With this post we will conclude our series on the necessity of self-examination. If ever self-examination about our faith was needed, it is needed today. We live in an age of unique spiritual danger. The overwhelming majority of the professing church consists of unconverted people who are as unacquainted with the new birth as Nicodemus and know nothing of a changed heart.
Unconverted and incompetent pastors are leading multitudes astray (2 Tm 3:13). The lust for success and notoriety has produced countless Demas’. Everywhere people are turning away their ears from the truth and turning aside to myths (2 Tm 4:4). If you doubt this just consider the topics of bestselling “Christian” books. Apparently millions think Jesus really is calling, and that some people really have died, gone to heaven, and returned to tell us all about it, and that there really are five love languages.
Compromise with the world has become so commonplace that most do not even know what it is not to compromise. They have been serving two masters for so long they can no longer tell them apart. The doctrines of God have been so corrupted with the precepts of men that most cannot tell where one stops and the other begins. False and erroneous teaching is now the backbone of the Christian book market. Unbiblical practices that have no foundation in Scripture or precedent in church history have become so entrenched and generate so much revenue that to abandon them would be fiscal and numerical suicide.
As the prophet Hosea said of Israel, “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord” (Hos 5:4). Any pastor who questions these practices is more than likely to find himself without a ministry and very alone. Jonathan Edwards discovered this when he questioned the entrenched practice known as The Halfway Covenant – a practice begun decades earlier by his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. During this controversy Edwards wrote in his journal,
“A minister by his office is to be the guide and instructor of his people. To that end he is to study and search the Scriptures and to teach the people, not the opinions of men – of other divines or of their ancestors – but the mind of Christ. As he is set to enlighten them, so a part of his duty is to rectify their mistakes, and, if he sees them out of the way of truth or duty, to be a voice behind them, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.’ Hence, if what he offers to exhibit to them as the mind of Christ be different from their previous apprehensions, unless it be on some point which is established in the church of God as fundamental, surely they are obliged to hear him. If not, there is an end at once to all the use and benefit of teachers in the church in these respects – as the means of increasing its light and knowledge, and reclaiming it from mistakes and errors. This would be in effect to establish, not the word of Christ, but the opinion of the last generation in each town and church, as an immutable rule to all future generations to the end of the world.”
Never has the Protestant church been so inundated with the precepts of man and so neglectful of the mind of Christ (Mk 7:8). Never have there been so many venues for the widespread dissemination of falsehood and the doctrines of demons. Never before has light been so readily available but yet so thoroughly rejected. Nowhere do we have a more clear illustration of the consequences for ignoring the warning of Hebrews 2:1. Never in the history of America has there been a more challenging time to be a pastor, to call people back from where they have drifted, to be a voice saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
This brings us to the fifth and final reason self-examination is so desperately needed today, and that is to make sure we are truly bringing glory to God in all we do. It is the habit of fallen man to exalt and glorify himself, not God. Though as redeemed by Christ, anyone who has true love to God, seeking to obedience, will be glad to have assistance in this inquiry. There are two primary means by which we come to a knowing how to bring glory to God: a knowledge of Scripture, and knowledge of ourselves.
GLORIFYING GOD THROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF SCRIPTURE
If we are to glorify God in all we do, we must first know what it is that glorifies God. We must be told from heaven how to glorify the God of heaven. God has given us a true and perfect rule. His word is filled with “ought’s” and “must’s”.
We have a full and abundant revelation of the mind of God. But to what purpose is all this revelation of the mind of God if we neglect it for our own inventions and ingenuity, or we take no care to become fully acquainted with it? What good will it be to multiply sacrifices, or programs, or ministries, if we fail to know what glorifies God? Concerning all this, will God not say, “Who requires of you this trampling of my courts?” (Is 1:12), and, “In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the precepts of men” (Mt 15:9)?
In order for instructions to do someone any good they must first be understood. The same is true of Scripture. If Scripture is to be understood it must be in a form that is understandable. People who receive nothing understand nothing, and therefore do nothing. People do not love what they do not know. Everything that enters the heart must first pass through the door of the mind.
Truth must first be understood before it can be applied. A Christian is benefited by no more of Scripture than he understands, and only what he understands is profitable (2 Tm 3:16). Since we are told that all Scripture is profitable, all must be understandable. Therefore, the fundamental responsibility of every Christian is to make it his/her business to understand all of Scripture. Only Scripture is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Ps 119:105).
Given this duty, are not the greater part of professing Christians very much to blame for taking no more pains or care to become familiar with divine things? Is not biblical ignorance and theological drift the consequence of neglecting so great a salvation (Hb 2:3)? How can someone profess to glorify God, or even have a desire to glorify God when they remain willfully ignorant of what glorifies God?
Why should a pastor spend the greater portion of his time striving after knowledge unless it is that others may acquire knowledge by him? Teaching that does not result in learning is futile and a waste of time, both for the teacher and student.
Therefore, preaching that simply plays on emotions or only tells people what they already know or what they want to hear, and does not convey biblical truth and doctrine to the mind, is useless and of no profit to those who hear (Jer 23:32). Theology is the only branch of knowledge that concerns every single person of every age and every level of education and social standing. This can be said of no other field whether it is science, arts, philosophy, or literature. No other area of knowledge concerns the state of our soul or how we live day to day.
Our lack of knowledge in any other area does not greatly affect our temporal life or spiritual life, but there is no doctrine of Scripture that does not in some way or other concern the eternal interest of every single person. A pastor can be deficient in many areas, but if he is deficient in his understanding of Scripture he will be of little eternal use to his flock. If we truly desire to glorify God in all we do we should take great pains to be well informed of that which God requires and what he does not.
GLORIFYING GOD THROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF OURSELVES
The second means is knowledge of ourselves in relation to God’s word. We must not be like those who compare themselves with themselves and so deceive themselves (2 Cor 10:12).
Not only is this deadly on an individual level, but also a corporate level. For decades the church has been comparing itself with itself, and patterning itself after itself that it has drifted from the rule established by God. We should examine our heart and ways to see if they conform to or depart from the rules of Scripture. This requires the utmost effort and honesty – honesty with ourselves and with Scripture. Nothing is more common than for people to conform Scripture to their life rather than their life to Scripture, and to conform Scripture to their beliefs than their beliefs to Scripture.
One would think that we would be more acquainted with ourselves than anything else because we are always with ourselves and have an immediate knowledge of all our thoughts and actions. But in reality nothing is more difficult than having a true knowledge of ourselves because our hearts are desperately sick and deceitfully wicked. So how can we know ourselves?
First, join self-reflection with reading and hearing the word of God, comparing yourself and your own ways with what you read or hear. As Paul wrote to Timothy, all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness (2 Tm 3:16). God’s word is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hb 4:12). Strictly examine yourself in light of the rule of Scripture. Sadly, most people think of others, how someone they know lives in a way contrary to what is preached. It never occurs to them that what is preached applies to them, that they are the man.
Second, consider what others say of us; observe what others may charge us with, what fault they find in us. No one has the gift of infallibility. When someone from friendship, care, and concern points out any fault, it would be unwise as well as unchristian to resent such concern. Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Pv 27:5,6). In a day when no one is wrong and everyone is right we should rejoice that someone cares enough to show us our spots.
Third, when you see faults in others, consider whether the same fault resides in you (Rm 2:1).
Self-examination is an indispensable discipline for the Christian life, but how rare it is. Scripture is full of warnings to guard against being deceived, but despite God’s numerous warnings, most are deceived. Take heed to yourself, lest the day should come upon you unaware when self-examination will do you no good.