Who is my brother in Christ?

Accord­ing to sta­tis­tics rough­ly 33 per­cent of the world’s and 2.3 per­cent of India’s pop­u­la­tion is Chris­t­ian. Would this be the answer to the above ques­tion? If we ask mem­bers of dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tion­al Chris­t­ian church­es the major­i­ty of them would not agree with such a sim­ple sta­tis­ti­cal answer. They would say instead:

A Chris­t­ian broth­er is someone …
… who has been bap­tised in a Chris­t­ian church.
… who goes to a church every Sunday.
… who believes in Trinity.
… who con­fess­es Jesus as Christ hav­ing appeared as man.
… who believes in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
… who speaks in tongues.
… who has accept­ed Jesus Christ as his per­son­al Saviour.

Of course, we could con­tin­ue this list with fur­ther com­mon answers, which are often com­bi­na­tions of some or all of the above cri­te­ria. Who is right? How can I decide who my broth­er is, with whom I can have true, spir­i­tu­al fel­low­ship, with whom I can pray and praise God togeth­er and with whom I can share my life, joy, and sorrow—in the trust that we are one in Christ, con­nect­ed by the Holy Spirit?

God has revealed the answer in the Bible so that any­one who decid­ed to fol­low Jesus and there­fore has a sin­cere long­ing for broth­er­ly fel­low­ship with oth­er chil­dren of God can find out who his broth­ers are and who are not.

Why is this question important?

The seri­ous­ness of this ques­tion was point­ed out also by Jesus when he warned his dis­ci­ples of false prophets who come in his name but actu­al­ly have noth­ing to do with him:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s cloth­ing, but inward­ly they are fero­cious wolves. By their fruit you will rec­og­nize them. Do peo­ple pick grapes from thorn­bush­es, or figs from this­tles? Like­wise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree can­not bear bad fruit, and a bad tree can­not bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will rec­og­nize them. Not every­one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the king­dom of heav­en, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heav­en. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not proph­esy in your name and in your name dri­ve out demons and in your name per­form many mir­a­cles?” Then I will tell them plain­ly, “I nev­er knew you. Away from me, you evil­do­ers!” (Matthew 7:15–23)

We have to be aware that there are peo­ple (many people!—verse 22) who claim to be Chris­tians who might do even great and appar­ent­ly good things in Jesus’ name but Jesus will regard them as evil­do­ers at the last judg­ment. We as Jesus’ dis­ci­ples are respon­si­ble to warn them and call them to a true Chris­t­ian life. If they do not want to change we have to sep­a­rate from them since a Chris­t­ian cannot/must not have fel­low­ship with evil­do­ers. Instead, God wants to present us real broth­ers and sis­ters with whom we can be one body and light for the world.

How can we discern who a brother is?

Jesus says that the dis­tin­guish­ing cri­te­ri­on is their fruit (verse 20) and lat­er he makes it even clear­er: only those who do the will of his Father belong to him (verse 21).

These warn­ings of Jesus show that we can­not be super­fi­cial in our dis­cern­ment of peo­ple who claim to be Chris­tians. We real­ly have to take time and make effort to get to know people’s lives, atti­tudes, way of think­ing and the teach­ings they fol­low in order to see if they real­ly do the will of the Father in heav­en or just claim that Jesus is their Lord. In our “tol­er­ant” world this exam­in­ing approach might appear some­what dis­trust­ful and might hurt some­one but actu­al­ly it should be a sign of long­ing for sin­cere rela­tion­ships and deep uni­ty. A broth­er or an open seek­er will be will­ing to test and to be tested.

What are the fruits Jesus speaks about and what does it mean to do the will of the father?

→ Obedience to the word of God

First of all we have to real­ize that we can­not reduce it to accept­ing, con­fess­ing, and prac­tic­ing some select­ed teach­ings of the New Tes­ta­ment even if they are true in them­selves. The entire Bible is the rev­e­la­tion of God so if some­one loves God he loves every word that comes from His mouth and wants to obey it regard­ing prac­ti­cal life as well as doc­tri­nal ques­tions. This atti­tude is the most impor­tant sign of a Chris­t­ian. Every­thing else fol­lows from it.

Jesus replied, “If any­one loves me, he will obey my teach­ing. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teach­ing. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23–24)

The word of God is com­pared to a dou­ble-edged sword:

For the word of God is liv­ing and active. Sharp­er than any dou­ble-edged sword, it pen­e­trates even to divid­ing soul and spir­it, joints and mar­row; it judges the thoughts and atti­tudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The con­fronta­tion with God’s word is often painful because it sheds light on things in our lives which we have to change or com­plete­ly give up. A Chris­t­ian is ready to under­go this con­fronta­tion and purifi­ca­tion through the Word and does not want to jus­ti­fy his wrong­do­ings by ignor­ing or dis­tort­ing the Word of God.

→ Readiness to give up everything for Jesus

I tell you the truth, unless a ker­nel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a sin­gle seed. But if it dies, it pro­duces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eter­nal life. Who­ev­er serves me must fol­low me; and where I am, my ser­vant also will be. My Father will hon­or the one who serves me. (John 12:24–26)

The readi­ness to die for our­selves and fol­low Jesus in every­thing is the pre­req­ui­site of bear­ing fruit. A Chris­t­ian is not sat­is­fied with hav­ing changed some things in his life but wants to leave every­thing that hin­ders him to fol­low Jesus.

Large crowds were trav­el­ing with Jesus, and turn­ing to them he said: “If any­one comes to me and does not hate his father and moth­er, his wife and chil­dren, his broth­ers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he can­not be my dis­ci­ple. And any­one who does not car­ry his cross and fol­low me can­not be my dis­ci­ple.” (Luke 14:26–27)

→ Brotherly love

Los­ing one’s life means to lay it down for oth­ers as Jesus did:

My com­mand is this: Love each oth­er as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12–13)

A Chris­t­ian has long­ing for broth­er­ly fel­low­ship and wants to share his life with oth­er Chris­tians. 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. This is the mes­sage you heard from the begin­ning: We should love one anoth­er. (1 John 3:10–11)

→ Concern for the right doctrines

As men­tioned above being obe­di­ent to the word of God also means to be very seri­ous about the right doc­trines. If some­one clings to doc­trines which are not in accor­dance with God’s word or has a super­fi­cial, care­less atti­tude regard­ing the right teach­ing he does not respect the word of God and is not a dis­ci­ple of Jesus. Jesus was ready to die to reveal the entire truth to us. We see that he fought very much for it and did not agree to any­thing wrong for the sake of (super­fi­cial) peace with his fel­low Jews. John also tes­ti­fies the seri­ous con­se­quences of hav­ing false doctrines:

Any­one who runs ahead and does not con­tin­ue in the teach­ing of Christ does not have God … (2 John 9a)

A Chris­t­ian will sep­a­rate from false teach­ings and peo­ple who want to cling to them.


It is impos­si­ble to make a full list about the cri­te­ria of being a Chris­t­ian on a few pages. The above thoughts are just some help­ing guide­lines which we have to keep in mind if we want to dis­cern whom we can call our broth­er in Christ. John puts it in very sim­ple words which com­prise everything:

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 what 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.


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