Even with the decline of Bible-based Christianity in the West there are still many people who have inherited the idea that it's "Christian" to be kind and honest and a loyal citizen, but anything beyond that - like holding strong beliefs, only produces religious fanaticism and an unbalanced mind. What do we make of this?
The first thing to note are the various ways the word "Christian" may still be used; sometimes to refer to a sweet and gentle kindness - practice that and you are undoubtedly a fine Christian!
So, you think you are a real Christian? Fair enough, but here are some of the approaches that WON'T help you:
BE KIND AND FORGIVING
It is very affirming for others to be treated with sincere kindness. And it is even more precious to be truly forgiven, when you didn't deserve it - well, that's the essence of forgiveness isn't it? If these are the traits you show to others - keep them. But just accept, by themselves, these don't make you a real Christian.
GO TO CHURCH
Surely regular churchgoing will help show I am a real Christian, I mean, surely this is one of the essential marks of being one. Yes, it may be. If you assume churchgoing shows to others you're a Christian, you have very likely got the principle of cause and effect working back-to-front. Merely doing external things, important as they may be, like churchgoing, never made anyone a Christian.
What could be more spiritual than private prayer? That definitely makes me a real Christian! Yes, Christians do pray, but you ought not to rely on this to make you feel spiritual or near to God, because many people think it helps develop their spirituality, and is a vital part of what makes them a real Christian. Taken by itself, the practice of prayer, neither proves nor disproves that you may be a real Christian.
BELIEVE IN GOD
Atheism may be on the increase, but then, many people also have a belief in God's existence. And many atheists have the idea that they became such when they abandoned all religious belief and practice. However "Christian" it sounds to believe in God, it might merely be a sort of mental assent, a cultural belief and nothing more. Don't rely on that sort of belief.
READ THE BIBLE
Yes, it's definitely good to read the Bible, and if you do I would encourage you to continue to do that and to ask God to speak to you through it. However, by itself, this is never enough to show that you're a real Christian.
HAVE HIGH MORAL VALUES
And to cap them all, you may also have strong moral values based on biblical Christianity. Surely, that proves you are a real Christian! Look, this is good, and I am encouraged that you may have high moral principles in a dark and devious world, but even these are not sufficient to show that you have ever 'passed from death to life' (John 5:24).
All of these activities are very acceptable in their own right - so don't necessarily stop doing them - by no means! I have adopted this negative-sounding approach because occasionally it helps to show what Christianity is NOT, besides showing what it is.
So, if you have been relying on these things to make you acceptable to God and worthy of a place in heaven, you will need to reject them as unfounded hopes.
Instead, we shall need to accept that 'all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment' (Isaiah 64:6), and 'none is righteous, no, not one' (Romans 3:10). Rejecting all self-righteousness, we must come empty-handed to Christ, accepting that he has died for sins such as our own, and receive freely from him 'through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith' (Philippians 3:9).
With this new standing in Christ, received as a gift, we will begin to live out our new life of fruitfulness that comes from a spiritual union with Christ (see John 15:4-7), so that in Jesus' words, 'you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples' (John 15:8).
What a vast difference there is between these two ways - dead religious works and the true, living fruit of God's Spirit! Don't mistake the first for the second.