The Posture and Practice of Self-Examination

The complete God-head is engaged with us as we humbly submit ourselves to our Father, who desires to make us more and more beautiful for His glory and our good. We are never alone in this process. Self-examination is a lifelong process.  If you’re anything like me, I would love to not struggle with sin.  I would love to be able to say to it, “one and done!” and move on. But that’s not the nature of sin so it is not the nature of our sanctification.  There will be some sins that God will graciously root out and we will find victory over them.  But there will be some that will plague us until we go home to be with the Lord. 

This summer, a group of ladies and I are studying the book of Hosea.  It is a prophetic book written by Hosea, who lived during the ancient reigns of the Kings of Judah right before the nation of Israel went into exile.  Hosea illustrates with vivid and shocking word pictures the depths of Israel’s unfaithfulness towards the Lord which justifiably stirred His righteous jealousy and anger.  Yet, its prophetic word points to Israel’s future reconciliation and redemption in the coming Messiah (Hos 3:5).

Hosea was written with a purpose: to shock the sensibilities and expose the ugliness in Israel so that they comprehend the reason for their exile, see their error in technicolor, confess it, repent, and return to the Lord.  It was an opportunity for self-examination at its most intense.

One way we may try to make this book relevant to our modern lives is to use this text to guide our own self-examination; to see where we have rejected our Lord and “sought other lovers.”  The study asked us, “How are you like Gomer?” which, on its surface, is meant as an effort to awaken ourselves out of our slumber in an illegitimate bed.  Yet, I have an uneasiness in this comparison; not because I’m uncomfortable with the idea that Gomer’s explicit sins are representative of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord God (as awkward as they are to study).  And it’s not because I am unwilling to admit my own sin and rebellion towards the Lord.  I’m uncomfortable with identifying with Gomer because Gomer represents an unrepentant people who are living in open rebellion to God. As a Christian, I am not a Gomer.

Why is this important distinction?  It is important because as we go to the Lord for Him to examine us by His truth, we need to go to Him by faith in the assurance that our relationship to Him and His love for us is based upon the finished work of Christ on our behalf.  Our unfaithfulness — past, present, and future — has been completely forgiven and is not counted against us.  EVER.  If we are in Christ, our identity is in Him and not in our sin.  We are Gomers no more.  We are beloved daughters, with new hearts inclined away from our sin and towards the love of our heavenly Father, and because of our union to Christ, we have everything we need for life and godliness to live a life that is worthy of this calling.  Our identity – who we really are, how we see ourselves and how we interact in this life – affects our self-examination.  How then, knowing that our position as daughters cannot be shaken, do we approach this important discipline in our sanctification? 

The Posture of Self-Examination

When we consider the Christian practice of on-going self-examination, we are typically speaking of God’s sanctifying work within us to renew us or to restore us to what God intends for us as His people.  As created beings made in the image of God, we are to live our lives as changed people who have received love, grace and mercy instead of the wrath we deserve.  Christian self-examination is a way in which we learn to live out renewed lives evident of the change God has begun in us.  The self-examination that renews and restores is not about “how do I make myself right with God again and again” but “how do I live a life as His redeemed daughter?”

Our posture before the Lord as He examines us is always from a secure, loving covenant relationship with God because Jesus has made it so.  Because we are His daughters, we are always “right” with God.  Our relationship is secure.  Because of that specific truth, self-examination is a discipline grounded in love – His love for us that is not dependent on our own perfection but Christ’s, and our love for Him as the One who died for us.  Sanctifying self-examination has love, not shame or insecurity at its core.  John tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).  In Christ, we are beloved, forgiven daughters and Gomers no more.

The Practice of Self-Examination

Christian self-examination is really better defined as “God-examination” – when God examines us, not we ourselves.  King David says it this way: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; see if there is any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:12-13).  God is the One who has all authority, wisdom, and power to examine us rightly, justly, and equitably.  If left to ourselves, our examination would be shallow, incomplete and often in error – we don’t even know our own hearts (Jer. 17:9) so how can we judge it accurately? And when I judge myself, can I restore myself to God?  No.  Only God can do all these things. As Christians, this has two major implications.

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