Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Examine Yourself

By Dennis Pollock



At the end of Paul's second letter to the Corinthian believers, he shares what I consider a highly significant exhortation. He tells them that they must "examine themselves." Paul writes:


Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Corinthians 13:5)


I have to believe that this is one of the most under-preached verses in all of Paul's writings, especially these days. It is actually pretty shocking, when you think of it. To "examine" is to analyze for the purpose of determining the genuine vs the false. Paul is suggesting that not all of these "believers" in the church may be genuine Christians. And just to be safe he suggests that they do an examination of themselves, "test themselves" to see if they pass the test and are in fact born-again children of God.


What makes this especially strange in this current generation of believers are the numerous churches and pastors who tell us that if you think you are a believer, then you surely are a believer. There should be no examination necessary, because, after all, if you have mentally assented to the doctrines of the Bible, your lifestyle is immaterial. Is not the true mark of a Christian the fact that they only believe, only believe, and only believe?


Did They Believe?


But these Corinthians to whom Paul wrote did believe, at least in their own minds. And had you questioned them, they would surely have told you that, yes, they believed that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, and yes, they believed that He rose from the dead the third day, and yes, they believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Therefore, they must be Christians. They surely would pass muster on any theological test.


Curiously, Paul does not give any set of standards as to what would pass or what would fail during this examining of ourselves. He simply said that we should check and see if we are in the faith. But anyone who knows the Bible well will know that the apostle John goes into great detail on this issue in the book we call 1 John. John shares numerous thoughts as to who fails and who passes any kind of spiritual examination to determine just who is or is not "in the faith." Let's look at a few of the requirements he lists.


In John's short epistle we do not have to wait long before he rips into this issue. In the first chapter John declares:


If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6)


They Think They Are – But They Are Not!


Similar to Paul, John suggests it is quite possible to think one is a follower of Christ, and yet not be a true follower, a genuine child of God. If we are telling our whole community that we have fellowship with Jesus, that we walk with Jesus, but we are walking in darkness, we are lying. We are saying something, and presumably believing something that is entirely false. In the second chapter he writes:


He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)


Notice that both verses make a big deal about "saying." "If we say we have fellowship with him…" and then in the next chapter John writes: "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments…" These people are "say-ers." They say they know God and Christ. They say they have fellowship with the Lord. They say they are children of God. But their saying and their experience contradict each other. If you did an interview with them and asked them if they believed in God, they would say, "Of course I do." If you asked them, "Do you believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world?" they would say, "I sure do!" They would say all the right things but saying the right things and being in a right relationship with God through Christ are two different things.


Here is what John says: When people say they know God but do not keep His commandments, they are liars – they do not know Him at all. But many people today are saying that as long as you believe and say the right things, you are automatically saved, since you are obviously a believer. But what kind of a believer flagrantly disobeys the express commandments of God? If a man says he believes that cigarettes cause cancer, but he smokes five packs of cigarettes every day, what kind of a belief does he have? Not a very potent one! He may believe with his head, but he certainly does not believe in his heart. And so it is with those who say they know Christ, but lie, steal, fornicate, and beat their wives. They can say "Halleluia" and "God is good" and "I believe" all day long, but all their saying doesn't make their relationship real. According to John they are liars, and the truth is not in them.


Light or Darkness


John is not finished with this issue. He writes:


He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. (1 John 2:9)


Real Christians will love their brothers and sisters, not hate them. And if you do hate your brother or sister, if you despise them and would love to see them sick or hurt or dead, if you constantly speak evil of them and do not have a single good word to say about them, you are in darkness, no matter how many times you repeat: "I'm in the light, I'm in the light, I'm in the light!"


But John is determined to push this theme still harder, and in the next chapter he writes:


Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning… Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. (1 John 3:7-9)


Like Your Master


Things are black and white with John. You live a righteous life – you are like your Master Jesus. You live a sinful life – you are like your master, the devil. In fact, John is so insistent on this that he declares if you have been born of God, if you have truly been born again, you cannot sin. God's righteous seed is in you.


This is where most people, in fact most Christians would protest, "Wait a minute, John! Are you saying that it is not even possible for a Christian to sin? Because if that is true, there's not much hope for any of us." And I do not believe John was saying that it is not possible that any Christian could ever sin in any fashion. After all, in the second chapter he writes:


These things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)


We should not want to sin, we should not plan to sin, but if we do sin, we have Jesus as our Advocate with the Father. So why does John say later that if we have been born of God we cannot sin? Clearly, he is saying that we cannot go on with the wicked, ungodly, selfish, immoral lifestyle that was once our natural habitat. We may slip up here and there, but as children of God who have our Father's nature in us, we cannot disobey our Father's commandments regularly, flagrantly, continually, blatantly, and unashamedly.


The Ultimate vs the General


One thing we need to understand is the difference between the ultimate and the general concepts of good and evil. For example, in the ultimate sense no one is good; we are all evil. Paul writes, "There is none righteous, no not one." (Romans 3:10) Jesus declares, "No one is good but One, that is, God." (Mark 10:18) And yet in a more general sense there are good men and women. The Bible says about Barnabas: "For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." (Acts 11:24). God said to the devil about Job: "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" (Job 2:3). And Luke describes Zacharias and Elizabeth as "righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" (Luke 1:6).


Were Barnabas, Job, Zacharias, and Elizabeth exceptions to the "there is none righteous" rule? Were they entirely sinless from birth to death? Of course not. But in a more general sense they were "good" people. They followed the Lord the best they could with the knowledge they had. And they received amazing compliments in the word of God. In a general sense they were good; in the ultimate sense they were sinners like all of humanity.


In the same way John tells us that, in this general sense, we cannot go on sinning the way unbelievers do. We have received a new nature; the Holy Spirit now lives in us, and we cannot continue to live like we once did. And if we do continue in the same sinful, selfish, lustful manner that we did before our profession of faith in Jesus, it must be that we are still in the darkness.


I believe all of this demonstrates what we should look for when we follow Paul's advice to "examine ourselves" to see whether we are in the faith. We will not find sinless perfection, but we should find a transformed life. We should find that we are not the same person we were before we experienced Jesus. And hopefully, when the ultimate judge, the Lord Jesus, examines us to see whether we have lived our life "in the faith" we will not (to use Paul's words) "be disqualified." Our lives, our behavior, our love for others, and our eagerness to be a blessing to people will demonstrate that we were and are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.




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