What Is the Bible’s View?
Why ‘Test Whether You Are in the Faith’
IT WAS to professing Christians at Corinth that the apostle Paul wrote: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Cor. 13:5) Why are such testing and proving essential? How can they be undertaken?
We might first consider why the apostle Paul gave the above counsel. Certain Christians at Corinth believed that they were in the faith. Yet they were acting in a way that was contrary to the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. Paul feared that upon visiting them he would find “strife, jealousy, cases of anger, contentions, backbitings, whisperings, cases of being puffed up, disorders.” (2 Cor. 12:20) In view of such a poor spiritual situation among members of the congregation, there was a need for all to determine whether they were really living as Christians should.
Humans are prone to take their own shortcomings far less seriously than those of others and to excuse themselves. So a danger existed that some Christians at Corinth would deceive themselves into thinking that they were in the faith when in reality they were in a spiritually diseased condition. The apostle Paul was concerned that the Corinthians recover themselves and, therefore, urged that they examine themselves as to their profession of being Christians.
Some members of the congregation were definitely in danger of experiencing shipwreck to their faith on account of self-deception. The words of Jesus Christ to the congregation at Laodicea illustrate that their course could have led to a complete loss of their relationship with God and Christ. The Son of God warned: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or else hot. So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.”—Rev. 3:15-17.
Considering the grave danger of self-deception, all Christians do well to keep testing whether they are in the faith. The disciple James gave fine admonition in this regard: “Become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves with false reasoning. For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, this one is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, and off he goes and immediately forgets what sort of man he is. But he who peers into the perfect law that belongs to freedom and who persists in it, this man, because he has become, not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, will be happy in his doing it. If any man seems to himself to be a formal worshiper and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man’s form of worship is futile.”—Jas. 1:22-26.
So if a Christian does not continue to examine himself carefully in the light of God’s Word, he can become like a person who simply takes a quick glance at the mirror. Such a Christian could easily deceive his heart. He could reason, ‘I’m doing all right. I attend Christian meetings, read the Bible, pray and tell others about my beliefs.’ But aside from these outward aspects of formal worship, he may put forth little effort to develop a Christian personality. He may dismiss his spiritual spots and blemishes, continuing in the same routine and all the while thinking that he is truly in the faith. Especially to such a person the inspired warning is applicable: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Cor. 10:12.
What he fails to recognize is that, without works consistent with the whole of Christian teaching, his worship is futile. It does not amount to anything.
The tongue, for example, cannot be permitted to continue expressing downgrading things. It has to be kept in check. The words that come from the mouth reveal just what a person is at heart. Jesus Christ said: “Out of the heart’s abundance [the] mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) So the person who makes a practice of downgrading others and imputing selfish motives to them shows that there is something defective about his claim to be in the faith. His formal expressions of worship are therefore valueless.
Hence, a Christian, in testing whether he is in the faith, must determine whether his words and actions harmonize with his profession. When he seeks to be guided by God’s Word in all affairs of life, he proves himself to be a ‘doer of the word.’ This can bring him great happiness, for the Giver of the guidelines found in the Holy Scriptures is Jehovah God, the Source of “every good gift and every perfect present.” (Jas. 1:17) Accordingly, observance of the ‘law that belongs to Christian freedom’ is bound to promote a person’s greatest happiness and lasting welfare. The maintaining of happiness is therefore another good reason for testing whether one is in the faith.
Besides making examination of themselves with the help of the Scriptures, Christians today should also, as the Corinthians were instructed, ‘keep proving what they themselves are.’ (2 Cor. 13:5) How might this be done? By way of illustration, a person may have a saw. His knowing how this tool was manufactured and what materials were used will not be enough for him to determine whether his saw is really of superb quality. It could have a hidden defect. Only by using the saw for a variety of tasks over a period of time can he really find out how good a tool it is. Similarly, one of the best ways to prove what we are as persons is to put Christian faith to work in all affairs of life, especially in trialsome situations.
Ask yourself, How do I react to unkindness and abuse? Do I refuse to retaliate? When others are dishonest, do I uphold right principles? The Christian proves that he is genuine when he does not succumb to pressures to be like the world in attitude, word and action.
What do such pressures reveal about you? Are others able to see that you conduct yourself in harmony with the counsel at 1 Peter 3:8, 9? There we read: “All of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate, humble in mind, not paying back injury for injury or reviling for reviling, but, to the contrary, bestowing a blessing.”
Truly Christians have good reasons for continuing to test whether they are in the faith, proving what they really are. Such testing is a safeguard against self-deception and losing an approved standing with God. It results in taking positive steps to conform ever closer to God’s Word. This brings great happiness now and assures the Christian of future blessings.