J.C. Ryle* in his book “Practical Religion,” has a chapter on the Reality of Your Religion which I have found helpful in the evaluation of my own Christian Faith. Perhaps it will be helpful to you as well.
You know the reality of your religion by the place it occupies in your inner man. It is not enough that it is in your head – to assent to the truth, or on your lips – to repeat the Creed daily, or say ‘Amen’ to public prayer in church, but it must be in your heart. It must occupy the citadel…hold the reins…sway the affections…lead the will…direct the tastes…influence the choices and decisions…fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul.
As I apply this test to myself, I see that my faith drives everything I do and produces deep within my core a consciousness of God’s Presence, even when I am not thinking of Him. (2 Cor 4:16)
You know the reality of your religion by the feelings towards sin that it produces. It will see in sin the abominable thing that God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight. It will also look on sin as the cause of all sorrows, of strife and wars, of quarrels and contentions, of sickness and death…the blight which has defaced God’s fair creation, the cursed thing which makes the whole earth groan and travail in pain. Above all, it will see in sin the thing which will ruin us eternally, except we can find a Redeemer.
As I apply this test to myself, I see that my faith causes me to see how deeply fallen and flawed I am and that there is no hope for me or for this world apart from God’s deliverance. There is nothing in me that has any power to save myself. Only Christ can save me. (Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:1-3)
You know the reality of your religion by the feelings towards Christ which it produces. Nominal religion may believe that such a person as Jesus existed, and was a great benefactor of mankind… It may show him some external respect, attend his outward ordinance, and bow the head at his name. But it will go no further. Real religion will make us glory in Christ as Redeemer, Deliverer, Priest, and Friend, without whom we would have no hope at all.
As I apply this test to myself, I am absolutely convinced that apart from the work of Christ for me in his life, death, and resurrection, I have no hope of the forgiveness of sins or of life beyond the grave. My faith recognizes that without Jesus Christ I am lost, both in this life and in the life to come. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness…” (John 14:6; Rom 3:21-24)
You know the reality of your religion by the fruit it bears in your heart and life… It will produce in the person who possesses it repentance, faith, hope, charity, humility, spirituality, a kind temper, self-denial, unselfishness, forgiveness, temperance, truthfulness, brotherly kindness, patience, and forbearance. The degree in which these various graces appear may vary in different believers, but the germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are children of God.
As I apply this test to myself, I struggle with seeing these fruits consistently appearing in my thoughts and behavior. It seems that my human reactions and self-centered ways are still my default settings. However, there is one thing for certain, I am constantly aware of my need of repentance because of how short I fall of evidencing these virtues. This repentance is not a groveling worldly sorrow , but a godly sorrow that produces in me a desire to show God’s life through my own. (2 Cor 7:10, 11; Phil 1:20-22)
You know the reality of your religion by your feelings and habits about the means of grace. What are your feelings about public prayer, praise, preaching, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper? Are these things you tolerate…or are they things in which you take pleasure? Do you find it essential to your comfort to read the Bible regularly in private, and speak to God in prayer? Or, do you find these practices irksome, and either slur over them or neglect them altogether.
As I apply this test to myself, I find great motivation to care for my own soul by means of daily time in the Scripture and in prayer; by the practice of other disciplines that sharpen my focus on God and the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life. I also understand the importance of the community of faith, although I desire to see more reality in this area of my life, especially developing accountability structures so I don’t live such a solitary life.
Ryle concludes, Let reality be one great mark of your religion. Your repentance may be feeble; your faith weak, but let it be real; your desires after holiness may be mingled with much infirmity, but let them be real. Let there be nothing of reserve, double-dealing, part-time acting, of dishonesty, of sham, of counterfeit in your Christianity… Be all that you profess. Though you may err, be real. Though you may stumble, be real. Keep this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.
*John Charles Ryle was and Anglican Bishop of Liverpool from 1880-1900. CH Spurgeon considered him “the best man in the Church of England.” Ryle’s better known classic “Holiness” should be on your bookshelf along with this one