A man is “without Christ” when the Holy Spirit’s work cannot be seen in his life. Who can avoid seeing, if he uses his eyes, that myriads of professing Christians know nothing of inward conversion of heart. They will tell you that they believe the Christian religion; they go to their places of worship with tolerable regularity; they think it a proper thing to be married and buried with all the ceremonies of the Church; they would be much offended if their Christianity were doubted. But where is the Holy Ghost to be seen in their lives? What are their hearts and affections set upon? Whose is the image and superscription that stands out in their tastes, and habits, and ways? Alas, there can only be one reply! They know nothing experimentally of the renewing, sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost. They are yet dead to God. And of all such only one account can be given. They are “without Christ.”1
What is it about these words that is so terrifying?
The fact that we can so easily deceive ourselves about the state of our souls. That we can say the “right” words, have a good marriage, go to church regularly—that we can be the model “good” Christian—and only be kidding ourselves. That what we think of as fruit may not be fruit at all.
“But where is the Holy Ghost to be seen in their lives?”
That should give us pause, but not in a nasty, unhealthy, navel-gazing sort of way. The last thing the Lord wants us to be doing is spending our days worrying endlessly about whether or not our faith is genuine. Discerning the reality isn’t that difficult. We look at the affections of our hearts, our desire for God and His Word, our ongoing battle with sin, and our love for God manifesting itself in our love for others, and we can gain a sense of how the Holy Spirit is at work.
Even the concern about whether or not the Holy Spirit is at work in your life can be evidence that He is…
But the most terrifying thing of all? That some of us can hear these kinds of warnings, and not be concerned at all, beyond being offended that someone would even pose such a question.
That we could not truly see the Holy Spirit at work in our lives—and not really care.
That is terrifying.
- J.C. Ryle, Holiness ↵