Whenever God plants the seed of spiritual life in the soul of
a human being, that seed is meant to abide and to grow and to flourish.
And God has given sufficient provision to secure the growth and flourishing
of that spiritual life.
In fact, Scriptures often depicts a believer's life as that of growth and
progress. One vivid example is Psalm 92 that says,
"The righteous man will flourish like a palm tree,
he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of God,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will yield fruit in old age;
they shall be full of sap and very green,
to declare that the Lord is upright.
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him"
However, Scriptures also teach and warn us of the reality that believers could decay spiritualy. One of the most pathetic and frightening examples is the church of
Sardis depicted in the book of Revelation. Jesus Christ sent an urgent message
to that church saying, "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of
being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about
to die... etc." [Rev 3:1-2, NIV].
Note that the church still had a form of spirituality
before others, but the fact is that it was in a very deep state of
spiritual decay! And what could be true to a church in its corporate identity
is certainly true also of believers individuality.
In view of what has been said, it is therefore important to ask how we may know if we have declined spiritually or not. Before giving a test, which I beseech you to examine yourself, let me first say that spiritual decay can only be a painful and dreadful possibility for those who have spiritual life. The spiritually dead are dead - there is complete absence of life. So if the reader is a stranger to the new birth and is still dead spiritually, of which all of us will be of no use to you. And I urge you to seek this life which is in Christ Jesus.
But for those who indeed have spiritual life - who have experienced the new birth, do you have the signs of spiritual decay? For brevity, let me give Three practical tests and urge you to examine yourself in the light of it.
First, test yourself whether or not you make your relationship with God your principal business and concern in life. Whenever grace is in its proper exercise, it will subordinate all things to one's relationship with God and God becomes the end to all things and the center of everything. John Owen said, "To see men continually plodding in the affairs of the world, regulating all their actions by their concernment of them, diverting only to some seasons, as it were out of their ways, unto duties of religion, it is vain that they make religion their business."
Reader, is your relationship with God your main business and concern if life? Are you, therefore faithful in both private and public means of grace - not making it an end in itself but as a means to meet with God? Does Moses' prayer: "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory [Ex 33:18]" reflect the burning desire of your heart? Your answer will indicate whether or not you have the signs of spiritual decay.
Now let me move to the second test, closely related to the first. Test yourself whether or not, in the words of Jesus, you 'hunger and thirst for righteousness' [ Mat 5:6]. And note the force of the language. It does not mean just a passing or faint desire for holiness or righteousness, but an obsessive one. As the book of Proverbs says, "The worker's appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on." [Prov. 16:12].
Reader, are you hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Or have you become satisfied of your stateself complacent? Are taking and honest and serious private, family, and social life? Does even the slightest breach of God's law bleed your heart, and drives you to God for forgiveness? Your answer would indicate whether or not you have the signs of spiritual decay.
The third test. Test yourself whether or not you have an appetite for spiritual food, namely, the Word of God. Loss of appetite is clear indication of ill health. And what is true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual.
Reader, do you have the same desire for God's Word as before? Not that always true every time you come to God's Word - but was it the pattern? Do you come to it just to silence the nagging conscience, or just by mere habit, or just to please your fancies - but not because you have an appetite for it? Your answer would indicate whether or not you have the signs of spiritual decay.
If a believer finds himself in the process of spiritual decay, the first thing he must do is to acknowledge that no one is to be blamed for it than he himself. Its easy to lay the blame on someone or on circumstances or even God. But who are we to blame for David's spiritual decline and Solomon's and the church of Sardis? Where does God lay the blame? If you have declined spiritually then perhaps you have been playing around with sin - or perhaps you have been disobedient to an obvious and known will of God - or perhaps you have been too consumed with the affairs of the world. The blame is on us if we are undergoing spiritual decay.
Secondly, one must meditate on the danger of one's state. Unconcern for this betrays a heart which has never been subject to saving grace. But if you are concerned, the moment you realize that you are declining spiritually, it is a good sign that your faith is not merely temporal but genuine. However, realize that if you continue declining, it will be your eternal ruin. As the apostle Paul wrote, addressing believers in Galatia, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall reap the spirit of eternal life.
Thirdly, one must believe that there is hope for recovery and that this hope is bound up in God alone. As John Owen once said, "If every step that is lost in the way to heaven should be irrecoverable, woe would be unto us; - we would all assuredly perish . . . Nay, if we had not recoveries everyday, we should go off with a perpetual backsliding." God says to the nation of Israel, through the prophet Hosea, "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to him, 'take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously.'" And a promise is bound up in that exhortation - "I will heal their apostasy, I will leave them freely." [Hosea 14:1-2, 4b]. Remember David's restoration - also his prayer recorded in Psalms 51. There is hope and this hope is in God alone. In using the means of grace which God has provided and of which we must use - do not put your trust on it to recover you - but on God alone.
Fourthly, one must be faithful and diligent in the biblical practice of mortification of sin. Weed out, by the Holy Spirit the sins that have grown in your heart. Only then can the fruits of grace begin again to flourish in your heart. (cf. Gal. 5:16-25).