Jonathan Edwards sought to promote vibrant Christian faith through teaching people what the “marks,” or signs, of godly living actually are. He did so not merely because he was really smart and liked categorizing things, but because he wanted Christians to experience the joy of true Christianity and then spread that joy to others. In short, he was a missional pastor before the vodcasts and fauxhawks.
1. You Love Jesus
In his 1741 text Distinguishing Marks of a True Work of the Spirit of God, Edwards laid out a number of negative and positive signs that distinguished a true work of God from a false one. Though Edwards focused in this text on revivals more broadly, his words apply to individuals seeking to discern whether they know the Lord. The first of these signs was a “raised esteem” for Jesus Christ. The point of this first sign is that when the Spirit moves in a person’s heart and awakens them to faith and repentance, their view of Jesus changes. The nominal believer respects Jesus, but does not reverence or exalt him. The true Christian takes delight in Jesus, a delight that is often palpable and contagious. As we serve on mission for God by promoting the gospel, we should expect to see a “raised esteem” for Jesus Christ, the author of our redemption.
2. You Hate Sin
The second sign of a “true work” is an increased hatred for sin and defeat of sinful practices.
- When the spirit that is at work operates against the interest of Satan’s kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men’s worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that ’tis a true, and not a false spirit… So that we may safely determine, from what the Apostle says, that the spirit that is at work amongst a people… and convinces them of the dreadfulness of sin, the guilt that it brings, and the misery that it exposes to: I say, the spirit that operates after such a manner, must needs be the Spirit of God (Works 4, 250-51).
This point, like the others, is both profound and simple. One of the clear signs of a work of God is increased hatred for sin. Our eyes are suddenly opened to see the dreadfulness of one’s condition. Where before one had spotted weaknesses and flaws, but always had excuses at the ready to cover up those personal blemishes, now the Spirit shows the sinner just how degraded and evil he is.
3. You Love God’s Word
The third sign of a “true work” is a love for the Bible. Edwards tied this love for Scripture not to simple literary appreciation for its contents, but to a Spirit-given hunger and thirst for the Word of God:
- That spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God… The Devil never would go about to beget in persons a regard to that divine Word, which God hath given to be the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters and concerns of their souls, in all ages. (Works 4, 250)
Many people respect the Bible. It is known as a “holy book,” a sacred text. But few people view it as the actual word of God that God himself “has appointed and inspired to deliver to his church its rule of faith and practice” as “the great and standing rule for the direction of his church.” Where a person’s heart flames with love and holy “regard” for the Scriptures, the Spirit has worked.
4. You Love Truth
The fourth sign that marked the presence of a “true work” was a heightened love for truth and the things of God. An awareness and responsiveness to divine truth was a clear signal that the Lord had moved in human hearts. So where people came to see “that there is a God” and that he is “great” and “sin-hating,” and that they themselves have “immortal souls” and “must give account of themselves to God,” the Spirit was working true conversion. Edwards rightly noted that the Spirit does not lead believers into error. Therefore, when we hear news of conversion, whether mass or individual, we need to listen for resonances of the truth in the testimony of the convert. Do they love the truth more? Do they love God more? Do they subscribe to sound doctrine, and root their faith in it? Missional Christians seek to hate sin and to lead others to do the same.
5. You Love Believers
The final positive sign in Edwards’s taxonomy of the Spirit’s “true work” was love for one’s fellow Christians. Many people who profess Christ lose their footing on this final point. They may well appreciate fellow church members and contribute in some way to their well-being, but they have not been filled by the Lord with a holy love for fellow Christians, and thus they do not serve them. True conversion will cause stable couples to take in young Christians hungry for discipleship. It will lead Christians to give generously to missionaries and fellow believers (see 2 Corinthians 8). It will drive older believers to spend time mentoring younger ones (see Titus 2). In the end, the way one cares for one’s fellow members says more about our testimony of conversion and our understanding of gospel mission than we might initially think. True Christians serve their fellow members out of love, as a response to the grace of Jesus. (Adapted from Chapter Three of Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity from The Essential Edwards Collection) Question: Which of these “marks” of true Christianity most stands out to you? Which do you need to cultivate in living a missional life as Edwards did?