Self-examination is not easy nor always pleasant. But Christians must do so to confirm our faith and assure our hope in Christ. The doctrine that a Christian cannot fall from God’s grace and be lost is patently false (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-14; 2 Pet. 2:20-22). In today’s text, the exhortation warns of being disqualified (“unapproved, rejected,” castaway, reprobate, G96). Paul himself was not immune to the possibility of being disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27). He uses two words in today’s text to urge us to avoid being rejected by the Lord. To prevent such spiritual disaster, we must (1) Examine ourselves. We must expend effort to test and scrutinize ourselves, to explore our conduct and our heart’s motives, attitudes, and aspirations that prompt our actions. The standard we examine ourselves against is “the faith,” the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:11, 23; Jude 3). Do the heart and behavior align with the word of Christ? (2) Test ourselves. This word means to discern whether we are approved. Vine says it means “to prove with a view to approving” (Vine, II:22). We must discern whether our assessment shows “that Jesus Christ is in” us. If it does, then good. Keep it up. If it shows we are deficient, repent and practice righteousness (2 Cor. 12:20-21; Rev. 2:5). Christians use the gospel to examine (inspect) and test (approve) ourselves. By conforming to it, we know (recognize) ourselves and are accepted by Christ.
Evil comes in different forms, and we must not be ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11). False prophets come in sheep’s clothing but are devouring wolves (Matt. 7:15). False apostles and deceitful workers appear as “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Worldly wisdom is an imposter posing as truth (1 Cor. 3:18-20). Immorality presents itself as the answer to our longings but delivers death (Prov. 6:24-29; Gal. 5:19-21). False teachers bring in “destructive heresies” while endearing themselves to the naïve (2 Pet. 2:1-3; Rom. 16:17-18). We must test (examine) everything to approve what is excellent and abstain from evil in every form it takes (Phil. 1:9-11). That requires a standard by which to test all things. The “word of the truth of the gospel” is the only objective and verifiable standard of divine teaching and holiness that impartially judges right and wrong (Jno. 12:48; 17:17). Inspired Scripture must have the final say in “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3-4). Learn God’s word and examine “all things” by its truth (2 Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11-12). Then, confidently cling to “what is good” and refuse “every form of evil.”
3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:3–5, NKJV)
The willingness and ability of a mature Christian to bear the burden of a fellow disciple overtaken by sin (and attempting to restore him, Gal. 6:1-2). This requires humbly examining oneself and accepting one’s spiritual responsibility (“bear his own load,” v. 5). Here is the essential meaning and application of verses 3-5. Without this preparation of faith and character we are ill-equipped to “fulfill the law of Christ” when others need help overcoming sin (Gal. 6:2). The mature Christian understands he (or she) is not the savior of the fallen; the Lord is. He is merely a servant of the Lord doing His work. The mature Christian’s joy in doing this work does not come from measuring himself against the failures (or successes) of others. Mature Christians rejoice in doing their duty (“his own work”) and giving Christ the glory and honor (Lk. 17:10). Our responsibility is to fulfill the law of Christ and to love one another by helping restore the fallen. Pride and self-promotion prevent us from fulfilling this task. “Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
1 Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip. 2 Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart. 3 For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth. (Psalm 26:1–3, NKJV)
David asks Jehovah to judge him and pronounce sentence over his life. David cites his integrity, faith, and a life lived in God’s truth as guideposts for God’s examination. The psalm continues to describe some specific ways David conducted his life within these parameters. Note that David was not exalting himself; he knew his sins, for God’s mercy and steadfast love (“lovingkindness”), was always before him. The temptation arises to judge and approve ourselves in matters of faith and truth. But, self-judgment does not justify us before the Lord, even when we know nothing against ourselves. “For I know of nothing against myself, yet He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4). The Lord will judge us on the last day (2 Cor. 5:10). Will it be a day of glory or tears? With David, let us faithfully live in the hope of God’s redemption. “But as for me, I will walk in my integrity; Redeem me and be merciful to me” (Psa. 26:11).
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV)
The possibility of Christians becoming disqualified and lost (severed from Christ, fallen from grace, Gal. 5:4) is both implied and explicitly stated here. To be “disqualified” means to be “unapproved, i.e., rejected” (Strong’s Dictionary). Conversely, the one who is accepted is “in the faith,” that is, “Jesus Christ is in you.” To know which is true of us, Christians should do three things. 1) Examine ourselves. Like an assayer tests “a metal or ore to determine its ingredients and quality” (Merriam-Webster), we must “endeavor to discover the nature or character” (BDAG) of ourselves. Am I “in the faith” (in harmony with the gospel, Eph. 4:1), or am I deceiving myself (Gal. 6:3; Jas. 1:22-26)? 2) Test ourselves. This word means to “try, prove, put to the test,” “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness” (Thayer, BDAG). We must test all things, then hold fast to what is good, and reject evil (1 Thess. 5:21-22). This includes a close, careful examination of our own work and responsibilities (Gal. 6:4-5). 3) Know ourselves. This requires humility (1 Cor. 8:2). The Scriptures help us know ourselves the way God knows us (Heb. 4:12-13). God’s word corrects us so we may live in the faith, have Christ in us, and be approved before God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2:15; Eph. 3:17).
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23–24, NKJV)
The sweet psalmist of Israel understood God already knew his every thought, word and deed (Psalm 139:1-6). Still, David asked God to examine him, to verify his heart was pure, and his way was holy. David’s earnest desire was to be led by God to everlasting life. Like David, we must acknowledge that God knows us better than we know ourselves. We must be open to His examinations of us, and choose to be led by Him “in the way everlasting.” How is this accomplished? As we let God’s word into our hearts, it explores the recesses of our souls (see Hebrews 4:12-13). As we believe His word and follow it, sin is replaced with God’s merciful salvation (Acts 2:37-42). In the joy of salvation, His word lights our path to eternity (Psalm 119:105; 1 John 1:6-7). God is at work examining us, when we use His word to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).
3 You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. 4 Concerning the works of men, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. 5 Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip. (Psalm 17:3–5, NKJV)
David resisted sin when he had the purpose of heart not to sin by his words, and by carefully avoiding the sinful works of men. Our faith ought to compel us to also purpose in our hearts not to speak evil, and, to keep away from the path of sin. David’s purpose of heart not to speak sin also led him to obey God’s word (“the word of Your lips”) in order to keep away from those who would bring destruction into his life. And so, with purpose of heart, being guided by God’s word, David was sure that God would uphold his steps and keep him from slipping into sin. When David sinned, it was precisely because his purpose faltered and his trust in God’s word failed. That is what happens when we sin, too. When God examines your heart, may he see your resolve to speak what is right, and to do His words. If so, you will be walking upon the solid ground of faith.
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16, NKJV)
It is much easier to watch others and form opinions about them, than it is to carefully look at ourselves for our own spiritual deficiencies. And so, Paul warned the evangelist Timothy of this temptation. Self-inspection is required if we are to improve our personal faith and character. Just as building inspectors use a building code to test the integrity of buildings, self-examination must be made using a standard by which we test our attitudes and actions. The only reliable standard to use is the doctrine of Christ; the doctrine preached by Christ’s apostles and available in the Scriptures. Timothy was to teach this doctrine, and use it to examine himself. Careful attention to ourselves is not complete unless we actually do the things we have been taught. So, look at yourself through the lens of God’s word and then, do His will. Your salvation is secured as you do this. And, you will be helping save others, too.
The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17, NKJV)
The one who defends himself is not always right. Indeed, all the facts must be heard to make a righteous judgment. But, without thought of objectivity, fairness and kindness, the gossiping talebearer notoriously takes one side of an issue and spreads it around as if it were the whole truth. Frequently biased in heart, this person hears one side of a story, soaks it in “as gospel truth” and then spews it out. Many are harmed by such recklessness. How very unwise it is to decide an issue without hearing all sides of the matter (see Prov. 18:13). So, be willing to be examined by others to be sure you are right. Additionally, be careful to thoroughly examine a situation before reaching a conclusion. By doing so you will save yourself and others much trouble.