Most businesses have an annual stocktake. An inventory is required to see just what physical stock is there, what condition it is in, and so on. I used to work at a Christian ministry which had a whole lot of literature: books, booklets, pamphlets, magazines, videos, etc. At least once a year we had to count every single item. That was something we all looked forward to – not.
It seems that if this is so important in the world, it is just as important in the spiritual realm. Indeed, it is imperative that we all partake in regular spiritual check-ups. We need to take stock of where we are at with the Lord. We need to ask hard and probing questions about our spiritual condition.
And this is not to be just a once off, or an annual event. But we must on an ongoing basis ask some necessary questions about ourselves. Plenty of these sorts of questions come to mind here. For example: Are we growing in our love for God? Are we moving ahead in our obedience? Are we becoming more Christlike as time goes by?
Are our hearts becoming softer and more sensitive to the Lord and to the promptings and stirrings of the Holy Spirit? Or are our hearts growing harder, colder, and more calloused? These are vitally important questions to be asking ourselves.
I am not talking about a morbid introspection here where we become paralysed and never do anything because we are always afraid we may be doing something amiss. But I am talking about keeping short accounts with our Lord, and making sure that we are growing in grace and personal holiness.
Admittedly the issue of whether we are becoming harder or softer can be somewhat hard to ascertain by ourselves. Yes, we pray, we read the Word, and we do this spiritual inventory. But often we need the help of others. We need other committed men and women who are willing to speak truthfully and lovingly into our lives.
They may be able to see better than we can where we are at. They may be able to point out things that we can’t see. We all have blind spots that need to be addressed, and having a handful of close Christian friends, perhaps in an accountability group, is one way to proceed here.
But let me look at one area in a bit more detail. Sometimes we need to be reminded of some really basic Christian basics: there is a devil, and he specialises in deception. There is such a thing as sin. Sin does deceive us and continuing in sin does indeed harden us.
And all this can often seem imperceptible to us, so all the more reason to do a regular spiritual stocktake, and to get the help of others as they watch our backs, spiritually speaking. It is just too easy for us to be deceived, to get hardened, to lose our spiritual eyesight.
One verse very nicely summarises all this: Hebrews 3:13. It says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” There you have it: sin deceives us and hardens us, and we need the help of others.
It is the nature of sin, the flesh, and the devil to slowly but surely do this hardening and blindness. It can be quite similar to our physical eyesight. That too can slowly deteriorate over time, and it can be imperceptible. As a case in point, my eyes deteriorated quite a bit over a number of years. Yes, periodical check-ups with an eye doctor helped to assess exactly where my vision was at.
But if you do not go to get your eyes tested for a number of years, you are just not aware of how bad they may be getting. I knew mine were not all that hot, but I quickly took action after one ominous event. I had finished speaking at a church and started to drive home. I turned a corner only to find three lanes of traffic heading directly my way! Thankfully I managed to turn around and get on the correct side of the road.
I knew then my eyesight might be much worse than I thought. I went to an eye doc and sure enough: he said my eyes were in very bad shape – even with glasses – and legally I should not even be driving a car! Yikes. Thankfully he said I also had cataracts trouble, and that could be dealt with via laser surgery and new lenses. That I did and I can now see quite well, and without glasses.
In the same way we all need regular spiritual eye tests, or heart tests, or soul tests. We need a way to accurately measure the state of our spiritual health and growth. We may even have retarded spiritual growth, and may be going backwards. So regular testing is essential. Otherwise a real hardening of the spiritual arteries can occur.
To tie all this together, I just came across a short piece by American evangelical writer Tim Challies that he penned a year ago. It is an important article about the “4 Grave Dangers in Every Sin.” His first of four points and his opening paragraph are well worth sharing here:
I have preached the truth a hundred times to others and a thousand times to myself: You can’t sin without consequence. That’s not the way God has structured his world. It’s not the way God has structured his people. For Christians, the ultimate consequences have been fully paid by Jesus Christ, but this does not mean there is no reason to fear immediate consequences. Here, with an assist from a favorite writer, are four grave dangers in every sin.
The Danger of Becoming Hardened
The first danger is the danger of becoming hardened. The fact is, sin means to harden you against the love and mercy of God. In fact, the ultimate aim of each and every sin, no matter how small it seems, is to fully harden you against God. John Owen warns you must, “Take heed, use all means, consider your temptations, watch diligently; there is a treachery, a deceit in sin, that tends to the hardening of your hearts from the fear of God.” Every sin nudges you toward a complete and utter hardness of heart. The fact is, your sin is always several steps ahead of you. “Is it not enough to make any heart tremble, to think of being brought into that estate wherein he should have slight thoughts of sin? Slight thoughts of grace, of mercy, of the blood of Christ, of the law, heaven, and hell, come all in at the same season. Take heed, this is that [which your sin] is working toward—the hardening of the heart, searing of the conscience, blinding of the mind, stupifying of the affections, and deceiving of the whole soul.”
That certainly spoke to me. Beware of the hardening that comes with sin. None of us want to be in a place of a hardened heart. So again, we must keep short accounts, and do regular spiritual inventory. Otherwise we may get into irreparable danger and damage.
So my friends, how is your spiritual health? Are you growing softer or harder? When is the last time you did a spiritual stocktake?