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Examining Our Lives

Socrates said, “The unexamined [or unexamining] life is not worth living for a human being.” His student Plato recorded that statement from Socrates' trial for teaching things that went against the prevailing beliefs and customs of his day (Apology, Paragraph 32). Found guilty, Socrates accepted (and may have even encouraged) a death sentence rather than try to escape or do anything else he considered dishonorable.
We see some good things in Socrates' statement and his actions, as we have them recorded by his students.
  1. He was willing to die rather than do something that violated what he believed to be right.
  2. He never stopped examining the commonly held beliefs of his day to see if they were really true.
  3. Most importantly, he continued to examine his own actions to see if they were right. That brings us to our topic for today: self-examination.
While some of Socrates' arguments and motivations for saying what he did were far different than those found in the Bible, the Bible does make clear that we should not live an unexamining life, that is, a life that is unexamined by ourselves when it comes to our service to God.

We Need To Examine Ourselves
The Bible tells us that we need to examine our spiritual lives.
Lamentations 3:40    Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD.
In the context of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC), the writer (probably Jeremiah) called upon the people to examine what their lives and make the changes necessary to be faithful to God.
1 Corinthians 11:27-31    ... But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup....
We are explicitly called to examine ourselves in observing the Lord's Supper. The point is not to determine whether we have lived well enough in the past week to “deserve” to take it, but to think about the meaning of the Supper and our own obedience to what Jesus has commanded. As in 31, it is good to examine what we are doing while remembering that God brings consequences upon those who disobey.
Galatians 6:1-5    ... For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another....
Here we are told to examine ourselves (what we have done) in regard to correcting other Christians. When we do that, and we are told to do it when necessary, we must realize that we are not perfect either and that we have received all that we have from God. It is helping another bear a burden, not demonstrating a false superiority, that is the point.

We Need To Examine What We Accept and Practice
Closely related to examining ourselves is the responsibility to examine what we accept as true and practice in our lives.
2 Corinthians 13:5    Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test?
Taken by itself this passage affirms that we should examine ourselves, but there is much more here. In particular, Paul is speaking to those who might reject him when he brought Christ's word to them. If they would not be willing to accept Paul's authority as an apostle, they would not really be willing to accept anything God had told them to accept! They needed to make sure that they were faithful and be ready to accept God's messengers and God's word whenever they came.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22    But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
We are to examine everything carefully; from the preceding verses (19-20), which speak of quenching the Spirit and despising prophetic utterances, it seems that those things which claimed to be revelations from God were particularly in Paul's mind. Properly examining what is presented to us to accept as true and believe will make a great impact on the life we lead as a result of our beliefs.
1 John 4:1-3    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world....
Similarly, John commanded Christians to examine those who claimed to have messages from God. It was an important part of self-examination, acting as a preventive measure to make the examination far less messy and painful later.
Revelation 2:2-3    'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;
Here the church at Ephesus was commended because they tested those who claimed to have been given special roles by God and had not been. They had other problems that a more complete self-examination should have revealed, but their examination of others was one of their best qualities.
We cannot blindly accept whatever men claim has come from God as true and live our lives by it. We cannot blindly accept whatever the common beliefs of the day are and live our lives by them. Even a brief study of history will find many schools of thought that were very popular in their day and yet entirely wrong. Many of the popular beliefs may even contradict each other! The principles in our life require a greater truth.

God Examines Us
The importance of our own self-examination is heightened by the fact that God examines us!
1 Thessalonians 2:3-4    For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.
Part of my putting this verse here is based on the present (continuous) tense of “examines” at the end of 4. The same Greek word is used in the passive form (“have been approved”, perfect tense, dokimazo) at the beginning of the verse, which may make a beautiful point: God had approved them before but continued to examine and approve their lives as they served Him.
God examined those who spoke His word. This relates to man's need to examine those who claim to speak God's word in our previous point.
Psalm 26:1-3    ... Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart....
When we are truly open to God, we want Him to examine us! We want to find out where we can improve in His service. Even if (perhaps especially if) we believe we have walked in integrity, fear, and truth, we would want to correct any lapse.
The big question is how we should examine ourselves. Lots of people think about their lives but come to many wrong conclusions; they may even contradict themselves with their conclusions. God does not give me direct personal messages. If I am thinking about going some place that I should not, God is not going to automatically strike it or me with lightning before I get there.
If we are to examine ourselves, and examine those who speak for God, and if we are to want God to examine us, we must have some basis for the examination. That basis is His revealed will!

We Need To Examine Ourselves by Examining God's Word
We examine ourselves by examining God's word!
Acts 17:10-12    ... Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so....
When these people from the synagogue in Berea examined the Scriptures, they were also in the process of examining themselves, and “therefore” (12) they believed.
James 1:22-25    ... for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
A superficial self-examination without the honesty and integrity to make the necessary changes is no good. God demands that a true self-examination have an effect upon us, changing us to be more the people He wants us to be.

God Will Examine Us in Judgment
The reason that this self-examination is vital is that our self-examination prepares us for the greatest and final examination: our eternal judgment before God.
1 Corinthians 4:3-4    But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
Is there a contradiction here (3) in Paul's saying he did not examine [judge, NKJV] himself? No. Paul would tell the Corinthians later in this book to examine themselves during the Lord's Supper (11:28) and would tell them in his next letter to them to examine themselves (13:5), and he would also tell the Galatians to examine their own work (6:3-4). Why did he say what he did, then? First, he had just been speaking of their judgment of him as a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of the Lord (1), and that role was his without his judging himself; it was not the same thing as evaluating his actions by the gospel standard. Secondly, he realized that the ultimate judgment belonged to God. It was the only examination that mattered. His own opinions of himself would not determine his guilt or innocence; his properly discharging his duties in God's eyes was everything.

We studied at the beginning of the lesson someone (Socrates) who was willing to be examined. When Pilate had examined Jesus, he said the following to the chief priests and rulers of the Jews:
Luke 23:14    and said to them, "You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him.
Not only regarding those charges but in everything there was no guilt in Jesus. His righteousness and goodness withstand all examination. Socrates was a wise man who said some good things, but he was not in the same class as Christ. Jesus' claims to be the Messiah and the Son of God, when examined in the light of the evidence in the Bible, are also unimpeachable. He stood for what was right and was willing to die for it. In everything He has passed the test.
Now Jesus can be examined for sin and pass the test, but what about you and me? There's the problem. We would not get the same grade in our examination. In the words directed to Belshazzar of Babylon in Daniel 5:25-27, we would be weighed in the balance and found wanting. Fortunately, Jesus not only was sinless Himself, He died on the cross so His sacrifice could take away our sins and make us acceptable to God in the ultimate examination on the Day of Judgment. Because He was perfectly righteous, He was raised from the dead, providing the proof of His power to make us live again after we have died (1 Corinthians 15:12-17).
To receive that favorable judgment, we must obey Him now and continue to examine ourselves in order that we could continue to live faithfully as a Christian after our baptism. If you are not a Christian today, examine your life and see that you need forgiveness and a Savior who can forgive. Examine what the Scriptures say about baptism and obey them!

Trevor Brailey

All Scripture has been taken from the New American Standard Bible.