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 imperfections and eccentricities. And we do complicate it. In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed. The light of God does not stream in unfiltered by us. To some extent, we even block it out. We are sorry for that. But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis. The real work of God 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 outcomes, 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 distractions we inevitably introduce.
Biblical, fairminded discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also frees us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work. Indeed, that is the real purpose of discernment — not to fasten on whatever is wrong, but to rejoice in and promote whatever is right. After all, God is at work.