One day, Jack becomes convinced that he has a problem with his teeth, so he decides to give toothpaste a try. For the next 12 months he brushes morning, noon and night, never missing a day.
Now we would expect that if we were to compare Jack’s teeth to Jill’s teeth that Jack’s teeth would be much nicer.
But what if Jack comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally bad teeth, while Jill comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally good teeth? What if Jack lost a tooth after being hit while playing hockey when he was young, while Jill never even played sport? What if Jack had grown up drinking heaps of sugary drinks, while Jill had mostly drunk water?
It might very well be that Jack’s teeth are actually far worse than Jill’s teeth.
But just because Jack’s teeth are not better, doesn’t mean he hasn’t been using toothpaste, or that the toothpaste doesn’t work. Comparing Jack’s teeth with Jill’s teeth is pointless.
Rather a far better way to check if Jack has been using toothpaste is to compare Jack’s teeth at the start of the 12 months with his teeth at the end of the 12 months.
The same is true when it comes to Christianity…
The best way to determine whether or not someone has received the Holy Spirit is not to compare them to others. Rather a far better way to check if the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life is to compare what they were like before becoming a Christian to what they are like now.
It might be that someone was born with a genetic disposition to alcoholism. Perhaps they grew up in a family full of alcoholics. Maybe they became addicted to alcohol from a young age. Unless God performs a miracle, it’s highly unlikely that they will ever be completely free of the desire to drink alcohol. It may not even be that likely that can stop getting drunk every day. But this doesn’t mean that God is not at work in their life. In fact, it might be that the activity of the Holy Spirit is stronger in the alcoholic’s life than it is in the life of the person who has never had a desire to get drunk in their life.
(Based on an illustration by C.S. Lewis from his book ‘Mere Christianity’)