Teaching series from 2 Corinthians


2 Corinthians 13:5

Teaching t05799


As we close out on this letter, we will take a close look at the subject of self-examination. Paul broaches this subject several times in his letters to the Corinthian Christians--and unless you look closely, he seems to contradict himself (SHOW ABBREVIATED PORTIONS OF EACH PASSAGE).

The key is recognizing the complexity of life, and studying each passage in context. When we do this, we find important advice about when we should engage in self-examination and when we should avoid it. Let's begin with the passage in 2 Cor. 13 . . .

Are you in the faith? (2 Cor. 13:5)

Read 13:5. (Note that NIV and NASB reverse usage of "test" and "examine.") At any rate, this is clearly an issue about which Paul says we should engage in some self-examination: are you in the faith? In other words, are you a Christian? God wants us to know where we stand on this issue, and we can know. According to this verse, if you are able to pass the test that you are "in the faith," then Jesus is in you.

NOTE: Paul does not say, "Test yourselves to see how close you feel to God/Jesus," or "Test yourselves to see how dramatic your conversion experience was," or "Test yourselves to see how righteous your behavior has been lately." Yet these are the usual ways many people try to answer this question. These are all subjective tests.

Rather, Paul says, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith." To be "in the faith" means to be able to affirm that you have put your faith in God's promise to reconcile you to himself through Christ. This is an objective test.

When I was a senior in high school, my grandfather died and left me $5000. My parents had me sign a card that authorized the transfer of that money from his estate into my savings account. In the months that followed, sometimes I felt wealthier and sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I acted richer and sometimes I didn't. But my possession of that money had nothing to do with how I felt or acted about it. It was based on the transfer of those funds authorized by my signature and the faithfulness of the bank to preserve those funds.

This is what God says our assurance of salvation should be based on. He provides objective promises in his Word, and when we ask for those promises to apply to us, they go "into the bank" and are preserved by him.

  • Read John 3:16. Have you put your trust in Jesus' death to forgive your sins and give you eternal life? If you can answer "yes" to this question, then according to the Word of God, you have eternal life. Sometimes you will feel more secure than others, but your security isn't based on your feelings--it is based on God's promise.

  • Read Rev. 3:20. Have you asked Jesus to come into your heart? If you can answer "yes" to this question, than according to the Word of God, he has come in. Sometimes you will feel closer to Jesus than others, but Christ's indwelling isn't based on your feelings--it's based on his promise to take up permanent residence in your heart.
On the other hand, if your answer is "I don't know," then you can make sure by simply asking him to forgive you and come into your heart. Once is enough.

If your answer is "no," then you do not have salvation. It doesn't matter whether you have grown up in the church, live more morally than many others, have had a "spiritual experience," etc. You need to put your trust in Jesus to pay for sins and give you eternal life; you need to ask him to come into your heart. It's good to get enough questions answered to be convinced that Christ's offer may well be true--but you needn't and shouldn't wait until you are absolutely certain.

Now let's turn to two areas in the Christian life. In one, you need to be willing to examine yourself. In the other, you should avoid examining yourself. . .

Do you have a moral controversy with God? (1 Cor. 11:28)

Read vs 28a,31,32. Paul is clearly calling Christians to examine themselves in this passage. He says there is a relationship between our willingness to examine ourselves and God's need to discipline us.

NOTE: God's discipline is completely different from condemnation. "Discipline" means "training" or "correction," and is reserved for God's children who he unconditionally loves and accepts. "Condemnation" means "retribution" of "paying back," and is reserved for those who have never trusted Christ. Christians are permanently exempt from God's condemnation (Rom. 8:1), but we are subject to his loving discipline (Heb. 12:5,6). And the amount and kind of discipline we receive from God is, to some degree, dependent on how we examine ourselves (GOOD PARENTS WITH THEIR KIDS).

The Corinthian Christians had been instructed on certain important moral issues pertaining to when they gathered together. They were to practice love toward one another, and share God's truth with one another, and thank God for his grace.

Instead, they were coming together to get drunk, deprive the hungry, and segregate the rich from the poor (vs 20-22a). They were also assembling to show off their own spiritual gifts rather than edify one another (chapter 14). Their meetings looked much more like those of pagan, orgiastic mystery cults than of Christ's followers.

Instead of acknowledging their wrong behavior and correcting it themselves, they evidently rationalized it (vs 17). They even expected Paul to praise them about their behavior (vs 22b)!! This shows a profound level of moral callousness.

Therefore, God intervened in a disciplinary way (read vs 30) to get their attention on this issue. In this case, Paul reveals that God used sickness and even death to do this. It may be that he simply allowed them to suffer the natural consequences from alcohol abuse, or it may be that he had intervened in a more active way.

APPLICATION: This passage urges us to ask ourselves if we have a moral controversy with God. As Christians, we are responsible to evaluate our moral behavior according to God's Word and the Holy Spirit's conviction. If we refuse to do this and rationalize our behavior instead, God loves us enough to discipline us in order to persuade us to change. Usually, his discipline will be to allow us to reap the consequences of our poor choices (including losing the vitality of our walks with him if we persist). Sometimes, he sends one of his children to confront us on this matter. But sometimes it may be seemingly unrelated to our situation.

We get a great example of this in the life of David. Most of you know that David committed adultery with Bathsheba (and got her pregnant), and than had her husband killed to cover his tracks. When David rationalized his behavior, he lost all vitality in his relationship with God (Ps. 32:3,4). Then God took greater measures by sending Nathan to expose his sin and rebuke him (2 Samuel 12). Finally, David agreed with God about the wrongness of his behavior and cast himself on God's mercy (Ps. 51). While God did not spare him of all the consequences of his decisions, he did restore the vitality of his relationship with him and empowered him to continue serving him. In Ps. 32:8,9, David shares with us what God taught him from this (read).

Don't be a moral mule! God prefers to simply remind us of his way and have us respond out of trust in his love and wisdom. But if we are obdurate, he loves us enough to take stronger measures for our good.

Some of you are under God's discipline because you are moral mules! Some of you complain you feel chronically far from God, don't see God working in your lives, have nosy Christians coming at you, etc.--and wonder what's going on. The answer is simple--you have a moral controversy with the Lord, you refuse to examine yourself rightly, so God has moved in to discipline you.

Example: Brother complains that his prayer-life is dead, hates Bible study and fellowship, etc. Upon further investigation, it turns out that he is having an affair with someone. Same symptoms--it turns out that he is deeply resentful toward his wife and refuses to love and serve her.

If you had been willing to respond to his gentle correction earlier, none of this would have been necessary. And you can regain the health of your walk with God very quickly--if only you are willing to be honest with him about the issues and agree to embrace his way on these matters.

As we grow in our understanding of God's will, his discipline usually becomes more strict. Issues that he did not address at an earlier stage he will make an issue of later on (AUTONOMY; RESENTMENT; GOSSIP; SINS OF OMISSION). One of the keys to consistent spiritual growth is to stay responsive to God's moral correction.

Are you engaging in unhealthy introspection? (1 Cor. 4:3)

Read 4:3-5. This passage says that there is a kind of self-examination that we should avoid. The situation explains what kind of self-examination is unhealthy.

Paul was evidently being accused of carrying out his ministry with impure motives and/or other "hidden" things (vs 3,5). Since he is not aware of being guilty in this area, Paul says that he doesn't worry about their accusations, nor does he examine himself in this area. Rather than become introspective about the matter, he trusts that God will examine him and let him know if this area is problematic.

APPLICATION: Are you engaging in unhealthy introspection? We should avoid excessive self-examination over issues that God has not made evident. If we do this, we will contract "PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS." Here are three common arenas for this:

  • Criticism from others: If you are stepping out to serve Christ, you are going to get criticism. Some of it will be concrete and constructive--be sure to listen to this. But some will be nebulous and non-constructive (MOTIVES FOR WITNESSING). If you focus on this, it will wipe you out. How long would Paul have lasted if he focused on this?

  • Spiritual Hypochondria: This is the opposite of being a MORAL MULE. It is a chronic inward focus which is super-sensitive to any fluctuation of mood or circumstance and tries to tie this to some deep inner problem. Some (MELANCHOLIACS) are prone to this temperamentally. Many are vulnerable to this after going through a period of in-depth counseling. Because you have had to face some deep problems (that you may have denied) and work through them, there is the danger of becoming overly pre-occupied with "what else is down there" (ME IN 1974). We simply don't have the equipment to deal with ourselves on this level. If we try, we will get enmeshed in confusion and debilitating accusation.

  • Second-guessing complex decisions: Some of us, even if we have carefully considered and prayed beforehand, question ourselves over and over again if we made the right decision. Oswald Sanders says, "Don't dig up in doubt(?) what you have sown in faith."

SOLUTION: Read Phil. 3:13-15. Paul rejects all forms of perfectionism. He also "purposefully neglects" the past. Instead, he says we should keep moving forward in our walks with Christ. This involves staying focused on our position in Christ and partaking consistently of the means of growth. As we do this, we can trust that God will reveal the things in our lives as they need to be dealt with.


What are your tendencies in this area? If you tend to be a MORAL MULE, take some time periodically and reflect on what God may be trying to correct you on. If you tend toward PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS, ask yourself if you are taking action and trusting God to correct you in his timing. Quote 2 Tim. 2:7--God will help us sort this out . . .