Tim Keller’s Spiritual Self-Examination

Tim Keller, in his three part article on preaching in the Journal of Biblical Counseling (Vol. 12-13), has this helpful layout of the various conditions that a preacher encounters in the sanctuary each morning. This list is not just for preachers, however – every person can benefit from reading through it and finding themselves on it, and every Christian should be asking the question of where the people in their lives are spiritually as they engage in conversations and minister to one another and to the lost.

I. Non-Christians
A. Conscious unbelievers are aware that they are not Christians.
1. The immoral pagan lives a blatantly immoral/illegal lifestyle.
2. The intellectual pagan claims that faith is untenable or unreasonable. The imitative pagan is fashionably skeptical but not profound. The genuine thinker has serious, well-conceived objections.
3. The religious non-Christian belongs to organized religions, cults, or denominations with seriously mistaken doctrine.

B. Non-churched nominal Christians know and assent to basic Christian doctrines but have little or no church connection and no living relationship to God.

C. Churched nominal Christians participate in church but are not regenerated.
1. The semi-active moralist is respectably moral, but his religion is without assurance and is all a matter of duty.
2. The actively self-righteous is very committed and involved in the church, and his assurance of salvation is based on good works.

D. Awakened sinners are stirred and convicted over their sin but without gospel peace yet.
1. The curious awakened sinner is stirred up mainly in an intellectual way, full of questions and diligent in study.
2. The convicted with false peace does not understand the gospel but has been told that by walking an aisle, praying a prayer, or doing something, he is now right with God.
3. The comfortless awakened sinner is extremely aware of sin but not accepting or understanding the gospel of grace.

E. Apostates were once devoted and active in the church but have repudiated the faith without regrets.

II. Christians

A. New believers are those recently converted.
1. The doubtful has many fears and hesitations about his new faith.
2. The eager is beginning with joy and confidence and a zeal to learn and serve.
3. The overzealous has become somewhat proud and judgmental of others and is overconfident of his own abilities.

B. Mature and growing Christians may experience nearly all of the trials described below but progress through them because they respond quickly to pastoral treatment or know how to treat themselves.

C. The afflicted live under a burden or trouble that saps spiritual strength. (Generally, we call a person afflicted who has not brought the trouble on himself.)
1. The physically afflicted experience bodily decay.
a. The sick
b. The elderly
c. The disabled
d. The dying
2. The bereaved has lost a loved one or experienced some other major loss (a home through a fire, etc.).
3. The lonely
4. The persecuted/abused
5. The poor or financially troubled
6. The deserted are spiritually dry through the action of God, who removes a sense of His nearness despite the use of the means of grace.

D. The tempted struggle with a sin or sins which remain attractive and strong.
1. Those overtaken are tempted largely in the realm of the thoughts and desires.
2. For those taken over, a sin has become addictive behavior.

E. Immature believers are spiritual babies who should be growing but are not.
1. The undisciplined is lazy in using the means of grace and in using gifts for ministry.
2. For the self-satisfied, pride has choked growth. He is complacent, and he has become cynical and scornful of many other Christians.
3. The unbalanced believer has had either the intellectual, emotional, or the volitional aspect of his faith become overemphasized.
4. The devotee of eccentric doctrines has become absorbed in a distorted teaching that hurts spiritual growth.

F. The depressed not only experience negative feelings but shirk Christian duties and are disobedient.

Note: If a person is a new believer, or tempted, or afflicted, or immature, and is not properly pastored, he may become spiritually depressed. The following conditions may also lead to depression.
1. Anxiety – Worry or fear handled improperly leads to depression.
2. Weariness – The person becomes listless and dry through overwork.
3. Anger – Bitterness or uncontrolled anger is handled improperly, leading to depression.
4. Introspection – The person dwells on failures and feelings and lacks assurance.
5. Guilt – A conscience that is wounded and has not reached repentance and faith is prone to depression.

G. The backslidden have gone beyond depression to a withdrawal from fellowship with God and with the church.
1. The tender backslidden is still easily convicted of his sins and susceptible to calls for repentance.
2. The hardened backslider has become cynical, scornful, and difficult to convict. He or she may consider rejecting the faith altogether. Many churched teens think, “Shall I go into my peer culture? It will receive me.”


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Adam on August 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Hey Caleb,
    Thanks for posting on Keller’s neat observation on spiritual triage.

    I enjoyed your sermon the other day over at Faith Presbyterian. I have been giving a lot of consideration of God’s grace in giving me my daily bread.

    In Christ,


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