A Litmus Test for Holiness

A Litmus Test for Holiness

I am intrigued by litmus tests. Consider the many definitions of the term, litmus test:

  • A common chemical pH test that indicates whether a solution is acid or alkaline: red indicates an acid solution; blue indicates an alkaline solution.
  • Any kind of social indicator used to classify someone either favorably or unfavorably.
  • In politics, a question asked of a political candidate, the answer to which determines support or opposition.
  • A crucial or revealing test in which there is one decisive factor.
  • A test that produces a decisive result by measuring a single indicator.

I’d like to find the one thing, the one characteristic, the one reality, the one indicator, the one revealing factor that tells me I am in the presence of a holy person.

What’s the Litmus Test for a Holy Person?

I believe the litmus test for a holy person is perfect love as defined in Scripture and embodied in the life of Jesus.

Scripture is most clear on this:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this litmus test [my translation of the Greek there] everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”

But loving one another isn’t the end of it. The writer of 1 John adds in 4:7-21 (with my comments noted in brackets):

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. [Sounds like a litmus test to me.] God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. [Litmus test?] And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

First John also tells us that this especially includes a brother or sister in need.

And one more text—Matt. 5:43-48:

You have heard that it was said,

‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfect love includes our brothers and sisters, those we see in need, and even our enemies—and it is all based on the way that we have been loved by God.

Even with its theological shortcomings, the poplar book The Shack gives us an interesting picture of Trinity talking at the table one evening. There is a natural love flowing between Father, Son, and Spirit. I like to think that the holy life is getting caught in the middle of this love triangle and breathing it in and out, offering it to others, and being fully shaped by it. We are called to receive and live from the love of God.

I’ve seen several different litmus tests used in the church today—evolution, creation theory, age of the earth, worship style, version of Scripture, political party, budget formula, response to homosexuality, views on social drinking; I’m sure you have yours to add.

But the real litmus test—the one thing, the one characteristic, the one reality, the one indicator, the one revealing factor, the defining thing that tells me I am in the presence of a holy person?

Perfect love.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. Dr. Boone, I admire your work. Anything you write I want. I do not disagree with your position on Perfect Love, but you leave the matter incredibly vague. You desperately need to amplify on what this love looks like and how it functions and what it means and what it does not mean.

    • Zack Church says


      I understand your frustrations at the blog post offering only an introductory glance at the idea of what Perfect Love might look like. It’s something that is near impossible to quantify–we can point to real-life examples and say, “surely, that is a glimpse of Perfect Love,” but it’s almost not something we are able to define.

      That said, as noted at the end of this post, this is an excerpt from DB’s book “A Charitable Discourse,” which does in fact go further into detail about his views on Perfect Love. I highly recommend it.

  2. Dan, I think you have hit the nail on the head! I have often thought that If a person knows he has only a few days to live, he will speak to his loved ones of the important things he wants them to remember. This is what Jesus did as recorded by the book of John. Jesus must have thought that loving one another as He loved was very important, since He labeled it a new commandment and repeated this three times to the disciples.

  3. Jimmy Farley says


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