I was on the phone today with a friend whose mother is in hospice care. We talked for a few minutes about both her physical and mental health. In her 90’s, her mind remains sharp, my friend told me, while her body continues to weaken. I asked about the condition of her soul. My friend said that while his mom has been in church all her life and clearly professes her faith in Jesus, she has a hard time embracing grace.
Don’t we all.
It is our universal human condition to want our goodness, small as it might be, count for something. Like the Galatians, we are often guilty of beginning our spiritual journey by faith, only to transfer our hope for eternal life to a list of does and don’ts that we try to follow. On days when face spiritual struggles and experience victory, our salvation seems more secure than it does on those days when we know defeat. That’s because in the back of our minds, we keep thinking our successes or our failures somehow factor into God’s acceptance of us.
There are also times when we find ourselves wondering about another person’s eternal destiny. Many of you have heard by now about the revelations of sinful sexual abuse in the life of noted evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias. When we read in 1 Corinthians 6 that the unrighteous, including those who practice sexual immorality, will not see the Kingdom of Heaven, we find ourselves wondering about whether Ravi entered eternity hearing “you are forgiven, well done good and faithful servant” or “depart from me, you worker of iniquity.”
Our speculation about the state of Ravi’s soul when he died is ultimately an exercise in futility. James 4 tells us there is only one lawgiver and judge. God alone, the Righteous Judge, determines the quick and the dead.
But while we are never to sit in judgment over another person, that does not mean that we shouldn’t examine our own lives to see if we are in the faith. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help others examine their lives as they consider the state of their soul.
What gives us confidence that someone is genuinely a child of God? The Bible gives us markers to help us diagnose our spiritual health. Don Whitney has a helpful list of ten questions we can ask ourselves – or a friend – that can assist us in seeking to determine whether someone is a child of God or not.
1. Do you thirst for God?
2. Is your life governed increasingly by God’s Word?
3. Are you more loving than you used to be?
4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence in your life?
5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ, the church?
7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
8. Do you still grieve over sin – both your own sin and the sin we see around us in our world?
9. When people sin against you, are you a quicker forgiver?
10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?
Again, we have to be careful with questions like these.
We don’t want anyone to think that this is a list of things we must do to be saved. That’s the trap the Galatians fell into – trying to perfect in the flesh what had begun in the Spirit. This is not a spiritual to do list. These questions are designed to help us look for evidence that God’s Spirit is in fact at work in our lives. The questions are meant to be diagnostic, not prescriptive.
We also don’t use a list of questions like this as a way to sit in judgment over the spiritual condition of another person. We can’t know anyone’s heart but our own. These are questions we would ask as a spiritual physician, not as a judge.
And finally, we have to be careful that we read a list of questions like this looking for spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.
Read though that list again. You should find some measure of encouragement as you do. You should be able to smile and thank God for the way He is at work in your life, conforming you more and more into the image of His Son.
And you’ll likely find questions where you’ll be convicted that the progress is slower than you would like. In that moment, resist the temptation to move to guilt or shame or condemnation. Instead, believe the gospel again. If you are a child of God, He has begun a good work in you. And He will be faithful to complete it. Pray and ask God to help you grow in grace in those areas where your walk with Jesus is weak.
You likely heard the news today about Rush Limbaugh’s death. And maybe the news that Carman, the well known Christian singer in the 80’s and 90’s also died this week. Like Ravi Zacharias, both Rush and Carman professed faith in Christ. Like Ravi (and me) both men had remaining sin in their lives that might lead some to wonder about how genuine their profession of faith was.
Only God knows their hearts. Only God is their judge. We can and should hope that their profession of love for Jesus was real, and that God has covered their sins with the mercies of Christ.
But let none of us take the mercies of Christ for granted in our own lives. Like the Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:9, let us make it our aim to please God. Not in an attempt to earn what we could never earn. But in joyful response to the grace God has poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. May our own lives give people no reason to wonder about the genuineness of our faith on the day when Jesus calls us home.
Some of you grew up in a spiritual tradition that would have included a large helping of pancakes for breakfast yesterday morning. In some churches, the season that leads up to Easter, known as the Lenten Season, begins the day after what is known as Shrove Tuesday. Today is known in many churches as Ash Wednesday.
Although there is nothing in scripture that calls us to a 40-day season of fasting prior to Easter (with Sundays excluded from the fast), I have found it a healthy spiritual discipline to remind myself of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection more regularly in anticipation of Easter. The practice of “giving up something for Lent” is designed to use the denial of some carnal appetite as a way to prompt us to meditate on Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
You might want to check out this link to Paul David Tripp’s reflection on the benefits that can come from a conscious choice to observe Lent in some way.
To have victory in any spiritual battle we face, we need to make sure we have on the right footwear. This Sunday, we’ll talk about what the Bible is telling us when it says we are to put on the shoes of the gospel of peace as we fight against the schemes of the devil.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!