Has God Revealed Himself Differently in Different Cultures?

The Bible says, “In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Darwin’s theory of evolution has not only presumed an alternative view of the origin of life, but also stated that religion is evolutionary, moving from primitive to complex; from the worship of many gods (polytheism) to the worship of one God (monotheism). However, the Bible declares just the opposite; that the belief in one God is humanity’s basic presupposition.

God allowed nations to go their own way (disintegrate into polytheism), “yet He did not leave Himself without a witness” (Acts 14:16, 17). God revealed himself in different ways to successive cultures. He revealed himself as Yahweh (the Lord of the covenant) to a polytheist by the name of Abram in Ur. God revealed himself to the mysterious Melchizedek (Genesis 14), who did not worship the gods of Canaan, but was called a priest of the God Most High (El Elyon). Later in the Old Testament we read that God revealed himself through dreams to the Pharaoh of Egypt (Genesis 41) and to Abimelech, a Philistine King (Genesis 20:6).

He revealed himself more directly to Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius (Daniel 4-6). All of these were from different cultures and time periods. God also used the stars and planets (general revelation) to lead the Wise Men from the East to Christ (special revelation).

In the same way, God is at work today in the darkest corners of the world revealing himself through dreams and visions, and preparing people of different cultures for the gospel. Don Richardson once said that the God who has prepared the Gospel for the world has prepared the world for the Gospel. Richardson details this using a number of very interesting examples from the history of missions in his book “Eternity in Their Hearts.” Here is one of my favorites:

Scattered through the mountains rising between the Kachin and Lahu tribes [of Burma] lived another 100,000 tribesman called the Wa people. The Wa were headhunters [and spirit worshippers] . . . A benign influence was at work within the folk religion of the Wa people. From time to time, the prophets of the true God, whom the Wa called “Siyeh,” arose to condemn the headhunting and spirit-appeasement! One such prophet appeared during the 1880’s. He was called Pu Chan [and he] persuaded several thousand Wa tribesman in Pong Lai village . . . to abandon headhunting and spirit-appeasement. On what grounds? “Siyeh,” the true God, was about to send a long awaited white brother with a copy of the lost book. If he came close to Wa territory and heard that the Wa were practicing these evil things, he might think them unworthy of the true God’s book and draw away again!

One morning Pu Chan saddled a pony and told some of his disciples to follow it. “Siyeh told me last night that the brother has finally come near! Siyeh will cause this pony to lead you to him” . . . . While Pu Chan’s disciples gaped in astonishment, the pony started walking . . . and they followed it. The pony led those amazed disciples over approximately 200 miles of mountainous trails and down into the city of Kengtung. Then it turned into the gate of a mission compound and headed straight for a well. . . . They looked inside it and saw no water, but . . . a bearded white face. William Marcus Young climbed out of the well (he was digging) and faced them. “Have you brought a book of God,” they asked. “This pony is saddled for you. Our people are all waiting. Fetch the book! We must be on our way!” 

The Youngs and the Karen [people] colleagues—in addition to recently baptizing about 60,000 Lahu people—soon found themselves with another 10,000 baptized Wa converts, who in turn spread the gospel still further in eastern Burma and southwestern China! Does anyone doubt that God could cause a pony to lead those Wa men so unerringly over so great a distance? Surely the God who used a star to lead the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem could use a mere pony to find a certain well in Kengtung.

The Church has not always been faithful to its mission, but there should be no doubt that God is a Missionary God who has “pre-tuned” the world for the gospel by placing a witness to himself in every culture. (Acts 14:17)

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less…

This note was sent to me by Wes Ross, a dear friend of mine from Massachusetts. Wes is a musician-scholar-pastor and he recently responded to one of my blogs in which I quoted a portion of the famous hymn by Edward Mote, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” Listen to the hymn as you read the blog.

Check out this video on YouTube:

Hi Dave,

Thank you for these devotionals. They are often just what I need to hear. The hymn that you quoted at the end [of your blog] has always been one of my favorites. A few years ago, on one of our England trips (2017), I decided to try to find the church where Edward Mote was pastor in the town of Horsham. You may know that Mote was a cabinet-maker in London and would have been well-known to many of the leading evangelical leaders in the city.

Interestingly, he had been born (like George Whitefield) the son of parents who ran a pub. Apparently, young Edward did not have the benefit of a Christian upbringing and instead had to fend for himself on the streets while mom and dad ran the pub. At the age of 55, he left his career as a cabinet-maker (and the Christian community in London) and took the pastorate of the Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham. He was there for the next 21 years until his death in 1874. With just that to go on, Suzanne and I began our search by foot for the church. We found the local TIC and a lady there had heard of the Rehoboth Baptist Church and gave us directions.

When we got there, sadly it was locked, but peering through the glass door, I could see a plaque that celebrated this as the church where Edward Mote had written the hymn “My Hope Is Built.” I was ecstatic and insisted on walking around the church to see if there was another entrance. There was not, but soon the present pastor emerged from the church (he may have thought that I was casing the place!) and when he discovered our motive for being there, he invited us inside to see the small sanctuary where Mote would have preached. Then he said, “ He is buried out back, would you like to see?” Of course, I was thrilled.

The best news is that after all these years, the church is still healthy ( about 70-80 believers) and functioning with several strong elders and this young pastor who obviously had a heart for the community. In the short time that we talked, it became apparent that this man was Reformed in his thinking as well. I believe that Mote would be pleased to know that all these years after his death, this group is still reaching out with the gospel to the folk of Horsham.

We do not know the lasting influence of our ordinary lives, do we? Sometimes, it seems as if we are having no impact at all. May this story be an encouragement to all believers; just be faithful, my friend, just be faithful to serve the Lord in your little corner of the vineyard. Remember, your Hope in life is not in your success but in Christ.

Announcing “Just a Thought Ministries”…

For those of you who have followed my “Just a Thought” blog, I want you to know that it has now turned into a ministry. Here is the announcement:

Just A Thought Ministries is a new teaching initiative of Pastor Dave and Gloria McDowell (see their bio below). Their mission in this new chapter of retirement is to provide resources for the education, encouragement, and spiritual development of the wider Body of Christ. This will be accomplished through opportunities for preaching; writing books and recommending other written resources that would be helpful to growing a life of faith; speaking at seminars and men’s conferences for the purpose of challenging men to be godly, humble, and holy; continuing to write a weekly blog challenging Christians to think more deeply about the Bible, life issues, and current events; developing iPod lectures on church history, biblical interpretation, basic preaching and other academic subjects designed to increase the knowledge and understanding of those who desire to think more deeply or are involved in or preparing for ministry; mentoring younger pastors and leaders in church ministry who may not have had the opportunity to attend seminary or take courses in pastoral theology and practice; story-telling for children and developing CDs and DVDs for listening while traveling or before bedtime; developing a young theologians club designed to help younger people see the practicality and importance of theology in daily life; and helping individuals and churches to develop an ESL tutoring ministry.

In addition, Pastor Dave is also going through chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer and desires to be used as a resource to help others who are facing similar issues. He is in the process of writing a book to encourage fellow-sufferers called “The Goodness of Affliction.”

Why would you support this couple when there are so many other important causes to support? You may not choose to and that is fine, but please pray for them when they come to mind. However, it might be that the Lord has blessed you through their ministry in the past and for that reason you may want to continue to support them in this ministry now in the 4th Quarter of their lives. It could even be that you don’t know them very well or at all, but you just like the idea of old people still trying to be faithful to their life-calling.

What would your financial support be accomplishing? The most important thing for you to know is that it would not be going toward living expenses. Your support would only be used for ministry expenses. For example, if asked to travel overseas to encourage members of the missionary community or to speak at a church in the U.S. but the honorarium does not cover the out of pocket expense incurred, your support would supplement the remaining expense. If someone needed mentoring or tutoring and could not afford the material used, your support would cover that expense. If there was an opportunity to do a pod cast or produce a CD for children or create an interactive classroom for young theologians, your support would help pay for the production. No opportunity would be turned down simply on the basis of the limited resources of a retirement income, nor would there be the need to set a fee structure for ministry. Your support would enable ministry to take place without regard to anyone’s ability to pay. Would you prayerfully consider being a part of the Just a Thought Ministries team?

Just a Thought Ministries is a member ministry of a parent organization called Ministry Alliance www.ministry-alliance.org which is a 501(c)(3) administrative organization that provides guidance and accountability for all its member ministries. Ministry Alliance will provide such accountability for Just a Thought Ministries by keeping a record of all financial support, providing financial accountability for all donations, and ensuring that every disbursement conforms to IRS standards. Ministry Alliance will also send you a tax deductible receipt for your gift. You can donate online at https://secure.qgiv.com/for/jat/ or you may send a check for any amount to 

Just A Thought Ministries c/o Ministry Alliance, P.O. Box 49341 Charlotte, NC 28277

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Dave and Gloria have 5 adult children and 10 non-adult grandchildren. Their 48 yrs. of marriage and ministry have taught them much about life and about God. You would think that after all these years they would have have it all together, but they continue (sigh) to be imperfect people with an imperfect marriage. However, they have learned to live by God’s grace (and a few other things along the way) that will help them remain committed to their marriage, usable to God, and helpful to others. 

Dave graduated with Bachelor of Arts degree from Wheaton College (IL), a Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a Masters in Sacred Theology from Union Theological Seminary (NYC), and a PhD. from Trinity College and Seminary (IN). Gloria received her Bachelors of Arts degree from Wheaton College and her Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language from Elms College (MA).

If you desire to have Pastor Dave as a speaker at your church or conference, you may contact him at mcd7@sbcglobal.net. If you desire to learn how to start an ESL ministry at your church, you may contact Gloria at the same address.

FYI: Pastor Dave is coming out with a new book, The Just Shall Live by Faith: An Expanded Outline of the Book of Romans. It is to be published this winter, He also writes a weekly blog that you can follow at davemcdowell.org as well as being on Facebook and Linkedin.

The Basic Things… this is a football!

The start of the NFL football season reminds me how my high school football coach would always begin our season by holding up a football and use the words of Vince Lombardi, “This is a football!” Pretty basic, eh? The older I have become in my journey of faith and the more I have counseled and mentored others, the more I have found the basic things to be the most important to spiritual growth and maturity. For me, these basic things have been (and continue to be) the daily reading of Scripture and the discipline of private prayer.

The reading of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation each year (or year and a half), has increasingly become more enjoyable for me. I use a different Bible version each time and make marginal notes so that I will have a Bible to give to each of my kids and grandkids, if I live that long. The reason why I enjoy reading Scripture is because it engages my intellect and my feeds my desire for knowledge. The danger for me, however, especially when I was in local church ministry, was to read the Bible with the thought of preaching and preparing my sermons. I still have that tendency, but I have learned that I must read the Scripture for myself first- to feed my own soul- before I can feed others. Remember the warning we get during the pre-flight instruction whenever we fly? “Put the oxygen mask on yourself then on your child.” Likewise, Paul warned young Pastor Timothy to “take heed to yourself and to your teaching…because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16).

The discipline of prayer engages something else in me – my heart, my emotions, the desire to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. Rarely is it a “heady” experience. All of this is why I call prayer a discipline in my life because it doesn’t come as easy for me as reading the Bible. However, I have kept at it over a lifetime and the more I have prayed, the more I have learned to pray. And the more I have learned to pray, the more I have come to trust in the One who hears my prayers- he really hears my prayers. “I call on the Lord in my distress and he answers me” (Ps 120:1). “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Ps 145:18). “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26). I take this to mean that these groans are ours made at times of suffering when we really don’t know what to pray. The Holy Spirit takes those groans and articulates them before our Heavenly Father. I’ve experienced this while going through some of my cancer treatments when it was so hard for me to even think of the words by which to form a prayer. I could only groan, and I believe the Holy Spirit articulated that prayer and interceded on my behalf according to the will of God.

So, I want to challenge you in this area of prayer. “Dave, I’ve tried to be faithful at prayer, but I get so distracted and end up quitting because it seems so pointless to keep going.” Oh no, dear sister/brother, prayer is never pointless. It is difficult because our hearts are not naturally bent towards God. Even the Psalmist asks over and over again that his heart be inclined (bent) towards God. This is why you must keep at it, even when your mind wanders, ask God to incline your mind to him. Some people find it helpful to personalize the Scripture and pray it as a prayer back to God. This is easier to do with the Psalms, but you can pause while reading any passage and interact with God in prayer. Some have called this listening prayer, for as you communicate with God in this way you may hear him speak to you in a thought, in an impression, through the passage you are reading.

JC Ryle has said it well: But just as the first sign of life in a newborn is crying out in order to breathe, so the first sign of life in one who is born again is a desire, a need to cry out to God in prayer. The Holy Spirit is given to us to make us new creations but also to give us the disposition to cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” A hypocrite can preach from false motives, write books for personal gain, do good works to gain recognition for himself, but seldom will a hypocrite go into his [prayer] closet on a daily basis and cry out to his Heavenly Father. So, my dear brothers and sisters, if you have been born of God, you have within you both the capacity and desire to pray. If you do not, then you do not know God or share in his life.

What are you waiting for my dear ones? Get back to the basics!

Preparing for your Exodus or playing the Fool…

One of the most fascinating descriptions of the death of a believer is that of an exodus or departure. Paul said of his competing desires of continuing to live and minister juxtaposed to wanting to go home to be with the Lord, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Phil 1:23, 24). On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus spoke of his impending death an exodus, a departure (Luke 9:31). And Peter wanted his brothers to remember his words after his departure (2 Peter 1:15). So the Christian should view her/his death not as the end, but as the beginning of a journey to a land of Promise and Rest that God has prepared for his children.

There was a story told of a King who had in his court a Jester (also called the Court Fool) whom he would call upon to make him laugh and lighten his heart when discouraged. During one visit, the King laughed so much that he exclaimed “Jester, I am going to give you my scepter and I want to you to search my kingdom for a fool greater than yourself.” So, the Jester spent months scouring the kingdom for one who would be more of a fool than he was. He travelled far and wide and could find no one. Finally, he received word to report back the castle because the King was on his deathbed. He sat beside the dying King who sadly told the Jester that he was going on a long journey from which he would never return. The Jester responded, “Sire, where will this journey take you?” The King said, “I don’t know.” The Jester then asked, “Your Majesty, are you prepared for this journey?” The King quietly said “No, I don’t even know how to prepare.” The Jester then took the King’s scepter that he had been carrying all these months and gave it to the King, for he had finally found a fool greater than himself.

There is truth here that if death is a journey then we should know where we are going and how to prepare for the trip. If we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord then we know that this journey will lead to the eternal kingdom of heaven. He has already gone on ahead of us as the Pioneer of our Salvation (Heb 2:10) to prepare a place for us in his Father’s House. (Jn 14:2,3) What a wonderful hope! In God’s House there is a place for us; a place of belonging because we are in the family of God. Do you have that hope? Do you trust in Christ alone as your entry way to heaven? Or are you unsure of where you stand with God and whether you will be accepted into heaven. Don’t be a fool and come to the end of your life unprepared for the journey.

So, the first part of preparing for your exodus is to know where you are going. The second part is to let people know that you know where you are going. You may have a will, a health-care proxy, a DNR, and you are an organ donor, but have you prepared your funeral or memorial service? I don’t mean printing up the bulletin at Staples complete with the order of worship. Have you written down some of your favorite passages of Scripture that you would like read, or suggested some of your favorite songs you’d like sung? Just doing this will make it easier on your family as they will be the ones who print up the bulletin.

Finally, have you thought of writing out a statement that could be read to the congregation by the Pastor or one of your family members. This statement can be a powerful witness to your faith in Christ and the certainty of your hope of eternal life. Don’t make it long or mysterious like, “If you are listening to this message then you will know that I’m dead.” Just make it a simple statement of your love for your family and of your hope in Jesus.” It can be powerful.

I will finish with two such a statements. The first, written by Jonathan Edwards, American Pastor and Theologian, 5 yrs. before his death; the second, the last will and testament of John Newton, the old converted slave trader and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

First of all, I give and commend my soul into the hands of God that gives it, and to the Lord Jesus Christ its glorious, all sufficient, faithful and chosen Redeemer, relying alone on the free and infinite mercy and grace of God through his worthiness and mediation, for its eternal salvation; and my body I commend to the earth, to be committed to the dust in Christian burial…hoping through the grace, faithfulness, and almighty power of my everlasting Redeemer, to receive the same again, at the last day, made like unto his glorious body. (quoted in “Jonathan Edwards,” Ian Murray, 422)

I commit my soul to my gracious God and Saviour, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a blasphemer, and an infidel, and delivered me from that state of misery on the coast of Africa into which my obstinate wickedness had plunged me and who has been pleased to admit me (though most unworthy) to preach His glorious Gospel. I rely with humble confidence upon the atonement and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and Man, which I have often proposed to others as the only Foundation whereon a sinner can build His hope, trusting that He will guard and guide me through the uncertain remainder of my life, and that He will then admit me into His presence in His heavenly kingdom.” (John Newton, The Works of the John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 1:90-91)

A Crushed Spirit, who can bear?

I have been reading through the Book of Proverbs in the Bible and have been noticing the term crushed spirit. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:23) “The human spirit can endure a sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” There was also a verse in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who crushed in spirit.”

We experience a crushed spirit when we find ourselves in the valley of despair due to circumstances that involve a loss of hope. Moses was so discouraged in his leadership responsibility that he asked God to take his life. (Nu 11:10-15) Job grieved the loss of his children and loss of his health so much so that he cursed the day of his birth. (Job 3:1-26) Jeremiah faced such opposition from his contemporaries that he cursed the man who brought his father the news of his birth. (Jeremiah 20:14, 15) Hannah deeply grieved her inability to have a child. (1 Samuel 1:1-16) Tamar lived a desolate life after she was raped by her step brother. (2 Samuel 13:1-21) Naomi was filled with bitterness because of the loss of her husband and two sons. (Ruth 1:1-20) And Hagar was in despair because her son was dying. (Gen 21-15-16) We could cite many more biblical examples of people with crushed spirits because of the overwhelming nature of their suffering. Many of you are experiencing such pain and loss that happiness and hope seem gone forever.

There are some things in Scripture that will help us when we find in ourselves with such a crushed spirit:

First, realize that this state or condition is temporary. It is called the dark night of the soul, not the dark month or year of the soul. This doesn’t mean we “get over it,” but that we are not made to withstand such intensity of grief or hopelessness for very long. We usually find a way of coping and learning to live with our affliction. When I was first diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer about 2 1/2 yrs. ago, I was overwhelmed. I still have cancer, but I have learned to cope and even flourish in my affliction. This is why I am writing this, to help you cope.

We have already mentioned Proverbs 18:14, that “the human spirit can endure in sickness…” God has given to humanity a sustainability and a will that naturally desires to survive and not die. Obviously there are exceptions to this in the case of those whose despair and hopelessness, guilt and shame, drive them to suicide. Judas is probably the most famous biblical example of this. The sadness of Judas’ self-destruction is found in the fact that he did not need to go that route. Unlike Peter, who was also in despair for his three-time denial of Christ, Judas did not seek the forgiveness that Jesus would have given him. This is what is so sad about all suicide; it does not need to happen.

As an aside: “Suicide rates have risen to their highest since WW II. The odds of dying from a suicide or opiate overdose — the diseases of despair — are now higher than that of dying from a motor vehicle accident.” (Michael Gerson, Daily Herald, September 6, 2019) This is why we have suicide prevention hotlines so that people with crushed spirits and in depression and despair can talk to someone and find help. Such crushed spirits need people in their lives. They need friendship and a sense of belonging, not increased isolation. They need someone to whisper “I care, and am here for you; I am worried about you, so how can I help?” And part of this help is the counsel not to ignore the spiritual life and soul-issues, and turning to God who will never ignore the brokenhearted.

Second, God is near us in the darkness. We mentioned Psalm 34:18 that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Also, in Psalm 147:3, 4 we read, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars and call them by name.” Did you hear that? The God of the stars is also the God of the brokenhearted. He is transcendent in power and glory. He is also immanent in humility and suffering. He is near, and in my suffering I can say, by faith, if not by feeling- He is here!

That is what Pastor Martin Niemoller preached to his skeleton-like congregation huddled together for warmth in Dachau’s cell room 34 on December 24, 1944: ” God, the eternally wealthy and Almighty God, enters into the most extreme human poverty imaginable. No man is so weak and helpless that God does not come to him in Jesus Christ, right in the midst of our human need; and no man is so forsaken and homeless in this world that God does not seek him, in the midst of our human distress…. You need not go search for God; you should not imagine that he is far from you and is not concerned with what crushes you! He is here and is close to you in the Man who, as a babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, was lying in the manger…. Whoever can grasp this in faith is not forsaken in prison and in death; for in the worst darkness he may say, “Thou art with me; thy rod and staff comfort me. (Ps 23:4)

Third, in your despair use the key of Promise. People who know me know that I love John Bunyan’s English classic Pilgrims’ Progress, which is a great allegorical story about the journey of the Christian through life. In the story, there is an episode where Christian (the main character) and his friend and fellow-traveller, Hopeful, are captured by the Giant Despair and his wife, Gloom, and thrown into the dungeon of Doubting Castle. The Giant beat them everyday and threatened them with death. He even left rat poison in their cell hoping they would commit suicide. Just as Christian was actually contemplating ending it all because of all the doubts he had about God’s love for him and all the shame he felt for his disobedience, he remembered something. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Key of Promise which had been given to him when he became a follower of Prince Jesus. This key could unlock the door of any Castle of Doubt and with it the pilgrims made their escape.

Likewise, when we find ourselves in the dungeon of despair we should learn to make use of the rich promises that God has given to all of us who are his children. The only way out of despair is to trust what God has said. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of things we do not see.” (Heb 6:1) God is our Father and he has covenanted himself to us in Christ and has promised that in the face of everything that life can throw at us; nothing in life or in death, will ever be able to separate us from his love. (Rom 8:39) Do you believe this? I didn’t ask whether you feel that this is true, but do you BELIEVE it? You must, though everything around you screams the opposite! You must never let go of God’s promises.

Though darkness hides his lovely face, I trust in his unfailing grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood, support me in the ‘whelming flood. When all around my should gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. On Christ, the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand… (Edward Mote, 1797-1874)

May those of you with a crushed spirit find hope and comfort in Christ today.

 

The Reality of Your Religion…

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