True Christians: How Do You Know Them?

The following is an excerpt from my blog, of the same title, posted on This Was the True Light.

...no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like... (Luke 6: 43-47 RSV)


The Matthew rendition of this portion of scripture states:

Not every one who says to me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven... (Matt. 7:21 RSV)


The popular definition of Christian, whether by people in favor of or people in opposition to Christianity, has more to do with calling "Lord, Lord" and little to do with hearing and following the words of Jesus as he reveals to us the Father's will. The popular definition of Christian has mostly to do with whether or not you believe in Jesus.

All manner of atrocities have been and still are done in the name of belief. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of various groups, modern day wars; all done in and justified by the name of belief. Yet, looking back, one has a hard time stating that those actions were "Christian."

Many quote John 1:12:

But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name...


and extol the power of belief without any understanding of what is involved in that scripture. To "believe on his name" is to believe in his authority. You demonstrate your belief in his authority only when you accept his command. You encounter Jesus' command as you encounter the light of Christ within you. (See John 1 and elsewhere.) Thus, John 3:18-21 says:

He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the [authority] of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.


Concerning the light that Christ has enlightened us with, George Fox wrote:

And to you that tempt God, and say, the Lord give us a sight of our sins, priests and people, does not the light, which Christ hath enlightened you with, let you see your sins, that lying and swearing, cursed speaking, theft, murder, and whoredom, and covetousness, and pride, and lust, and pleasures, all these to be the works of flesh, and fruits of darkness? this light within you lets you see it, so you need not tempt God to give you a sight of your sins, for ye know enough; and waiting in the light, power and strength will be given to you; for they that wait upon the Lord, their strength shall be renewed; and living in the light, and walking up to God, it will bring you to true hunger and thirst after righteousness, that you may receive the blessing from God; and give over tempting of God, as if he had not given you a sight of your sins. And to all ye that say, God give us grace, and we shall refrain from our sin, there ye have got a tempting customary word, for the free grace of God hath appeared to all men, and this is the grace of God, which shews thee ungodliness and worldly lusts. Now thou that livest in ungodliness, lying, and swearing, and theft, and murder, and drunkenness, and filthy pleasures, and lusting after the world, thou art he that turnest the free grace of God into wantonness, and casteth his laws behind thy back, and walkest despitefully against the spirit of grace; here the scripture is fulfilled upon thee! oh vain man! yet thou canst say, God is merciful; he is merciful and just, and that shalt thou see, when destruction comes upon thee; for thou canst say, God is merciful, yet liveth in thy wickedness, passing on thy time without the fear of God, sporting thyself in thy wickedness. (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p.21) [For the full text, see Fox's To All That Would Know The Way To The Kingdom.]


So, let me define a Christian as one who lives in and by this light and believes in the authority of Christ from whom the light comes. Now, if we adopt this definition, won't we be leaving out many who base their claim on "I have repented of my sins, have believed that Jesus suffered and died for me, and have accepted his substitutionary death?" The existence of this question betrays our underlying assumption that it is we, not God, who are in charge of defining who is Christian and who is not.

The Matthew 7 text continues:

On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers." (Matt. 7:22-23)


To act in Jesus' name is to act in his authority. To act in his authority is to first sit in council with God, to know his will, and then to act by his command. Otherwise you are acting in your own name. In and by your own authority you can do nothing but evil, for there is none good but God alone...

....Continue reading this blog on my wordpress site....

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 11:41am

Patricia... God's teaching frequently seems paradoxical and ironic because human languages and understandings do not correspond precisely with the realities we're being led to perceive.

God's spokespersons are persons, and as such, see and express with the viewpoint and style of the persons they are [being continuously ] created to be. The story in 1 Kings 13 is an excellent illustration of how Earthly conflicts and loyalties can flavor the messages understood and spoken by individual spokespersons.

But God can speak for Godself.

Comment by Howard Brod on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 12:19pm

I hear Ellis and Patricia coming off as very frustrated because Keith will not accept or obey their interpretation of ancient biblical and Quaker words that are open to questioning at best.  I hear them appalled that Keith does not respect or believe all the words and thoughts of George Fox, who they so honor.  I hear them full of fear because Keith's understanding that the Light is available to all humans for personal identification threatens them for some reason.  I hear them getting hung up on Keith's own words as he tries to explain himself - just as they get hung up on the ancient, suspect words that they use as their guide and judge.  This is because their minds apparently work in a very literalist fashion and they need words literally interpreted to grasp spiritual concepts.  Keith, like many liberal Quakers, needs personal experiences to grasp spiritual concepts.  He is not so unusual from where I come from.

The above being the case I am not drawn to either Patricia or Ellis as prophets or anything else, and I hear no words of Light and Love coming from them.  And through this communication via QuakerQuaker their words are the only thing I have to know them.  So, I am aware that if I was able to spend personal time with them, I might find them to be terrific people who I am drawn to.

When I left a doctrinaire cult full of condemnation to control the people in it, I was told by its leaders that my soul would be dead eternally.  Those doctrinal advocates were in substance just like Ellis and Patricia in their use of scripture.  They used their intellect, fear, and pride to bully others into their way of thinking.  I hear Patricia and Ellis doing this when they convey their doctrine because they use the "eternal judgement" card often which is a hallmark of cultish thinking used to control others.  All I hear Keith doing is sharing his personal experience so others can take it or leave it.  Not once have I heard him use any "eternal judgement" towards anyone.  The cult leaders I dealt with thought of themselves as prophets who were speaking for Jesus and God, rather than just seekers speaking for themselves according to their own understanding.  I concluded that if they were right in their eternal judgment of me, I would rather be eternally dead then spend eternity with such cold, prideful people who did not represent the loving, light-filled creator of the Universe who I knew.

So, again Keith, I recommend that you continue speaking your truth by repeating it often.  It is ironic that Ellis and Patricia seem not to notice they speak their truth with the same words often; yet Patricia condemns you for speaking your truth just as often.  However, at least your truth, Keith, is not a message of eternal condemnation; it is one of eternal Light.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 2:23pm

Good Morning:

I've been away for a while.   I decided to drop in here and I found this deeply engaging thread.  I want to thank Ellis for sharing his thoughts here.  I find them uplifting.

My comment is going to be based on my own journey and experience.  It seems to me from what I am reading that the basic disagreement has to do with the nature of the inner light of God that shines in all people.  There are some who interpret this as an awakening to our true nature; that is to say they see it as an innate and essential Self.  There are others who see the inner light as from an exterior source and as a grace that is given to us, rather than an essential aspect of our own nature.  At least that is how I am reading the difference.

This understanding of mine is informed by my own spiritual journey.  When I was deeply involved in Buddhism I held to the view of an innate 'true nature' or 'essential Self' that was only covered by hindrances.  Discovering our true nature is awakening.  It seems to me that at least some people on this thread interpret the words of Jesus to conform to this mode of understanding.

For others, human nature is flawed not just in an accidental way, or by way of circumstances, but essentially flawed.  Viewed in this way human beings can only be uplifted through Divine assistance, or grace.  This, I think, is why Paul would say that there is no one who does good, 'no, not one'.  I don't think Paul meant that human beings never do anything worthwhile; rather that whatever human beings do that is worthwhile is due to the grace of God, not to their true self or some aspect of their own nature.

This is a difference in spiritual anthropology, a difference in understanding as to what it means to be a human being.  My first experience of the inner light was observing its presence in someone who was seriously disturbed and incarcerated.  This came to me as a complete surprise and opened my understanding to the experience of grace as flowing from a divine source.  Because of this experience, and subsequent ones, my understanding aligns more with the tradition of an infusion of love emanating from the source of all that exists.  I cannot prove this, but that is how I see it.

Again, thanks to Ellis and the others on this thread for your insights.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 4:36pm

Thank you Jim for outlining the distinction between what has been called "the philosophical interpretation" of the Inner Light and "the prophetic doctrine." In my 11/23/14 blog "Prophetic Faith or Philosophical Idealism", I quoted Lewis Benson's description of these two understandings. You can read an excerpt from that blog below. As you may remember from previous posts of mine that you've read and contributed to, I make the connection between the philosophical idealists understanding and the individualism that has enervated the liberal community. Again, thank you for your belated entry into this discussion. Your words are always appreciated, especially in a situation such as this one, which is, albeit, threshing a different issue. Here are Benson's words:

First, the philosophical interpretation understands the Inner Light to be that innate capacity of human beings to comprehend rational and ethical truth....This view tends to make the concept of 'spirit' in man identical with the concept of 'mind.' The 'mind' or 'soul' of man is the seat of the divine element in man and the essentially divine reality is not external to the soul....This view affirms the inherent spirituality of the human psyche due to the presence of a native rational and ethical principle which is divine....

 Secondly, the prophetic doctrine of the Inner Light understands that man may become completely spiritualized, that is to say, brought into perfect harmony with the will of the Creator God who is spirit. But the agency for this spiritualization is not to be found by an inventory of man's native capacities. Man is made spiritual and godly by a power which operates in man but which is nevertheless not of man. It is always the working of a sovereign will distinct from one's own. Thus there is accessible to man a light which illuminates his moral life, but this life is not present in man as his own psychological possession. It is imparted to man and man has received the promise that it will never be withheld. The condition of the operation of this light within man is his willingness to submit both conscience and reason to this objective and superhuman light. The conception of the Inner Light does not displace human reason, but says Joseph Phipps, it does caution 'against...the setting up human reason above its due place in religion, making it the leader instead of the follower, the teacher instead of the learner, and esteeming it vested with a kind of self-sufficiency, independent of the direction and help of God's Holy Spirit.' Likewise conscience or the 'sense of ought' is a quality of human life but it should not be regarded as autonomous and it cannot lead to the ultimate principles of righteousness unless informed by a higher authority. (The Truth is Christ, "Prophetic Quakerism," pp. 14-15)

Comment by Howard Brod on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 8:24pm

Although I do not subscribe to Benson's neat little doctrinal "buckets" in which he places his biblical understanding of the Inner Light versus a secular understanding of it, I do believe all of the comments offered in this post do fall generally in his second bucket, "the prophetic doctrine of the Inner Light".  However, there is no way any human can accurately doctrinalize (categorize) the action of the Light, as Benson attempts to do.

My own experience has shown me that the how's and forms of the manifestation of the Light are endless and it is manifested to receivers of it to the degree they will receive it and/or can understand it.  It is like water that will seep into a vessel to the degree and fullness that the vessel will welcome it.  It needs no doctrine to confine and dole it out.  It needs no label or type of person to legitimize it.  It is holy unto itself. It is the glue, the Force, the ultimate reality of the Universe whether one is aware of it or not.  It is the 'I Am'. It brings everything into a Oneness unto itself.

As is no surprise to anyone, I am not drawn to doctrinal approaches to spirituality because they are boxed little human understandings offered by one human's mind for the consumption of other humans.  This is all fine and good and makes interesting discussion; but in the end one needs to simply experience the Light for him/her self to benefit from it personally, to become One with it, to better grasp the reality of it. When it comes to the Light, the expression "words are cheap" certainly applies. Be the Light.  It awaits you.

My own experience with the Light has indeed changed my life, lifting me from myself into the union of Oneness with the Source of all existence - some days more so and some days less.  The Light has brought to me holy perceptions of the things of this life, things of this life that I had previously perceived as a human animal would in order to satisfy my needs and wants based on my ego. 

Although I freely share my own experience with the Light, I feel no need or desire to doctrinalize this Light experience as Quaker theologians often do, nor do I have a need or desire to name it or identify it with any human - past or present. Of course, I am grateful to those who have experienced this Light to its fullness, providing testimonies of its power and offered their own experiences to others so that we too may feel its power in our lives.  In this, Jesus has certainly been a comforter and helper to me.  However, I do not experience him as a limiter of the experience of the Light.  I experience him as wanting each of us to experience the Light to the same fullness that he does.

This personal experience of the Light is quite enough for me, because to do otherwise (to analyze and doctrinalize the Light) is a human ego endeavor that only serves to limit the fullness of the Light in myself and others.

Comment by Ellis Hein on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 10:22pm

Well, Howard, after reading your next to last comment, I begin to wonder if you read what I wrote. I do not see any of the things you claim regarding me. So I am writing to invite you to substantiate your claims. If they have any basis in what I have written, particularly my latest comment, I would like to see instances of what you are claiming that I am engaged in. So, let me make the list. In my comment you find:
(1.)a sense of me being frustrated because Keith will not accept or obey my interpretation of ancient Biblical and Quaker words.
(2.)a sense of me being appalled that Keith does not respect or believe all the words and thoughts of George Fox.
(3.)a sense of me being full of fear because Keith's understanding that the Light is available to all humans for personal identification threatens me.
(4.)I use my intellect, fear, and pride to bully others into my way of thinking. (Do you mean I use my fear or that I attempt to manipulate other people's fear?)
(5.)I use the eternal judgment card as a tool of manipulation.

Have I left out anything?

So, rather than try to answer anything you have written in your next to last comment, I will wait for your substantiation of what you are claiming I am feeling and doing.

Comment by Ellis Hein on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 10:25pm

Thank you, Jim, for your insightful comment. And thank you, Patricia, for reminding me of Lewis Benson's distinction between the philosophical understanding and the prophetic understanding of the inner light.

Comment by Howard Brod on 6th mo. 3, 2017 at 11:47pm

Ellis,

What I described is the perception you and Patricia have given me by your continuous use of the authority of scripture to assign Keith to darkness, viewing him as personally opposing Jesus due to his words, and the endangerment of his soul - all concepts of eternal judgement that I would not use lightly unless one happens to be God.  I can't recall whether Patricia or you made which remark or whether you both made them all. Perhaps I should not have guessed as to your motives(frustrated, being appalled, acting out of fear, pride), and I apologize for that.  If you believe my perceptions are incorrect, I bow to your own assessment of yourself.  I do not have the energy or time to re-read this lengthy post with all its comments to cull out specific phrases in the comments.  And in the end, it is your opinion after hearing from me, that really matters.

Certainly it is easy enough to not come across as you mean to in an exchange over the internet.  I know I have done so myself many times.  We each need to remember this when participating in such an exchange, knowing that there is a bit of a price to pay by sticking our necks out. (-: 

Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 4, 2017 at 12:48am

Our 'innate true nature' is God's grace at work in us. Certainly we are challenging material for God to work with, but  you can't rightly say that "we" (what we think of as ourselves) is wholly that grace nor wholly obstacles to it. A baby is not housebroken; but dirty diapers are not its innate nature, merely the natural result of its undeveloped state.

People would truly be a mess, not just the widespread mess that looks like Fallen human nature run amuck in the world -- We would be unrelievedly inhuman -- if God's grace were not at work in us.

Since that Grace in everywhere at work, any model that limits the power and willingness of God to illuminate even the most unlikely of human beings makes overmuch of a false hypothesis.

Whatever human beings do that is truly worthwhile -- is certainly due to the grace of God. But people don't necessarily recognize that grace as the force that motivates them, or as the source of the inspiration and energy at work in them when they do produce a good result. Still, it is so.

And when people intend good, but work heedless of the need to let God align and guide their efforts, they are likely to produce tragic results. But even such false starts and wrong turns are best seen as practice toward goals only God sees, not as ultimate failures.

If Jesus was hung on a cross to die, and died... If that outcome could be repaired, and was repaired... then we shouldn't be writing off God's workings in anybody, should we?

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 6th mo. 4, 2017 at 8:04am

Forrest, I think it might help you to see the crucifixion from Jesus's perspective, rather than seeing it solely as a statement of God's power. From the human, Jesus, perspective, there is a choice to be made: shall I obey God's command or shall I not, because I'd rather not. Jesus showed humanity that it is right to choose the first, i.e., obedience to God rather than following one's natural inclination. Furthermore, it shows that though difficult, in the end after great tribulation (and this is where God's power comes in) we are lifted to a new way of being, that was previously unknown, and continues to be unknown, to those who choose, and continue to follow, their own inclination, be it self-indulgence or self-aggrandizement. The crucifixion on Calvary is a figure, a type, an example, a lesson, of what man must go through and what man will become: a new creature in Christ. But we are responsible for our part; God doesn't do it all.

Behold, the LORD's hand is not so shortened that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so heavy that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He will not hear (Isa. 59:1-2).

Remember, each human being must act responsibly in this matter of coming into Life. There must be a devotion to truth; it's the highest thing we can do and must do, regardless of inevitable backlash.

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