When the lights are dimmed and you’re sitting thirty feet away from the stage, a play becomes believable. You don’t see from the balcony that the nice looking wallpaper is actually a mass of squiggles, or that the big general store in center stage is actually just a well painted front. You are unable to see the inconsistencies scattered throughout the set until you take a step closer than you’re supposed to. In a theater that is acceptable. Within our own personal lives, it is not.
In our sinful desire to appear better than others, we do everything we can to put on a show and appear a certain way before people– even ourselves. We dim the lights, we stand back, and are satisfied with what we see, not knowing that our anxiety about our homework clashes with our belief in God’s sovereignty (Phil. 4:6), or that our gossip with our best friend breaks our fellowship with others (Prov. 16:28), and that our love for the things of the world that we hold too close to give up is a hindrance to our communion with our Heavenly Father (1 Jn. 2:15, Jas. 4:4).
We are blind to the fact that these inconsistencies show that we cannot be bothered with holiness. We’ve hit the main points of holiness in that we don’t murder or say the Lord’s name in vain, but when it comes to the equally important sub-points we tend to think that as long as we can fool others, and especially ourselves, than we are doing well. We can’t be bothered with things like a bitter envy or selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14). Doesn’t God see that we are just too busy to change our cherished daily patterns?
There’s one problem though. Even if we can deceive ourselves, God can not be deceived and still sees what we do not bother to confess to Him. Charles Spurgeon said rightly that “there is in all our hearts a great backwardness to self-examination.” That is, we are quick to examine everyone and everything around us except our very selves. The Scripture teaches against this though, and throughout the pages of Scripture there are phrases such as “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), “test yourselves, examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith,” (2 Cor 13:5) “look carefully…. how you walk” (Eph. 5:15) and “discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10). While grace and mercy abound within Christ, sometimes we take advantage of this and prefer not to deal with our self proclaimed permissible sins, thinking that time will gently wash them away with no effort.
This is where the process of self examination comes in. While sanctification is a process of the Holy Spirit, we also have responsibility to be aware and alert of our lives if we are are living in faith. We are never told to be at peace with sin because we are at peace with God, rather, peace with God means being at war with the schemes of the devil. Just as a soldier should never let down his guard, we also should be aware of danger, especially that which comes from within.
There are two kinds of self examination: the kind that falls short of truth and the kind that uses a backdrop of truth. When self-examination falls short of truth it means that we are avoiding confronting certain sins in ourselves because we are too comfortable with the way our lives look. We look in ourselves and use the imputed righteousness of Christ as an excuse to avoid obeying the commands of Christ. This is not only a shame but an outright disregard for Christ’s blood and His desire for us to be holy. Self-examination should not be an introspective self obsession, but a humble, clear-minded assessment of ourselves through the gospel. It means looking to Scripture to see God’s commands as the Holy Spirit points out the sins we harbor that are contrary to the Truth.
In self-examination, be not afraid to “Stand not only on the mountains of your public character, but go into the deep valleys of your private life. Be not content to sail on the broad river of your outward actions, but go follow back the narrow nil till you discover your secret motive, ” as Charles Spurgeon said. In other words, it is not enough to have a life that merely looks holy from the outside; we must find the source of false worship that is indicated by our sinful behaviors and steals us away from being enamored with Christ. If sin is not taken by its roots of untrue worship, it can subtly come back again and again in different manifestations, for even seemingly good works can stem from sinful motives. Self-examination must strip sin to its very barest – idolatry, and see Christ at His most glorious in order to be truly dealt with.
Faith that lasts is faith that is functional, and faith that is functional comes from being aware of the work of Christ in our lives and a knowledge of our exact need for Him. We are not alone in our self-examination, for the Holy Spirit is working in us and gently revealing our needs (John 16:7-11), Christ is interceding for us (Rom. 8:34), and the Father is holding us accountable and drawing us closer to Him (Rom. 14:7-12).
How many times do we dim the lights and stand 30 feet away from our lives in order to deceive not only ourselves, but others? It’s easy for us to gloss over “little” sin issues and brush up some outward appearance without realizing the need for personal holiness and structural, that is, internal work. It is painful to look into the locked closets of our inner lives, but even a closet cannot be properly used unless it is cleaned out from the inside, and that takes much work.
If your lack of self-examination is showing a shallow understanding of your need for God, perhaps you need to pray like St. Augustine and ask the Lord to “reveal me to my own eyes so that I may confess to my brothers in Christ what wounds I find in myself.” -M.
Augustine, Confessions. New York: Collier, 1961. Print.
Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.
“Spurgeon 1858/19/self Examination.” Spurgeon 1858/19/self Examination. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2014.