II Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”
This morning, the fallibility of man’s thinking shines forth with “changes and improvements” in many fields. Though man – in general – considers these things progress, it really shows how little man truly knows since there is a regular need for revision of thought. For example, remember the old expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? Then, the medical field decided apples were not that good for you, and then they changed again. They still cannot decide whether to recommend or denigrate eggs as they fluctuate between being good for you and bad for you by “the experts.” These ever changing mindsets and new “discoveries” that perpetually find footholds in public thinking show the reality of how little man truly knows. Even many of the “facts” thrown out by experts in their field are based on at least one or two assumptions.
Paul is reaching the conclusion of his longest discussion with any church body. The two epistles in our Bibles that he wrote to the Corinthian church comprise a hefty amount of information, and they also include some topics that are not that desirable (like church discipline in I Corinthians 5) and touchy (like preacher worship in I Corinthians 1 and 3). This body had many problems, and by the end of Paul’s work with them, they had fixed some of them. Paul had a great love for them in spite of all their problems (II Corinthians 6:11), and Paul was even willing to apologize to them for his own shortcomings (II Corinthians 12:13). Truly, the study of these two epistles will take us many places, and honestly, it will bring us to places that we would rather avoid than confront.
What more could be said to this church after all that Paul has told them by way of doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness? Paul even talked of his own experience in the previous chapter. What is there left to say? We might ask this question today in a different light. As members of the Lord’s church, what more is there for us to say or do? Since the question “men and brethren what must we do” is answered with repentance and baptism (Acts 2:36-38), what happens after that? What if we have been in the church most all of our lives (30, 40, or even 50 years)?
Paul answers the question and cuts right to the heart of everything we feel and know. Let us approach this from the backend of the verse and move to the front. Paul said that Jesus Christ is in us – provided we are not reprobate or unregenerate of course. This means that there is something to our existence that is felt and should be known. When we eat food, that sustenance literally goes “in us” which can be felt through sensations of eating and feeling full. If Christ is literally in us (as He is described as being through regeneration), we find that there are some feelings associated with that. Paul encouraged the band at Mars’ Hill in Acts 17 to “feel after Him.” Why is this so important? If He is in us, should we not always feel Him?
Many things can go on around us that prevent us from knowing what we feel or experiencing the sensation. For example, in my food analogy above, we know that we need food when we feel hunger pangs. These sensations let us know that food is being asked for, and by eating, those sensations quit. However, if we “get busy” doing something, we can forget about or not notice those pangs as we would have otherwise. Likewise, we may be born again by the Holy Ghost and be so “busy” in life that we forget about the knowledge and feeling of Christ being in us. Now, perpetually staying busy like that can end up ruinous in the life of a child of God, but it suffices to make the point that we need to be feeling after Him to prove to our own selves that He is there.
Now, using that to move up in the verse the knowledge that Christ is in us is how do we prove our own selves? How do I know proof positive that God loves me? What assurance is there that I am eternally His? The surest proof that I have is the life of Christ in me. Paul asserts the same point to the Galatian brethren in 2:20. Paul knew that he was living the life, but it was by the faith of the Son of God (not faith in the Son of God), which was ultimately predicated upon Christ loving him and dying for him. How do we prove that the promises of God are ours to have forever? We prove that by understanding and knowing that Christ is in us. Many scoffers in the world will tell the Christian, you cannot know what you assert. While in college, I brushed shoulders with many atheists and agnostics that scoffed at my beliefs in general. One asked me, “How could you know for sure that when you die, you’re nothing more than worm dirt?” My answer was simple (like the songwriter of old), “He lives within my soul.”
Therefore, we prove our standing and position in Christ in God by understanding and knowing that the Spirit of Christ resides within us, but Christ has given us more than just His Spirit to dwell with us. He has given us His word that testifies in complete agreement with the laws and precepts that He wrote on our inward parts. Paul starts the verse by declaring that we need to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith or not. Here the term “the faith” references not that fruit of the Spirit per se but the body of truth that was once delivered to the saints. (Jude 3) God’s Holy Bible is oftentimes referred to as “the faith” or body of work that houses pure and unadulterated truth.
Paul says that our examination and proving needs to be more than just internal but also against a known standard. That standard or “measuring stick” is the Bible or “the faith.” Interestingly, we looked at the verse in reverse for the purpose of seeing position and relationship through the internal lens first. But, reading the text as it is written we see that before the internal lens can be properly focused, some calibration must take place first. This is why it is so hard for a child of God to verbalize how they feel about Christ’s Spirit within them without the written word of God. The word testifies to us the truth of our position and shows the life that should be led as a result of that. Without reading Acts 17, I might not know how to feel after Him regularly. Without Romans 8:9 telling me that the feeling of life in the soul is the Spirit of Christ, I would not know how to describe or term it.
In addition to these things, Paul encourages us all through the words to the church here to examine ourselves to see how we stack up to the standard. How far off are we? Corinth, no doubt, had a lot of “measuring up” to do. How about us today? The rule is simple. If the word of God says do it, then do it. If the word of God says refrain, then refrain. Too many sentences for explanation or justification of our decorum start with, “I think…” or “I feel…” No doubt, the church at Corinth did not like to look inward and admit that the fornicator needed to be excluded. Some may have had friends among the group saying that there was no resurrection. Cutting off members or avoiding hereticks is never pleasurable, but the word of God asserts its necessity.
Friends, life is hard and will always be so. However, no matter the season or trial, may we look inward to prove again what is true and what we feel and know. Recently, I had a discussion at work with a man about the origin of the universe and the age of it. In the process of the discussion, he said, “Look I’m a Christian too, but you keep referencing the Bible instead of science.” While I am an engineer by trade, the surest standard we have and will ever have for our thoughts and examination is the Bible itself. Some do not and will never see that, but the only way to examine ourselves about how well we stack up is to have something to stack up against. Let us use the court of His word and not the courts of what man finds pleasing, what our minds prefer, or what would be the easiest. All those other courts change and ebb and flow, but God’s court and abiding presence with us are faithful and never-ending.