Skip to main content

How to identify a Christian

1 Corinthians 12:3-13 ( NRSVA)

In the film ‘The Day of the Jackal’ the assassin goes under various disguises. The police finally think they’ve discovered who he really is but it turns out that once again he’s borrowed someone else’s name, so at the end of the film his identity remains a mystery. 
Not so a Christian, at least according to St Paul. They say you can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you cannot tell him much. Well, St Paul is confident that you can always tell a Christian, because the Christian will be indwelt and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.
So, for example, a Christian can never curse the name of Jesus. This is not strictly true. Under persecution people have renounced their allegiance to Jesus while remaining secret believers. In Japan, during the sixteenth century persecution there, the parishioners of a captured priest would be relentlessly tortured until he agreed to walk over a crucifix as a sign of his renunciation of the faith. In his novel ‘Silence’ Shusako Endo imagines the crucified Jesus actually telling a priest to do this to save his parishioners from further torment.
St Paul is also mistaken, in my opinion, when he asserts that ‘no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.’ If that is so, what are we to make of those people, fortunately in a minority, who have claimed allegiance to Jesus in order to build their own career within the church - either as a lay person or a clergyperson - rather than to be his genuine servants? And that includes people like Peter Ball, the former bishop of Gloucester, who convinced himself that abusing people in his pastoral care was bringing them both closer to Jesus.
However, Paul is on surer ground when he describes how the Spirit’s gifts manifest themselves in believers ‘for the common good’. When the ‘common good’ is being served we can be reasonably certain that the person exercising that ministry is indeed a Christian, even if not a perfect one. This is how to identify spiritual wisdom, genuine spiritual knowledge, the right kind of faith, a wholesome ministry of healing, true prophecy and powers of discernment.
The other thing Paul observes is that no true Christian ever possesses all the gifts they need within themselves. We only receive all that the Spirit has to offer us in community with others who are seeking the same goal. This applies whatever our cultural background, race or social status. No one is ever good enough by themselves.


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

Giotto’s Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds

John 1.10-18
In the week before Christmas the BBC broadcast a modern version of The Nativity which attempted to retell the story with as much psychological realism as possible. So, for instance, viewers saw how Mary, and Joseph especially, struggled with their feelings.

But telling the story of Jesus with psychological realism is not a new idea. It has a long tradition going back seven hundred years to the time of the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone. This nativity scene was painted in a church in Padua in about 1305. Much imitated it is one of the first attempts at psychological realism in Christian art. And what a wonderful first attempt it is - a work of genius, in fact!

Whereas previously Mary and the Baby Jesus had been depicted facing outwards, or looking at their visitors, with beatific expressions fixed on their faces, Giotto dares to show them staring intently into one another’s eyes, bonding like any mother and newborn baby. Joseph, in contrast, is not looking on with quiet app…

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…