You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:16 NLT

I remember the day she accepted Christ as her Savior; now she was gone.

Mary* was a teenager who came from a shallow religious family. Her mother was the only spiritual light in her life. Mary followed in her mother’s footsteps for a number of years. She married a wonderful Christian man, and they had two children together. Yet for some unknown reason, Mary decided to walk away from them all—God included. Seventeen years later, Mary still hasn’t returned to God. Oh, she might take her grandchildren to church for special events or for special occasions, but she continues to live a lifestyle that’s radically different from a dedicated believer.

Mary’s not the only person I’ve known who demonstrated no visible signs of their declared identity with Christ. I have family members who’ve done the same. When warning his followers about false teachers, Jesus said they could be identified by their fruits. Today’s believers can as well.

Persistent sin prevents others from perceiving our true identity, keeping us far away from the one we claim to love. Sin creates static between us and God—not the unintentional sins we quickly confess but rather those we repeatedly revel in. Unbelievers won’t see any difference between themselves and us, and Satan will use our persistent sin to make us question our salvation as well.

Deep hurts can also keep us away from God’s desired lifestyle for us. I’ve known many professing believers who haven’t been inside a church for decades because a church member said or did something unsavory to them. Satan can easily convince us the church is filled with hypocrites.

Others choose to walk away—and stay away—because Satan convinces them that religion was something they chose when they were an innocent, naïve child. Now that they’ve matured, they know better.

If we’ve walked away, examining ourselves to make sure we are really in the faith is the first step. If we are, then confession and repentance are the next steps. Once we’ve done that, we can be sure God willingly waits to accept us back into his fold. It’s never too late to return.

*Name changed to protect privacy.