Should Christians “Test” Themselves to See if They are Genuine? #272
Happy Thursday to you, dear friends! Today we are talking about testing, one of the 14 most anxiety-inducing words in the English language. Even though it has been quite a long time since I was in high school or college, I want to tell you a story about a test…do NOT follow my example. In my freshman year of college, I was an English major – didn’t really care what my major was, since my plan was to graduate and jump into Criminal Justice graduate school, earn a Master’s degree, and then catch on with the FBI and work with agents Scully and Mulder. Didn’t quite work out like that, but I did enjoy English, and maybe learned a bit along the way. My second semester, I had a pretty hard teacher, and had a low B in the class heading into the final exam. I knew I had to study so I didn’t lower my grade, but I, not possessing the finest mind for scheduling in the world, thought my test was on Thursday, and therefore delayed studying until Wednesday night, of course. That Wednesday, I pulled out my handy-dandy syllabus, and discovered that my final exam – 25% of the grade! – had already happened on Tuesday. As I sat there, sweat dripping down my brow, I remembered Dr. Pedoto’s words, “there will be no rescheduling of this test – if you miss it, that will be a zero…be there.” Ice water ran through my veins as the cold chill of failure came over my soul. I had blown it, and I was an English major, and this meant I’d probably get an F+ or D- in the class. Eeek! So I just stared at my syllabus going through potential plans, when the worst plan in the history of academics formed in my mind. DO NOTHING. Don’t call, don’t beg for mercy, don’t do a single thing. And that dumb plan is what I did, dreading the entire Winter break as I awaited my grades to be mailed out. (They weren’t really posted on computer back then…not like today.) The grades came in, and to my delight and astonishment, the most ill-conceived plan in the history of plans had somehow worked – I had the same grade going into the test on my grade report. What happened? I have no idea – I thanked God, and never saw that professor again. My best guess is that she thought she lost my test, and just gave me the same grade on it that I had coming in.
When I think about testing, I think about stories like that. Unfortunately, we aren’t really talking about academic testing today, so I will give myself a solid C- for that intro, and that’s being generous. What it had in uniqueness is taken away by lack of applicability. Alas. You can do better, Mr. Thompson – see me after class.
Today’s Bible reading include 2nd Corinthians 13, our focus passage and 2nd Samuel 20, Psalms 75-76 and Ezekiel 27. 2nd Samuel is every bit as violent as you’d expect. In fact, it is more so, and today we will read about a severed head being tossed over a wall. For those of you that think I just made that up to be funny, I would love to see the expression on your face right around vs. 22. I wonder if Joab caught it? (I don’t think I would have.)
Let’s exit this grisly discussion and read the final chapter of 2nd Corinthians together, listen out for Paul’s command to test yourself, and be pondering what that might mean.
5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test. (2nd Corinthians 12:5)
I preached a fairly challenging message on this passage one time to a dearly beloved church that I used to serve. A good friend challenged me later with the question, “Wouldn’t it be better to reassure people of their salvation, rather than cause them to question it?” That is a good question, actually – and I wrestled with it for quite some time. I did not want saved people to doubt that Jesus had saved them; did not want to introduce doubt where no doubt should exist. However, thinking about Jesus’ teaching about the wheat and the tares – which indicates that His followers would be difficult to distinguish from false followers…I thought it a good thing to challenge the church with this verse, and to urge them to consider whether or not Jesus was in them. The fact is that Jesus says the road to life is narrow, and few find it, while the road to destruction is broad, and apparently most go down that road. Many people put their trust in ‘walking the aisle’ or some such thing in a church to save them – a decision made as a child, or something like that. Paul does not here tell the Corinthians to consider whether or not their conversion was real, but tells them to look at the present – IS JESUS IN YOU? This is both a powerful passage that testifies to the reality of the perseverance of the saints – Jesus will fully save those for eternity who are saved by grace through faith – no truly saved person will fall away from Jesus. It is also a powerful challenge to those who are trusting in something – anything – other than Jesus to save them. For those trusting in good works and church attendance, Paul asks, “Is Jesus in you? Test yourself!” For those trusting in the religion of their parents, Paul asks, “Is Jesus in you?” For those trusting in any other hope, Paul is saying, “Is Jesus in you?”
How do we test ourselves? That’s a great question, and I would begin that test looking for the fruit of the Spirit in my life, and the presence of Jesus in my life. The team over at Gotquestions.org has a very compelling and easy to understand answer to this question, so please allow me to refer to it here:
This was not the first time Paul had admonished the Corinthians to examine themselves. Earlier, he had observed the church participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. He told them, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Believers are to examine their motives, their actions, and the current condition of their hearts to make sure they don’t bring God’s discipline on themselves.
Paul’s primary concern was to bring spiritual health and wholeness to the Christian community in Corinth. If the individuals were genuinely in the faith, then they would know that Jesus Christ lived inside them. His Holy Spirit would be at work within them, promoting sanctification and moral living. But if their lives showed no evidence of the Spirit’s activity, then Jesus Christ was not indwelling them. And if Christ was not in them, they failed the test.
Rather than cross-examining others, believers are to stick to examining their own lives: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NLT). Paul made it a practice to test himself, too. He knew that no one could skate by God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 3:13).
The words examine yourself and test yourself mean essentially the same thing. Some Bible versions have “look carefully at yourself” or “ask yourself.” One way to test yourself is to check for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Jesus confirmed that true prophets of God are recognized by their fruits (Matthew 7:15).
A tough but spiritually beneficial question to ask ourselves regularly is, “What is my spiritual condition?” The prophet Jeremiah called God’s people to honest self-evaluation and repentance: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40). Scripture calls us to “test everything,” renounce evil, and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, ESV). We might consider making this our prayer as David did: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).