Summary: A message to challenge church-goers to examine the legitimacy of their conversion.
November 11, 2001
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
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 (II Cor. 13:5 English Standard Version).
When Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency, by the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Sam Rayburn took him aside and said,
“From here on out, you’re going to have lots of people around you. They’ll try to put up a wall around you and cut you off from any ideas but theirs. They’ll tell you what a great man you are, Harry. But you and I both know you ain’t.
In response to a letter from a reader, newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers wrote this response:
Know yourself. Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
The admonition of St. Paul the Apostle from II Corinthians 13:5 is of even greater gravity and import than that of Sam Rayburn or Ann Landers. His exhortation is not merely to know ourselves, but to examine and test ourselves to see whether or not we have been genuinely converted.
The context for our text is important, and it is this. Paul came to Corinth and, as was his custom, preached the Gospel, stayed long enough in the city to organize the fledging church, disciple and raise up leadership for the new congregation there, and then he moved on to repeat that pattern elsewhere. After his departure from Corinth Paul got word that there were troubles in the church. There was disorder in public worship, division, doctrinal confusion, immoral and unloving behavior by some in the church, and a group of Corinthians who were usurping leadership in the congregation and calling Paul’s apostolic authority into question. But these ecclesiastical upstarts got more than they bargained for with the apostle. Paul turns the tables of inquiry onto his accusers. Instead of providing proof of his authority from Christ to be an apostle, he counsels the Corinthians to examine test and examine themselves to see if their faith and their conversion were genuine. The Greek grammar in the verse places great emphasis on the personal pro-nouns “yourself” and “you.” Paul was demonstrating the inconsistency of the Corinthians’ false assumption. They assumed that their faith was genuine and his apostleship false. Paul had preached the Gospel message to these Corinthians as a true and genuine apostle. Consequently, if his apostleship was counterfeit, then so were their faith and their conversion. But, since St. Paul’s apostle-ship was genuine, so was the conversion of the Corinthians. He says, “Do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” The genuineness of their salvation was proof of the genuineness of Paul’s authority as an apostle.
The apostle’s counsel is wise, necessary and must be heeded. There are lots of tests and examinations we take and have taken in our life. There are driving tests, medical tests, the Bar Exam, SATs, residency exams and college finals. Some tests are more important than others. But the one St. Paul exhorts us to—the self-examination to see if we are genuinely converted, saved and have Christ indwelling our hearts by faith—is the most important exam of all. Eternity is hanging on the answer to this exam. For, as the Lord Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). And I John 5:12 reminds us of this unambiguous truth: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Too much is riding on the results of this test for us to balk at, postpone or ignore examining our souls. Our eternal destiny is at stake.
Notice, first of all, Paul’s exhortation: “Examine yourselves,” the apostle counsels, “test yourselves.”
The truth is, far too many churchgoers assume far too much about themselves. The truth is, it is possible to profess Christ and not possess Christ. The Lord Jesus reminds us in Matthew 7:1:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven.
Most in our culture today believe that men are justified not by faith, and not even by good works, but by death. Watch television. Read the newspapers. Listen to the radio. Peruse the obituary page. The common “faith” held by most these days is that all one has to do to be welcomed into the everlasting arms is die. But they are mistaken. Don’t you be mistaken. Jesus said that the gate to eternal life is narrow and the road that leads to eternal life is hard, “and few there be that find it.”