Practical Teaching on Self-Examination
Self-examination is what a believer should do in order to make salvation sure, to reveal sin or negative trends, and to promote growth and maturity. Christians ought to make sure of their salvation because death awaits (Heb. 9:27, Ecc. 3:19), consequences for a life lived are eternal (Rom. 2:9-10, Matt. 25:31-46, 2Thess. 1:9-10), and because the soul is precious (Ps. 49:7-8, Gen. 2:7, Mk. 8:36).
Self-Examination also promotes growth and maturity in the Christian's life. When believers examine themselves, areas that need improvement are revealed, sin and the need for daily repentance is discovered, joy of salvation is increased, God is honored, and it leads to assurance. Some areas for improvement might include: a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2), increased desire to pray (1Thess. 5:17), the need for humility (Jms. 4:10), mortification of the flesh (Rom. 6:5-14), the necessity of reading and meditating on the word of God (1Pet. 2:2), a closer walk with Christ (Ps. 42:1-2), and the need to grow in Christlikeness (Rom. 8:29).
The daily need for repentance will also be revealed when a believer examines himself. Self-examination unveils tendencies and sin (Rom. 7:7), unmasks temptations and weaknesses (Rom. 7:13-25), heightens the awareness that believers are to die to sin (Rom. 6:11), develops hatred of sin (Rom. 7:17), teaches to treasure the grace and forgiveness of the Lord (1Tim. 1:12-17), and leads to cherishing the imputed righteousness of Christ (Is. 61:10).
The joy of God's amazing salvation is increased upon examination. A Christian learns to enjoy Christ, his person, and his work (Rom. 5:11, Jn. 15:11, 1Pet. 1:8). When salvation is assured and believers are growing and repenting, then even trials and hardships can be endured because of the joy they produce and the lessons they teach (1Thess. 5:16, Col. 1:11-13). This leads to worship. Reflecting on God and his gifts moves one to worship and praise (1Pet. 2:9, Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).
When a believer examines his life, and sin is revealed and repented of, and growth happens, and joy is increased, God is seen as worthy. After all, it is God who is at work. It is God who saved us. It is God who is keeping us saved. It is God who is sanctifying us. It is God who is causing us to grow and who is filling our hearts with praise. It is God who gives assurance, guides through the difficult times, teaches us during those times, and fills us with joy.
Is self-examination taught in Scripture? It is. It is actually commanded and assumed. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2Pet. 1:10). “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test” (2Cor. 13:5)!
If the word of God instructs believers to examine themselves, then why don't most Christians practice it? There are any number of reasons. It may be that some believers are self-righteous. They may not see the need for looking at themselves, measuring themselves according to God's standard, and repenting. This happens often when people compare themselves to other people instead of God and his word. Some are simply legalistic and hypocritical. They do not need to examine themselves because they are “following all the rules.”
Others who do not examine themselves may be deceived by sin. Self-deception reigns in the hearts of many today. Some people are just deceived about their condition. They do not think of themselves as sinful, or “as bad as everyone else.” They may also be deceived about the consequences of sin. Since their sin is not that bad, there are not any devastating consequences that need to be feared, so all is well. Even more sad, and perhaps heart wrenching, may be the fact that some people are deceived about the way of salvation. It may be that a person accepted Christ and then led to believe that that is it. Once a person gets “saved,” it is smooth sailing. Or so they think.
Other reasons for the lack of self-examination may be self-flattery, they simply have never been taught or shown the need for looking at one's life and fruit, they may be lazy or apathetic, or pride may be involved. Self-examination is humbling and difficult. It takes time and effort to examine and criticize oneself.
With all this in mind, how do you examine yourself? Prayerfully. Christians ought to be bringing everything to the Lord in prayer. Ask God to give you grace, to illumine you, and to speak to you through his word. Read the word of God and apply the text to your life. Beg God for conviction and sorrow for sin and then the grace to repent.
Look at your life and ask a series of questions. Be willing to change. Am I bearing fruit? What kind of fruit am I bearing? What motivates me? Are these proper motivations? Am I growing in Christlikeness? Am I convicted when I sin? Do I quickly repent of sin? Do I desire communion with the Lord? Do have a desire to love and fellowship with the people of God? Do I long to be in the word? Is my hatred of my sin growing? Do I have joy? What robs me of my joy? Do I have goals? Are these goals being obtained? Can I worship the Lord no matter the circumstances? Do I recognize pride in my heart? Do I see the ever increasing need for the grace of God? Am I growing in humility? Am I a good steward of the many gifts and blessings that the Lord has given? Do I depend on myself or the Spirit and word of God? Do I pray? Do I have a desire to pray? What am I praying for? Our my prayers selfish and one-dimensional? Do I witness for Christ? Do I have a zeal to glorify God in all things. Am I evangelistic? Am I accountable to another mature believer? How do I treat other people?
These are just a few of the many questions that believers can ask themselves. This is a good place to start. The main point is this- Christians are saved from the penalty of their sin by the person and work of Christ, but it is our responsibility to grow more like Christ. To do this, we must look at ourselves. We must examine our lives, motives, speech, desires, etc. according to Scripture. When we find something that does not align with the word of God, we are to repent, thank God for revealing this to us, ask God for forgiveness, pray for grace and strength, be more discerning, and learn from our sin and mistakes. Praise God- he has given us his word and Spirit. He does not give up on us. He even has a plan in all of this. Examine yourself and give God the glory.