Examining Ourselves by Examining God

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,
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes!”

Job 42:5-6, NET

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

Don’t Be Something Jesus Would Throw Out Of His Father’s Temple

Let’s take a trip back to the early 1st century. It’s a few days before Passover and the Jews are heading to Jerusalem for the Feast. As they travel, they sing the songs of ascent like they do every year. On this particular year, though, there’s an extra level of excitement. A man named Yeshua (Jesus) arrived on the scene a few years ago and many think he could be the Messiah. He’s even riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, as Zechariah said the Messiah would.

Hoshiya-na! Baruch haba B’Shem Adonai!” they call. Save us now! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

As Yeshua rides in, the people spread their garments in the way. They also cut palm branches as if they were here for the Feast of Tabernacles instead of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They’re expecting the Messiah to kick the Romans out, redeem Israel, and restore the kingdom. They’re hoping for the fulfillment of Tabernacles — the Messiah, son of David, ruling in power and might.

Instead, this Yeshua turns his donkey toward the temple. Once there, he “drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers’ tables and the seats of those who sold the doves.” Instead of driving the pagans out of Jerusalem, he drove corruption out of God’s house, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers!” Read more

Mercies That Don’t Run Out

How many times can God forgive you? I think sometimes we might feel there’s a limit, or that God gets tired of “dealing with” us. We might even think that someday He could just give up on us if we can’t get ourselves straightened out fast enough. But what does the Bible say?

It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Yahweh is my portion, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him. (Lam. 3:22-24, WEB)

This doesn’t mean God winks at sin or thinks it’s not a big deal. “The compensation due sin is death,” and without His mercies we would be finished (Rom. 6:23, LEB). But the mercies don’t run out. Each morning we have a chance to walk with Him, repenting of past wrongs, letting Him work in our lives to make us like Him, and trusting in his loving kindness, compassion, and faithfulness to lead us into a hopeful future.

God Doesn’t Remove His Mercies

Our sins can separate us from God if we refuse to  turn from them (Is. 59:2). When we choose to do things in a way that doesn’t line up with God’s way of life, we’re walking away from him. It’s unfaithful, like a wife cheating on her husband. But, unlike many human spouses who’ve been cheated on, God keeps asking us to come back. Read more

Forgiven The Most

Who responded to Jesus best when He walked on this earth? It wasn’t the religious leaders or the pious folk or the wealthy and powerful. It was the ordinary people, the sinners and the outcasts of society. But why is that? The Christian message carries good news for all people. What made some receive it joyfully and others want to kill Jesus?

click to read article, "Forgiven The Most" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Skitter Photo via StockSnap

How Big Is Your Debt?

There’s a story in Luke 7 that might shed some light on this. One of the Pharisees, a man named Simon, invited Jesus over for dinner. A woman known in her city as “a sinner” followed them and started crying on Jesus’ feet. She washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with oil.

The Pharisee’s mind instantly went to a place of judgement. If Jesus were a prophet, he thought, then He would know what sort of woman this was and stop her from touching Him. Jesus wasn’t too impressed with that line of thought, so He told this story:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.” And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.” (Luke 7:41-43, KJV)

Jesus went on to list the ways this woman demonstrated her love for him (which, incidentally, highlighted Simon’s deficiencies in hospitality). He finished His conversation with Simon by saying, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47, KJV).

One reason the sinners responded so well to Jesus is that they knew they needed what He offered. The people who viewed themselves as righteous thought they were good enough already and found His call to repentance offensive. Read more

How Do I Repent and Change?

Repentance from dead works is the first of the foundational truths listed in Hebrews 6. But how well do we really understand it and how many of us truly practice repentance?

When I was baptized, the minister asked if I’d repented of my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I meant it when I said yes, but I’m not sure I really understood how much more repentance is than just an, “I’m sorry I messed up.” It involves a change in our innermost being that manifests in a commitment to turn away from things displeasing to God.

As we prepare for Passover, we ask God for feedback on how we’re doing in our walk with Him. We examine ourselves to see if there are hidden sins in our lives and ponder how we can become better examples of our Lord Jesus. But we can’t stop there. We have to act on what we learn.

click to read article, "How Do I Repent and Change?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

David’s Example

Psalm 51 is perhaps the best example we have in the entire Bible of repentance. David wrote it after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed. There were consequences for those sins, but David was forgiven. He didn’t just “get away with it” because he was king and God wanted to keep working with him. David was forgiven because he confessed and repented from a humbled heart (unlike the previous king, Saul, who made excuses when confronted with his sin). Read more

“You’re Okay” Doesn’t Help A Sick Man

Imagine you’ve noticed something wrong and you go to the doctor. They run their tests and scans, take their samples, and sit you down with the results. You were right — you’re sick and quite probably dying without prompt attention. But instead of offering a cure, the doctor says he can alter the test results. You’ll still be dying, but you can pretend you’re not and tell all your friends the doctor says you’re fine.

"You're Okay" Doesn't Help A Sick Man | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Luis Llerena via StockSnap

Sounds ridiculous, right? I’m not sure any of us would take that deal. But that’s what churches are doing on a spiritual level if they hold out the idea of salvation without repentance.

Our Western society is uncomfortable with objective morality. It’s unpopular to think certain actions are inherently wrong. We don’t want to acknowledge a higher power with the right to determine what is and is not sin. Yet that’s exactly what you must do when you become a Christian. My decision to follow Jesus means I’m not the ultimate authority in my life. He and Our Father are.

Repenting From What?

When Jesus began preaching, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). It has become popular in some Christian churches to say God’s commands aren’t relevant today. If you accept Jesus as your personal savior that’s it — you’re saved. There’s a measure of truth to this last statement, for God sent Jesus “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). But Jesus also commanded repentance and that begs the question, “What are we repenting of?” Read more