8 Marks of a Spiritually Healthy Christian
What are the marks of a spiritually healthy believer? In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10 we find Paul’s thanksgiving to God for spiritually healthy Christians. He tells the Thessalonians--who were relatively new converts--a number of remarkable truths about themselves. I don't think that there is anywhere else in the New Testament where such an explicitly positive report is made of a church and its members. So what are these spiritually healthy characteristics that Paul praises them for exhibiting? Consider the following:
First, they became imitators of the apostles and of the Lord. He re-emphasizes that point in ch. 2:14. They became like their teachers, who themselves were imitating the Lord. In practice (not just through organic union with Christ) the Thessalonian Christians became Christ-like. That is to say, in thought, word and deed, their conduct was like their Saviour’s. Spiritually healthy Christians are those who look like their Lord (see Matt. 5:13-16).
Second, they received the word with joy, even though they were afflicted for it. Many attend church each week, while having to force themselves to stay awake, alert, undistracted to remain interested. We've all been there, no doubt. That, (providences aside), is hardly a picture of the spiritually healthy Christian. Reception of the Word with joy--until it bears fruit--is the mark of one who is imitating Christ. The Thessalonians received the Word of God joyfully knowing that it was their very life. They did so, even though they were persecuted for it (see Acts 17). Healthy Christians take delight in receiving God’s Word throughout their Christian lives.
Third, they became an example to other Christians. Paul says “so that you became examples to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” What a remarkable statement! The Apostle intimates that these new converts had become a regional example in piety, practice and zeal for the Kingdom. In other words, Christians throughout the world were looking up to them and following their lead, as they themselves had followed the Apostles' lead. Spiritually healthy Christians, without drawing attention away from Christ to themselves, set a good example for other believers to follow.
Fourth, they witnessed to the Word. The “word of the Lord sounded forth” from them in the region. This is so very, very important. Their regional reputation was founded not on their church programs or the reputation of their well-known minister, but for the Word of the Lord “echoing” from them to all around them. It seems that the members of the church in Thessalonica could not contain their enthusiasm for evangelism. They had a sense that they had to share the word, and they did share the word. Healthy Christians do not just sit around debating the finer points of the Gospel, they actually tell others about the Gospel.
Fifth, their faith was evident. Paul emplains, “your faith in God has gone forth everywhere.” I think that the Apostle, by inserting this idea, is getting to the fact that their witness to the Word was not only in word, but also in deed. Their faith was also known. How? Presumably in that it was a real, vibrant and visible faith, which was manifested in action. Spiritually healthy Christians are seen and known for the sincerity of their faith.
Sixth, they had a good reputation for their faith and faithfulness. Paul states that the apostles did not need to speak of the members of the Thessalonian church, because the believers in Macedonia and Achaia already knew about them--how they had received the Apostle in their midst. In other words, their reputation as a Christ-like church was well-known. The church or the Christian can’t always control what people think of them, but what a powerful witness it is to be known for being Christ-like. Spiritually healthy Christians do not necessarily have good reputations with everyone, but amongst true believers they almost always certainly will.
Seventh, they truly and obviously repented of their previous life. One of the saddest realities of life in a fallen world is that we see evil called good and good evil--even in the church of Christ! The Thessalonians were idolaters, presumably engaged in all that idolatry involved in those days; yet, they “turned” (that is, they repented) from their sin, left it behind and sought after God. In fact, their conduct was a complete and drastic change. They previously served idols, they repented, and then they served the “living and true God.” Contrary to what some in the church are teaching today, we cannot remain in our old sin and claim Christ as our Savior. Yes, spiritually healthy Christians, having found the mercies of God in Christ, continually repent of their sins and endeavour after new obedience and service.
Finally, they lived in expectation. Paul says the Thessalonians “wait[ed] for God's Son from heaven.” Part of their vibrancy as Christians (and we must assume that this is one ideas that drove their evangelistic zeal) was the second coming of Christ. They knew they had been delivered from the “wrath to come” (vs 10) and wanted the same for others. They awaited Christ’s coming with eagerness. Spiritually healthy Christians long for Jesus return, and conduct themselves in light of his coming.
This list is far from exhaustive; but, in this list, Paul appears to have a particular end in mind--to encourage what fruitfulness was already manifest in the lives of believers in order to further the spread of the gospel, in both word and deed. If this description does not match us--either individually or corporately--we ought to pray to God to make it so. He has promised, in Christ, to give us the grace--by His Word and Spirit powerfully--to produce these traits in His people for the advancement of His Kingdom in the world.
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