In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities. And we do complicate it. In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed. But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis. The true gold of grace is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:
- One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.
- Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.
- Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.
- Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.
Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes. These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the imperfections we inevitably introduce.
If we hold out for perfection, we will wait until we are with the Lord. True discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also unleashes us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work right now.
Don’t turn away because of the non-gold; prize the gold. Defend it. Rejoice over it. God is giving it.