In a previous post I mentioned a spiritual disciplines practice in which Jonathan Edwards and others of the Puritan era engaged on a regular basis. I mentioned that practice because I believe it was one of the reasons that many of these Christians were such godly and useful people in the Kingdom of God. And I wonder if the failure of many of us in the twenty first century to do what they did is not one of the reasons why our lives are often so shallow and unproductive. The practice to which I am referring is the practice of self examination.
I realize that this practice may be overdone and that when overdone it may lead to morbidity, despair and immobility. In other words, when practiced to excess it may be counterproductive and lead to obsessive compulsiveness and negativity and self absorption. I once heard someone say that truth is the thin edge of a knife meaning, of course, that it’s easy for us to fall off on one side of truth or the other into error. The Christian life is to be a balanced life. With one eye we must examine ourselves lest we become presumptuous and careless and perhaps proud. With the other eye we must focus on the abundant grace, mercy, love and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus lest we lose hope and become works oriented rather than grace oriented.
Both of these practices are necessary for progress in the life of holiness and growing into the likeness of our Savior Jesus Christ. To err in failing to do either has disastrous results in our Christian lives. Over the more than forty years that I have been involved in ministry I have met a few who have erred on the side of excessive self examination. If I had been living and were writing this during the time of John Bunyan or Jonathan Edwards I probably would have encountered who been too inclined to become preoccupied with self reflection.
In fact, it may be that John Bunyan was guilty of this at the beginning of his spiritual pilgrimage. But be that as it may I don’t think that we’re living at a time when most people practice too much self examination. I think we’re living at a time when many professing Christians practice too little self assessment. From years of experience in ministry, it is my judgment that many Christians seldom take the time to compare themselves (their thoughts, desires, behavior, speech, reactions, etc.) with the standards set by God’s Word and especially with the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a result we practice Christianity lite, we live superficial lives, we are too flippant and we lack a passion for the things of God. And worst of all, we take Christ and His cross work for granted; we fail to glory in the cross; we fail to appreciate the amazing grace of God which moved Him to send His Son to provide the solution to our bad record and bad heart problems (2 Corinthians 5:14; Romans 5:6 – 8; Titus 3:1 – 8; I Timothy 1:15 – 17; Galatians 6:14; Titus 2:11 – 14).
I close this blog be quoting some relevant comments by Jay Adams on the issue of self examination. They come from his Christian Counselor’s Commentary on the book of Proverbs. In his comments on the phrase found in chapter 3:3 about writing God’s truths on the tablets of our hearts, Jay says this: “The heart is the inner you that determines your words, attitudes and actions. It is that which motivates you, out of it come the rivers (issues) of life. When mercy and truth pour forth from your life it is because they were first found in your heart. If they are not embodied in the fabric of your life, they are not in your heart! That is why they should be written on your heart’s tablet. …To do so, you must be often thinking about your relation ship to others and to the truth. You must continue to check up on yourself. Counselors can, in a sense, help a counselee to do just that by reminding them of these things and checking up from session to session. But they cannot do it for the counselee forever; he must be encouraged to take time each week (if not each day) to take stock of himself. We live such a hurried life, one that is so often filled with distractions, that a counselee may not ever take the time to go aside by himself to take thought for his life. …Help him to develop the habit of reading his heart to see what is inscribed there, and erasing what ought not to be, while replacing that with mercy and truth” (pages 25, 26).
To what Jay has written, I say a hearty “amen” and I hope you do also. Let’s seek to be balanced Christians who practice honest self examination and who at the same time reflect on the amazing grace and mercy and love and forgiveness that God provides for us in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Doing these two things is a combination that can't be beaten. In other words, it's winning combination.