What Is A Nominal Christian?
Are you a nominal Christian or are you a true, genuine born again Christian? What is the difference between a religious person and a true born again Christian believer? Can a person be identified as a true Christian just because they go to church regularly, pray, read the Bible and even have a position or status in the church?
Jesus warned that not every person who claims to be a Christian is in fact a REAL Christian. There are some people who are unrepentant hypocrites and then there are some people who are true believers. It is therefore important for us to continuously walk as TRUE born again believers in Christ.
Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
WHAT IS A NOMINAL CHRISTIAN?
The word “nominal” means, “in name only.” Therefore nominal Christians are Christians in name only, but yet their life, their fruits, their true inner beliefs, their works (even the things they do in secret) is unrepentant & contrary to the word of God even though they bear the name “Christian”. Nominal Christians will know exactly how to act “Christian” or “religious” outwardly, but either in secret or because of false indoctrination or self-deception, they will be living a life that is hypocritical, deceptive and rebellious against God and His word.
In summary, a nominal Christian can also be defined as a person who may behave religiously, but yet he is a false or hypocrite who does not walk or believe in the salvation that God offers by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9).
John 5:39-40 NKJV
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
The problem with being religious is that religion can lead a person to knowledge yet that knowledge will not lead them to a relationship. The purpose of the Scriptures is not only that we may have knowledge, but that we may have a relationship with the One who wrote the Scriptures – God.
The Pharisees had a knowledge of the written logos or Scriptures, yet they refused to have a relationship with the God with whom these Scriptures talked about. This is the problem with being religious.
It is very important to note that the word of God regards nominal Christians in the same category as unbelievers and not as genuine born again Christians.
Matthew 7:21-23 clearly shows that there will be judgement upon people who thought they were true Christian believers but in the eyes of the Lord, these people were deceptive nominal Christians or false believers.
So therefore, what are the characteristics that distinguish a real born again Christian from a nominal Christian?
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A NOMINAL CHRISTIAN?
Here are a few examples in God’s word concerning God’s view and God’s judgement about nominal Christians and those who are religious but yet are self-deceived due to false doctrine:
(1) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Are Iniquitous
Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV – “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
There is so much we can learn from Matthew 7:21-23. The fact that Jesus called these nominal Christians “lawless” or “iniquitous” shows that they lived a life that was deliberately and habitually sinful and contrary to God’s word and God’s principles even though they claimed to be real Christians. God wants people who walk the talk. God wants Christians who put into practice His teachings and values. According to Jesus, not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” is a real, true Christian, but he who obeys His will. Are you a religious person or are you a person seeking and obeying the will of God in your life? The reason why Jesus dismisses these false believers is because they “practice lawlessness”. They loved to practice lawlessness. An example is a certain group of the homosexual movement which claims to be Christian whilst practicing or engaging in homosexual activities. Their lifestyle, their actions and what they claim to believe were not corresponding; on one hand they called Him “Lord, Lord”, but yet what they practiced habitually in their lives did not show / testify that Jesus was in fact the Lord of their lives.
(2) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Are Disobedient to Christ
Luke 6:46-47 NKJV – “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”
God is not just interested in lip service. God expects our obedience. God expects us to listen to Him and to do what He says. When we claim to follow Him but yet live a disobedient lifestyle then we risk becoming false believers or nominal Christians. For example, a homosexual person who refuses to repent of such a sinful lifestyle may claim to be a Christian. Yet such a lifestyle is not supported by God & the Bible mentions that those who practice this type of sexual lifestyle “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Disobedience arises when we put our own personal interests before the interests of God. Disobedience arises when we follow our own principles and discard the values and principles mentioned in God’s word. Disobedience arises when we prefer to do things on our own terms and not on God’s terms. Isaiah 29:13 says “Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men”
(3) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Have Deceived Themselves
2 Timothy 4:3-5 ESV – For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Nominal Christians do not correctly interpret the scriptures. They distort the meaning of various scriptures so that they can justify ungodly and self-serving behaviour. For example, certain cults like the Jehovah’s Witness do not believe that Jesus is God. Neither do they believe in hell or in salvation by grace. Yet they call themselves Christians. Nominal Christians do not like to be corrected by the truth in God’s word which is why they would try to distort the scriptures. They also dislike godly rebuke and instructions. A nominal Christian would rather listen to preaching or issues that do not rebuke his/her sinful lifestyle.
(4) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Do Not Abide in Jesus
John 15:5-6 NKJV – “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
While nominal Christians profess to know Jesus, they do not allow Jesus to be the LORD of their lives. Jesus is LORD of Lords, and when Jesus becomes LORD of your life, it means that He becomes the master of your life. When Jesus becomes LORD of your life is also means that He has full authority to direct and guide you so that you may bear good fruits and godly works. The only way that we can abide in Jesus is by giving Him Lordship over our lives. A nominal Christian will however still maintain lordship over his own life instead of allowing Jesus to truly be Lord over his/her life and decisions.
It is important to note in John 15:6 that Jesus mentions that at some point – most likely on judgement day, the nominal Christian who does not abide in Jesus will be “cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned”. This means that the judgement of a nominal Christian will be similar to that of an unbeliever.
(5) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Love Worldly Pleasures
Romans 12:2 NKJV – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
When we become true born again Christians, God does not want the teachings and values of the world to negatively influence our relationship with Him. God does not want us to conform to the standards and philosophies of this world. God wants our worldview and our lifestyle to be different from the worldview and lifestyle that the world offers. Nominal Christians however love the world and its pleasures they will continue to allow worldly standards and worldly influences to impact their lives and decisions. In Matthew 13:1-9 and Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus talks about the parable of the sower. In His parable, about the seed that fell among thorns, Jesus explains the following in Matthew 13:14 : “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Therefore according to Jesus’ parable, the nominal Christian hears the word of God, but he is unfruitful because he/she is very much a friend of the world. However, God also tells us in James 4:4 that we should not be friends with the world. The lifestyle and spiritual values of a Christian are very different from the world’s values. It can therefore be very difficult to tell the difference between a worldly person / unbeliever and a nominal Christian – why? – because the nominal Christian is a Christian by name only.
(6) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Do Not Bear Godly Fruit
Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV – “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
The nominal Christian does not demonstrate the character of Jesus. To be Christian also means to be “like Jesus”. When we become Christians, Jesus wants us to imitate Him in many different ways. One of the reasons why He came to earth was to teach us and set an example for us as to who we should live, treat others and relate with God. When we become born again Christians our conduct and behavior must encourage others to believe in Christ.
The nominal Christian will however give Christianity a bad name by his/her conduct which will be contrary to the word of God. In Matthew 7:19, the judgment that will come upon the false prophet or nominal Christian is a judgment that is similar to an unbeliever, because a nominal Christian is not a true genuine Christian.
(7) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but Appear Righteous Outwardly Only
Matthew 23:27-28 NKJV – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
The Pharisees had studied the law. They were religious leaders. They were respected by people and in society. They prayed and read the law frequently. However, they were more focused on appearing righteous and godly to men yet in secret or inwardly they were unrighteous and wicked. The nominal Christian loves the praise of men and works in order to be noticed by people for the religious activities that they perform. In Matthew 6:1-7, Jesus warned us not to be like the hypocrites who do various religious and charitable activities just so that they can be noticed and praised by men (and not by God).
It is important to know that God looks at the heart and not at the outward appearance of whatever we do (Jeremiah 17:9, 10).
Men might judge according to outward appearance, but only God knows the deepest inner thoughts of our heart. God is interested in our inner motives more than our outward actions. Therefore whatever we do in word or deed, we must do it to the glory of God only (Colossians 3:17).
(8) Nominal Christians Are Religious, but They Do Not Apply Both Faith & Works
James 2:14-15 NKJV – What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
An intellectual belief in the existence of God is not enough for true salvation. We also have to apply our beliefs about God into action. The scriptures say that even the demons believe in God (James 2:19), however it does not mean that demons will repent just because they believe in God. Repentance is therefore key to change. Jesus’ message was a message of repentance or change so that we live our lives according to God’s values and not our own. Therefore whatever we believe about God that is reflected in the scriptures, we must apply in our own lives for His glory. The nominal Christian however will profess belief in God, but will not repent not put into action the deeds that prove that he/she believes.
James 2:15-17 NKJV – If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
RECOMMENDED ARTICLE: QUALITIES OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN
RECOMMENDED ARTICLE: WHY IS THERE SO MUCH HYPOCRISY IN THE CHURCH?
DO YOU WANT TO BE A CHRISTIAN or A FOLLOWER OF JESUS CHRIST?
1. ACKNOWLEDGE: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
This means that we have all broken God’s laws and God’s 10 Commandments like those mentioned in Exodus 20:1-17. For example, if you have told a lie; if you have stolen something; if you have lusted after somebody or if you have coveted. This means you are guilty of breaking at least one or more of God’s 10 Commandments. Breaking God’s commandments makes us sinners. The fact that we are sinners who have broken God’s law means that we are accountable to God who is the Lawgiver. Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”
You must acknowledge that you are a sinner who has broken God’s commandments and that you therefore need Jesus in your life.
2. REPENT: “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3), “Repent therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19)
Repenting means: to change your mind; a sincere turning away, in heart, mind and action;
Therefore God wants you to repent of sinful values and of sinful living. God wants you to decide to
follow Him and to make Jesus the Lord of your life.
3. CONFESSION: “If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9)
God is a forgiving God. God will forgive any sin that you have done because Jesus died for ALL your sins and to set you free from the bondage of all types of sin in your life.
4. BELIEVE: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
You must believe that ONLY Jesus can save you and restore your relationship with God. You must believe that Jesus is the ONLY way by which you can have everlasting life and escape from eternal separation from God. You must believe that Jesus died on the cross for you and resurrected from the grave.
“He came to His own, and His own did not receive him, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:11-12)
By faith, You must receive Jesus as Your Lord & Savior and therefore; you become a child of God; you become born again; you become a Christian; you restore your broken relationship with God
Why Not Make Your Eternal Decision NOW?
We become born again Christians by GRACE through FAITH or TOTAL TRUST in Jesus Christ as our Lord & Savior (Galatians 3:26) & (Ephesians 2:8,9). Salvation is a FREE gift received through FAITH in Christ.
PLEASE NOTE: You can choose to pray in your own words. This prayer is a sample prayer and it is only an EXPRESSION of your faith, belief & trust in Jesus. Salvation is by GRACE through FAITH or BELIEVING in Christ Jesus as your Lord & Saviour.
“Lord Jesus, I thank You for Your love. I thank You that You died on the cross for me and resurrected so that I may have life through You.
I confess Lord that I have sinned against You and today I ask You to forgive me of all of my sins, past present and future.
I repent of all of my sins and I ask You to cleanse me Jesus.
Thank You for forgiving my sins.
From this moment, come into my life Lord Jesus & take full control of my life. I want to follow You Jesus and I want to follow Your ways. Save me and from today, make me the person You want me to be.
I receive You Lord Jesus right now by faith. I trust You as my Lord and Savior – Amen”
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