testing--we all know about that. We all have taken part in the testing process
and most of us know the outcome and how our scores affect our schools.
But, for those of you who don't know, our scores on standardized tests end up affecting funding for our schools. If the majority of our fellow students did well on the test, it meant better funding for our schools--this means more computers, updated textbooks, even higher salaries for our teachers.
But if the majority of our classmates did poorly on the tests, the schools did not receive as much funding and, as a result, we didn't benefit by receiving newer and better equipment.
Essentially, our poor scores reflected on our schools--and let's face it, people don't want to throw money at any company or organization that isn't using their resources to perform better. So, if the schools aren't going to teach the material that the state requires, the state isn't going to give them more money. It is as simple as that. Right or wrong, that is how it works. A poor standardized test result reflects poorly on the one giving out the information.
But now let us look at a whole other organization.
Unlike the school system, the church does not receive financial incentives to teach sound doctrine--actually quite the opposite. People pay churches money, instead, to teach half-truths (or down-right false doctrine) to give them warm fuzzies. They don't want the challenge of being taught the scripturally mandated materials--they would rather fail the test of holiness in order to keep living life the way they always have.
But we fail to understand something important. In the Church, it is not about finances. Yes, churches need money to keep their doors open and their lights on. But really, the Church can continue without a fancy building or an elaborate "worship team"-- but what the church cannot live without is the working of the Holy Spirit within the lives of the congregation.
But, people have a misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit working. I have gone to churches where the Holy Spirit working means that people start speaking in tongues--people start weeping uncontrollably--people start whooping and hollering--people feel tingly or excited--people begin running the aisles or raising their hands... but folks, this is not the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the congregation.
Every single one of these signs can be faked. These "signs" are like those three or four-syllable words that students will use in an essay to appear more intelligent--but when you actually read the words in the context of what those students have written, you realize that, really, they have no idea what those words even mean. Yes, speaking in tongues, healing, weeping, hollering, raising hands--these can all be results of the Holy Spirit working, but they can also be faked.
So what is a marked indicator of the Holy Spirit working? What is a surefire sign that God is on the move in a congregation? How do we know that the standardized test of holiness is actually receiving a high score within a congregation? The answer is simple:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The marked indicator of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the congregation is the congregation producing the fruit of the Spirit. Not just one element—but the whole fruit (notice, the fruit of the Spirit is singular—meaning that it is not only "love" or "joy"… it is all nine elements).
So, is the congregation producing the fruit of the Spirit in its entirety? Are you producing the fruit of the Spirit? If not, there is a serious concern for whether or not the Holy Spirit is really at work.
But now, let’s ask ourselves why the Holy Spirit may not be working within you. What have you been taking in? Remember, in order for fruit to be produced, the seed must be planted, watered, fertilized, weeded, and tended. What is being taught at your church? Is it sound doctrine? Or is it warm fuzzies? What have you been taking in independently? Is it spiritually edifying or is it useless? Have you tested what you have been receiving for Spiritual nourishment—is it truly sound doctrine? Or are you allowing weeds of false doctrine and half-truths into your midst? Are you actually taking care of your spiritual well-being by participating in fellowship, reading your Bible, praying, and participating in the Spiritual Disciplines? Are you tending to the seeds? Because without tending to those seeds and becoming intentional about holiness, the fruit will not produce.
Now, let us not mistake this as being “our own work”—No, we cannot produce holiness on our own. No, we cannot become holy by simply doing good work—but a marked indicator of us being wholly surrendered to the Holy Spirit is responding to the Holy Spirit’s working in our actions—that is the fruit. But we cannot produce fruit if we are not taking in the FOOD. If our church is not teaching sound doctrine-- if we are not taking in solid doctrine-- if we are doing absolutely zero to grow in our relationship with Christ—raising our hands is only for show. Speaking in tongues is just a clanging cymbal. Whooping and hollering is just empty noise. And running the aisles is nothing but a cardio workout.
The standardized test for a Christian is holiness—If we are passing, the Holy Spirit is free to work in our lives and the lives around us—and we will see an overwhelming outpouring of Him in our lives, in our church, and in our community.
But if we are failing, the fruit of our lives will be lacking—we might try to
fake it by promoting one or a couple of the elements of the fruit—we might
focus on “love” or “joy” or we might focus on “self-control” or “faithfulness”
but ultimately, the Holy Spirit is not free to work in our lives because we
have failed to surrender control to Him… and he is not free to work in our
church, because we do all we can to prevent his work. And we will try to make
sure he doesn’t work in our community because we don’t want him to work according
to his will, but ours. When we witness the Holy Spirit working, we will do what
we can to stifle it because our flesh hates it. We profess the name of Jesus,
sure, but we don’t want his spirit to challenge or change us. Because we would
rather the warm-fuzzies (or even fire and brimstone) than to actually pass the
Now, every church, just like every school, will have a group that will excel or fails the test of holiness. The state judges a school based on the majority of students. If a majority failed, the school would receive a lower score. If a majority pass, it reflects well on the school and it is given a better score. Now, look at the church. Is the vast majority reflecting holiness? Or is the vast majority lacking? Now, ask yourself, is the church merely preaching “warm-fuzzies” or “fire and brimstone” or is it preaching uncompromising truth—both the comforting as well as offensive? Are you challenged to become more like Christ or are you encouraged and enabled to remain just as you are?
PASTORS: Is your preaching challenging people to live more like Christ, or is your preaching driving a wedge between your congregation and Christ—either a wedge made out of fear of punishment or a wedge made out of disregard for Christ’s command to be holy as He is holy.
Yes, we must preach both sides—we must preach the truth about the consequences of sin—and yes, we must preach the grace of God and his unwavering forgiveness—but we must preach both. We must never abandon God’s grace to focus instead on damnation, but we must never abandon God’s justice to focus only on love.
As teachers of the gospel—of God’s word, and God’s expectations of his followers, we must equip those he has placed before us for the standardized test of Holiness. Because if they fail, it reflects poorly on us—and if it reflects poorly on us, it reflects poorly on him. Holiness will change us—it will change others—it will change our churches—it will change our community. Holiness is what God demands—and if we don’t teach what it means to be holy, then we are at fault when someone we are teaching is lacking.