The Apostle Paul was asking one of the most critical questions a Christian can ask another Christian–are you in the faith? How do you know? The real issue here is what does it mean to test yourself or to examine yourself and how do you do it.
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The preacher was preaching on how to “be right with God.” His message was not a lot different from the last ten messages he taught. 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 passion for the flock 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 finishes, 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.”
Dangerous 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 thick 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 merely in a person’s good or bad works. Anybody can have good or evil behaviors, and neither one of those gives you a clear indication of the person’s faith.
This concept 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 a natural temptation to fall into at times? Aren’t you tempted to measure or examine your Christian walk based on the things you do? I think many parents are tempted to parent this way.
Mable says her biggest fear is that her daughter will become 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 exerts 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. (Of course, that is the best they can do.)
Which is better: a daughter who does not get pregnant until marriage and dies and goes to hell; 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, there is no difference.
Christ-less Holiness and Unholiness?
Let’s bring this thought into the church. Which is better: a behaviorally “holy” church that has no affection for Christ or a behaviorally unholy church that has no passion for Christ?
There is little value between “holy” and unholy churches who have no affection for Christ. Both mock the gospel, have no favor from God, no valid or sustaining witness to the world, and no ability to export the gospel to the next generation. We’re talking about the difference between Christ-less “holiness” and Christ-less unholiness.
Back to Mable — Are you tempted to parent like Mable? 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, but they are social, educated, and using their talents?
Is your parenting more along the lines of the behavioristic preacher? Do you want them only to do right? Is that the test (works) that 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.
These parents parent the way they think and live. The fruit does not fall far from the tree. How they believe and how they live is the fuel that feeds their parenting model. They are behaviorists. And pragmatists–oriented toward results primarily.
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 individual than a Christ-affected person. At least these are my temptations.
Your Affections Reveal Your Faith
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.
- 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 spend 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 real?
On many occasions, people have taken Paul’s verse out of context. They use it in 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 God did save them.
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). He was asking the Corinthian believers to examine themselves to see if they were living in the faith they had genuinely believed in the past.
Good Works Can Deceive You
No Christian, especially Paul, would believe that you base your faith (salvation) on your behaviors. Realizing no one can tell if God has saved another person–only God truly knows this, behaviors most definitely should not be the test of salvation exclusively.
Examining behaviors exclusively 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 actions 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 actions, 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 asking was whether they had a genuine relationship with Jesus. This worldview 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 idea 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 query is a directional question when discipling someone:
- External Direction: Do you focus their attention on their behaviors?
- Internal Direction: Do you focus their attention on their affection for Jesus?
When you are examining your faith or someone’s faith, you want to be careful about observing behaviors only. 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 person is not.
Anybody can be nice. Our preacher friend is in danger of misleading his people down a false 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 only to 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 love for Christ who is living in them is. For example, here are two indicators you can use to examine yourself to see whether you’re in the faith.
Test #1 – Where is Your Confidence?
Our confidence must be in Christ alone. Our faith 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 beautiful is Christ to you?
To examine yourself as to whether you’re in the faith, you have to question 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 healthy, 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. I’ve centered the questions in this section on the idea of confidence in Christ alone. Examine 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. Pain 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 others perceive them than caring about how folks see Christ 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 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?
Test #2 – 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 that he is not living for himself, but he is living for Christ. He knew who called him (1 Corinthians 1:1). This perspective gives us another excellent test question. Has Christ called you? Are you living per His calling on your life?
- Who are you living for when you think about your life? Is your primary goal in life to make God’s name tremendous 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 vocation serve you so you can make God’s name high 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.
Also published on Medium.