What could be more important than taking a test to see if you are in the faith, to see if you are going to heaven? It is how Paul closes his final letter to the Corinthian church…
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?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)
Examine yourself. It’s an important command, and yet in the context, disturbingly vague. It sounds like a very important thing to do, but how exactly am I to do it? What exactly does Paul mean?
There are at least two tests that we can refer to in 2 Corinthians, and the first great test, in this chapter anyway, is whether you obey his Apostolic instruction. This is the context of chapter 13. And that’s fitting because the mark of a believer, Scripture says again and again, is obedience. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) So Paul is exhorting in holiness as chapter 12 closes, and then note what the Apostle says in verse 7 of chapter 13: “But we pray to God that you may not do wrong…”) John the Apostle is also famous for this test of faith: “You may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” 1 John 2:29 (ESV)
But this test has two problems. First, it is extremely subjective, and therefore probably the least reliable way to find assurance of salvation. In other words, one man has a seared conscience, and he is not the least bothered by a little white lie. Another man cannot sleep for telling a woman that he liked her hair when he really didn’t. So with this test, the first man thinks he is doing great. The second man, not so much.
The second problem with this test is that righteousness can arise from two different motivations, but only one of these motivations pleases God. You see, there are many people who want to do good in order to be accepted by God. This is called works-righteousness. Controlled by a desire for his love and acceptance, these people live exemplary lives, at least in one sense, and yet their motivation is to earn God’s love. Now, if this describes you, then you are likely failing the test. Here’s why: You are seeking to establish your own righteousness. Paul described the Jews as striving this way in Romans 10:
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:3 (ESV)
If you are seeking to establish your own righteousness, then you’d better go the whole way and do it. But here’s the problem: no one can establish their own righteousness. We are all sinners. And that is a problem, because, like Paul told the Galatians who felt they needed to be circumcised in keeping with the law, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” (Galatians 5:3 ESV) But we cannot keep the whole law. All of us have already failed.
But there is a right motivation. Paul said he was controlled not by the desire to be loved by God, but by the fact that he was already loved. God had already set His love on Paul and this moved him to live for Christ.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (ESV)
Yes, true believers have life change, because they are controlled by the love of Christ as revealed in the gospel. He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves.
And this leads us to the second test, which I will write about tomorrow…