Nominal Christians, as I’ve explained in past blog posts like “Belief That and Belief In”, “Can A Christian Lose Their Salvation (Molinist Perspective”), and “Answering Objections To The Keathley/Craig Model Of Eternal Security”, are people who believe that Christianity is true, but they’re not saved. They have belief that but not belief in. They believe that God exists, that Jesus died on a cross, that He rose 3 days later, that He ascended into Heaven, that God is a tri-une being, and so on, but they’ve never actually received The Holy Spirit into their hearts and been born again (John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17). These people aren’t atheists or anything like that, but if you were to ask them “If you didn’t believe in God, would your life be any different?” if they were to answer you honestly, their answer would have to be “No. No, my life would not be any different.” Craig Groeshel calls these people “Christian Atheists” because they believe God exists but live as if He doesn’t. They give intellectual assent to the creeds of the church, but live the same kind of lifestyle that’s characteristic of a non-Christian. As you may have read on the “About The Author” page on this site, you’ll know that I myself used to be this type of person. I had what I like to call “demon faith” referring to James 2:19 which says “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe this and they tremble”. Yes, the demons believe God exists, but go over Revelation 20:10 to find out what happens to them! As my friend Richard Bushey once put on the sign of his church “Confession of faith is not enough. You must be born again.”
Being a Nominal Christian/Christian Atheist is a very dangerous position to be in. You at least know you’re not right with God if you don’t believe Christianity is true. An atheist for example might think “I believe that Christianity is not true, but IF it is true, then I need to be saved and I’m not.” The problem with a nominal Christian is that he or she thinks “Christianity is true, and I’m saved” when in reality, he or she is not saved. Therefore, the purpose of this blog post is to help people who are walking in the same shoes I used to walk in realize their spiritual state so they, like I myself was 6 years ago, be truly saved. The purpose of this blog post is to help you know whether or not you’re a nominal Christian/Christian Atheist/False Convert. There are 5 characteristics Nominal Christians have.
1: They Don’t Talk To God
Someone who is truly born again will desire to be with God as much as possible. The psalmist wrote “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). Psalm 42:1-2 reflects the state of those who know God. They thirst for God as a deer pants for streams of water. For people like the author of Psalm 42, praying will be an invigorating treat. He will feel deprived if He cannot spend time alone to talk to God.
I know this experience firsthand. I enjoy talking to God. It’s not something I do out of pure obligation. I do it because I like it. I not only tell God about my troubles (1 Peter 5:7), I not only ask Him to do things for me (Philippians 4:6), I not only cry out to Him when I’m in trouble (Psalm 9:9, Psalm 27:7-9, Psalm 28:1-3), I often just like to spend about an hour every day just to talk him…about anything and about everything. Jesus is my friend and brother (Proverbs 18:24), and God The Father is my heavenly Father (John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-2, Galatians 3:26).
When I was a Christian atheist, I hardly ever prayed. I wanted nothing to do with God unless I was in trouble and needed something. To me, God was like my very own personal genie. All I had to do was rub the lamp, tell him what I wanted, then back in the lamp he went, never to be contacted again until I needed something from Him. I didn’t think that consciously of course, but that was essentially my attitude towards prayer. Prayer was only a way to get something from God and nothing more.
But prayer is more than simply coming to God when you need Him to do something; it is a conversation with your Heavenly Father. Prayer certainly consists of crying out to God when you need help (Psalm 9:9. Psalm 27:7-9, Psalm 28:1-3), casting your cares upon him (1 Peter 5:7), and presenting your requests to Him (Philippians 4:6), but it’s far more than that. It is a conversation with your Heavenly Father. Those who truly love God will want to talk to Him just for the sake of talking to Him. They will pray in both the good times as well as the bad times, not only in the bad times and never in the good times.
2: They Never Read Their Bible and Are Biblically Illiterate
I used to be so foolish that I thought a book (The Bible) was written by the One who created the entire universe (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 104), yet I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in reading it! My only Bible knowledge (which wasn’t very much) growing up came from my pastor’s sermon and Bible based movies my family and I would watch on Christmas and Easter. Many Nominal Christians never read their Bibles, and they have no interest in reading them. Now, that’s not true of all the unsaved (think of Satan or the Pharisees Jesus rebuked) but it is true for many of them, and it certainly was the case for me when I was unsaved.
The Bible is the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and every single word in scripture is true (Proverbs 30:5). The Bible tells us that we can keep our ways pure by studying it and obeying what it says (see Psalm 119:9) which is why it is “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). The true Christian will delight in God’s decrees and not neglect His Word (see Psalm 119:16). True Christians will not have Bibles that sit in a box in their attic collecting dust.
Deuteronomy 8:3 says “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” When was the last time you fed your belly? When was the last time you read The Bible? Which is more important; your Bible or your belly? Deuteronomy 8:3 says that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth. If you do not study the scriptures, you are starving yourself spiritually. Christian Atheists spiritually starve themselves. They are too apathetic about God’s Word to read it.
3: They Live In Sin and Don’t Care
True Christians care about whether or not God approves of what they do. Jesus said “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (See John 14:15) and 1 John 2:3-6 says “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says ‘I know Him’ but does not do as He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in Him. But if anyone obeys His Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”
1 John 3:4-10 says “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he [Jesus] appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. The reason the Son Of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s works. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”
Now, I don’t think the apostle John meant that if you ever do something wrong even once past becoming a Christian, that you’re not truly saved. One reason I think that is because back in the first chapter of this very same epistle, John said “If we claim we have no sin, we make God a liar and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) but that “If we confess our sins, He will be faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Another reason is that I’ve never met a perfect Christian. Rather, instead of saying that true Christians will live morally perfect lives, will never do anything wrong again, will do the right thing 100% of the time, I think John is saying that if you purposefully live a life of consistent wrong doing, then you are not saved. True Christians will stumble into sin from time to time, but they will not live a consistently immoral life. Neither will they sin on purpose. The NLT phrases 1 John 3:8 this way: “Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning because they are children of God.”
There is a difference between committing sin and practicing sin. Committing sin is what all people do (Romans 3:23) but only a non-Christian will deliberately and consistently commit sin (i.e practice sin). A Christian commits sin if he lusts after a scantily clad woman for a quick second (Matthew 5:28), or if he’s nailing in a hammer, strikes his thumb accidentally and takes the Lord’s name in vain in spite of himself (Exodus 20:7). Practicing sin on the other hand would, for example, be someone who goes out of his way to pick up a prostitute on the side of the road every week, or someone who takes God’s name in vain on a regular basis, whom cursing is intertwined with his regular vocabulary.
The former are done accidentally and are infrequent, the latter are done on purpose and on a regular basis. The former are sins are done in moments of weakness, and the Christians who do them ask God for forgiveness right away. The person who does the latter probably won’t even care that scripture condemns his actions. For a true Christian, his sins will stink to him. He won’t be able to bear not living according to God’s standards. He will strive with every fiber of his being not to do anything that would disappoint God. For the nominal Christian, pleasing God is not high on his to do list if it’s on there at all.
A true Christian will grieve when he sins, but a nominal Christian won’t give it much thought.
4: They Have No Interest In Attending Church
I worded the above sentence carefully since not all unchurched believers are unchurched because they don’t want to go to church. For some people, they’re having trouble finding one that’s just right. Now, a lot of nominal Christians sometimes use that as an excuse, but for some it’s true. For those who are truly unchurched because they can’t find one that’s right for them, they will look for a church like an unemployed person looks for a job. They will try hard to find one, and it probably won’t take them years and years.
The nominal Christian, if he attends church, probably attends church out of obligation rather than desire. If he is unchurched, it’s not because he can’t find one whose preaching jives with The Bible, but because he simply doesn’t want to get up early in the morning, get all dressed up, and haul himself down to the church building to hear a message he doesn’t intend on applying to his life.
A real Christian will want to have fellowship with other believers, will want to worship The Lord alongside other believers, and will actually apply the sermon to his life. If a true Christian is unchurched for the above mentioned reason, he will itch to find one as quickly as possible.
5: They Have Hatred In Their Hearts
Any truly born again Christian will have no hatred in their hearts for anyone. God is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, if one has hatred in their heart, one cannot have God in their heart. Light and darkness cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Likewise, love and hatred cannot exist simultaneously.
The Apostle John uses some pretty damning language about people who have hatred in their hearts. He says that anyone has hatred in their hearts is a murderer at heart and that no murderer has eternal life in him. He also says that those who are walking in hatred are walking in darkness.
"If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates another brother or sister is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness." -1 John 2:9-11
"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." – 1 John 3:14-15
“If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” – 1 John 4:20
Obviously, if you carry hatred in your heart, you are not saved. If you have hatred in your heart, you’re a murderer at heart (1 John 3:14-15), you’re walking in darkness (1 John 2:9-11), and you’re a liar when you tell God that you love Him (1 John 4:20). Loving everyone is a command from God (Matthew 5:44, Matthew 22:37-40). John 13:34 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
You now know whether or not you’re a nominal Christian. If none of these 5 characteristics apply to you, then great! If they do, I advise you to give your life to Christ. Repent of whatever sins you’re consistently committing and receive Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you realize that you’re a nominal Christian and want to become an authentic Christian, visit the “What Must I Do To Be Saved” page of this website.
It should be said that number 1, 2, and 4 do not universally apply to nominal Christians. There are nominal Christians who go through the motions of regular prayer and scripture reading, and there are those who attend church. However, that’s just what it is; going through the motions. Even Satan talks to God and reads scripture (that’s how he was able to misuse it on Jesus in Matthew 4), and unlike the movies portray, there’s nothing about a church building that prevents a demon from entering. However, number 3 DOES universally apply to nominal Christians, and numbers 1, 2, and 4 did apply to ME and I know of several people whom I suspect of being nominal Christians to whom these apply. In other words, not all Christian Atheists are created equal and display the same characteristics. But these are the ones that applied to me and apply to others whom I suspect aren’t saved.