The acid test of our profession is this: What do you feel like when you are sitting in an air-raid shelter and you can hear the bombs dropping round and about you, and you know that the next bomb may land on you and may be the end of you? That is the test. How do you feel when you are face-to-face with the ultimate, with the end? –Martyn Lloyd-Jones[1]

The apostle Paul counsels Christians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). Of the many different criteria one could utilize to determine whether someone is a true Christian, is any one test better than the rest? Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Doctor, believes that one is. He calls it the “acid test” of Christianity: “the most delicate, the most sensitive test, the test of tests.”[2]

THE DOCTOR’S DEFINITION: THE ACID TEST

The Doctor begins by considering three different tests of genuine faith: (1) the doctrinal test, (2) the morality test, and (3) the experience test.[3]

The first, the doctrinal test, Lloyd-Jones calls “the test of orthodoxy.” He argues that orthodoxy is vitally important, and one cannot be a Christian without it, but it is inadequate by itself because one can have dead orthodoxy.

The second, the morality test, says that moral living is what matters because what people do is more important than what they say. Once again, the Doctor says that morality and conduct are absolutely essential; one cannot be a Christian without holy conduct. Yet one can live a moral life and not be a Christian. Nonbelievers can live highly ethical and moral lives. The test of conduct is not a test that can stand on its own.

The third test is the test of experience. Once again Lloyd-Jones agrees that experience is a vital part of the whole Christian position. One must be born again to be a Christian. But the cults also stress experience, and thus experience by itself is not a reliable guide. Lloyd-Jones mentions that one of the most dramatic changes he ever saw in a person’s life happened when a woman he knew joined the cult of Christian Science. “She was entirely changed and transformed—a great experience!”[4] If we put up experience as the ultimate standard, the acid test, we are left without any reply to these various cults.

In the end, the Doctor evaluates each test and pronounces that each one is essential but not sufficient to stand on its own. The three are not “delicate and sensitive enough to merit the term acid test.”[5] But the Doctor puts forth one great standard of analysis that does incorporate all the other assessments (mind, heart, and actions): the hope of glory. He argues that 2 Corinthians 4:17–18 is the acid test of Christianity: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

The particular sermon in which he makes this point was preached and recorded in 1969 in Pensacola, Florida, during a hurricane warning. The organizers moved up the Sunday evening service to 2:00 p.m. so that congregants could be in their homes by the time Hurricane Camille struck the city. The Doctor proclaimed that the ultimate proof of a Christian profession comes in moments that bring us face-to-face with time and eternity, life and death. Therefore, he addressed the impending danger of the hurricane in a direct way. One man present for the sermon said he had a sense that “the sermon was not in the Doctor’s plan but was one he had used during the Blitz and thought appropriate for the occasion.”[6]

Lloyd-Jones’s sermon references the Nazi Blitzkrieg upon London in World War II. The Nazis conducted an air strike in which they ruthlessly and relentlessly dropped bombs on London. The whole nation was ready to lose heart. People could find no hope in what they saw outside their windows. They could see no reasons to rejoice in the rubble. The Doctor says that the true criterion of Christianity is not how you feel in pleasant circumstances or while you are reading theology. It is how you respond to the worst circumstances.

THE REAL TEST

The acid test of our profession is this: What do you feel like when you are sitting in an air-raid shelter and you can hear the bombs dropping round and about you, and you know that the next bomb may land on you and may be the end of you? That is the test. How do you feel when you are face-to-face with the ultimate, with the end?[7]

Next, Lloyd-Jones works back through the three assessments one by one to show that the hope of glory in the face of death is a sufficient answer to guarantee all of the others.

I suggest that this is the acid test because, you see, it covers my orthodoxy. The only people who can speak like this are those who know whom they have believed, those who are certain of their faith. Nobody else can. Other people can turn their backs upon disasters and whistle to keep up their courage in the dark, they can do many things, but they cannot speak like this without being orthodox.[8]

The hope of glory also covers the criterion of morality. “This test also guarantees conduct and morality, because the trouble with people who merely have an intellectual belief is that in the moment of crisis their faith does not help them. They feel condemned. Their consciences accuse them. They are in trouble because they know they are frauds.”[9]

The hope of glory also incorporates the proof of experience.

And in the same way this test also guarantees the experiential element, the life, the power, the vigor. People cannot speak like this unless these truths are living realities to them. They are the only ones who are able to look upon calamity and smile at it and refer to it as “our light affliction, which is but for a moment,” which “worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”[10]

The hope of glory gives probing proof of a true Christian profession because calamity will cause other, counterfeit hopes to come crashing down. When all earthly hopes are lost, a Christian still has hope because his hope is fixed not upon this passing world but upon the world to come.


Content taken from Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life: Doctrine and Life as Fuel and Fire by Jason Meyer, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Jason C. Meyer (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church and associate professor of New Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary. Prior to coming to Bethlehem, he served as dean of chapel and assistant professor of Christian Studies at Louisiana College. He is the author of Preaching: A Biblical Theology and a commentary on Philippians in the ESV Expository Commentary.

[1] Setting Our Affections upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 16.

[2] Ibid., 13.

[3] Ibid., 13–15.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] John Schultz, forward to Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections upon Glory, 9.

[7] Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections upon Glory, 16.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 16–17.