The Unrecognized Christian

The most important thing for a Christian is to be recognized by the Lord when He returns. In Matthew 25:12, 13, we read that there will be many people who call themselves Christians, but they will be unrecognized by the Lord when He returns. This is one of the most terrible things that could happen to an individual. If you are a Christian, you expect and say that the Lord is coming to save you and to take you out of this evil world. He will take you to a place where there will be no more suffering, death nor sorrow, and all the problems we have to deal with will be gone. But, what if He returns and does not recognize you? Jesus says this will happen to some people and what the Lord says always turns out to be true.

A literal translation of Matthew 7:21, 22 says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in the heavens. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name we performed many powerful works [or miracles]?’ …”

My brother Marshall believed Jesus gave this prophecy especially to Christians living in the last days, those people who called Him Lord, but argued with Him regarding their fitness for heaven. But Jesus says to them, “No, not at any time did I know you. You were filled with a spirit, but it was the wrong spirit. You did supernatural things, but you practiced lawlessness.” The same word is used in the literal translation of 1 John 3:4: “He that commits sin transgresses also the law, and sin is the transgression of the law.”

Transgression and lawlessness are the same. Both mean the breaking of God’s law. Every human being needs to understand this because in the final judgment the Lord will ask only one question: Did you keep My law?

When we explain this to our Protestant and Roman Catholic friends, they call us legalists and say that we believe we are saved by keeping the law. But we believe we receive no merit by keeping the law. Instead, we are saved by grace alone through faith. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a person is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, literal translation).

The Desire of Ages, 19, says, “Our little world is the lesson book of the universe.” How can we know if someone has been born of the Spirit or not? Paul says, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17, first part). These are contrary to one another. He also says, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are these …” (verses 18, 19, first part) and then he lists approximately 17 things (verses 18, 19–21, first part). “… I also told you in time past that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 21, last part). Those who do these things are breaking the law, but those who are born of the Spirit are not.

Paul explains the same thing in more detail in Romans 8. He shows that through the Holy Spirit you will receive power to put to death the works of the flesh. He says the person that is unconverted (carnal) is not subject to the law of God and cannot be (verse 7). But then he says, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (verse 13). So through the power of the Spirit the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us who believe (verse 4). Only those who receive the Holy Spirit will be given the power to obey.

Maybe you are discouraged because there is some sin in your life that you have tried to overcome, but can’t seem to gain the victory over. The only way you will overcome that besetting sin is through the power of the Holy Spirit working in you. The Lord has promised to give you the Holy Spirit to work a miracle to enable you to overcome if you will only ask.

We read in The Review and Herald, June 21, 1898: “Christ’s subjects are those who keep His commandments. These only are counted as His subjects. If, after the light has come, the disobedient continue in transgression, they are subjects of the kingdom of the prince of this world.

“But the heavenly principles that distinguish those who are one with Christ from those who are one with the world have become almost indistinguishable. The professed people of Christ are no longer a separate and peculiar people. The line of demarcation is indistinct. People are subordinating themselves to the world, to its practices, its customs, its selfishness. The church has gone over to the world in transgression of the law, when the world should have come over to the church in obedience to the law. Daily the church is becoming converted to the world. Professing Christians are slaves of mammon [Greek: real estate, property, gold, silver, material possessions]. Their indulgence of appetite and extravagant expenditure of money for selfish gratification, greatly dishonor God.

“Contrary to worldly kingdoms, Christ does not find His subjects—He makes them. Those who stand under the blood-stained banner of Prince Immanuel are the subjects of a kingdom not recognized by worldly kingdoms, whose subjects have wandered from their allegiance to God, from their obedience to the law of His kingdom. These are accounted as dead in trespasses and sins. They are destitute of the Spirit of God, which worketh in the children of obedience.” So, this is the most important question a person must ask themselves: Will the Lord recognize me as a Christian, as one of His children when He returns? In the final analysis that is all that matters. No matter how you are recognized in this world, if Jesus does not recognize you, it will be the most terrible thing to ever happen to you. “Christ’s subjects are those who keep His commandments. These only are counted as His subjects.” Ibid.

Jesus was not recognized by the world as the Redeemer; He wasn’t even recognized by the church or by His own family, and if you are really a Christian, you also will be unrecognized by the world.

The Signs of the Times, July 11, 1895, says: “The world knows not the followers of Christ. They do not recognize their holy origin, and they will not be in harmony with them any more than they were in harmony with Jesus, their Lord.” Then Ellen White lists five reasons why the world did not recognize Jesus:
His righteous zeal for the honor of God,

  1. He unsparingly denounced sin,
  2. He unmasked the hypocrisy and pretense to piety,
  3. The loveliness of His own unblemished character, and
  4. He contended against lust and hypocrisy.

If we are truly Christians, these characteristics will be manifest in our lives and the result will be: “Those who become the sons of God cannot avoid coming into conflict with the hosts of apostasy. ‘The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not’ (1 John 3:1, last part).” Ibid.

We already know that a true Christian will not be recognized by the world, but what is harder still is when a Christian is not recognized by his own church. In the early part of the fourth century the leaders of the church of Rome and other bishops made an arrangement with the Roman Empire, and in A.D. 313 an edict was passed ending the persecution of the Christians so that Christianity could become the state religion of the pagan Roman Empire. It adopted the name the Holy Roman Empire and they called themselves “Catholic” from the Greek meaning according to the whole.

A group of Christians known as the Donatists were much closer to apostolic Christianity than the Catholic church of the fourth century. The Catholic church went to the Roman government and the Donatists were told that because only Catholics were Christian, they could not call themselves Christians. The Donatists, mainly in North Africa, were unrecognized as Christians. They believed it was wrong to enforce the Christian religion by the will of the state, that the state did not have the right to tell them what they should believe. Consequently, the Donatists were disfellowshipped.

I was reminded years ago of the Donatist controversy when we here at Steps to Life were told we could not call ourselves Seventh-day Adventists. For 1,700 years, many forceful ways have been developed to disfellowship people. The most forceful way was to burn them at the stake. The Roman Catholic church did this during the Dark Ages and called it an “act of faith.” One such individual being led to the place of execution was told, “We are going to cut you off [disfellowship] from the church militant.” This person replied, “But not from the church triumphant.”

The Signs of the Times, December 4, 1893: “Many have been cast out of the church whose names were registered upon the Book of Life. Wolves in sheep’s clothing [John 9] were ready to cast out of the fold and devour one who was entitled to the Lord’s pasture; but Jesus, the True Shepherd, sought him, and gave him a place within the fold [the church].”

John 9 explains the process of disfellowshipping. In the story of the man, blind from birth and healed by Jesus, we see that if a person confessed that Jesus was the Christ, they would be cut off from the church. This was such a frightful consequence that this man’s parents lied for fear of being disfellowshipped. But the man said, “Lord, I believe!” and they “cast him out” (John 9:34).

There are Christians who clearly follow the will of God and obey His commandments, who, by so doing, will have their names inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life, yet, they are disfellowshipped by the church. Why? Because the professed people of God do not recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit and listen instead to another voice. The Holy Spirit will never lead a church to disfellowship someone whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but it happens many times. As we approach the end of the world, almost everyone will feel that they are filled with the Holy Spirit, but for some it will be the wrong spirit. So it is very important to be able to distinguish the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit from every other voice.

“Only those who are living up to the light they have, will receive greater light. Unless we are daily advancing in the exemplification of the active Christian virtues, we shall not recognize the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain.” The Faith I Live By, 333. If we are not living up to the light that we have, when the latter rain [of the Holy Spirit] falls, we will not recognize it. So we must ask ourselves, are we living up to all the light that we have?

“We should improve every opportunity of placing ourselves in the channel of blessing. … The convocations of the church, as in camp meetings, the assemblies of the home church, and all occasions where there is personal labor for souls, are God’s appointed opportunities for giving the early and the latter rain.” Ibid., 246. Christ has said, “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst” (Matthew 18:20).

“At every meeting we attend our prayers should ascend, that at this very time God will impart warmth and moisture to our souls.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 509. Are you taking advantage of the spiritual opportunities that you have? The convocations of the church, like camp meetings and the regular church services, are God’s appointed means where He plans to pour out His Holy Spirit. Take advantage of the opportunity to attend these meetings so, when the Holy Spirit is poured out, you will be there to receive the blessing.

“Unless those who can help in _____ are aroused [awaken] to a sense of their duty, they will not recognize the work of God when the loud cry of the third angel shall be heard. When light goes forth to lighten the earth, instead of coming up to the help of the Lord, they will want to bind about His work to meet their narrow ideas. … the Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning.” Ibid., 300.

We are asleep and must pray for an open mind and receptive heart, willing that whatever God’s chosen way is for our lives, even if it is contrary to our human planning, we will choose it and not our own way.

If you want to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, you need to be studying your Bible. Second Peter 1:19–21 says that holy men of God spoke as they were moved [carried] by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. “This Holy Book has withstood the assaults of Satan, who has united with evil men to make everything of divine character shrouded in clouds and darkness. But the Lord has preserved this Holy Book by His own miraculous power in its present shape—a chart or guidebook to the human family to show them the way to heaven. … the guidebook to the inhabitants of a fallen world, bequeathed to them, that by studying and obeying the directions, not one soul would lose its way.” Sons and Daughters of God, 190.

In this day and age, people in all walks of life are busy and we must make a choice, by the grace of God, in spite of all the things that are in our lives, to study God’s word and pray. We cannot rely on the people who preach to us to teach us all we need to know. We need to be studying the Bible on our own.

“We cannot render to God supreme love and honor if we do not recognize the Holy Spirit which the Lord sends.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, 38. If I do not recognize the Holy Spirit, I cannot be a Christian; I cannot render to the Lord supreme love and honor. “The Holy Spirit represents Jesus Christ. He is our refuge unto whom we can run and be safe. …

When truth takes possession of the heart, the Christian will be brought into conflict, and in this conflict he will need the whole armor of God; for he has to fight the good fight of faith. There are opposing elements in his own household, even in his own heart, and nothing but the free Spirit of God can ensure for him the victory.” Ibid.

Even if you are not recognized by anyone in this world, you must make a covenant with the Lord to receive the Holy Spirit in your life so that Jesus will recognize you as His when He comes.

God reads the heart. He knows what is in your mind. He knows when you make a decision. Now is a wonderful opportunity, while the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, to tell the Lord you want to be born of the Holy Spirit every day, to have victory in your life through His power, so that Jesus will not look on you at the end and say, “I don’t recognize you.”

[All emphasis supplied.]

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.