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Litmus Tests

June 2, 2024

David R. Collins


Scriptures: 1 John 4:1-12, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Matthew 7:15-23, Galatians 3:19-24, Ephesians 2:8-9


Good morning church!


So tomorrow, Megan and I, and our two sons, leave for a three week trip to Central Europe. I’m excited. I love to travel. There’s so much of the world to see, and so little time to see it.


When we get home, hopefully we will have found someone to buy our house, which is for sale, and which we have loved these last nine years, but it’s time for a change. We’re going to move into Maitland City Centre, just a few blocks away, in August. There’s so much about the move that is stressful, but also so many things I’m looking forward to.


Mostly I’m excited about no longer having to take care of our pool.


Pools are tricky! I mean, sometimes there’s just nothing like having one. But there rest of the time…There’s just something about a green pool that really ruins your day. So I take my water to my local pool supply store, and buy chlorine and tablets that cost more than prime steak, and muriatic acid, and whatever else they tell me I need to buy. I just went a few days ago, and the guys there are so great, but I told that if everything worked out, this would be my final trip. As I was checking out, I gave him my phone number for my account, I said, “So could you total up everything that I’ve spent here over the last nine years?” And he said, “Yeah, brother, I sure could….But I don’t think you want to know.”


He was right. I don’t.


(By the way, I realize how absurdly privileged this all sounds. Poor me with my private pool! Bear with me, please, I’m going somewhere.)


So in order to make sure the pool is always safe, I buy these little test strips. They’re great. You just dip them in to the water, and when you pull them out they turn different colors. On the back of the container, there’s a scale that shows what the colors mean.


PH goes from Orange to Red

Chlorine goes from white to Purple

Alkalinity goes from Orange to Green

And Stabilizer goes from brown to Purple


Anyway. There’s a color for each one that you want to shoot for. Each aspect affects every other one. If the PH is too high, the chemical that kills the algae won’t work. And if the stabilizer is too high, the chlorine won’t work. But if everything is right, it’s all good.


Litmus tests are often very unpopular. You hear people, especially politicians of all kinds, decry their use, especially when they’re used against them (This is just a litmus test!) But they’re really useful, especially when you want to know if water is acidic or not.


Sometimes water looks beautiful, but you still shouldn’t get in it. Like look at this spot in Derbyshire England.





“They call it the Blue Lagoon, and people come from far and wide to cool off in its clear waters.” But they really shouldn’t! The water is blue, not because it’s perfect, but because it’s a flooded former quarry that has a pH level of 11.3 – compared with 12.6 for bleach and 11.5 for ammonia.”


If you don’t remember from science class in the 7th grade, the Ph scale goes from 0 which is the most acidic, to 14 which is the most alkaline, which is close to what the people who go for a dip in this water are swimming in. Water is right in the middle at 7, which is what my pool is right now, I’m very proud to say, while still looking forward to it being someone else’s.


But water being blue is not always a good sign that you should swim in it.


I wish that we had some of these little test strips for people.


Wouldn’t that be great if we could just, I don’t know, stick one of these little strips in their mouth, or in their ear…maybe under their arm pit and then just look at the four tests to see what’s off?


Oh OHKAY! It’s just that your rationality scale is off. You see it goes from 0-14. Zero is Vulcan. Fourteen is this guy.





We want you more around a seven. So what we’re going to do is dump baking soda on your head.


But you know what? We do kind of have some paper strips that we can use to test how we are doing as Christians. Those paper strips are bound together sometimes with a fake leather cover, with a little satin bookmark included.


It’s called the Bible.


That was super corny. But it’s true.


Litmus Tests


We have all kind of litmus tests to see how we’re doing, and to see if others are the kinds of people we should be listening to and associating with.


1 John 4:1 tells us directing that we should be testing what we hear and see.


1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.


Just because the water looks blue doesn’t mean you should dive in! You have to test what you hear and most important, test what sounds good to you. No one can fool you quite as well as you can.


2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.


So does that mean that every person who says Jesus is God is a good and trustworthy person? No. John’s community was dealing with a very particular kind of theological controversy. Someone was whispering in their ear that Jesus wasn’t really flesh and blood, and so flesh and blood problems must not really matter.


He unpacks what it means to truly believe in Jesus in verse 7 and it’s also our first litmus test.


Love


Love is the first and most important litmus test for what it means to be a Christian and what kinds of people Christians should look up to.


7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.


We see here in these familiar verses that love is defined most powerfully by God’s sacrificial giving of his beloved Son, by Jesus’ love and sacrifice, and by our love for one another. That is first and foremost.


And it’s also a little vague. We’re not God. We can’t die for the sins of the world. We can be grateful and live the rest of our lives in gratitude for Jesus’ unearned and undeserved love for us, but just defining love as love isn’t always super helpful, especially if this is a litmus test.


So what is love?


Love isn’t whatever we say it is. There’s a very famous passage in the Bible that defines it very thoroughly


1 Corinthians 13:4-6

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


You know what strikes me about this passage is how unlike my little pool strips it is. It’s not trying to get us to find a happy neutral balance between hate at one end, and unconditional love at the other. Love isn’t like that. There’s no such thing as being too loving, too patient, too kind. Not for us, at least. And there shouldn’t be for anyone who is in Christ.


We’re going to see that about every litmus test we look at in the Bible today. It’s never about finding the balance, or splitting the difference. The litmus tests in the Bible call us to fully embody the virtues of our faith without holding back. You don’t wake up and think, “Today I’ll be moderately loving” or “I’ll be halfway faithful.”


That might be what you end up doing! But it’s not the goal, right? Of course not!


So love is our first litmus test. The second is Fruit.

Fruit, as in, the obvious outflowing of faith.


Fruit


Jesus said in Matthew 7:15-23

15 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.


Jesus himself told us to use the litmus tests! And what does he tell us to do, to tell the real from the fake? Is it based on popularity? Consistency? What everyone else seems to want? Nope. Jesus says


16 You will know them by their fruits.


You will know them by the fruits they produce in the life. Do they talk about patience and kindness, or do they actually do it? Do they just talk about their faith, or do they actually live it out?


Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.


Fruit doesn’t grow because the tree is trying really hard. It grows because the tree is healthy, rooted, and well-nourished. It grows as a natural outgrowth of who the tree really is deep down, and whether or not it has all the resources (light and water and nutrients) that it needs.


We can tell whether we’re bearing fruit or not just by looking at our lives. When we look at others lives, we can do the same.


Jesus goes on to say

21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23 Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”


You might be thinking, “That list of things Jesus mentioned kind of sounds like ‘fruit’ to me!”. They sound like miracles! Like deeds of spectacular power! But if these people did these deeds, these miracles, why does Jesus say he never knew them?


Well, there are some parts of faith that are easy to fake. It’s easy to fake miraculous healings, and it’s easy for a someone to fake being a Christian, especially when people really want to believe they are one.


The second litmus test is fruit. What kind of fruit are we looking for, in our own lives, and in the lives of others? And what fruit is a red flag?


Galatians 3: 19-23

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.


Those are the red flag fruits. I know that sorcery seems a little weird to be included there, but we have our own sorcerers today. It’s people who believe in magic and conspiracies. That the world is not as it really seems. That bad can be transmuted into good, and chaos magicked into order. That, and everything else on that list are disqualifying fruits. The pool is green. There are frogs living in it.


22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.


These are the good fruits, the ones we should be cultivating in our lives and looking for in others. They are signs of a healthy, vibrant faith. Let’s break them down a bit:


Love: We've already talked about love, but it bears repeating. True love is sacrificial, selfless, and unconditional. It seeks the best for others and reflects the love God has for us.


Joy: This isn't just fleeting happiness based on circumstances. It's a deep-seated joy that comes from knowing God and being in relationship with him.


Peace: This is more than just the absence of conflict. It’s a sense of wholeness and well-being that comes from trusting God. It’s peace that surpasses all understanding, even when life is chaotic.


Patience: This is the ability to endure difficult circumstances and people without becoming angry or upset. It’s long-suffering, forbearance, and perseverance.


Kindness: This is about being considerate, compassionate, and generous to others. It’s an active desire to help others and to do good.


Generosity: Sometimes translated as goodness, it’s about being open-handed with our resources, time, and love. It’s about giving freely, just as God has given to us.


Faithfulness: This is about being reliable, trustworthy, and steadfast. It’s about being true to our commitments to God and to others.


Gentleness: This is about being humble and meek, not harsh or abrasive. It’s strength under control, treating others with care and respect.


Self-control: This is about having the ability to control our desires and impulses. It’s about making choices that honor God and align with his will. All the time.


These are the fruits we should be looking for in our lives and in the lives of others. Are we growing in these fruits? If not, what needs to change? What’s keeping us being like this?


And when we look at others, especially those who claim to speak for God or lead in his name, let’s use these same fruits as our measure. Are they displaying the fruit of the Spirit, or are there red flags that suggest otherwise?


Remember, it’s not about perfection. None of us will display these fruits perfectly all the time. But they should be the direction in which we’re growing.


There are more litmus tests we could get into, but there are enough for now.


If you look at these litmus tests and see that your levels are off, and all of ours are, you might be wondering what you should do about it.


Well, the first thing is just to thank God. Thank God that you’re saved by grace.


Ephesians 2:8-9

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


We don’t save ourselves through passing the litmus test. We are saved through faith and then God helps us adjust what’s wrong so that we can. God is working on you, changing you little by little, or maybe by leaps and bounds, to make you like Jesus Christ, so that you can and will love like him one day. So thank God, and keep trying.


But what if you look at these litmus tests and realize that there are people in your life who’s pools are so green you can’t see the bottom? And they’re just swimming around in it and think it’s great, and how dare you suggest that it’s not?


Well, the first thing is once again, to thank God. Thank God that you can see it.


And then, well, don’t jump in with them. That nasty water is going to make them sick eventually. Sometimes all you can do is pray for them and be ready to help when they realize they need it. Keep loving them from a distance if you have to, but don’t compromise your own faith and values. Maybe throw them a raft?



As we go forward, let’s strive to embody these virtues we’ve looked at today. Let’s allow God’s Spirit to transform us from the inside out, making us true reflections of Christ in the world.

May we be patient and kind, full of joy and peace, generous and faithful. May we seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.


And let’s remember that God’s grace is sufficient for us. When our levels are off, God’s grace covers us, and the Spirit works within us to bring about the change we need.


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