BY DAVE STEEL
“We don’t smoke. We don’t chew. And we don’t go with girls who do.”
That about sums up what some people think it means to be a Christian. But judging a person’s spiritual health (our own or someone else’s) based on what we don’t do can be misleading. I’ve known plenty of people who don’t smoke or chew tobacco who are not Christ followers. I’ve also known plenty of people who smoke or chew who are Christ followers.
This very conundrum has led some to believe that it’s futile—not to mention intrusive and judgmental—for us mortals to try to evaluate anyone’s spirituality.
But the apostle John seems to have no problem with our testing someone’s spirituality. “Do not believe every spirit,” he says, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). The apostle Paul even exhorts us to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Since there are times when we need to evaluate our spiritual health and that of others, what metrics are we to use? How can we “test” such things?
It’s instructive to note that while Jesus issued plenty of prohibitions, he never said, “People will know you are my disciples if you don’t do such-and-such.” He does say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35) and “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). It turns out that recognizing Christ’s true followers is more about what we do (loving one another, bearing spiritual fruit) than about what we don’t do (smoking, chewing, fraternizing with those who do). As one writer put it, “[True spirituality] is not suppression: it is expression. It is not holding in self: it is living out Christ.”
Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). The presence of this fruit is the true measure of spiritual health. The apostle Paul picks up this same idea, calling it “the fruit of the Spirit.” It’s that set of virtues that the Holy Spirit manifests in the life of those living in vital union with Christ. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). These are the qualities we can expect to find in the life of a growing disciple of Jesus.
So in our diligence to weed out the sin from the vineyard, let’s not forget to check on the quality of the fruit that might be growing there.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That is Spiritual (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press, 1918), 60.