All of us undergo a variety of examinations in our lives: tests in school, physical exams, job reviews, etc. Sometimes we find them less than pleasant, especially when we see the results. But we take them because we understand they are for our good.
Three New Testament passages call for a self-examination, each with a different emphasis. Let’s consider them.
1. Test to see if you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Some at Corinth questioned Paul’s standing, especially his apostleship. He suggested they consider their own situation. If they passed the test and found themselves in the faith, it would confirm Paul as well since he was the one who had taught them.
The question posed here is a serious one. “Am I in the faith?” “Am I in Christ?” Before answering one must know how to be in Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). The faith here spoken of is a conviction based on the word of God. Baptism is the immersion in water of a penitent believer for (unto) the forgiveness of sins (Romans 6:3-4; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). If you have not complied with these conditions, you have failed the first test!
But observe that this command to examine self is addressed to church members, to those who at one point have obeyed the gospel. Let us not assume that initial obedience to God’s word answers the question for all time. It is possible to stray from the truth (James 5:19), to be taken captive through deceit (Col. 2:8), to go too far and not abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9), or to simply make shipwreck of your faith (1 Timothy 1:20). It is those who continue walking in the light who have the promise of the cleansing of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7); only they pass this first self-examination.
2. Examine yourself as you eat the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:28). The Corinthians had turned the Lord’s Supper into a common meal. Paul told them that in view of such conduct they would be better off not to come together. Lest they take him at his word, he proceeded to explain the proper place and significance of the Supper as a memorial of Christ’s death. He then added, “Therefore [in view of its significance] whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (vv. 27-28).
What are we looking for in this examination? Some would say to see if we are in the faith, to see if we are worthy to partake. It is true that Jesus placed the Supper in His kingdom (Mark 14:25) and its citizens are the only ones who may rightly partake of it. But for one to be worthy to eat and drink means he is worthy of Christ’s sacrifice, and none of us would qualify on that count. There must be some other interpretation.
Paul explains what this examination is about in the next verse. “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.” To partake in a worthy manner is to judge the body rightly: to understand the special meaning of this eating and drinking as opposed to sharing a common meal. That is what we must look to see if we are doing.
3. Examine your own work (Galatians 6:4). “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another” (vv. 3-4). Like the Pharisee of Luke 18, we sometimes take comfort in being “not like other people.” But whatever “boasting” we do must be in our own work itself, not in comparison to what others are or are not doing. And my primary concern should be my work, not someone else’s.
There are several questions we might ask ourselves in examining our work. First, Is what I am doing pleasing to God? Not everything in which we may be engaged is necessarily consistent with God’s will. We are taught to “walk as children of light, . . . trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8, 10). The Psalmist said, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).
Another good question is, Am I doing what God intends? One might avoid doing wrong and still be displeasing through a failure to do right. The Parable of the Talents teaches us to use the talents and resources God has entrusted to us in His service. Just how much are we contributing to the Lord’s kingdom?
A third question that merits our attention is this: How successful is my work? Measuring success is difficult at best. In some cases we may not live to see the fruits of our labors. On other occasions what seems a success may in time turn out to be otherwise. And there are many factors which may contribute to failure which are beyond our control. In spite of these complications, we would do well to examine our labors to see what improvements are possible in the way we do the Lord’s work. In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, Paul put it this way: “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
These self-examinations are for our own good. They help prepare us for the day when God will examine us. Let us make good use of them that by His grace we may pass that final test and enjoy eternal life.