Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

What is your life verse?

life verse

Do you have a “life verse”?  I have met people along the way who have a variety of Spiritual journeys and life experiences, and I find it extremely interesting and encouraging to hear how God speaks through different passages of Scripture at different times to impact our lives.  The Bible is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword”, and God speaks through it to teach us “everything that we need for life and godliness” (Heb 4.12, 2 Peter 1.3).  We see this exemplified as we walk through life, experience trials and difficulties, turn to God and are strengthened and purified by His Word.  Some people have been so marked by one experience – typically the salvation experience – that they have a verse that marks their life.  Some of us cling to promises for a season, and thus a particular passage is forever etched in our mind and reminds us of God’s work during that time.

Burying one friend per year from my freshman year in High School to my junior year in college, I wanted very much to be able to say, as Jesus said,

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”

 – John 17.4

As a young person experiencing so much death, I developed an eternal worldview and was highly concerned about the salvation of the lost and focusing my time and energy on things that would matter in eternity.

When gripped by an irrational fear of flying which impeded my life and kept me from serving God, I clung to His sovereignty over my life and circumstances:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

 – Heb 1.3-4

If Jesus is continually speaking all things into existence, that included me and the airplane on which I was flying.  Praying this truth and getting on the airplanes eventually freed me of this stronghold in my life.

But perhaps the verse that I most desire to mark my life is this well-known sentiment of Paul:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

 – Gal 2.20

This is a beautiful summary of the Christian experience.  We can argue about legalism and grace, we can debate if it is God’s sovereignty that saves people or their own free will.  But in order to know Christ, we have to have heard the Gospel, understood our sinfulness, confessed and repented, and then begin living a transformed life by His power.  Our flesh must be crucified so that we can live Spiritually.  And when Jesus gives us Spiritual life, He is the one who lives it through us.  We are mutually responsible here:  “but Christ lives in me” shows us that God is indeed the one working in and through us to bring about our sanctification and holiness, and “the life which I now live…I live by faith…” shows us that we are still aware of our lives, we are dying to ourselves and choosing to walk by faith.

It was never Jesus’ intent to die on the cross to give us “freedom” to live however we want to live.  He did not give us a license to sin or live like the world.  He set us apart to love lavishly, give until it hurts, die to our sin and our flesh, and continually grow in righteousness.  However, He remarkably gives us His Spirit to enable us to do all of these things because we are utterly incapable of any of them on our own strength.  Jesus was the perfect example and died a sacrificial death in our place.  He then teaches us that if we want to save our lives, we must lose them (Matt 16.25).  But then He promises to abide and remain in us, enabling us to obey the commands and follow the examples He gave (John 15.4).  To put it simply,

Jesus gave up his life for me
that he might take my life from me
that he might live his life through me.

Have you been crucified with Christ?  Is it no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you?  Do you thus live your life by faith in Jesus?  Let’s not stop at step one, let’s understand the full picture and allow Him to purify us by taking our sinful lives away from us and living through us.

What does that mean?  It means spending time in the Word and in prayer, every day.  It means when we are going about our days, that we listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  It is His job to convict us of righteousness and of sin:  so if you hear a warning bell i your heart as you contemplate an action, stop!  If you feel a nudge to share, to love, to reach out – do it!  It means that we apply the truths of Scripture to our lives, so if the Bible says that something is a sin – even if we do not feel guilty about it – we stop, and we ask God to help us stop.  If the Bible says we should do something – even if we do not want to do it – we do it and ask God to enable us to do it!  We submit to His authority, we die to ourselves, we ask Him to change us and we stand in amazement as it happens!  You may find that a verse stands out to you in a season, helping you and enabling you to do just that.  Cling to those fighter verses and life verses!

Resolved.

new years resolution

New Year’s is just a few days away, and many New Year’s resolutions will be made.  Have you started thinking about yours?  Will you aim to eat better?  Or exercise more?  Perhaps you will simplify your schedule or get more rest.  Many will aim to be more spiritual – praying more, meditating, reading the Bible daily, and the like.

But there are also many who refuse to set a resolution because they know they will break it.  I knew someone who struggled so much in school and discipline that he simply refused to set any goals.  The fear of failing to meet them was so great and the guilt associated with it led him to remain as he was, as a guy in his late twenties.  He said, “I would only be setting myself up for failure”.

It is true, any goal that is set is an opportunity for failure.  But it is also true that unless we set goals or make an effort, nothing will ever be accomplished.  It is true on the micro level:  if you do not make a plan for the day, you will forget to go to the grocery store after work, or bring your workout clothes to hit the gym.  But it is also true on the macro level:  you have to apply to college and start classes to earn a degree, you have to send out your resume to get a job, and start lessons to learn a skill.

But the reality is that our relationship with God is more than just a goal.  Our spirituality is more than just dedication.  Goals, however, can enhance a relationship and a Spirituality.  Even in the midst of our emotion-driven society that believes love should be easy and euphoric, most will ultimately admit that marriage is hard work, and relationships take effort to maintain.  They might be born in emotion and initially driven by passion, but after time that can fade and commitment must mark our choices in order to maintain intimacy and happiness.

In the same way, there are times that our Spiritual walk and relationship with God will be easy and natural.  But there are other times when we are distracted, too busy, frustrated, or over stimulated and pleased with our physical lives that we neglect our relationship with God, and it will take a conscious effort and decision to pray, read the Bible, meditate and listen to the Holy Spirit.  And the nature of having discipline or a goal does not take away from the authenticity of the relationships – quite the opposite, in fact.  It portrays our convictions and passions to intentionally set aside that time, even in the midst of everything else.  A wife feels loved and valued when a husband takes time out of his day to call, to stop for flowers or to take her on a date where they can talk deeply.  She actually feels more honored that he would value her enough to go through to effort of planning.

Not only is it not disrespectful or disingenuous to set aside a specific time to pray or have a quiet time every day, it is also not an expectation or sin for which God will condemn us if we fail.  If you have a standing phone date with a friend, and you forget once or twice, that friend will forgive you if it is not your habit to forget.  If you need to reschedule a lunch date with your wife, she will understand if you are not in the habit of blowing her off.  If you consistently forget or blow off your relationships, however, there will grow a distance between you and a very real problem is established.  The same is true with God.  You cannot have a relationship with God and be Spiritually healthy if you neglect Him.  If you oversleep one morning, however, or have a change of schedule and have your quiet time in the afternoon instead of the morning, He will not consider you a failure.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

– John 15.4-6

Jesus commands us to abide in Him.  The term abide can be difficult to understand, as we rarely use it in day-to-day language.  The Greek term used translates as “to remain, to not depart” and also “to continue to be present, to continue to be held or kept”.  The implication is continual interaction and relationship.  Jesus explains Himself with the imagery of the vine.  A branch depends on the vine for sustenance and life.  A branch cannot survive, produce fruit or grow unless is draws sap from the vine.  So we, when we are Spiritually born, must draw our Spiritual life from Jesus.  We cannot live, grow or bear fruit unless we stay connected to Jesus.

So as the new year approaches, let’s be bold to set a goal to go deeper with Jesus.  He will not be mad at you if you miss a day or two, and will not consider you a failure.  Quite the opposite, in fact, the commitment to and any progress towards greater intimacy with Him is a beautiful reality that will strengthen your Spiritual walk, health and maturity.  Let us not put a weight on ourselves that He hasn’t put on us, but let us abide in Him and draw our life and strength from Him as our source, as our vine.

You will find that as you begin those habits, it will soon turn into a situation where you long for your time with the Lord and needing to reschedule from the morning to afternoon will leave you ready and excited for that time.  Or missing a morning will leave your day lacking.  Let’s change our attitudes about resolutions, not seeing it as an opportunity for failure but rather an opportunity to grow and change.  Let’s not beat ourselves up and give up if we miss a few days, but find commitment anew by the encouragement and strength we draw from the days we succeed!

How will you commit to the Lord this year?

We are all bandwagon activists.

Hey.  Did you notice that we are one week removed from the attack on Paris, one day removed from the governmental leaders declaring their position on refugees, and even though IS had 170 hostages this morning at a Radisson Hotel in Mali, society has, by-in-large, already moved on?  The house has suspended Obama’s refugee placement program, so we can all rest comfortably again, so please enjoy this picture of my cat.  (Yes, I do have the two cutest cats around).

image

I am impressed that we, as a nation, focused on the Syrian Civil War for nearly a week.  Did you hear that Charlie Sheen announced that he is HIV+?  The press, by in large, did not even let that bombshell outweigh our focus on the war, refugees and IS believing itself a major world power.  Well done, America.

Refugee placement services felt an influx of support nationwide.  I read that the Kentucky Refugee Ministries has received more support in the last week than they have in the last twenty five years of service, even as they welcome Syrians.  Did you know, however, that the Civil War started four and a half years ago?  Did you know that Syrians have been fleeing for their lives, by the masses, since that time?  Did you know that we have received Syrian refugees here in the US?  Not many, but already over 1,800.

Did you care two days ago?
Will you care tomorrow?
Probably not.  But we all sure cared yesterday.

Why?  Because we are all bandwagon activists.  The age of the internet allows us to hear the headlines of the news, read a few opinion articles and form a thirty-second opinion, and anyone who disagrees with us is uninformed and a irrational.  Forget the fact that many have given their lives to the study and development of international relations and foreign policies, and there are a very few who have devoted their lives to helping refugees learn a new life in a foreign country.

Sadly, this is characteristic of our culture and we, as Christians, prove ourselves to be just as guilty as the rest.  We cite Scriptures about loving our enemies, praying for the world, espousing devoutly how it is our Christian duty to care for the widow and the orphan.  But when was the last time you visited a widow or took care of an orphan?  You might nobly disagree with our nation at large and declare that we should help refugees, but did you donate money to those organizations who have a plan in place?  Did you go to the airport and pick up a family, help set up their new apartment, start teaching them English or help them in any way?

We have not progressed very far on the spectrum of sanctification.

We are chronically immature, selfish Christians who can get on the bandwagon vocally, but do not sacrifice our money, our comfort, our time or our energy to actually do something.

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress,and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

– James 1.27

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

– Matt 5.44

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.17-21

These are steep commands.  These are steep commands against which our culture is squarely opposed.  No, not necessarily in value, but in action.  The elderly are considered irrelevant and we send them off to nursing homes because they get in our way and are a nuisance.  We confine orphans to foster care and group homes because we want to have our own babies and are not interested in the baggage that comes along with a child who has been through serious trauma.  We consider it honorable to turn the other cheek and practice patience, but cannot control our reactions well enough do so.  Our comfort and our security come first.  Justice – our own perception of it anyway – is rarely sacrificed for the sake of serving someone who just took advantage of us.  No, I [intentionally] don’t carry cash, so stop begging me for it at every intersection.

Our American Dream worldview has stunted our Spiritual growth.  Our expectation of and desire for immediate gratification has made us a bunch of pansies who cannot invest long term for a goal or persevere through trials.  We get depressed.  We take medicine to feel better.  We give up and find something easier.  We should enjoy our jobs, we should get paid that outrageous salary because I deserve it.  My life should be comfortable.

Scripture teaches us that Spiritual maturity comes through trials and tribulations.  We will not grow unless our faith is systematically tested by God:

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

God orchestrates situations in our lives to develop our faith into maturity.  The walk of the Christian is the process of becoming more like Jesus:  dying to our sin and our flesh, and taking on the persona of the Holy Spirit.  A person who is being led by the Holy Spirit is exemplified by the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

So let us stop and consider our hearts and actions over the last few days.  How many conversations did you have about the Syrian Civil War, which is now going on five years?  How many conversations did you have about permitting Syrian refugees into our nation, and/or into your community?  How many times did you pray about it?  Did you actually do something, or did you just convey your wisdom to anyone who would listen?

This is a test, folks.  And we, as a church, are headed down the path of failure, if we do not seek God, ask Him how we should respond, and invest.  God many not be calling your church or your community to respond specifically to Syrian refugees.  You might live in Indiana where that family was diverted, mid-travel, to Connecticut because your governor refused them entrance.  But there is another widow or orphan that God wants you to care for.  She might even be your own grandmother.  There is another enemy to which you need to offer grace and love.  It might even be your own brother when you go home for Thanksgiving next week.

Let’s not be bandwagon Christians.  Let’s grow in perseverance and fight the good fight of faith.  Let’s do something, and not just talk about it.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

– James 1.22

Does it really make you stronger [if it doesn’t kill you]?

stronger

When I was a child and a teenager, I had a concept of adulthood that assumed everyone who was a grown up physically was mature and responsible.  Children were characterized by their levels of youth-li-ness (terrible two’s, irresponsible adolescents, etc), and often times I would hear testimonies and accounts of people who had “finally grown up” or who, through a series of terrible circumstances, “had to grow up too soon”.  Being “grown up” meant, to me, being mature, responsible, having polished social skills, and good interpersonal relationship skills.  Somewhere along my path of maturation, however, I realized that not everyone is guaranteed to grow in every aspect.  Sometimes obnoxious children turn into obnoxious adults.  Sometimes irresponsible teens turn into irresponsible middle-aged people.  And sometimes the burden of life and mid-life crises turn what appeared to be responsible adults into fools or senile old people.

But while all of these things are glaringly true, we as a culture live by the motto,

“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

In essence we cheer ourselves through hardships and struggles by chanting the mantra that we will grow and be stronger because of our current life situation.  Have you found this to be true in your life?  If you step back and make an honest assessment of your most difficult moments, did you grow?  Or did you become hardened?  Did you mature?  Or did you set up walls to protect yourself from the world?  Did you press into God and the Church?  Or did you learn how to make it on your own because “people will always let you down”?

It has been said that the same boiling water that hardens an egg softens potatoes.  And we, as Christians, should be the potato.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

 – Rom 5.1-5

God has sovereignly and purposefully given us lives full of trials and tribulation so that our faith can be tested and through perseverance we can obtain good character and ultimately hope. We do not by nature enjoy and rejoice in trials, we want life to be smooth, easy and comfortable.  But God desires to make us people of deep and solid faith, and He does that by causing us to be more holy through the purification fire of suffering (James 1.2-4).

God also uses suffering and persecution to weed out false believers:

“The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.  Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 – Luke 8.5-8

The Gospel falls on all kinds of ears.  Some people do not respond at all – the birds eat the seed away before it can take any root.  Some people respond quickly and with joy, but as soon as persecution arises they die and wither away because they have no depth, no conviction, no hope.  Some people respond quickly and spring up, but when the temptations and pleasures of the world come around, they take over and their faith withers away.  They choose the world instead of God.  And the others hear the Gospel, believe it, and when trials come they persevere and die to themselves.  When the pleasures of sin tempt them, they turn away and choose the pleasures of God.  These are those who persevere and develop character and hope.  These are those who are softened by the boiling water.  These are those who are saved.

“To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 – 2 Thess 1.11-12

It is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2.13).  Trials and suffering will make us stronger in a worldly sense if we do not have the Holy Spirit at work within us:  we will rely less on people, be more independent, we will be hardened and calloused.  Strong like a rock.  But if the Holy Spirit is at work within us, we will gradually be softened by trials.  We will be humbled and die to ourselves.  We will put one another first and seek to serve one another and God.  When the Spirit is in us, He is doing the mighty work of making us worthy of our calling.  Not that we would deserve our calling of salvation, but that He is continually making us more holy and Christlike.  He is making us into what our calling demands of us.  He helps us set resolves for holiness and then empowers us to fulfill those desires, and that all to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Our trials do not develop perseverance, character and hope so that we can have a better reputation.  They do all of things to make much of and to glorify God.  If Jesus has paid the penalty for your sin, He will also fight your sinful nature within you and make you more like Him in the process.  He will not pay the penalty for your sins and leave you to act like the world.  He will transform us to be representative of the glorious calling to righteousness and holiness.

So what does that mean, practically?  Step back and look at your current trial or hardship.  How are you responding?  Are you pressing into God?  Or are you ignoring Him?  Are you putting your desires and emotions to the side and considering the other person involved?  Or are you harboring bitterness and anger?  Are you training yourself in “street smarts” for how to not be taken advantage of again?  Or are you asking God to show you how to bring Him glory by your loss?  Are you content in whatever life situation you are currently residing, giving glory to God and finding every opportunity to praise Him?

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

 – Phil 4.11-13

Let us be aware that trials and difficulty to not produce strength by their very nature.  Many people revert, become hardened, or simply choose to play the victim and never mature.  You must be an active participant and choose to grow through trials, and we do that by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Scriptures and to become more Christlike.  Be purposeful and intentional in your self-awareness and Spiritual growth.  Growing up physically does not mean that you will mature Spiritually.

How can I be sure that I am A Christian?

Am-I-A-Christian

The United States is arguably emerging from the days of cultural Christianity.  Surveys report that nearly 80% of American still say that they are Christians, but Church attendance, individualism and secularism paint a different story.  As we move more into a European-like post Christian culture, there are many who would still label themselves as “christian”, while attempting to define their own personal belief system and having never met Jesus Christ, been born spiritually, or submitting to Jesus as Lord over their lives.

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 3.5

How, then, can we know if we are Christian?  If we are saved?  If our salvation is a settled issue in Heaven?  The Bible is our guide in knowing God and coming to salvation, and it teaches us the foundations by which we can test ourselves and work out our salvation.  Here are some helpful questions by which we can test ourselves and work out our salvation to be confident that we are ready for judgment day.

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.12-13  

1.  Were you born again?
This might seem like a silly or elementary question, but it is the first and most important one.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3.3).  What does it mean to be born again?  It means to be born of the Spirit.  Everyone who is alive or who has ever lived was born physically (of the water), but not everyone is born Spiritually.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

– John 3.5-6

And before we are born Spiritually, we are dead – dead in our sins.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

How do you know if you were born again?  Do you remember a time when you recognized your sinfulness, the weight of that sin and the consequence of that sin being damnation?  Do you remember hearing the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, desiring His forgiveness and repenting of your sins?  Do you remember confessing Jesus as Lord, and the old man dying – being made new?

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

It is difficult, if not impossible, to be made a new creature and not know it.  There are situations, like my own, when children come to faith at a very young age, and having the Spiritual awareness of life and death might be difficult.  I remember my conversion moment, but I have very little (possibly no) memories of my life before salvation and life of Spiritual death.  For people in those kinds of situations, there are more steps to test!

2.  Am I growing in my love for Jesus and the Gospel?
John teaches us plainly and clearly,

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…We love, because He first loved us.”

– 1 John 4.16, 19

We cannot love God unless we abide in God and God abides in us.  The more we learn about Him, as He works through us, as we grow, we realize how great the gift of salvation is and we are blown away by it.  He creates in us the capacity to love, and our affection for Him increases. Do you like spending time with Jesus?  How is your prayer life?  Scripture instructs us to “pray without ceasing”, to make all of our requests made known to God, and pray in private with God (1 Thess 5.17, Phil 4, Matt 6.6).  Do you speak to Him?  Do you spend time with Him?  Do you enjoy Him?  Or is he just your heavenly genie to whom you go with wishes?

3.  Am I exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit?
Jesus also said plainly and clearly,

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

– John 15.4

When we are in Christ, when we are saved, we will bear fruit.  What is the fruit?  It is the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

The term “fruit” here is a singular term.  You cannot pick and choose your favorites, when Christ is living and active within your heart, all of these attributes will be growing and evident.  Now, we are all fighting against our flesh, we will all stumble and give in to the fruit of the flesh: “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal 5.20-21).  We will not be perfect until we are perfected in our new bodies.  But we cannot be marked by the deeds of the flesh, when we are Christians we are marked by the fruit of the Spirit.

4.  Does the Holy Spirit Convict you?
Jesus promised as He was leaving the disciples that the Holy Spirit was coming and would be our helper to walk this Christian road.  The Spirit’s role is simple:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

If the Holy Spirit is living and active within your heart, He will convict you of sin, righteousness and judgment.  To put it in layman’s terms, when you are tempted and when you choose to sin, He will make you feel rotten.  If you are not exemplifying the fruit of the Spirit, you will feel rotten.  The Spirit will be pounding on your chest, “This does not glorify God, this is not OK!”  My husband came to faith at a young age after moving out on his own turned away from the Lord for no less than six years.  During that time, and through all of his bad decisions, he can remember vividly the Spirit convicting him and even sensing the Lord asking him, “When are you going to come back to me?”  He would respond by turning up the music louder to drown the conviction, but it was always there and the Spirit ultimately won – bringing him into a healthy and strong walk with the Lord.

5.  Are you growing in your awareness of sin and holiness?
This point ties in intimately with the last.  If the Holy Spirit is convicting you of sin and righteousness, then you are growing.  I made this a separate point however, because in the progress of our Spiritual maturation we can plateau or grow complacent with where we are.  Many people erroneously think that becoming a Christian means cleaning up your act, so they walk the aisle, say a prayer and then begin the terrible task of shallow morality.  They quit cursing, they quit drinking, they quit stealing, etc.  They deal with the outward and gross sins that even culture understands to be less than savory.  But the fight never reaches the heart level, because sin is considered to be action-based and not heart-based.  While many passages of Scripture do address the gross sins, they also address the sins of the heart:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.”

– Mark 7.21-22

Envy.  Gossip.  Pride.  Foolishness.  These things are heart issues that will be convicting to an extent at the beginning of the Christian walk, but will be a great source of Spiritual conviction later on down the path of maturity.  The more we get to know the goodness and holiness of God, the more we will see the depth of our wickedness, and we should be broken over our arrogance, over our discontentment and envy, and even over our foolishness.  Is God helping you fight the sins of the heart?

6.  Are you growing in your love for and knowledge of the Scripture?
God has revealed a vast database of information about Himself:  who He is, how He thinks and functions, what He wants, etc.  And all of this is wrapped up neatly in a book for us to access.  If you love God, you must love His word!  You cannot know God unless you know his Word.  Is the Bible boring to you?  It should not be, it should be alive:

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

– Heb 4.12

If the Word of God is boring and dull to you, if you do not find daily application and conviction within its pages, you should be very concerned about your Spiritual state.  Boldly ask God to bring it to life to you, and reveal Himself to you through it.

So what if I am not experiencing one or some of these things?
First of all, we must remember that Spiritual growth is not a science.  We will all go through seasons of growth and drought.  If you are experiencing weakness in one of these fronts, it does not mean that you were never saved.  If you remember your moment of conversion, know that you have been born again and made into a new creation, and if the Holy Spirit is convicting you, then you can have assurance of your salvation, even if you feel Spiritually dry for a season.  If these things do not mark your life, however, turn to Jesus.  There is a beautiful tension that we must remember when considering our Spirituality, and that is this:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.12-13  

We must be diligent to consider and work out our salvation.  All of eternity is at stake here, and we should not let is be a side issue.  It deserves our hearts and our attention.  But while we are diligent to consider and work diligently at our Spirituality, we must also remember that it is God who is working within us.  When He makes us a new creature, He places His Holy Spirit within us, and it is no longer us who live but Him living through us.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

– Gal 2.20

Also remember that,

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

– John 6.37, 39

Jesus will not lose one who has come to Him for salvation.  Not one.  So if you have been born again, then God will complete in you the good work that He Himself began.  You cannot lose it, you cannot add to it.  But the mutual responsibility here is exemplified in our diligence to push on in our Spirituality and growth.  The proof of God’s transforming work in our lives is our perseverance.  Thus we can be confident, so long as we persevere.  So push on in confidence.  And if you have never been reborn, but you desire to be, simply ask Jesus.  Confess your sins, ask Him for salvation and new life, and pour into the Scriptures – getting to know our glorious Savior.  And then find a church where you can be taught and nurtured and where you can serve the body!