In my last post we tried to dispel some false conceptions regarding self-examination, and I mentioned there are at least five reasons every Christian should be concerned with cultivating this discipline. In this post we will look at the first of these reasons.
The first reason self-examination is vital for any Christian is to make sure you are truly and genuinely converted. Recently the news media was abuzz over a newly released Pew Research Poll showing a precipitous drop in the number of Americans who identify themselves as Christian.
Contrary to the media’s take, this poll does not indicate there are fewer Christians rather it simply shows a significant number of people who once claimed to be Christian have given up the pretense they actually were. Man’s tendency toward self-deception is graphically described in Isaiah 44:6-20. This self-deception is summed up in verse 20, “a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” In other words, not only is a self-deceived person incapable of doing anything to save himself, he is not even able to comprehend the fact that he is incapable of saving himself.
Therefore they continue to pursue a course of self-salvation, constantly deceiving themselves that they are indeed Christians when in reality they are not. They look for a cure from the same hand that wounded them. This is the nature of deception, it presents things to the mind in a way other than as they really are. They will fix on remedies that cannot cure their disease, but will only make them forget they are sick. There is nothing more common than for people to deal with their convictions of conscience this way. They see their sickness and feel their wounds, and go to the Assyrians (Hos 5:13). Self-deception comes in many forms.
Some think that they are Christians simply because of the conditions under which they live. The vast majority of those who call themselves Christians do so because, by God’s providence, they were born in a country and family where Christianity is professed. If they had been born into Islam they would be Muslim; if Buddhism they would be Buddhists, and so on.
As a result they assume they are Christians even though they have never experienced any conviction of sin, never had a new birth, have no desire to be please God, no desire to understand His will, and no desire to know His word. This was the false assurance of the Jews who demanded that Jesus be crucified, “We are Abraham’s offspring…Abraham is our father.” (John 8:33, 39).
Some think they are Christians because they do and have done so much for their salvation, but they have never done what Jesus demands of all who would be His disciples. They think they are striving for the kingdom of God, they are involved in many good works, they make a great outward show of religion, but all their works are simply a means of impressing themselves and others with their own self-righteous piety and an attempt to convince themselves and others that they are truly converted. Their striving is not a sincere seeking of God, but rather a striving to do for themselves that which is the work of God. Many are deceived in this way. They never realize they need a righteousness that is outside of, and alien to themselves, not one that emanated from themselves and their own self-effort (Mt 5:20).
Some think they are Christians because of a decision they made at one time in their life. They think that it is an easy thing to be converted; that it is something that lies within their own power at any time they decide to set themselves to it. They see conversion as nothing more than mentally acquiescing certain facts about Jesus. Or perhaps at some point they became convinced that they were on a path to eternal damnation and out of a fear of hell and a desire to avoid its torments they turned to Jesus.
But the character of their belief is nothing more than the belief possessed by demons (Jm 2:19). All demons acknowledge the biblical facts about Jesus, but they do not love Him or serve Him from a grateful heart. The demons would profess a belief in Jesus if they thought it would spare them the torments of hell. A faith which is no more than that possessed by demons is not saving faith, but a self-serving faith born out of a love for self and self-preservation, not love for God nor love for Jesus.
Some people think they are Christians because they turned to Jesus during a time of crisis in their life. They were told that if they gave their life to Jesus He would intervene in their circumstances. Whatever their situation, Jesus would meet their felt need and improve their temporal situation. They came to Jesus because they were attracted to one or more of the promised temporal benefits. But it was this same “miracle faith” that attracted the multitudes to Jesus. They followed Him because He healed their diseases and fed them bread (John 6:26). Their “miracle faith” was not true saving faith, which proved itself by abandoning Jesus after He explained what it meant to truly follow Him (Jn 6:66).
Some think they are Christians because at one time they were brought to feel a great deal of emotion and affection for Jesus. They had an “experience”. They call Him their friend and tell of the love they have for God, and how they have found themselves drawn to Him at different times. But if they love Him so intensely, why do they take more care to please their own desires than to please Him; why do they make so little effort to understand His word; why do they give so little weight to His commands; why do they chafe under His yoke; why do they think so little of His honor and glory; why do they allow themselves to practice what they know He hates and forbids? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, 21, 23). Any profession of love for God that does not manifest itself in a pattern of trust in and obedience to His word is a hollow, specious profession and not true saving faith.
Given that our fallen flesh is prone to self-deception, and that self-deception can take so many forms, and that the eternal consequences of self-deception are so very real and terrifying, the discipline of self-examination is indispensable for anyone who professes to be a Christian. So why is this discipline so rarely practiced and even more rarely emphasized as a necessary part of the Christian life? There can be only one reason, and that is people do not see the need. If they truly felt themselves deserving of God’s judgment and wrath, and if they sincerely believed God’s terrifying threats of eternal damnation applied to them, they would waste no effort “to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Peter 1:10).
God’s threats of eternal, never ending, never subsiding wrath and punishment in a real, literal hell are not taken seriously by most people. They have persuaded themselves that they have some foundation for believing that they will escape God’s judgments. They make their condition to appear in their own eyes better than it really is. Self-deceptions such as these keep people from seeing their danger and encourage them to go on secure in their false assurance, never turning from it until death overtakes them. Not until they are overtaken with their punishment do they realize all their hopes were false.
Everyone hopes to go to heaven, and no one thinks they will miss entering into some sort of eternal bliss. If anyone had any doubt that they would go to heaven, and if they took God’s threats of hell seriously, they would be overcome by the greatest of fears. But if you are so sure that you are going to heaven when you die, why do you still fear death? People naturally fear the unknown, but the fact of death is not unknown. Everyone dies, and everyone knows that they will die and must die. A person’s fear of death does not lie in the fact of death itself, but rather in the uncertainty of what their state will be after they die. Isn’t the fact that you still have a fear of death sufficient reason to seriously examine yourself?
A person who is assured of heaven has no fear of death, but rather eagerly looks for and anticipates death. A bride does not normally dread her wedding day, but looks forward to it with eager anticipation; the groom eagerly anticipates being joined to his bride; a couple looks forward to beginning their life together as husband and wife. They await with excitement, hope, and joy the birth of their first child.
A young person eagerly anticipates being able to drive and get their first car. A child counts the days until Christmas, especially as the day draws closer. No one is fearful of or dreads something they have looked forward to and longingly anticipated, rather their excitement grows as the time they looked forward to draws closer.
The apostle Paul said he would “prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), and that his greatest desire was “to depart and be with Christ, for that is much better” (Philippians 1:23). For the Christian, death has lost its sting (John 11:25, 26). The stakes are too high not to seriously examine yourself to see whether or not you are living in a state of self-deception concerning your salvation. If the thought of death terrifies you that is a sign that your hope of heaven is not as sure as you imagine it to be.
There are only two types of people in the visible church; true Christians and those who claim to be true Christians; those who are saved and those who hope and imagine they are saved; those who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit and those who have not; those who love God and those who say they love God; those on the narrow way and those on the broad road that leads to destruction. Given that so many have already died in a state of self-deception and are now in torment awaiting their final judgment in an eternal lake of fire is it not the most reasonable course to make sure your salvation is genuine and your assurance of salvation is grounded in fact?