…Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
The prophet Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king. He went to Jesse’s house and Jesse paraded all of his sons in front of him. The prophet kept thinking that surely this son or that son was the next king because, well, look at him! But the Lord told him differently. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
How true that still is today! God’s measure of a Christian is often different than the measure many of us use. We tend to evaluate the faithfulness of a Christian based on how often they attend church, how active they are in the activities of the church, or whether they lead in acts of worship on Sunday or teach Bible classes. While all of those things are important and necessary in themselves, the problem with using them to measure a Christian’s faithfulness is that they, like Samuel, only look at the outside of man. They don’t examine the inside.
Have you ever considered that church members can do all of these things and still be spiritually destitute on the inside? One could curse, steal, lie, have a non-existent prayer life, never pick up their Bible through the week, be short-tempered, rude, and inconsiderate of others Monday through Saturday…but still be thought of as a great Christian simply if they show up and sit in a pew for an hour or so on Sunday.
So what should be the measure of a faithful Christian? How should we truly determine what a faithful Christian is? For one thing, consider what the Bible says about how to become a Christian in the first place. For years now, the religious world has pushed this notion that one is saved and becomes a Christian only through expressing one’s faith in Christ and praying to him for forgiveness. Yet the Bible in its totality (Psalm 119:160) says something different. James points out that one is justified by works and NOT by faith alone (James 2:24). Jesus lists both faith and baptism as necessary for salvation (Mark 16:16). Peter lists repentance and baptism as necessary for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; cf. 3:19; 1 Peter 3:21). Paul correlates faith and baptism with being sons of God and clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27), and also cites baptism as necessary to enter into a new life as a Christian (Romans 6:1-5). Thus, the measure of a faithful Christian starts with faith, repentance, and baptism.
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., the evidence that one is being led by the Spirit and walking in the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In order for all of these qualities to exist and thrive in one’s heart, the inner man must be changed first (Colossians 3:12-17). Members of the church may show up to church on Sunday…but do they live out the principles of Titus 2:1-8 throughout the rest of the week? Are they “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness”? Are they “reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine”? Do they “teach what is good”? Do they “love their husbands and children”? Are they “a model of good works”? Do they “show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned”?
This applies to church leaders too. Biblically, preachers are judged to be faithful not just by preaching a great sermon, but also by how their personal lives are (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). It’s not enough for a preacher to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12); he must do so in the right spirit (2 Timothy 2:23-25). Elders and deacons are considered faithful not only if they meet the qualifications of marriage and children (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). What about the rest of those qualifications (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-13)?
Yes, God judges the faithfulness of Christians quite differently than we do. He emphasizes that the inside of a person be changed first. If that happens, what others see on the outside naturally follows.