Self-Examination Is an Essential Christian Practice
Lloyd-Jones issued a warning decades ago that deserves being republished. He said,
‘Self-examination is not popular today, especially, strangely enough, among evangelical Christians. Indeed, one often finds that evangelical Christians not only object to self-examination, but occasionally even regard it as almost sinful. Their argument is that a Christian should look only to the Lord Jesus Christ, that he must not look at himself at all, and they interpret this as meaning that he should not examine himself.’
The conviction of Jones, along with the great tradition of Christian spirituality, was that self-examination is an essential discipline for Christians. This conviction was founded on passages like Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus warns against self-deception. In this passage Jesus says that there will be some on the Day of Judgment who – in spite of living intentional Christian lives – will hear the hope-demolishing words, ‘I never knew you.’ This warning is a call to beware of self-deception and to make sure that one’s faith is built on rock, not sand.
Four Inadequate Signs of Salvation
In the same passage Jesus mentions four inadequate signs of salvation. They are the following:
1 – Good Theology
Jesus says that some people will correctly identify him as ‘lord’ but nonetheless be rejected as ‘those who practice lawlessness’. Good theology is important – at some level essential – to salvation. Nonetheless, theology by itself cannot save. After all, the devil has a good sense of who God is; however, such knowledge has yet to draw him into repentance.
2 – Spiritual Passion
Note how Jesus says that some will cry out – not just ‘lord’ – but ‘lord, lord’. Hear the passion in their voices as they repeatedly cry out to Jesus. Like theology, passion is good. We ought to want to hear powerful preaching, to sing heart-lifting music. However, spiritual passion is not in itself a sufficient sign of salvation. One can feel surging emotions toward God without necessarily being marked as a child of God. Did Judas never feel affection or wonder for Jesus?
3 – Successful Ministry
Casting out demons, doing signs and wonders, prophesying in the name of Jesus – what better signs could there be of successful ministry. However, again Jesus tells us not to place any confidence on such external measurables. Success is not submission, and outward works cannot replace inward faith.
4 – Amazing God Experiences
Today Christians often mistake experiencing God with knowing God. For many Christians, seeing exorcisms and witnessing miraculous signs are evidence of belonging to the people of God. But the Word of God challenges this assumption. For evidence, consider the Israelites in the wilderness. How many of them saw the parting of the Sea or experienced the thunder and lightning of Sinai only to perish, condemned as sinners, in the wilderness. The warning remains for us today (Ps. 95).
The Sign of Salvation
What then identifies the children of God? Jesus is clear on this point (although we might not like his answer). He says, ‘He who does the will of my Father in heaven’ (21). Now in reading this we must be careful to interpret accurately what Jesus means by ‘doing the will of the Father’. Too many Christians would rashly accept this as ‘keeping the law’ or ‘being good’, only to fall as captives into the diabolical pits of legalism and performance-driven righteousness. What does Jesus mean by the will of the Father? He intends three things.
First, repentance. Jesus’ ministry began with a call to repentance (Matt. 3:17). This call remains today. The will of the Father is for sinners to admit their sinfulness and to turn away from their former self-idolising lifestyles toward God. Second, Jesus means discipleship. One of the first things we see Jesus doing is collecting disciples with the authoritative words, ‘Follow me.’ If stage one of faith is repentance, stage two is discipleship. Third, Jesus means submission. Once we step down the road of discipleship, the will of the Father is for us to give Jesus the freedom and power to rebuild us, as he wants, for the glory of God. Only Jesus can do this. He alone has the wisdom and the power.
So when examining ourselves, what should we look for? We should look for signs of living faith – for deep repentance, for the trust and dependency of discipleship, for the limitless submission of saying, ‘Jesus, my life is yours; make me into whatever you find beautiful.’ These signs are indisputable fruit of the gospel.