When we look around the church on a Sunday can we say that we are all Christians? We have all been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; we believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and all recite the Creed; we make the sign of the cross, we have icons; we pray, we attend church regularly and even always come on time (far from reality); and even if we all received Holy Communion (which is also far from reality) can we say we are a Christian?
Saint Paul says, “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith (2Cor 13:5).” We all probably think we have faith or we would not be coming to church regularly, but what kind of faith do we have? Saint James says “Show me faith without works (Jas 2:18).” When we hear the reading of the Gospel, can we say that we live what is being taught to us by Jesus? We take Holy Communion, but is it a mystical experience where we feel the real presence of God and are renewed by it?
To know if we are truly Christians we need to examine our life and our relationship with God. The works that are good in the eyes of God are those that come from our heart out of love. When we have faith we have a love of God that is greater than any other love. Because of this love we choose to do His will and receive His grace to help us. This grace is given when we are humble, says Apostle James (Jas 4;6).
Saint Tikhon says,
Correct your heart and will and you shall be good, you shall be a true Christian, you shall be a new creature. For all good or evil is from the will and from the heart. When the heart and the will are good, then the whole person is good.
Our examination thus begins with the examination of our heart. We need to make a deep examination to penetrate the scales that surround our heart. Do we know what is hidden there? Do we recognize our self-will, wrath, envy, greediness...? This examination requires great humility. Most of the bad tendencies we have are suppressed in our subconscious mind. We tend to think we are a Christian, very spiritual and faithful. But, beware, we may suffer from vainglory.
How can we expose our lack of faith that keeps us from following all that is taught in the Gospel and leaves us with a luke warm relationship with God? This effort involves our willingness to acknowledge and struggle with sin.
Saint Tikhon says,
It is not possible to correct yourself rightly if you do not recognize the evil hidden in your heart and the calamities that proceed from it. This struggle is the mark of a true Christian....
The struggle against every sin is an unfailing necessity for all Christians who wish to be true Christians and to receive eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul says, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts (Rom 6:12).
This is demanded by the vows we made at Baptism. At that time we vowed (or our sponsor on our behalf did if we were infants) to labor for the Lord in faith and truth. There is no salvation for those who do not keep these vows. “A true Christian is one who wages incessant war against sin.” He is one who labors in truth and faith.
Saint Tikhon lists these causes of sin:
1. The corruption of human nature. We have inherited the tendency for sin from our ancestors all the way back to Adam.
2. The devil leads man to sin. Saint Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. Oppose him with firm faith (1Pet. 5:8-9).” Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God, so you are able to stand against the wile’s of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6:10-12).”
3. The seductions of the world also lead to sin. Jesus says, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Mat 18:7).“
4. A cause of sin is often bad upbringing of children.
5. Habits strongly attracts a man toward sin.
Saint Tikhon says, “A Christian wishing to be saved must unfailingly struggle against these things.” The worst of all are the habits that we become accustomed to so sin becomes second nature. Often, we are not even aware of our poor condition.
Saint Tikhon gives us these suggestions to help us in our struggle against sin:
1. Listen and heed the Word of God. Saint Paul: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2. God is present in every place and with us wherever we may be. Our sins cannot be hidden from God. Even though we are unwilling to confess in front of a priest because of our pride or shame God knows everything with His holy eyes.
3. Remember death, the judgement of Christ, hell, and the Kingdom of Heaven.
4. Avoid occasions that lead to sin. Avoid gatherings or friends that lead to temptations. Paul: For evil communications corrupt good manners (1Cor 15:33).
5. Remember you can die in the very act of sin.
6. Consider that Christ suffered and died for our sins. He came only for our benefit out of love to show the path to paradise.
7. Don’t look at what other people are doing, but heed what the word of God teaches. Following the norms of society or our community can be deadly.
8. Our effort and struggle is powerless without the help of God. Prays for His help and participate in the Sacraments.
Are you a true a Christian? If you feel like you are struggling against bad habits, have regular confession with your spiritual father, and experience the joy when you uncover a new one, then you are probably a true a Christian.
Reference: Journey to Heaven by Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk, pp 56-72