Litmus Test – “a crucial test using a single issue or factor as the basis for judgment.”
Success is relative to experience and expectations
For example: In the recent World Cup, Germany was the ultimate in success. Brazil won several games, but ultimately lost to Germany by a large margin and was deemed a catastrophic failure, which led to the firing of their coach.
USA considered their World Cup experience successful because they won more games than expected. However, there will be greater expectations for 2018 cup, so this year’s success won’t satisfy in 4 years.
While in the Western culture, success is usually about money and winning, in many smaller villages throughout the world success can be obtaining clean water for a meal. And the more influences one culture gives to another, the more those influences affect the meaning of success to the receiving culture. For example: a Western country provides a few wells for clean water, and over time, the value of clean water, though still life-sustaining, becomes less of an issue for the receiving country, and eventually an expectation – we should have clean water out of a tap every time we turn the valve.
What do we really value to be deemed successful? Again, because of our cultures money will be important, and being respected in our fields is probably a big deal. However, again, when new data enters the situation, our perspective can change.
We’ve friends whose ideas of being successful a year ago are likely different now that they became parents. Certainly makes sense as having a healthy baby and being parents simply weren’t part of their equation a year ago.
Now let’s look at our individual Christianity. What do you think determines if you are a “successful” at this Christianity thing?
Looking back is probably a good thing I had such a narrow understanding of Christianity early on or I’m not sure I’d have signed up. At that time I was living a spiritual life from A.A., based a god of my understanding, which I mostly understood to NOT be the god I’d learned about as a child in church. Then I met the love of Christ in the book of John, and that loving REAL god far exceeded the possibilities of my ambiguous god, so I crossed over. It is very difficult to let go of a long time belief for another one, but I did and proclaimed myself a Christian. Still I was already pretty content with my life at that time and thought becoming a Christian probably meant I’d tell fewer of my vast array of off color jokes, spend a little more time doing churchy things with churchy people, be a little nicer, die and go to heaven.
I now realize I was in the “spiritual milk” phase of Christianity.
By this I’m referring to the Hebrews 5:12 -14 verses with the author admonishing a church about the immaturity of their Christian faith…
…, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Having become a Christian in my late 40’s, I was certainly on spiritual milk and remember this time well. And that indeed may not be your situation. But what is clear is that we don’t hit the entry level of Christianity and just maintain… there is growth.
Is A Menu of Spiritual Solid Foods Available For the individual Christian?
So, how do you know if you’re maturing in your faith? What do you consider you being a “successful” Christian?
- How many people you’ve led to Christ?
- How many scriptures you’ve memorized
- How the lives of the people you mentor are going?
- How many times a day you pray or have quiet time…
- The number of ministries you’re a part of or leading
- How much you do or don’t “sin” in a day (do you abide by the 10 commandments)
What About A Menu For the Church?
Speaking of Christians… when do you consider your church is successfully carrying the message of Christ to the world?
- The number of conversions or baptisms
- The teaching format – be it testimonies, straight bible teaching, and from which translation
- The number of people attending (we’ve been in Rick Warren’ with 50k members… a little church in Ohrid can’t compete with that)
- The number of programs offered to people (Glide Church in San Francisco has some 90+ programs offered, including feeding over 5k homeless people a day – again, we’re not in that league)
- Whether or not you have good music worship (at Joel Olsten’s service I counted 65 microphones for the worship team and speaking – very slick and professional – we have YouTube music)
Obviously these are important issues and do have an influence on our walk with Christ, and the impact of our churches. But, is there one specific characteristic that stands out above the rest?
What’s the litmus test for Christians and Churches?! And will it change over time.
I’ve been digging deeper into scripture… seeking God’s truth in the bible… and honestly it can just get confusing and frustrating at times….
So I wondered in all this info in the bible… in all of the translations, opinions, studies for centuries of the word of God… all the resulting denominations and divisions… can we know what matters the most? How can we determine if we’re successful Christians… or have a successful church?
To address this question, seemed best to consult some authorities, so I researched the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and Paul.
By the way, this is off topic and for free…
As I consider the Trinity, the source of all creation, I’ve come to realize what we often do with them:
- Put god in a box, thus restricting his influence in our daily lives
- Have a mindset that what the resurrection of Christ wasn’t complete enough for us, so we tend to crawl up on the cross and finish the job by working our way into some goodness that we can comprehend – “I’ll try harder, I’ll be better, then God will eventually love me.” Our only other options is being completely forgiven now.
- Especially in western churches, totally ignore the power of the Holy Spirit within us… in our day to day lives… thus relegating us to do life on our own power.
Basically we get God, then try to shape him into our understanding rather than us into his, which is the opposite of what we previously discussed in Romans 12:2… don’t conform to pattern of world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…
God’s Litmus Test for Believers
Samuel was a well-known and respected prophet of Israel and had been assigned by God a 2nd time to anoint the future king of Israel. He was instructed to find this man named Jesse who had 8 sons, then God would tell him which son to pick as king. The father paraded out the 7 of sons he was proudest of, and even Samuel admitted he was visually accessing which one looked most like a king.
16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Eventually Samuel asked dad if he had anymore sons, and in an almost dismissive way, the dad mentioned his youngest son was in the fields tending flock. The young man retrieved was of course David. Obviously you can imagine a sheepherder wasn’t dressed as nicely as the other 7 brothers who were in the house, and certainly didn’t look kingly at all. But in choosing, seems important to note, it wasn’t as though David didn’t have skills and talents already – that simply wasn’t God’s primary concern. Rather he was focused on the condition of David’s heart – perhaps an humbleness, a purity, a servant, or a love and honor for God.
Jesus’ Litmus Test for Believers
Go to the upper room, the last night Jesus was with them as a full group of 12. They had traveled together for a few years now, but he knew he would soon be leaving them, and leaving his future work in their hands.
And among his topics that evening:
In John 14… he prepared them for the coming of an advocate, the spirit of truth, comforter… declaring “I will not leave you as orphans.”
Then he discussed that the Holy Spirit would enable Christians to do the God’s work.
In Chapter 15 he begins “I am the vine, the Father is the Gardener: No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the Vine.
john 15: 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
So, in all this talk about the Holy Spirit, Jesus seems to suggest the primary purpose is to empower believers to bear much fruit… to be a product of the Vine, who was Christ.
Certainly the Holy Spirit has many roles in life, but I’ll suggest this to be the primary one – to bear much fruit. To become like his son… Christ-like.
Paul’s Litmus Test for Believers
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)
We often use this verse to tell believers and unbelievers “don’t worry … God is working things out,”…
But Paul was speaking to a defined group of believers saying that, in cooperation with Holy Spirit that he had discussed earlier in the letter, they could trust God to take whatever comes into their lives to help them become what he wants for them… to be like Christ. Just as well, seems logical to believe that this still applies in our lives today.
Paul’s Litmus Test for the Church
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
What a list of gifts God has given to the Body to equip us so that we can each come into the fullness of Christ… spiritual adulthood (mature)… bearing fruit. Why? The church is his Body – we now assume the actions that Jesus took on earth. Is why he said we’d do greater works than he’s done, because there are more of us and we’ve had more years on earth. The effectiveness of his body multiplies as we more and more we become like him…Christ-like…
What does “Christ-like” mean?
… the fruit of Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control. Galatians 5:22-23
I’ve heard this “fruit” describes, “the personality and character of Jesus laid out in a way we can understand, beyond just the ambiguous Christ-like.”
And often we hear this Fruit is divided into 3 sections…
Love, Joy, and Peace – Our Relationship with God
“When the Holy Spirit is filling us, everything can be conceived in love, undertaken in joy, and accomplished with peace.”
- Agape love…. giving undeserving people what they need at a great personal cost – is love, is a choice, and is supernatural.. you may not feel like doing it, but choose to anyway. Is safe to say the greatest such love ever chosen was done so by a guy who did not feel like doing it…a fully human Jesus in the garden.
- Joy is a choice as well… things aren’t going my way, but I am sure of God and who I am in God’s eyes… that defines my internal joy, not my surroundings and situations.
- Peace.. Contentment.. God’s in control, and I’ll do my part… accepting people and situations as they are. Not living in fear and resentment of the past, or hope in only the future when “things finally work out,” but being… as in a human being… in the present. Can’t do anything to change past, and while we can plan for future, we can’t control it nor do we have to wait for the fulfillment of any future plans to “finally” have peace.
Basically, is allowing God to get bigger, and walking in the Spirit vs the flesh. Transformed from the patterns of this world…
Patience, Kindness, Goodness – our Relationship with Others
- Patience – accepting that we all have faults, and that situations may not always go my way…
- Kindness – golden rule
- Goodness – root word of goodness has to do with generosity, which can be reflected in our understanding of God’s goodness/generosity. If we see a loving God, we’re freer to be generous. If we see a policeman type god, we operate out of performance mode, leaving much less room for our receiving or giving generosity.
Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control – Our Relationship with Ourselves
- Faithfulness… follows up on our promises
- Gentleness.. Dorothy recently described this as “power under control” illustrated by a powerful horse that can be controlled by the bit in its mouth. We may have power, but aren’t inclined to show off, or use it to embarrass people, or don’t have to always get our way. We become gentlemen and gentle women.
- Self-control… of our tongue, appetite, finances, health, etc.
The Never Changing Litmus Test – Be Like Christ
Primarily the church is called make disciples. What’s a disciple? A believer living in Christ-likeness.
Individually, I’ll suggest we don’t measure our spiritual progress by spiritual activities, the ministries we lead or have lead, our knowledge, or gifts…certainly they’re parts and pieces, and a big part of discipleship…
But according to Jesus,:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
Looking for a never-changing litmus test for your Christianity?
Christ would ask:
- Do you love and trust God –
- Do you love people like I do –
- Does your life reflect mine?
And is that the primary focus of discipleship your church’s life?