2 Corinthians 13:5-6
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.”
At the end of 2 Corinthians, Paul calls the church to examine themselves; he repeats the command by saying, “test yourselves.” The meaning is the same. They are to look at their lives and see if they belong to Christ. In other places, Paul has given doctrinal requirements for belonging to Jesus. There are certain things that a person must believe. Here Paul presses home the experiential.
It is dangerous for us to focus on one without the neglect of the other. If we focus on the doctrinal to the abandonment of the experiential, we could be a bunch of people who think we are saved because we can ace Bible trivia. We have the head knowledge, but it has never penetrated our hearts. You can also have the opposite danger of relying wholly on a feeling or experience as absolute truth because it gave you the warm and fuzzies. No, as Christians, we must hold onto both.
Paul has already laid out the truth of his teaching to them, and now he asks them to look at themselves. This is a healthy introspection in which they are to see if they belong to Christ. The expectation is that they will conclude that they do belong to Christ. As a result, Paul’s apostleship will be given the stamp of approval because it was through him that they came to know Christ. Passing the test themselves means Paul gets a passing grade, something he has been arguing throughout the book.
Assurance is within Grasp
With this in mind, let’s think about what this teaching implies
- There may be times when we don’t feel that we belong to Christ.
- We can examine and see that we are in the faith.
We can have assurance. This is different than what many teach. Some say that you can never know if you belong to God or not. This can be reduced to “You might be saved, you might not, your guess is as good as mine.” Yet, here Paul assumes that they will come to a firm conclusion about where they stand with God.
When we do this as Christians, it is good to look at our own life and experience beyond just the present moment. Any moment we might feel like we are not saved. Charles Spurgeon said, “Judged by changeful feelings, one might be lost and saved a dozen times a day.”
Yet there is a way to test. It is essential to know that we are not looking at our feelings as the object of our faith; the object of saving faith is Jesus alone. Instead, we are examining to see if we are really his. Perhaps in light of this morning, we might ask do we truly treasure Jesus above everything.
There are other forms of self-examination. This self-examination was intended to give them an affirmative answer and vindicate Paul. Also, today self-examination can be a healthy practice. We can think of it in two ways. The first is examining God’s grace in our lives and responding with thanksgiving. The second way is examining our remaining sin and responding with confession and repentance.
Ask yourself the question, “when is the last time I have reflected on my Christian life?”. Even asking that question reveals the necessity of humility when it comes to self-examination. We cannot correctly examine our own lives if we are filled with pride. The proud person says, “I have my life under control.” In contrast, humble self-examination says, “God reveal where I have fallen short, remind me of your grace.” Do you see the difference? This isn’t looking at our life so we can boast about our goodness. Instead, we look at our life so we can fall on our face before the God who saves. Here are some practical steps we can take to self-examine.
Prerequisites for Christian Self-Examination
First, do so grounded in the Gospel. We are not looking for goodness within ourselves to save us; we are coming secure in Christ’s work, asking for God to reveal by His grace things in our life.
Second, God works through His word; it will be hard to examine our life if we are not saturated in the Scriptures. Paul says that he didn’t know that he fell short in a particular area until he saw it in God’s law. If you are reflecting on your life and Scripture is not swimming in your mind, that is just dangerous navel-gazing.
Third, Self-Examination requires humility.
Fourth, healthy self-examination looks at both sin and sanctification.
The Process of Christian Self-Examination
Puritan Thomas Watson says, “Self-examination is the setting up a court in conscience, and keeping a register there, that by strict scrutiny a man may know how things stand between God and his own soul. Self-examination is a spiritual inquisition; a bringing one’s self to trial. A good Christian doth as it were begin the day of Judgment here in his own soul. Self-searching is an heart-anatomy”
Self-examination involves reflection on our life and asking penetrating questions. Below there are questions that I try to ask myself.
- How have I loved my wife as Christ loves the Church today?
- In what ways has my parenting been marked by my selfishness instead of God’s grace?
- When have I talked when I should have listened?
- Is there anyone in my life that I am harboring bitterness towards? Why? What does that reveal about my own sinfulness, how am I not trusting in God’s power to reconcile?
- What am I trying to convince myself is right when I know it is wrong?
- Try meditating on this once a week in a Biblical framework. God will use it!
- What areas of my life do I think I am fine without God?
- Self-reliance is the opposite of what we are called to as Christians.
- What are some things that happened this past week that could only be a result of God’s grace?
- How has God graciously used me in the lives of others this past week?
- What sins are more noticeable now than they were before?
- Recognition of sin is a work of God’s grace.
- What opportunities has God given me? How have I used them?
- This could be either a rejoicing moment in God’s grace, or a sobering moment, and we repent of our selfishness.
- What has God taught me this past week?
- Who has God used in my life this past week?
What About You?
Right now, you can start the discipline of examination. God can and does use this to remind us of His grace and our need for Him. Start today.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 13:5–6.
 Thomas Watson, The Christian Soldier, or Heaven Taken by Storm, ed. Armstrong, Second American Edition. (New York: Robert Moore, 1816), 55.
Spurgeon quote from C. H. Spurgeon, “Consolation for the Despairing,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 19 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1873), 689.