You may have heard these words in a sermon. Maybe you’ve handed them off to others. Perhaps they’ve rung a spiritual alarm in your heart. They come from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.”
This exhortation is often used to motivate careful self-examination–to see if we really believe in Christ, to see if we are actually walking with the Lord, to test if we are genuine disciples or phony hypocrites.
And there is a time for this kind of self-examination. The Sermon on the Mount (the end of chapter 7 especially), the woes on the Pharisees (Matt. 23), and the seven letters of Revelation (Rev. 2-3) come to mind. But self-examination becomes a problem when we don’t believe were allowed to pass the exam. Some Christians turn introspection into annihilation. And some of our heroes don’t always help. There is a strand in some Puritan divines–and I love those dead guys as much as anyone –that so delineates all the sins on our sinny sin sins that we scarcely feel it possible to call ourselves Christian. Pound away with the law, but don’t hammer out the faith.
The thing we often miss with 2 Corinthians 13:5 is that Paul expects the Corinthians to pass the test. He is writing to defend his apostleship, and the chief ground for his defense is the Corinthians themselves. They want proof that Christ is speaking through weak little Paul (v. 3). He offers their lives as proof. The Corinthians ought to test themselves to see whether they are in the faith because Paul knows Jesus Christ is them, so they will not fail the test (v. 5b). Consequently, Paul will not fail their test (v. 6).
So go ahead and encourage one another to examine the heart. Let’s be honest and see if we are in the faith. Let’s test whether or not Christ is in us. But as we put our “in-Christness” to the test let’s not forget it’s okay to give ourselves a passing grade. To God be the glory.