It was July 1961. Thirty-eight members of the Green Bay Packers gathered for the first day of training camp after losing the NFL Championship a few months before.
On that summer day, Coach Vince Lombardi began a tradition of starting from scratch and considering his professional athletes as “blank slates” needing to learn the fundamentals of football.
As they gathered around, he began with his famous statement: “Gentlemen... this is a football.”
The Packers went on to become the best in the league at those fundamental tasks, beating the New York Giants 37-0 to win the 1961 NFL Championship.
This “back to the basics” approach is not just for sports, though — it can be helpful in every area of our lives. Because if we do not know or we forget the fundamentals, we will not succeed. This goes for the Christian life as well.
While it is easy to get caught up in contemplating deep thoughts, arguing esoteric ideas, or speculating about eschatology, the life of a Christ-follower, built on the foundation of the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord (Matthew 16:18), needs to be held up by four simple pillars.
In other words, the life of every Christian is characterized by four distinctions or “marks.” Just like an athlete becomes better with training, the more a Christian devotes himself or herself to these marks, the more they will be evident in their life.
What are the marks of a true believer?
First, every true believer has a lifestyle of personal and corporate worship. When we worship God, we are using our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37-38) to glorify, emphasize, and value God for who he is and what he has done.
Appropriately worshiping God must be our first focus because everything else in the Christian life hinges on it. In fact, because we were created to worship, a failure to worship God fully and rightly results in all kinds of sin and the unraveling of our humanity (Romans 1).
While worship is first a posture of our heart that begins with salvation (Romans 12:1-2), Scripture clearly teaches that it also involves expressions such as singing and playing music (Psalm 150; Colossians 3:16).
Secondly, every believer’s life should also involve biblical and honest community or (the old, “churchy” word) fellowship.
This mark stands out clearly in the First Church described in the Book of Acts. Luke explains that as the believers in first-century Rome exponentially grew in number, they maintained closeness and community because they:
...devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers... And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).
Every follower of Christ needs to have relationships with other Christians for the purpose of encouragement, accountability, camaraderie, and more.
Experiencing community with other believers is about carrying out the many “one-anothers” of the New Testament, such as “bearing one another’s burdens” from Galatians 6:2. In contrast, the worst thing for the human soul is loneliness.
Thirdly, every believer needs to be serving others in ministry. Many people think that “ministry” is the job of a pastor. However, ministry is actually the privilege of every Christian, while pastors and elders have the specific calling and responsibility of equipping “the saints” to do the work of the “ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
Using our time, energy, abilities, and resources to serve others is a practical way for us to follow Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38) as well as Paul's imperative to “…serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Every Christian is called to do ministry in every way they can in order for the gospel to be proclaimed, the kingdom to be built, and God to be glorified here on earth just as he is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Dave Harvey wrote in his book Am I Called? that the works of ministry are “expressions of the work of the cross in our lives...” He goes on to say that we all already have a “full-time ministry” to “bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
In the same way that a child gains maturity when they start being responsible with chores and functions within their family when a Christian takes ownership of their position on the team and membership in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), they mature in new, important ways because they are focusing beyond themselves to the needs of others.
Doing ministry is a big part of the kind of faithful stewardship that our “Master” Jesus Christ expects from us and is pleased with (Matthew 25).
Lastly, every true believer’s life should also be characterized by mission. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ final command to his disciples when he told them to do the hard work to:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV).
When our life is characterized by God’s mission, we will use what we have and so what we can do to move from where we are and go to wherever we can to reach other people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is no higher calling. God has been inviting his people to be part of this plan for a long time. In fact, the transmission of the Good News of the gospel always involves God’s people being on mission. Paul talked about this responsibility when he wrote:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14, ESV).
It Is All about Discipleship
In his book, Purpose Driven Life, author Rick Warren wrote that there is one more mark or “purpose” of a true believer called discipleship. As another author wrote in response, this idea of being driven by our purposes in our personal life as well as the church is more essential now than ever.
But I would argue that discipleship (following Jesus closely and becoming like him which culminates in leading others to Him) is actually the primary purpose of our life and the main way we glorify God.
That means that these other “marks” (worship, community, ministry, and mission) are the key contributors to our discipleship instead of being parallel purposes.
And since discipleship is a life-long journey (not a singular destination), then these “marks” of a true believer are important milestones that we must constantly be reaching along that journey.
We worship God, build community within the Church, serve others in ministry, and then go on mission to lead others to Jesus. These are the fundamental basics of the life of a Christian. If we do not get these right, the rest will never work out.
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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and most recently as the Lead Pastor and Planter of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.