"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Here is a crucial test for all men and women to take who profess to be Christians. The word translated "reprobates" is the same word translated "castaway" or "disqualified" in I Corinthians 9:27. We may "fail the test," thus proving ourselves reprobates, castaways, or disqualified. While we do not believe it is possible for God's true elect to be deceived (Matthew 24:24), this is all the more reason why we must "give diligence" to make sure that we are chosen of God, by examining our "calling" to Christ, thus giving evidence of our "election" in Christ (2 Peter 1:10).
Some in the Corinthian church sought to examine Paul's credentials as an apostle (2 Corinthians 13:3), but Paul informs them that they themselves should be performing a self-examination rather than spending their time examining him. The exam they are to take is one which reveals if "Jesus Christ is in you." That is, were they truly justified by the merits of Christ, and were they the recipients of the life-giving Spirit of Christ? These are still the vital questions for all of us.
"I remind you that the Puritans recognized the need of this, and made provisions for it. They believed in being much alone with God and surveying their lives in His presence with an unsparing scrutiny" (Alan Redpath). In John and Charles Wesley's day (1730s), there was a Holy Club at Oxford, made up of men who examined themselves daily to test their love for God, and the simplicity of their faith in Christ. They came up with a long list of questions that they questioned themselves with. Though later most of them realized that this was "legalism" (being devoid of a true understanding of the gospel of free justification through the work of Christ alone), still the particular questions given here (only a partial list) are always good to ask ourselves, especially the first two and last two:
- Do I create the impression that I am a better man than I really am -- in other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- Do I disobey God in anything?
- Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
- Am I defeated in any part of my life, jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- Am I proud?
- Is there anybody whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard?
- Do I grumble or complain constantly?
- Is Christ real to me?
Do these questions speak powerfully to you? Do they make you angry? At any rate, they should be honestly looked at and meditated upon. There is nothing wrong with introspection, as long as it does not go to extremes (where you become critical and judgmental of those who do not think and act as you do). Experiences do differ in the Christian life, and we must never make "our experience" the norm for everyone else. But note, an unholy life is certainly the evidence of an unchanged heart, and an unchanged heart is the evidence of an unregenerate soul. There is no value at all in "grace" which makes us no different from what we were before! Scripture plainly tells us that we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10). That says it all. True faith does work! "Good works" are the evidence of true faith, but never its cause.