If it walks like a duck

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“Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck.

Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.”

This statement was made by Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr, the American ambassador to Guatemala during the Cold War in1950. He used this phrase when he accused Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán’s government of being communists. The point that Patterson was trying to make in this instance was that although Guzmán’s government claimed not to be communists, everything that they did pointed to the fact that they were indeed communists. 1

The ‘duck test’ is a humorous example of a form of inductive reasoning, which can be applied to determine if someone or something is what they claim to be.

So let’s say for example that I claim to be the biggest supporter that the Western Province Stormers have ever had. If you asked me when the last time was that the Stormers made it to a Super Rugby final and I could not tell you, you would start to doubt me. If you then enquired as to when the last time was that I went to watch a live match and I replied four years ago, your doubts would escalate. What then if you asked what I thought of their last game and I replied that the last time I watched a televised game was two years ago? You would surely ask yourself if I could really be called a supporter at all. If finally, you enquire about my favourite Stormers player and I reply that it is Jacque Kallis, well then you would know I was lying through my teeth…not only was I not the biggest Stormers fan at all, I actually had no idea what was happening in local rugby...never mind the fact that Jacques Kallis is actually a cricketer.

The Big Question

If someone had to use inductive reasoning to look at your life, would they be able to conclude that you are an authentic Christian? Surely if you say you are a Christian, you should talk like one and act like one.

To answer the question truthfully, we first have to be able to determine what a Christian is, but before I go on, it is very important to note that this article is not intended to be a measuring stick to determine if you will be eligible for salvation.

Salvation is only possible through faith in Jesus, who has already paid for our sins through unmerited grace. The focus of this article is not about pointing fingers at others to determine the authenticity of their beliefs, but is rather an opportunity for introspection.

But what is a Christian?

So what makes you a Christian? Is it belief in God? Is it Biblical knowledge or going to church on Sunday? Is it someone who has faith or does good deeds?

We find our first clue in the New Testament when Jesus deals with this very issue by trying to enlighten the Pharisees. In Mathew 22:36-40 he explains to them that the greatest command is to love. “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Love, as you will discover, is the key to everything. A Christian should firstly love God and have a relationship with him. Someone who for example prays regularly, does Bible Study and goes to church would clearly be demonstrating that he loves God. It is impossible to say that you are a Christian and not love God; the two are not mutually exclusive. Someone for example who does not believe that Jesus is his Lord and Saviour, is not an authentic Christian.

Secondly we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves. Romans 12:10 says it so eloquently: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.”

This concept of loving our neighbour as ourselves is a very hard pill to swallow and we often find a way to rationalize our actions. We treat people badly, ignore them, gossip about them, hurt them and then get to church on Sundays and wonder why the seats are empty. We profess that Jesus loves the beggar, but we can’t take the time out of our day to speak to that beggar. We rationalize that giving him money will only reinforce his bad behaviour, but it is too much effort to buy him a loaf of bread. I find the parable of the Good Samaritan especially disconcerting because I doubt t I would put my life on the line for someone else if put in the same position.

And yet deep down inside me I have to realize that I cannot profess to love my neighbour and then neglect him. If I really want to be more like Jesus I need to love my fellow man.

Preach the gospel

We find our next clue in Mathew 28:19-20 where Jesus commands his disciples to spread the gospel: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

In stark contrast with the Old Testament where the duty of preaching and teaching fell on the shoulders of the religious leaders, the weight of spreading the gospel now becomes the duty of every Christian. We might like to think that it is the responsibility of our pastors to go out there and spread the good news, but if you profess to be a Christian your words and actions should reflect the gospel message. The Old Testament was the day of the priest. Today is the priesthood of all believers – that’s all of us. (1Peter 2:9)

Do good deeds

The last point revolves around how we must help other people by doing good deeds. It ties in very strongly with loving your neighbour but is worth a mention on its own. “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). And in 1Timothy 6:18: “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

As Christians, when we show other people unconditional love and help them, we reflect the awesome gift that Christ has given us. When people see you doing this kind of thing without any hidden agendas or motives, and you confess that it is Christ in you that has made the change, they will believe that Jesus really can make a difference.

But isn’t faith enough for the Duck Test?

A person might argue that faith is the only requirement for salvation and that we don’t need this touchy feely mumbo jumbo. All I need is to believe, right? That is correct. All you need for salvation is faith, but bear in mind that with true faith comes the desire to become more like Christ. If you really do believe, you will have a desire to do the things that God has commanded, and that belief will translate into action.

The Apostle James addressed this issue in James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” And in James 2:18 he says: “But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”


There are many Christian attributes I have not mentioned here. The beatitudes and fruits of the Spirit immediately come to mind, but ultimately they all stem from love. If we love God and our neighbours as much as ourselves, we will do good deeds, live and share the good news and be the type of people God wants us to be. The Apostle Paul said that if we have no love, we are like a clanging cymbal, in other words, we just make noise and do nothing. We are therefore useless.

So, if you love like Christ did, live the gospel like Christ did, have a relationship with the Father, like Christ did… well then you can’t be a duck…you have to be a Christian!

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_test



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