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J.C. Ryle: 10 Questions to Test Whether You Are a True Christian

5. Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God?

Without conversion there is no salvation. “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” (Matthew 18:3, John 3:3, Romans 8:9, 2 Corinthians 5:17)

We are all by nature so weak, so worldly, so earthly-minded, so inclined to sin that without a thorough change, we cannot serve God in life and could not enjoy Him after death. Just as ducks, as soon as they are hatched, take naturally to water, so do children, as soon as they can do anything, take to selfishness, lying, and deceit; and none pray or love God, unless they are taught. High or low, rich or poor, gentle or simple, we all need a complete change—a change which is the special office of the Holy Spirit to give us. Call it what you please—new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation, quickening, repentance—the thing must be had if we are to be saved; and if we have the thing, it will be seen.

1. Sense of sin and deep hatred of it
2. Faith in Christ and love to Him
3. Delight in holiness and longing after more of it
4. Love for God’s people
5. Distaste for the things of the world

These, these are the signs and evidences which always accompany conversion. Myriads around us, it may be feared, know nothing about it. They are, in Scripture language, dead, and asleep, and blind, and unfit for the kingdom of God. Year after year, perhaps, they go on repeating the words of the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit;” but they are utterly ignorant of His changing operations on the inward man. Sometimes they flatter themselves they are born again, because they have been baptized, and go to church, and receive the Lord’s Supper; while they are totally destitute of the marks of the new birth, as described by John in his first Epistle. And all this time the words of Scripture are clear and plain — “Except you be converted, you shall in no case enter the kingdom.” (Matthew 18:3).

In times like these, no reader ought to wonder that I press the subject of conversion on men’s souls. No doubt there are plenty of sham conversions in such a day of religious excitement as this. But bad coin is no proof that there is no good money: no, rather it is a sign that there is some money current which is valuable, and is worth imitation. Hypocrites and sham Christians are indirect evidence that there is such a thing as real grace among men. Let us search our own hearts then, and see how it is with ourselves. Once more let us ask, in the matter of conversion, “How do we do?”

6. Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness?

It is as certain as anything in the Bible, that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is equally certain that holiness is . . . .

1. The invariable fruit of saving faith
2. The real test of regeneration
3. The only sound evidence of indwelling grace
4. The certain consequence of vital union with Christ

Holiness is not absolute perfection and freedom from all faults. Nothing of the kind! The wild words of some who talk of enjoying “unbroken communion with God for many months,” are greatly to be deprecated, because they raise unscriptural expectations in the minds of young believers, and so do harm. Absolute perfection is for Heaven, and not for earth, where we have a weak body, a wicked world, and a busy devil continually near our souls. Nor is real Christian holiness ever attained, or maintained without a constant fight and struggle. The great Apostle, who said “I fight; I labor; I keep under my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27), would have been amazed to hear of sanctification without personal exertion, and to be told that believers only need to sit still, and everything will be done for them!

Yet, as weak and imperfect as the holiness of the best saints may be, it is a real true thing, and has a character about it as unmistakable as light and salt. It is not a thing which begins and ends with noisy profession; it will be seen much more than heard. Genuine Scriptural holiness will make a man do his duty at home and by the fireside, and adorn his doctrine in the little trials of daily life. It will exhibit itself in passive graces—as well as in active. It will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate of others, loving, meek, and forgiving. It will not constrain him to go out of the world, and shut himself up in a cave, like a hermit. But it will make him do his duty in that state to which God has called him, on Christian principles, and after the pattern of Christ.

Such holiness, I know well, is not common. It is a style of practical Christianity which is painfully rare in these days. But I can find no other standard of holiness in the Word of God—no other which comes up to the pictures drawn by our Lord and His Apostles. In an age like this, no reader can wonder if I press this subject also on men’s attention. Once more let us ask: In the matter of holiness, how is it with our souls? “How do we do?”

7. Do we know anything of enjoying the means of grace?

When I speak of the means of grace, I have in my mind’s eye five principal things:

1. Reading of the Bible
2. Private prayer
3. Public worship
4. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
5. The rest of the Lord’s day

They are means which God has graciously appointed in order to convey grace to man’s heart by the Holy Spirit, or to keep up the spiritual life after it has begun. As long as the world stands, the state of a man’s soul will always depend greatly on the manner and spirit in which he uses means of grace. The manner and spirit, I say deliberately and of purpose. Many English people use the means of grace regularly and formally, but know nothing of enjoying them. They attend to them as a matter of duty—but without a jot of feeling, interest, or affection. Yet even common sense might tell us that this formal, mechanical use of holy things is utterly worthless and unprofitable. Our feeling about them is just one of the many tests of the state of our souls.

How can that man be thought to love God—who reads about Him and His Christ as a mere matter of duty, content and satisfied if he has just moved his bookmark onward over so many chapters? How can that man suppose he is ready to meet Christ who never takes any trouble to pour out his heart to Him in private as a Friend, and is satisfied with saying over a string of words every morning and evening, under the name of “prayer”, scarcely thinking what he is about? How could that man be happy in Heaven forever, who finds Sunday a dull, gloomy, tiresome day, who knows nothing of hearty prayer and praise, and cares nothing whether he hears truth or error from the pulpit, or scarcely listens to the sermon? What can be the spiritual condition of that man whose heart never “burns within him,” when he receives that bread and wine which specially remind us of Christ’s death on the cross, and the atonement for sin?

These inquiries are very serious and important. If means of grace had no other use, and were not mighty helps toward Heaven, they would be useful in supplying a test of our real state in the sight of God. Tell me what a man does in the matter of Bible reading and praying, in the matter of public worship and the Lord’s Supper, and I will soon tell you what he is, and on which road he is traveling. How is it with ourselves? Once more let us ask: In the matter of means of grace, “How do we do?”


See Page Four for more marks of a true Christian . . .