Four traits of a spiritually healthy Christian

If you asked a group of random strangers what it meant to be "healthy," I'm sure you would be offered a variety of suggestions. My guess is that many of the answers you received would primarily relate to physical health. Healthy bodies are certainly important, but there's a deeper level of health, with longer lasting results, that we should prioritize first.

As followers of Christ, we're called and empowered to be spiritually healthy. So what does that look like, and how can we obtain the spiritual health and spiritual vibrancy many of us are craving?

Well, before we talk about the nature of spiritual health, it's probably wise for us to first identify what it means to be spiritually unhealthy. A spiritually unhealthy person will probably fall into one of three categories; rebellious, dismissive, or backslidden.

I would define a spiritually rebellious person as someone who actively works against the plans and priorities of God. They would likely be openly hostile to the name of Jesus and hostile toward those who claim to follow Christ.

A spiritually dismissive person, in my estimation, would be the type of person who does their best not to think much about spiritual things. Their focus and priorities would largely be dominated by the cares of this world and getting ahead in it.

A spiritually backslidden person would be the type of person who knows better than to adopt a worldly mindset or sinful behaviors, but the allure and temptations of sin look so appealing to them that they keep welcoming more and more worldliness into their lives. At present, one of their most frequent spiritual activities is trying to get good at ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit without feeling guilty for doing so.

Spiritually healthy people, on the other hand, listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us some additional things about their daily walk with the Lord that we should notice if it's our desire to experience a healthy, growing, vibrant walk with Christ.

I. They have a sincere longing for the Lord's presence in their life

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
— 1 Peter 2:2-3, ESV

My wife and I have been blessed with four children. At present, they're all teenagers, so I'm thankful they have the capacity to feed themselves, but when they were little, that was a completely different story. Feeding infants and small children is typically a messy or loud event. Babies don't tend to keep it a secret when they're hungry.

I used to get a kick out of hearing my mother tell the story of when I ate my first solid food. One of her best friends from childhood had come to our home to visit, and they thought it would be fun to make chocolate chip cookies together. Her friend could tell I wanted some, and wasn't aware that I had never eaten solid food before, so she gave me a cookie without my mother noticing. Apparently, I loved it, and didn't want to give it back.

Peter describes a spiritually healthy person as someone who has a healthy appetite. Not an appetite for baked goods, but for the Lord's presence in their lives. As those who have come to know Christ, we have experienced the effect of His presence. We have "tasted" the difference He has made and is making for us. We are convinced that what He is doing is good, and we long to know Him in a deeper way.

Is that a craving or a longing you can relate to? Do you possess a sincere longing for the Lord's presence in your life, or are you still trying to hold Him at bay and keep Him from invading the parts you'd prefer to keep to yourself?

II. They hear the word and hold onto it

“And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
— Luke 8:14-15, ESV

I'm someone who appreciates a good story. I'm currently reading a book by a master storyteller that I find fascinating. I'm presently hooked on his writing. I also remember a friend I worked with in high school. He was one of the best storytellers I ever heard. He could take some of the most routine events from his life and weave them into a story that kept you interested for hours. (By the way, this is what we were forced to resort to before we had the Internet.)

During the course of His earthly ministry, Jesus would often tell stories. Some of the most powerful stories He told were in parable form where He would illustrate deep spiritual truths by telling brief stories about familiar, everyday occurrences.

One of the stories He told was about a man sowing seed. As he took those seeds and spread them around, the seed would fall in various places. Some fell on the path and was trampled, some fell on the rocks and couldn't root, some fell among thorns and was choked, but some fell on good soil, rooted deeply, was nourished, and grew.

Jesus made it clear that the seed that fell on the good soil provided an example for those who desire to grow spiritually mature. The seed falling on the good soil represented those who hear the word of God and hold onto it. They treasure it in their heart. They bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and they exhibit patience as they learn to trust the Lord's timing and plans.

Even though my children are older, I still make a point to check in on them before I go to sleep. I was encouraged by something recently that I hope they wouldn't mind me sharing. When I checked on my girls, they were listening to sermons from the book of Daniel. When I checked on my sons, they were listening to an audio Bible. I was grateful to know that this was what they were choosing to feed their minds and their hearts.

Those who successfully grow spiritually healthy are those who eagerly hear God's word and hold onto what they've heard.

III. They value prayer and invest in their walk with Christ

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;”
— Colossians 1:9-10, ESV

Recently, I learned of something that prompted me to be praying for others. A family that I met while we were camping was experiencing a severe medical need that required their son to receive a kidney transplant. The father was a donor match, so he decided to give his son one of his kidneys. When I was told that this was about to take place, I asked the family for permission to share this information with our church. I was glad, and they were likewise grateful, that we were able to spread word of this procedure to others in the body of Christ so we could ask for prayer on behalf of the father and son. We are grateful to the Lord that the surgery went well.

When the Apostle Paul heard of the faith of the Colossians, he was overjoyed. He made it his practice, along with those who were with him, to remember the Colossians in his prayers every day. He prayed that their young faith would grow mature. He prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's will, as well as spiritual wisdom and understanding. He wanted them to experience the new perspective that we are granted when we're given the mind of Christ after coming to faith in Him.

And as we pray and develop a new Christ-centered way of thinking, what begins to take place in our lives? When we start to see life differently, we start to live differently. Paul realized that many of the Colossians who now knew Christ had also spent the bulk of their lives up to that point immersed in a sinful, pagan culture that embraced ungodly philosophies and the doctrines of demons. Now that their eyes and their hearts had been opened to the truth of the gospel, they would also be empowered by Christ to live differently.

Paul describes this new life in Christ as walking, "in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;". In describing his prayers for them, and going into detail about what he was praying God would do in their lives, Paul was teaching the Colossian church to value prayer and invest in their walk with Christ.

Are we known as a praying people? Are we making investments in our walk with Christ? If spiritual health is high on our list of priorities, our answer to those questions will be, "Yes!"

IV. They develop deep roots that bear fruit

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
— Colossians 2:6-7, ESV

Each week during the warm months, I have a routine that I follow when I'm mowing my lawn. I'm guessing it's essentially the same for most of us because it follows a logical progression. First, I use the push mower on the larger sections of grass. Then I trim around the edges. Then I use a blower to clean the clippings off the hard surfaces, and finally, I take care of any weeds that may have grown that week in the landscaping beds. Ironically, some of the tallest weeds are also the easiest to pull, simply because they often have very shallow roots.

Spiritually healthy people don't have shallow roots. As our walk with Christ grows, and we become convinced that He is the true source of the spiritual nourishment and living water that our souls crave, we will seek to root deeper and deeper in Him. Healthy grass, healthy trees, and healthy plants develop deep roots. Healthy Christians do the same.

As Paul spoke to the Colossians, he encouraged them to continue to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of their lives, to walk in Him, to root deeply in Him, to be built up by Him, and to experience an established faith. Paul's desire for them was very much like the desires a parent might express for their children. Good parents want their children to grow wise, strong, and capable to handle the challenges and adversity they are certain to face in life. Those who are rooted deeply in Christ are certainly equipped to face those challenges.

Consider some of the challenges that come our way during our years on this earth. Inevitably, we experience seasons of trial. Some of our trials may break our hearts and bring us to a point of desperation where we feel like we can't handle any more heartbreak or pain.

Or maybe we're dealing with disappointments. Maybe you had a very specific vision for what your life was going to look like at this point, or maybe you were counting on someone doing something for you that they didn't follow through on.

Or maybe you're going through a season of change that you have no control over. Changes at work. Changes at home. Changes in relationships, or possibly even changes to your health.

Or maybe you've experienced a painful and unexpected trauma. You've heard of things like this happening to other people, but now you're right in the midst of dealing with one of the most painful events you've ever been asked to face.

Or maybe you've been wrestling with temptation. Temptation is an inevitable reality when we have a sin nature and we're living in a sinful environment. At times you've given in to your unhealthy temptations, now you're seeking to avoid temptation and prevent it from having mastery over you.

We all face trials, disappointments, changes, trauma, and temptation, but we don't all face them the same way. If you're deeply rooted in Christ, you'll face each of these challenges much differently than you will if your roots are only superficial. And not only will you be able to stand firm in the midst of those difficult moments, you'll also be able to bear spiritual fruit that might seem surprising to others who aren't rooted as deeply.

This passage from Colossians mentions one very interesting evidence of the fruit of being rooted deeply in Christ. It's the kind of fruit that might help others take notice of the nature of your faith. It's the kind of fruit that others won't be expecting from you during your seasons of adversity if they don't understand the nature of whom you're rooted to.

The fruit I'm referring to is the fruit of "thanksgiving." In Colossians 2:7, Paul speaks of those who are rooted in Christ and established in the faith as, "abounding in thanksgiving." I love that description. It's a reminder that our lives aren't rooted in our pain, disappointments, or temptations. If we're rooted in Christ, we can give genuine thanks to Him, no matter what our present circumstances look like. For proof of that, please keep in mind that Paul was writing these words to the Colossian believers while he was in prison in Rome.

So if it's your desire to become truly healthy in the spiritual sense, please remember the counsel we're shown in the word of God...

  • Long for the Lord's presence in your life.

  • Hear the word of God and hold onto it.

  • Value prayer.

  • Invest in your walk with the Lord.

  • Root your life deeply in Christ.

Leonard Ravenhill once told the story about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, “Were any great men born in this village”‘

The old man replied, “Nope, only babies.’

It's the same with us. We start as spiritual infants, but by the grace of God, we're enabled to grow healthy and mature as we keep walking daily with Christ by faith.

© John Stange, 2019