J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was a 19th-century evangelical Anglican pastor and writer whose books have sold over 12 million copies. This article is adapted from his sermon “Authentic Religion,” found at http://www.BibleBB.com.
Dismiss from your mind the common idea that, of course, all is right if you go to church. You must look further, higher, and deeper than this if you would find out the truth. Listen to me, and I will give you a few hints. Believe me, it is no light matter. It is your life. If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, try it by:
The place it occupies in your inner man. It is not enough that it is in your head. You may know the truth, and assent to the truth, and believe the truth, and yet be wrong in God’s sight. It is not enough that it is on your lips. You may say “Amen” to public prayer in church, and yet have nothing more than an outward religion. It is not enough that it is in your feelings. You may weep under preaching one day, and be lifted to the third heaven by joyous excitement another day, and yet be dead to God.
Your religion, if it is authentic and given by the Holy Spirit, must be in your heart. It must hold the reins. It must sway the affections. It must lead the will. It must direct the tastes. It must influence the choices and decisions. It must fill the deepest, lowest, inmost seat in your soul. Is this your religion? If not, you may have good reason to doubt whether it is authentic and true (Acts 8:21; Romans 10:10).
The feelings toward sin that it produces. The Christianity which is from the Holy Spirit will always have a very deep view of the sinfulness of sin. It will not merely regard sin as a blemish and misfortune, which makes men and women objects of pity and compassion. It will see in sin the abominable thing which God hates, the thing which makes man guilty and lost in his Maker’s sight, the thing which deserves God’s wrath and condemnation.
It will look on sin as the cause of all sorrow and unhappiness, of strife and wars, of quarrels and contentions, of sickness and death-the curse which cursed God’s beautiful creation, the cursed thing which makes the whole earth groan and struggle in pain. Above all, it will see in sin the thing which will ruin us eternally, unless we can find a ransom—lead us captive, except we can get its chains broken—and destroy our happiness, both here and hereafter, except we fight against it, even unto death. Is this your religion? Are these your feelings about sin? If not, you should doubt whether your religion is authentic.
The feelings toward Christ that it produces. Authentic religion will make a man glory in Christ, as the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the Priest, the Friend, without whom he would have no hope at all. It will produce confidence in Him, love toward Him, delight in Him, comfort in Him, as the mediator, the food, the light, the life, the peace of the soul. Is this your religion? Do you know anything of feelings like these toward Jesus Christ? If not, you have every reason to doubt whether your religion is authentic.
The fruit it bears in your heart and life. The Christianity which is from above will always be known by its fruits. It will produce in the man who has it repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, spirituality, kindness, self-denial, unselfishness, a forgiving spirit, moderation, truthfulness, hospitality, and patience. The degree to which these various graces appear may vary in different believers, but the germ and seeds of them will be found in all who are the children of God. By their fruits they will be known. Is this your religion? If not, you should doubt whether it is authentic.
Your feelings and habits about means of grace. What are your feelings about public prayer and public praise, about the public preaching of God’s Word, and the administration of the Lord’s Supper? Are they things to which you give a cold assent, and tolerate them as proper and correct? Or are they things in which you take pleasure, and without which you could not be happy?
Prove it, finally, by your feelings about private means of grace. Do you find it essential to your comfort to read the Bible regularly in private, and to speak to God in prayer? Or do you find these practices boring, and either slight them or neglect them altogether? These questions deserve your attention. If means of grace are not as necessary to your soul as food and drink are to your body, you may well doubt whether your religion is authentic.
Are You Authentic?
Is your own religion genuine or fake? I do not ask what you think about others. Perhaps you see many hypocrites around you. You may be able to point to many who have no authenticity at all. This is not the question. You may be right in your opinion about others. But I want to know about you, yourself. Is your own Christianity authentic or counterfeit?
There is nothing like coming to particulars about these matters. If you want to know whether your religion is authentic, genuine, and true, measure it by the five particulars which I have now named. Measure it fairly; test it honestly. If your heart is right in the sight of God, you have no cause to flinch from examination. If it is wrong, the sooner you find it out, the better.
If you love life, do not turn away from the question which is now before you. The time must come when the whole truth will be known. The judgment day will reveal every man’s religion, of what sort it is. Surely it is a thousand times better to find out now your condition, and to repent, than to find it out too late in the next world, when there will be no opportunity for repentance.
If you have common sense, reason, and judgment, consider what I say. Sit down quietly this day and examine yourself. Find out the authentic character of your religion. With the Bible in your hand, and honesty in your heart, the thing may be known. Then resolve to find out.
A false Christianity is sure to fail a man in the end. It will wear out; it will break down; it will leave its possessor like a wreck on a sandbank, high and dry and forsaken by the tide. It will supply no comfort in the hour when comfort is most needed—in the time of affliction, and on the bed of death. If you want a religion to be of any use to your soul, beware of false Christianity!
Your repentance may be feeble, but let it be authentic; your faith may be weak, but let it be authentic; your desires after holiness may be mingled with much weakness, but let them be authentic. Let there be nothing of coldness, of double dealing, of dishonesty, of sham, or of counterfeit in your Christianity. Never be content to wear a cloak of religion.
Be all that you profess. Though you may sin, be authentic. Though you may stumble, be true. Keep this principle continually before your eyes, and it will be well with your soul throughout your journey from grace to glory.