The Spiritual Health Inspection
During the middle of last year I received a letter from my doctor inviting me to present myself at the local surgery for what was described as a ‘Health MOT.’ (For those reading outside of the UK an MOT is an inspection of a vehicle’s roadworthiness performed by an authorised mechanic on behalf of the government). The letter detailed some of the tests to be performed–height, weight, BMI, blood pressure, resting heart rate, in addition to some blood tests. Having reached a milestone birthday in the year, and ignoring the obvious issue–inviting the over 40s for a health exam is exactly the wrong group to invite if you really want to improve the long-term health outcomes of the general population–I presented myself at the doctor for my ‘Health inspection.’
I’m glad to report that all is well, or as well as the tests performed allow the health professionals to predict, but it set my mind thinking about something else, a different dimension to my health. As I sat in the waiting room reading the relevant material, I started to think about what indicators could be used to assess my spiritual health. If I wanted to know how I was doing in my walk with God, what would I look for? How would I know if I was improving or declining? What would be the lead indicator of the spiritual equivalent of a cardiac arrest?
The apostle John wrote an epistle designed to allow believers to do exactly this. This blog is not intended to go into the different cycles that John passes through–moral, ethical, doctrinal–but rather to note five specific tests that John identifies in his final chapter that give us an accurate description of our spiritual health. In John’s terms, spiritual life is binary–you either have it or you don’t. He is not interested in shades of grey, he is writing in black and white; but assuming that we do have it, believers can also use these tests as indicators of progress.
First, John states; ‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God’ (1 Jn 5:1a, ESV). The first test John is setting is ‘what do you think of the Son’ or to put it in the words of the poet, ‘What think ye of Christ?’ Ultimately there is no test as appropriate as this. We can go through the various processes of the Christian life, but never have a proper appreciation of Christ. This is sad, but it serves as a salient reminder of the importance of having the Son at the centre of our faith and nothing else. How have I grown in the past year towards him? Do I have a real appreciation of His sacrifice on my behalf? Do I spend time understanding who He really is? Do I spend time communing with Him on a daily basis? John raises this issue first because it is the most important. Christianity is about Christ and this the first test is what do I think Him?
Next, John adds; ‘everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him’ (5:1b, ESV). The second test is ‘what do you think of the saints?’ We should be clear; John is not stating that if you have a one-off crossed word with you brother then you are lost, but what he is claiming is that if you persistently indulge in the accusation and persecution of your brother, you cannot be making spiritual progress, because those who claim to love God also love those who are born of God. There is a family affinity: we love those who have also been born of God.
He continues; ‘This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments’ (5:3, ESV). John’s next test is, ‘what do you think of the Scriptures?’ One of the best indicators of spiritual health is our attitude towards God’s Word, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all we have to do is read it. That is the very least we must do. We must pray over it, meditate upon it, study it, and most importantly, practice it.
Then he states; ‘everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world’ (5:4, ESV). John’s next test asks ‘what do we think about separation?’ Separation has always been a hotly debated issue within Christianity, but whatever we make of it, we cannot deny what John asserts in this verse: the person who is truly born of God gains victory over the world. In the context it would seem that John is referring to the subjective and personal victory a believer has when he gains control over the natural attraction he has to the world. But maybe the world has the victory over you?
He concludes; ‘everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning’ (5:18, ESV). John’s final test is, ‘what do you think about your sin?’ This is one of the most difficult questions we can ever ask ourselves. Do I loathe it? Do I have a sense of shame every time I commit sin? Or have I become immune to even noticing it? Am I blasé when I commit it, or am I repentant? John is not saying that a Christian never sins; each of us knows from the Word of God and our own experience that this is not the case. But by choosing the present form of the verb, he is stating that the true believer does not allow himself to fall into a habitual life of sin. He does not continually sin.
If you want to conduct a spiritual health inspection, then assess yourself against these five tests. What do I think about God’s son, His saints, the Scriptures, my separation and my sin? If you do so honestly you will have a fair assessment.