“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)
The morning meeting would be huge. A corporate account and personal income rested in the outcome of the meeting. Of all days to oversleep. No time to properly shower and dress. A quick glance in the mirror failed to reveal out of sequence buttons, unkempt hair, and a jelly stain on the lip. There was no time for a presentation review or a personal reminder of the names of the prospective clients. This is your one chance; it’s not the time to be partially prepared.
Tragically, that is how many Christians face the greatest test of their lives, the test of Christlikeness. They are only partially prepared.
A Biblical Mandate
How do we test ourselves so we can become more like Christ? One way is through self-examination. The very words imply observation and evaluation. They communicate a sense of gravity that something bigger is taking place. And the words are biblical.
“Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40, New American Standard Bible).
“But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
God has clearly spoken. The Lamentations passage teaches us that at the time of God’s discipline on his people for their stubborn sinful behavior, the call was for his people to examine themselves and return to the Lord. Looking up and crying out to God for mercy would be useless until there was an inward look to see where the real problem existed. And when found, a changed heart and life must occur.
But we must guard against thinking that this is Old Testament and doesn’t apply today. God now speaks using words that are repeated every Lord’s Day as the church meets around the Lord’s table. I still hear the words from my childhood being spoken, “Do this in remembrance,” and “Let a man examine himself.” We must not avoid it. We cannot escape it. These are God’s Words. The Lord’s Supper is a time when God says we are to examine ourselves.
And one would fail to speak the whole counsel of God if the exhortation to examine oneself were ignored. What Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter is striking. He responded to them concerning the attacks some had made on the genuineness of his apostleship and ministry by calling for them to examine themselves.
Specifically, he admonished them to do two things. One was to test themselves. The other was to examine themselves. To test is to measure according to an objective standard. To examine is to prove as genuine, such as to examine metals.
Belief and Authenticity
There are two actions we must constantly make in self-examination. One is that we must always be aware of what we believe. The Corinthians were to test themselves to see that they were in the faith. There is only one objective standard by which we can examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. That is God’s Word, the Bible. All Scripture is inspired of God. It is indestructible; it will be the very standard of judgment for all. Everything we believe and practice pertaining to our Christian faith must be in agreement with Scripture. There can be nothing added or omitted. God has spoken; he said what he means, and he means what he said. That’s not a harsh or mean-spirited statement. It is a theological position. God is Truth. It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, everything God said in the Bible is true. We must believe it. We must do it. We must speak it. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” Those words are Scripture, and they apply to us.
Additionally, we must examine ourselves for authenticity. I recently was given two gifts which have accompanying certificates of authenticity. It is my responsibility to keep the certificates so that all may know those products are what I claim; that they are genuine. Paul was inspired by God to write that we must prove ourselves as authentic Christians. Wow! That’s a major statement!
According to Acts 11:26 a Christian is a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (New King James Version). Therefore, it must be understood that a Christian is a person who is like Jesus. We cannot take this lightly. We must start applying the heat to ourselves as metal is tested for purity. We must ask ourselves hard questions about our attitudes, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Are we living to lead others to Jesus? Is the way we spend our money advancing Christ’s kingdom?
Take a personal inventory. What am I doing this week to grow in Christ? What Scripture have I memorized this week as an additional weapon against temptation? How have I expressed love this week to someone culturally despised? How have I helped someone in need today? Do my spouse and my children know today that I love them as Christ loves the church? Do my actions bring glory to God? Am I serving the Lord with zeal or because no one else will do it? When the church assembles, do I sing with joy and express genuine worship? Do I listen to my Bible teachers and preachers as though they are speaking God’s Word? What spiritual growth group am I actively engaged in? Who am I discipling? For whom has my heart been breaking today? For whom have I agonized in prayer today? Have I confessed any sin today? What attribute of God did I praise him for today?
Overcoming the Obstacles
It’s clear that self-examination is vital to our Christian growth. Why, then, is it so seldom practiced today? Here are two hindrances everyone deals with that interfere with self-examination. The first is time. Life is busy. There are appointments, work, family activities, chores, recreational pursuits, church responsibilities, civic responsibilities, and the list goes on. When that’s all done there is little time to focus on self. So a quick bedtime prayer and a few thanks for our food throughout the day are about all we can squeeze in. Surely God understands—so we reason.
Another reason we ignore self-examination is because it’s painful. Opening oneself up at the very core can be extremely uncomfortable. We see darkness, selfishness, greed, envy, weakness, lust, impurity, failure, waywardness, rebellion, and all sorts of things that we don’t want to admit are part of us. So we gloss over what is really there by ignoring it completely.
Reaping the Benefits
What good comes from taking the time to work through the pain of self-examination? One benefit is we are being faithful to God. Another benefit is we are protecting ourselves against sin. We don’t examine ourselves so we can feel badly; we examine ourselves so we can be holy. Finally, we will become more like Jesus as we examine ourselves in the light of his life revealed in the Bible. That is the greatest benefit because Christlikeness is the essence of Christianity.
Kerry Allen is Executive Director of Person to Person Ministries in Hillsboro, Ohio. His life passion is serving the Lord and being with his wife, children, and grandchildren.