The preacher was preaching on how to “be right with God.” His message was not a lot different from the last ten messages he preached. He loves his people and desires to see them walk in holiness.
Like any good shepherd, he carries his sheep in his heart. Each week he looks out over the congregation and is reminded of the waywardness of some of his people. His heart yearns for them to walk with Christ.
This is why he begins to go through a list of sinful activities, some of the things they are doing. The Bible is clear about holiness and he is too.
By the time he is done, he has developed quite the sin list–gossiping, slander, judgmentalism, adultery, porn, anger, and materialism. The more he talks the louder he becomes until he finally says, “If you want to be right with God, you’ve got to stop this behavior and start living for Christ.”
The Danger of Behavioral Modification
On the surface, this sounds good and right. It has a biblical ring to it, but the problem is, if you follow his logic, you’ll soon end up in the deep weeds of legalism. This preacher is unwittingly preaching another gospel, one the Bible scorns.
An examination of whether you’re in the faith cannot be in a person’s good or bad works. Anybody can do good or bad works and neither one gives you a clear indication of the person’s faith.
This is what some call behavioral modification in the counseling world. The biblical language would be legalism. Swapping works from bad to good does not change the heart. The preacher’s intentions, though kind and caring, were ultimately damaging.
Isn’t this an easy temptation to fall into? Aren’t you tempted at times to measure or examine your Christian walk based on the things you do? I think many parents are tempted to parent this way.
Sheila says her biggest fear is her daughter getting pregnant during her teenage years. The thrust of her parenting is to keep her daughter from becoming pregnant. While she gives a cursory nod to faith in Christ, she gives the majority of her energy to making sure her daughter does not get pregnant.
Her Christian counsel is theoretically no different than the counsel of the world. Our culture passes out condoms so kids won’t get pregnant. They have abstinence programs, which are devoid of heart motives.
Which is better: (1) a daughter who does not get pregnant until marriage and dies and goes to hell; (2) a daughter who does get pregnant and dies and goes to hell? While there may be a temporary earthly benefit to one over the other, in the greater scheme of things–the thing that really matters, there is no difference.
Christ-less Holiness or Christ-less Unholiness?
Let’s bring this thought into the church. Which is better: (1) a behaviorally holy church that has no affection for Christ; (2) a behaviorally unholy church that has no affection for Christ?
While there may be temporary consequential differences between the pregnant and non-pregnant teen, I’m not sure if there is any value between the holy and unholy churches who have no affection for Christ.
Both mock the gospel, have no favor from God, no effective or sustaining witness to the world, and no ability to export the gospel to the next generation. There is not a lot of difference between Christ-less holiness and Christ-less unholiness.
Let me ask you: are you tempted to parent like Sheila? Are you satisfied if your children don’t get pregnant during their teen years; don’t smoke weed; don’t drink alcohol; don’t hang with the wrong crowd, and are sociable, educated, and using their gifts?
Is your parenting more along the lines of the preacher at the beginning of this article? Do you want them just to do right? Is that the test–works–which will let you know if your children are in the faith?
I do think some parents would be wonderfully satisfied if their kids did not give them any trouble. If only their kids would toe-the-line, be obedient, and not embarrass them in front of others. I do think that would be enough for some.
These parents parent the way they think and live. The fruit does not fall far from the tree and how they think and how they live is the fuel that feeds their parenting model. They are behaviorists.
It is easier to follow the rules of cultural expectations and etiquette than to have vibrant affections for Jesus Christ. It is easier to be a principle-driven man than a Christ-affected man. At least these are my temptations.
Time to Test Yourself
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? – 2 Corinthians 13:5
As Paul was concluding his final argument to the Corinthians, he was asking them to test themselves to see if they were in the faith. He was laying out a challenge for spiritual self-examination. I think this is good for all of us to do from time to time.
- I most certainly want my friends to challenge me to see whether I’m in the faith.
- I try to discern, as much as one can, to see whether those I counsel are in the faith.
- I definitely spend some part of every day of my life thinking about whether my children are in the faith.
- My wife and I talk regularly about the realities of our faith–is it really real?
- We spend almost every Sunday night of our lives examining in the context of our small group whether we all are in the faith. We do this through conversations, observations, assessments, and other basic discipleship concepts.
Paul was asking one of the most important questions a Christian can ask another Christian–are you in the faith? How do you know? The real question here is what does it mean to test yourself or to examine yourself and how do you do it.
On many occasions, this verse has been taken out of context. It has been used as an evangelistic message, which was not what Paul was doing. Paul was talking to Christians, not unbelievers.
On other occasions, as in the preaching illustration earlier, this text can be used for guilt-motivated teaching. If not explained correctly, the listener of such messages would be tempted to think about a “to do” list, sin list, gift list, or their personal, specified spiritual criteria to see if he was saved or not.
It appears Paul assumes the folks he was talking to were believers. That would be the context of his two Corinthian letters (1 Corinthians 1:3-9). Therefore, he was asking the Corinthian believers to examine themselves to see if they were actually living in the faith they had genuinely believed in the past.
Good Works Can Deceive You
No Christian, especially Paul, would believe your faith (salvation) is based on your behaviors. Realizing no one can tell if another person is saved–only God truly knows this, behaviors most definitely should not be the test of salvation.
Examining behaviors as a test of salvation is a dangerous way of talking because it can lead to behavioral modification, as noted earlier. We already know our works do not save us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul most definitely knew works could be a misleading indicator of salvation.
Paul was not positioning his solution to their perceived faith dysfunction in their behaviors, but in Christ alone. Rather than telling them to change their behaviors, he wanted them to examine their relationship with Christ.
Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – 2 Corinthians 13:5
What he was really asking was whether they had a genuine relationship with the Savior. This is how Paul thought about testing a person’s faith. He said something similar in the earlier portion of his letter.
So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. – 2 Corinthians 2:8
This is an interesting observation: How do you know you are in the faith? Based on your works? Or, based on the regenerative work of the Spirit of God in a person’s soul? This is a directional question when discipling someone: (1) Do you focus their attention on their behaviors? (2) Do you focus their attention on their affection for Jesus?
When you are examining your faith or someone else’s faith, you want to be careful about examining behaviors. Honestly, there are people in our culture who act nicer than some Christians, but the Christians are going to heaven because they are born from above and the nice culture dude is not.
Anybody has the capacity to be nice. Our preacher friend is in danger of misleading his people down a deceptive path. While he may be able to persuade them to be nicer, this is not a good test when it comes to faith examination.
I do not want my children to just be nice. I want them to have genuine affection for Jesus Christ and out of that insatiable and ever-growing affection, there will be good works. Works are not the test, but affection for Christ who is living in them is.
A better way to examine yourself to see whether you’re in the faith should have more to do with your relationship with Christ than the works you do. For example, here are two indicators you can use to examine yourself to see whether you’re in the faith.
Where is Your Confidence?
Paul said he had been speaking to them about Christ, not about their works. Paul kept drawing them back to Christ, not back to their behavior as the sign of being right with God.
Our confidence must be in Christ alone. Our confidence is not in what we do, but the One we trust. One of the best tests you can give yourself is the level in which you are trusting the Savior. How meaningful and powerful and wonderful is Christ to you?
To examine yourself as to whether you’re in the faith, you have to examine where your heart is as it pertains to Christ. What are your affection levels for Christ? How would you describe your trust in Christ? Talk about your confidence in God and His Word alone.
If these indicators are strong, then your faith is strong and your faith will be revealed in your daily life–through your works. Here are some excellent questions to test yourself to see if you’re really in the faith. This first batch of questions are centered on the idea of confidence in Christ alone. Test yourself.
- What is your attitude toward suffering? When things don’t go your way, do you go your own way or stick to God’s way? While you don’t have to like your suffering, you can still trust in Him. Suffering will reveal your faith.
- How concerned are you about your image? Do you pretend to be more than you are and do you present yourself as more than you are? Image-centered people are not Christ-centered. They are more concerned about how they are perceived than caring about how Christ is perceived through them.
- Are you committed to a life of generosity? Do you give out of your abundance or out of your poverty? Do you give because of your confidence in Christ, knowing He will take care of you (Matthew 6:25-34)?
- What is your attitude toward weakness? How quickly do you confess your sins and repent of your sins? Do you present yourself as stronger (more perfect) than you really are?
- How quickly are you tempted to judge other people? Do you see your way as the only way, while looking down on other people who are different than you?
What is Your Calling?
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. 1 Corinthians 1:2
Paul says over and over he is not living for himself, but he is living for Christ. He knew who called him (1 Corinthians 1:1). This gives us another great test question. Has Christ called you? Are you living in accordance to His calling on your life?
- Who are you living for? Is your main goal in life to make God’s name great or your own? Whose identity means the most to you–who you are as a man in this world or who you are in Christ Jesus?
- What is your purpose in Christ? Are you a slave to your job or does your job serve you so you can make God’s name great in your world? Do you see your marriage more as an opportunity to give to your spouse or are you more concerned about what you are not getting?
- Are you standing in the gap for others? Are you willing to spend and be spent for others because of the compelling call to be like Jesus (Mark 10:45)?
- Are you living for Christ or your pleasure, your stuff, your way, your life?
While your behaviors can be an indicator of who you are as a person, the real test that examines whether you’re in the faith is rooted in your relationship with Christ alone.