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Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! (1 Corinthians 13:5)

The Corinthians, prompted by the evil insinuations of the false apostles, had demanded proof of Paul’s apostleship. He reluctantly defended himself, not for his own sake, but for the Lord’s, and so the Corinthians would not be cut off from the truth he preached to them. But in this passage, he turned the tables on his accusers and challenged them to test and examine themselves. The Greek text places the pronouns before the verbs for emphasis and literally reads, “Yourselves test to see if you are in the faith; yourselves examine.” Instead of arrogantly and foolishly challenging the genuineness of Paul’s relationship to the Lord, the Corinthians needed to examine the genuineness of their own salvation. The familiar New Testament terms peirazo (test) and dokimazo (examine) are used here as synonyms. They convey the idea of putting something to the test to determine its genuineness. The test was to see if the Corinthians were in the faith. Pistis (faith) refers here not to the subjective element of belief but to the objective body of Christian truth —the Christian faith.

Paul’s call for self-examination was not a new concept. Job cried out to God, “How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin” (Job 13:23; cf. 31:4–6). In Psalm 17:3 David declared, “You have tried my heart.… You have tested me and You find nothing.” “Examine me, O Lord, and try me;” he pleaded in Psalm 26:2. “Test my mind and my heart.” In perhaps the most familiar Old Testament example of self-examination David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps. 139:23–24). In Lamentations 3:40 Jeremiah exhorted his fellow Israelites, “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord,” while the Lord’s challenge to Israel was, “Consider your ways!” (Hag. 1:5, 7). Describing the self-examination that is a prerequisite for participating in the Lord’s Supper, Paul wrote, “A man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.… But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:28, 31).

Like Paul, the writer of Hebrews understood well the danger of self-deception. Some of the people he addressed in his epistle were intellectually convinced of the truth of the gospel but uncommitted to Christ. He called them to examine the danger of that position in a series of warning passages, which show clearly the great risk of being in the church, but not in Christ.

The first of those warnings is in Hebrews 2:1–3:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.

The phrase, “for this reason” points the reader back to the majesty and glory of Jesus Christ in expressed in chapter 1. He is revealed as the “heir of all things” (v. 2), the One who “made the world” (v. 2), “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (v. 3), and the One who “upholds all things by the word of His power” (v. 3). After making “purification of sins” on the cross, Christ rose from the dead and ascended to “the right hand of the Majesty on high” (v. 3). Jesus Christ is superior to the angels (vv. 4–7), since He is God (v. 8), the supreme Ruler of the universe (v. 13), and will judge those who fail to come all the way to faith in Him.

The writer also noted a second reason not to reject the gospel, reminding his readers, “If the word spoken through angels [the Old Testament; cf. Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19] proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:2–3). The Law was given through Moses, but the gospel through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). If those who rejected the Old Testament Law did not escape punishment, how will those who reject the gospel?

Finally, the writer warned his readers that they were accountable because the gospel they had heard “was at the first spoken through the Lord,” then “confirmed to [them] by those who heard [the apostles], God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:3–4). They could not plead ignorance, having seen the gospel verified by supernatural signs.

Because of the majesty of Christ, the example of what happened to those who rejected the Old Testament Law, and the powerful, miracle-attested preaching of the apostles, those who reject the gospel are without excuse.

Before the storm of divine judgment bursts upon them, people need to examine the foundation of their spiritual life. Only what is built on the bedrock of true saving faith in Jesus Christ will survive (cf. Matt. 7:24–27).

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