jesus the Messiah!
Did I believe in Jesus? I sure did! I was scared of him! Fearing Jesus does not make one a Christian!
Most of us have heard what Jesus said about belief: Even the demons believe and tremble!" That's the kind of belief which I had and it is the type of belief which I still fight! Christianity is much more than feigning belief to ward off deserved punishment. It's much more than believing because you're taught to believe! Herein lies the differences between genuine churches of Christianity and those who are false churches!
I hesitate to condemn any church which espouses Jesus as Savior, but unless it's the scriptural way, those churches have false doctrine. There are even "born-again" people who attend heretical churches because they have little discernment. I have went to them myself. On the other hand MY church is NOT the only true church. MY denomination is NOT the only right denomination. They are all wrong to some degree, but I attend mine because in my opinion it fits well with what the early church taught.
It's overused, but true: "Because a person is in a garage doesn't make him a car!" The parallel is obvious. "Attending church does not make one a Christian!" It's a further stretch to believe that those who do not attend church are serious Christians because that's where sincere Christians go for corporate praise!
My contention is that most "Christians" are not genuine Christians. Sometimes I even doubt my own faith when I sin grievously. Yes... Christians have doubts because those "of little faith" have "much doubt" and Thomas who knew Jesus well, still doubted! If we deny that we sometimes doubt, we lie to ourselves! Satan is always at work putting doubt in front of Christians. Christians ward off that doubt by the sword of truth which is Holy Scripture. If we do that, it's a demonstration of our faith in God.
So here we have it: most Americans claim to be Christians, but we see few Christians in action in America! There is a disconnect! Either most people are liars or most people fail to understand what "born-again" entails!
John 3:3 "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."Jesus said this. Jesus can't lie! Jesus set the requirement for salvation. What is the requirement to go to heaven? "A man must be born-again!" Most Roman Catholics admit that they have not been "born-again". Many liberal denominations fail to observe the act of "the second birth" which is the requirement to avoid "the second death", eternal damnation!
Jesus then proceeded to explain to Nicodemus what "born-again" entails:
- Must be born of "the water and the spirit" (John 3:5). This is not baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. It's being cleansed of sin and reception of the Holy Ghost of Jesus! Jesus blood is the "water" which does the cleansing and those so cleansed are now viable for the reception of indwelling of God's Spirit. The "water" is meant to symbolize "change" in the believer. The soul is emptied of evil by the propitiation of Jesus blood and a place is made for the Holy Spirit. Hence, when a person is "born-again" they become a new creation! There is change in how that person thinks, operates and lives. If there are no "works" the believer has surely not been "born-again" and be a "new creation".
- "There must be change from flesh to spirit" (John 3:6). Man is born with another god besides God. Being born-again is cutting off the flesh, the things of this world with it's pleasures and self-gratification, and the putting on of the Holy Spirit of God. The first birth is the original sin for self-worship which everyone after Adam has. Making a living sacrifice of your own self (desires) and accepting the Holy Spirit makes the new person. When a person is born again, there must be a new creation. The person must change! It's not done on one's own, but if the believer trusts in Jesus by faith, Jesus does the changing. The believer can't look back and hang on to the things of Sodom (the world) and be granted the change (the new).
- "The spirit will direct the Christian" (John 3:8). The born-again person will no longer fight the spirt, but will go with it! The wind in this passage is the effect of the Holy Spirit on the new person. It's obedience to the will of God! When a person is born-again all should notice a change!
- "Have belief and faith." (John 3:12). This passage describes "faith". It's belief in and trust of things unseen. Heavenly things are the supernatural realm of God. It's where unseen things happen. Man has trust in things of the world because there is empirical evidence. A born-again Christian has faith in things not tangible because they trust Jesus for who he is and what he says! Some doubt is reasonable, but the faith required that as God, Jesus is alive, and because he lives, the Christian shall have eternal life!
- "Jesus must be magnified!" (John 3:14). When one cuts off the flesh, that person ceases the worship of self and lifts up Jesus who is in heaven. He quits having that other god before Jesus! That's change! The born-again person quits doing things "My way" and begins to do things "His way"! Jesus is the only way and the born-again person quits trying to earn heaven on their own and obtains salvation through the blood of Jesus. This takes commitment and faith! Mere belief without the acceptance and trust is nothing more than an obstacle in that one thinks they have it, but don't!
- "Belief saves!" (John 3:15). The Greek word for this is pisteuo means "to believe and entrust". Trusting Jesus is the act of neglecting your way in favor of God's will. Believing requires change. It's living for Jesus and becoming Christ-like! It's change!
- "It's only through Jesus that one can be born-again." (John 3:17). There is no other way to be saved, but through the blood of Jesus Christ, especially one cannot save one's own self! It takes Jesus spilled blood to regenerate the believer from the old birth to the new! Being born again is the faith that Jesus blood saves and accepting his redeeming blood as the medium of your own rebirth!
- "Accepting God's gift!" (John 3:16). Being born-again is when one has the enlightenment that it's because of God's love for his creation that he created a way out for sinful men to be saved. This is grace and God gave the life of his only son for your own sins. The rebirth process is complete when the Christian comes to love God for so loving him or her! Yes, God expects your love in return The person who loves God is obedient and becomes a servant to God rather than being slef-serving and self-aggrandizing! Being born again is change! Some do it abruptly and others mature. Either way, change is what comes about! The assurance that a peson has been born-again is when they become a new creation!
If there has been little change in you since you professed Jesus as your savior, or possibly never have done that, perhaps you have not really been "born-again" and that's the key experience for the Christian!