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Evidences of Spiritual Sanity

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 12:9–11

The Lord calls all His children to live consistent, godly lives. The Bible does not leave us to guess what such a life looks like. The apostle Paul gives us some key elements of godly spiritual maturity in Romans 12.


Sometime ago I read the rather surprising account of a bus driver who was transporting twenty patients from a mental hospital in one city to another institution nearby. On the way, he stopped to get a drink—which was against the law and his employee regulations. While he was inside, all twenty patients somehow got out of that bus and disappeared. When he returned and realized what had happened, he did not want to admit what happened and lose his job, so he went to a nearby bus stop and offered people a free ride, but then he took them to the psychiatric hospital. He went in and told the staff that these were patients who actually believed they were mentally healthy. With that, the staff ushered these rather confused people inside, ignoring their insistence that they were not mental patients. Unfortunately, these people had very little evidence to prove their sanity. And believe it or not, it took three days before the truth came out.[1]

I cannot imagine the frustration of those people, trying to prove they were healthy adults. It made me wonder how long it would take for us to prove to someone that we were healthy Christians. What evidence would we use to prove our spiritual sanity?

Well, as we sail back into Romans 12, the apostle Paul gives us several pieces of evidence that will show the world we are indeed genuine, authentic followers of Christ.

The first key piece of evidence is here in verse 9, where Paul writes, “Let love be genuine.” Let your love for others be genuine. The Greek word for “genuine” literally means “without hypocrisy.” In the Greek theater of Paul’s generation, the actors did not have elaborate sets and costumes. They carried masks so the audience could easily see whether their character was tragic or sad or happy.[2] An actor was called a hupokritēs, from which we get our word hypocrite—he was pretending to be something he was not.

Paul is saying here, “Do not put up a mask of love while being unloving. Be loving toward people —for real.” This is the love word agapē. Agapē is the word that refers to a decision of the will to give your life for the best interests of the person you love. It is not an emotional feeling; it is a heartfelt decision. I tell young couples that they are getting married, not because they fell in love, but because they have chosen to love.

A first-century Roman attorney named Minucius Felix wrote this about Christians he knew: “They love one another almost before they know one another.”[3] You have found this to be true, haven’t you? You discover that fellow passenger on the train or airplane or that person waiting in line alongside you is a Christian, and you have an immediate connection—a bond.

In the last half of verse 9, we have another key piece of evidence. The first piece was positive—love for others. The evidence Paul gives now is negative. He writes, “Abhor what is evil.”

The Greek word for “abhor” appears only here in the entire New Testament. It is a strong term that can be translated “despise.” Paul’s expression here can be translated, “Regard evil with horror”—and it is in the present tense, which means we should live with this ongoing dislike of sin.

But wait a minute! Why would the apostle Paul need to tell believers to dislike sin? Well, because we can get caught up in sin just like unbelievers. We can be ensnared in sin, Paul wrote in Galatians 6:1. In fact, the Lord taught us to pray that God the Father will help us even avoid the temptation. The truth is, we are surrounded by so much sin that we can get used to it. Even Christians can welcome it instead of resist it.

So, what is our plan of action to keep resisting it? Paul balances the negative with a positive command here. He writes, “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

The Greek word translated “hold fast” means to glue or cement together.[4] The Bible does not just tell us what not to do—resist sin; it tells us what to do—stay away from sin and stay close to what is good.

This is the same expression God’s Spirit used when He told Philip the evangelist to go over and join the Ethiopian’s chariot (Acts 8:29). In other words, “Philip, go get close to that chariot.” And Philip went over and got up into the chariot. And that meant Philip and the chariot were now going in the same direction. That is the idea here. Are you going in the same direction as that which is good?

Another key piece of evidence for spiritual sanity, or spiritual health, is found in verse 10. Paul writes, “Love one another with brotherly [or family] affection.” This Greek word translated “brotherly affection” is the compound word philadelphiaphileō for affection and adelphos for brother. Philadelphia means “brotherly love.”

This command is another way of saying, “You should be cheering each other along because you are in the same family!” When is the last time you cheered someone else along in their faith?

By the way, Paul does not command us to be cheered along but to cheer others along! Develop the art of cheering for the body of Christ, and I promise you that some of it will eventually come back around to you.

Now Paul gives us another key piece of evidence that reveals our spiritual maturity—our spiritual sanity. He writes in verse 10, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” I love this idea. Hey, you want to compete at something in the body of Christ? Well, try to outdo one another in showing honor to others.[5] That means, you are in a race to be last, because you are trying to make everyone else first.

John the Baptist displayed this evidence of authentically following Christ. Early in Jesus’ ministry, John’s disciples came to John and told him everyone was starting to follow Jesus. Jesus was now beginning to attract the crowds that had once come out to follow John. John responded with these incredibly mature words that signal true greatness and true godliness: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Beloved, let’s try to outdo each other with this mindset of humility. The world will recognize it as entirely different from the way they think, and it will be a wonderful piece of evidence that you are a follower of Christ.

Now there is one more key piece of evidence of your spiritual sanity—verse 11: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” “Fervent” translates a word that refers to boiling water. It is a figurative way of saying the Christian is on fire—passionate about serving the Lord.

Now maybe you are thinking, I’m just not a very outgoing, enthusiastic personality. Well, Paul is not talking about your personality; he is talking about your spirit, your hunger for spiritual truth and your fervent spirit in walking with Christ.

These are the evidences of spiritual sanity—authentic godliness. We could outline this passage this way: you have the proof of godliness—hating evil and clinging to what is good; you have the sound of godliness—Christians cheering each other on; you have the mindset of godliness––humility; and you have the energy of godliness––zeal for the things of God.

What better way to show the world that you are a spiritually healthy follower of Jesus Christ?

[2] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Romans: Volume 4 (Eerdmans, 1982), 61.

[3] “Octavius of Minucius Felix,”

[4] Fritz Rienecker, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon L. Rogers Jr. (Regency, 1980), 376.

[5] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament, 2d ed. (Eerdmans Publishing, 2018), 795.

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