Every year before Passover, Christian and Messianic Jewish believers who follow Jesus’s instruction to keep this day “in remembrance of me” also follow Paul’s instruction to examine ourselves. Before we eat the unleavened bread and drink the wine as Jesus did “on the night in which he was betrayed,” we must examine ourselves. It’s a serious matter, for “the one who eats and drinks in an unworthy way eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn’t discern the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:23-31. WEB).
As I ponder the question of self-examination today, about 4 weeks before Passover, I’m struck by something Job says near the end of the book bearing his name. After all his trials, all the discussions with his friends, and all of God’s replies, Job says,
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,Job 42:5-6, NET
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes!”
It’s easy to look at ourselves and think we’re doing okay unless something comes along to shake up that self-perception. Job thought he was a righteous man. He was even right about that, as God points out when He describes Job as “a blameless and upright man” at the beginning of the story (Job 1:8, NET). But Job still had room for improvement, and the more he learned about God the more fully he realized how much he still had to learn. The better we can see God, the less impressive we are to ourselves.
Heading Toward His Perfection
It is important to regularly “put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5, NET). We can’t accurately evaluate ourselves, though, unless we understand the standard we’re measuring ourselves by. In other words, if we don’t have some idea of what we are supposed to be we don’t know how well we’re doing.
See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.1 John 3:1-3, NET
God is calling us into His family and we are His children right now. We’re also growing and changing, becoming more and more like Him. At least, that’s what should be happening. And if we’re going to examine ourselves to see how much progress we’re making on becoming like God, we need to know what it means to be like Him. We won’t achieve perfection in this life, but we should be heading there. And if we want to know what perfection looks like, we just need to look to God for an example of how we’re supposed to be.
Glimpsing His Unsearchable Riches
I keep talking about the need to see and understand God as if that’s something we could actually do as human beings. While we are invited to know Him in an increasingly familiar way, part of knowing Him involves realizing that our minds can’t warp themselves around His fullness. His thoughts are not like our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9) and “the riches both of wisdom and the knowledge of God” are so deep we’ll never plumb them all (Rom. 11:33).
I find this an encouraging realization. We’re never going to hit a point where there’s nothing left to work on, no way to grow, or nothing more to learn. The more we follow God, the more we get to engage with Him in a dynamic, growing relationship.
But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.1 Corinthians 2:9-10, NET
By God’s spirit inside us, we get an increasingly clear picture of what it means to be like God. We even get to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6-16). The better we know Him, the better we understand who we are meant to be and what we are supposed to do on the way toward being that person. That’s why I say that if we want to examine ourselves, we need to “examine” God. Self-examination is vital, but that process isn’t all about us even though the word “self” is in there. It’s about becoming like God.
To Fix Ourselves or to Be Like God
Putting on God’s nature often goes against our ingrained impulses. We are so used to reacting in certain ways (like anger if someone shouts at us, or spite if we’re ill treated) that trying to fix our human nature might seem impossible. And it is if we try to do that on our own. Thankfully, we’re not on our own and we don’t have to start from scratch.
“We have two options: we can try to reform the sinful human nature, or we can ask God for His nature. The former approach has never in history proven successful. Our only remaining option is to ask God.”Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, Day 78
Trying to make ourselves like God without putting on His nature is a futile endeavor. We need a more drastic change than just trying to be good or nice people. It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote, where he talks about the need to transform rather than just improve. Using the sort of agricultural analogy Jesus was so fond of in His parables, Lewis says,
“If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book IV chapter 8
Returning to the topic of self-examination, the goal of that is not to fix ourselves by our own efforts. It’s to look for evidence of Jesus Christ in us (2 Cor. 13:5). It’s to identify areas where we’re not yet like God and ask Him to change us. The focus should be on God–who He is and who He wants us to be in Him–as much (or even more) than on ourselves.
The more we learn about God and seek to know Him, the more clearly we see ourselves. When we turn away from the Lord, our minds can deceive us into thinking we’re something different than we are. But when we turn to the Lord, who can “probe into people’s minds” and “examine people’s hearts,” we can then see ourselves as He sees us (Jer. 17:5-10, NET). We may, like Job, abhor what we see and need to repent, but there are blessings that follow something like that because God responds so positively to sincere repentance. When we look at ourselves in light of God’s goodness and realize we still aren’t perfect, it leads to humility. And when we take that humble attitude to God and ask Him to share His mind and nature with us, He will respond to our self-examination by transforming us.
Featured image by Inbetween via Lightstock