Chapter 13:5-10 (ESV) - Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.
Question to consider: How do we examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith?
Today’s passage is one of the many in this epistle which gets taken out of context and used inappropriately. People will use it to question (or affirm) their own salvation based on their defeat (or victory) over a particular sin or demonstration of the fruits of the Spirit. I’ve known people who have walked away from the faith because they assumed they couldn’t be a Christian and still struggle with the sins with which they struggled.
However, the issue with which Paul was dealing in this passage was not in the struggle of individual sins but of the adoption of false doctrine fed to the Corinthians by the super-apostles. The super-apostles preached a worldly “gospel” that Christ died to give us health and prosperity here on earth. Paul was asking them to examine their hearts to see if they had set aside the gospel of grace for this prosperity doctrine because if they rejected the gospel that Paul had preached to them for this false teaching, it only proved that Christ was not in them.
When it comes to our personal struggle with sin, Paul expected that struggle to be ongoing until we are perfected in Christ at the resurrection. As long as we are in the flesh, we will contend with the flesh! This reality does not mean we give in to temptation even if we are feeling exhausted by the struggle. It means that we cling ever harder to Christ and equip ourselves for the battle with things that strengthen our faith like: time spent in God’s word, prayer, fellowship with other believers, using the gifts we’ve received to serve others, and belonging to a Christ-centered, cross-focused church.
Nothing made Paul angrier than false teaching because anything that took away from the finished work of Christ did not produce salvation. Paul was happy for the financial success of the Corinthians but not if it meant that they had clung to a different gospel. Paul may have failed the “test” of the super-apostles in that he was afflicted and therefore lost the respect of the Corinthians as an apostle, but everything Paul did was for the truth even though it cost him dearly.
He prayed for the Corinthians to be restored to the true gospel and to take this letter to heart and repent of this foolishness with the super-apostles so that Paul would not need to bring the judgment of Christ in his visit. The authority given to Paul as an apostle was to build up the true church, the very temple of Christ. He would tear down any stronghold of sin set against this temple, but his preference was that the Corinthians judged themselves by this letter so his visit could be one of encouragement and fellowship.
How do you fare in this test? Have you sought after a different gospel? There are all kinds of different gospels out there today. Some think it is to find our life’s purpose. Some think it is in political activism. Some think it is in social justice. Some think it is in gifts of the Spirit. Some think it is in prosperity. Some think it is in the expression of their sexual identity. If you have added to the finished work of Christ in any way, I implore you to repent and go back to the truth of your baptism where you were put to death in the body but raised to newness of life in Christ and clothed with His righteousness.
Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.