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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Our Daily Need for Self-Examination
Text:LD 30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Giving your heart to God
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-11-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 66:2,4                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Psalm 26; James 1:21-27

Ps 26:1,2,4,7  

Sermon – Lord’s Day 30

Ps 139:1,2,13

Hy 74:1,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, probably we all do things without thinking. For instance, there are habits that we’ve formed and we just keep reinforcing them, day after day, without considering if they’re good for us. There are traditions that we have as families, or even as church, which we’ve never really questioned: why do we do this? We have expectations too—expectations of other people, expectations for our own life—that we’ve just accepted. And then there’s many things we do just because they feel right at the time. Faced with a decision, we didn’t stop to think or reflect, we just plunged ahead.

Many of us have busy lives, and particularly when life is busy, it’s easy to stop thinking. We just fly from one responsibility to the next, compelled by our schedule to keep moving, when the easiest thing is just to do what’s required—don’t ask questions. Until one day we find ourselves in a place where we’re not sure if we’re living for God or for ourselves.

What this reveals is the ongoing need for self-examination. We’re familiar with that term, of course, from the Form for Lord’s Supper. We know the words well, “True self-examination consists of the following three parts…”

It’s an important activity which we’ve probably connected mainly to our participation in the sacrament. We know that before we go to the Lord’s table, we should spend time in personal reflection, in self-examination. But what about the rest of the year? What about those ordinary days that fill up so many months? Do we give any thought and attention to why we’re doing what we’re doing? Or consider if we should be doing something different?

All of this arises out of the question in Lord’s Day 30, “Who are to come to the table of the Lord?” (Q&A 81). And the answer: “Those who are truly displeased with themselves because of their sins…”, and so on. Well, how do you know if you’re truly displeased with yourself? Or how do you really know that you’re trusting God’s promise of forgiveness? And  that you desire to strengthen your faith and amend your life?

You’ll know this through self-examination. And indeed, these are things that we should often reflect on. Are we fleeing from sin? Are we living by faith? Are we growing in godliness? I preach to you God’s Word as it’s summarized in Lord’s Day 30 on this theme,

Let’s get ready to celebrate at the table of the Lord:

  1. examining ourselves
  2. being examined by God

 

1) examining ourselves: We’re more than half-way through the Catechism, so it’s good to be reminded about how it all starts. There’s that beautiful first Question and Answer about our only comfort in life and death, and then the foundational teaching that gives the three-fold structure of the Catechism: “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” (Q&A 2).

And in the answer, we notice the three aspects of self-examination. These are the same points taught in the Lord’s Supper Form, and also summarized in Q&A 81. I need to know, “First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.”

This is what I need to know, and this is what I need to be: fully displeased with myself because of my sins; full of trust that I am forgiven in Christ; and full of the desire to strengthen my faith and amend my life. If we always return to ponder these three fundamentals, our Christian life will be on a firm basis, whether we live or whether we die.

It’s simple, yet it takes effort, and it takes time. In fact, self-examination calls for things that don’t come naturally to us. It means that we have to be humble, and we have to be honest, and we have to be ready to make changes. We’re not always ready to do this, so we’re not sure if we really dare to look within. I like how Charles Spurgeon once put it, “The man who does not like self-examination may be pretty certain that things need examining.”

So let’s consider each part of our self-examination. First, our sin. Why is it necessary for us to reflect carefully on our sinfulness? If we’re going to confess our sins to God, and if we’re going to fight effectively against our sins, then we need to know what our failings are, and especially our regular and repeated transgressions. As David prays to God in Psalm 51:3, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” Self-examination means that we can be specific in our confession to God.

Now, if we thought about our day for more three minutes, we could probably point out particular sins that we’ve done. I was impatient with my wife. I watched something vulgar on YouTube. I shared some gossip. These sins are fairly easy to identify. But it’s also good to look at what’s behind our actions. There’s always something moving and driving what we do. Beneath the surface is always a reason, and too often it’s a sinful reason.             

We read in Proverbs 16, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirits” (v 2). We might not give a second thought to our decisions or reflect on the reason for our actions, but the Lord knows. He knows and weighs our motives, and we should too. So ponder this, beloved: What is the purpose that’s driving your life? Are you seeking security? Do you want physical comfort? Do you simply desire to be happy? Are you doing things to be accepted by others? What’s your reason for being?

The second part of self-examination is about our faith. To borrow the words of Answer 81, “Do I trust that my sins are forgiven and that my remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ?” Do I believe? Now, someone could say, “I know that I have faith. I made public profession of my faith years ago. I definitely believe in God and in Christ—why do I have to reflect on it more than that?”

But it’s good to reflect on the state of your faith today. What does it really mean for you to trust in God’s promises? And when you say that you believe in God, what do you believe about God? In what attributes of God do you find the greatest encouragement? Faith is worked and strengthened through the Scriptures, so in this connection it’s fitting that we also reflect on the place of the Scriptures in our life right now. Are you reading the Bible in a meaningful way? These days, are you feeding your faith with solid spiritual food?

And then the third part of self-examination is our response to God’s grace. In the words of Answer 81, we want “to amend our life.” To amend something is to improve it, fix it, make changes for the better. So reflect carefully on whether there is anything that you need to amend. Is there a hidden sin you need to repent from? Is there an opportunity to serve that you’ve been avoiding? And what are you going to do about that?

In short, we need to consider if our faith has penetrated to each and every corner of our life. How does your love for Christ affect your thinking and doing and speaking? When you survey your daily existence, can you really say that you’re living for his glory? That’s the longing that must fill us, that daily we want to turn from our sin, and turn to God. Before we go to the Supper, the Form says, “Let everyone examine his conscience whether it is his sincere desire to show true thankfulness to God with his entire life.” Beloved, is this your genuine desire, to show thankfulness with your entire life?

Perhaps we know what self-examination is, but there could still be some question about how we are to do it. We know how to examine veggies at the grocery store for freshness, but how to examine my self? How can I really evaluate my soul, and come to the right conclusion?

First, we look with prayer. Ask God to show you his ways and to give you insight into his Word, so that you may understand how to live by it more faithfully. As you examine yourself, pray to God for open eyes.

Second, it is good to look in communion with others. A trusted friend can assist you, or a godly leader, someone who can help you examine yourself. They won’t know everything about you, but they can guide you in finding the truth about yourself.

And third, we must look at ourselves with Scripture in hand. We read from James 1, where the Spirit compares the law of God to a mirror. That’s such a good comparison, because why do you check the mirror several times per day? You want to see what you look like at the moment, make sure everything’s in place and you don’t have food stuck in your teeth.

In the same way, God’s Word is something we’re supposed to look into on a daily basis. This is how we can properly examine ourselves, correct ourselves, and get ourselves ready for God’s service. Because just like a mirror, the Scriptures are very revealing. If we’re honest about what we see, the Scriptures reveal our failures and point out what could be better.

This underlines the importance for us to be attentive to the Word. We could read Scripture at every meal time, every bed time, and attend Bible Study faithfully, year after year. We could sit in church diligently and hear the preaching, Sunday after Sunday. From the outside, it looks like we’re listening.

But are you actually reflecting on how the Scriptures relate to your life? When you read the Bible, are you taking more than a passing glance? Are you working with what you hear? Not only hearing, but doing? Look into the Word and be honest. Let it show who you are in yourself. Let it show who you’ve become in Christ. And let it show who God wants you to be.

Before wrapping up this point, I thought I’d share a list of questions for self-examination that I once came across. These can be good points to reflect on, as they touch on each of the three areas that are mentioned in the Lord’s Supper Form and in the Catechism. Here’s just a brief selection from the list, questions for self-examination:

1. Am I creating the impression that I am better than I really am?

2. Am I a slave to my friends, to my work or to my habits?

3. Did the Bible live in me today?

4. Am I enjoying prayer?

5. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?

6. Do I pray about the money I spend?

7. Do I disobey God in anything? In what?

8. Am I jealous, proud, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?

9. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard?

10. Is Christ real to me?

Points like these are essential to ponder, whether our daily life is busy and demanding or fairly relaxed and unstructured. Before we go to Holy Supper, before we meet God in worship, before we start our day or before we finish it with prayer, we should take time to think about these things: our guilt, God’s grace, and our gratitude.

 

2) being examined by God: We’ve been saying that self-examination is something we should do before the Lord’s Supper, and something to do on a regular basis. Yet there’s a need for caution. It’s still too easy to take a look at our life and reach the conclusion, “Looks good to me. My track record isn’t bad—my conscience is clear.” No, we should realize that our sinful hearts can be deceptive. This Lord’s Day mentions “hypocrites” (Q&A 81), and we should realize that all of us can be afflicted by hypocrisy, where we talk up the faith, but we actually are living in hidden sin.

So at the same time that we examine ourselves, we need to do something else. We need to ask God to examine us! We ask the Lord to test us, to try us, and to see that we really have a contrite heart and a believing spirit.

That’s a scary thought, of course. Think about the words of Psalm 139, the truth that God has already searched us thoroughly, and He knows us intimately. “You know my sitting down and my rising up,” says David, “You understand my thoughts afar off… and [you are] are acquainted with all my ways” (vv 2-3).

Enthroned in heaven above, God knows all. God sees all. And to this great God, David teaches us to pray in Psalm 26:2, “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.” This is a prayer for divine scrutiny. It’s asking God to look at us, to consider our lives and everything in them. And if the LORD examines us, what will He find? If the LORD tries us, will we pass the test? We will, but only in the blood and the Spirit of Christ his Son! We place ourselves before the LORD, not in fear but in humility and faith.

Let’s take a closer look at this prayer of David. When he wrote it, David was under some kind of unfair attack, the target of “a sinister scheme” (v 10). Maybe he wrote this during the rebellion of his son Absalom, or during the persecution of Saul. For both these times, David was on the run from those who had no just cause to hurt him. Both times, he could only appeal to the LORD for support and rescue.

And it’s a bold prayer. For David doesn’t seem to notice a lot of sin in his life. Instead, he insists on his godliness, “I have walked in my integrity” (v 1), and again, “I have walked in your truth” (v 3). To us this seems like a very bad example of self-examination, like David has a sinful pride, an over-confidence. By saying that he’s all right, is David all wrong? But David is a child of God who understands that only those who trust in the LORD will stand fast. Only those who are strengthened and directed and forgiven by God will withstand his judgment.

This is why David makes that his first request, “Vindicate me, O LORD” (v 1). His eyes are fixed firmly on God; he will rest only in the LORD’s judgment and favour. His enemies had been falsely accusing him and trying to bring him low. So David appeals to the LORD to judge him; he appeals to God who alone knows the heart. “LORD, you know how I’ve lived,” he says. “You’ve seen that I’ve tried to be faithful, and how I’ve walked in my integrity.”

David isn’t claiming to be sinless. But he is claiming that he has trusted in God, that he’s tried to be true to God. In spite of difficult circumstances, he hasn’t returned evil for evil. David has made his mistakes, but his heart’s earnest desire had remained to be and do what is right. If God looked at his life, He would see that David was one of his own! He would see that David had tried to put him first.

In that spirit David offers his prayer in verse 2, “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.” The Hebrew words David uses are taken from the world of metal-working. Back then, just as now, gold and silver were tried in intense heat. This was done to burn away the impurities, and then the metals would also be stronger once they cooled.

It’s like we can read in Proverbs 17:3, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the hearts.” David wants the LORD to test his heart—to test him especially during this time of trial, for that’s so often when our real character comes out. Hardship and disappointment and stress expose where our faith is really at. “Take a look,” says David, “Have I strayed from your way? Have I sincerely put my trust in you, O God? Have I shown myself your servant?” David has examined himself, and now he asks God to do the same.

That’s what we should do too. In prayer, in a conscious way, we should submit ourselves to the LORD’s scrutiny. “Examine me, O LORD. Try my mind and heart.” And when God examines us, what does He see? Of course, He sees everything. He sees our private sins, our hidden motives, our passing thoughts, our deepest fears and joys. He sees all, even whether our hearts are upright and true.

And this is good that God examines us, because we can be very wrong about ourselves. Sometimes we can be too positive about our faith, where we think we’re doing just wonderfully as Christians, and we’re actually leading an unbelieving and ungodly life. Beneath the veneer of respectability might be the ugly rot of hypocrisy and unrepentant sin.

We can be too positive about ourselves, but we can also be too negative. You might conclude that you’re not good for anything. When you see how weak your faith is and how many are your sins, you despair. We could examine ourselves every day, but if we’re honest, we’ll always have to conclude that we’ve fallen short.

So we need God to examine us too. For the LORD knows those who are his own. He looks within and God sees a heart that is being changed. He sees our faith, however small and struggling and weak it might be. He sees our faith, and He promises never to forsake those who put their trust in him.

And how great a comfort that is! Because God knows us so well, He also knows how needy we are. He knows how much daily help we require just to get by. He understands how desperate we are for his mercy in Christ, how lost we are without his Holy Spirit. And knowing all this, God has promised to provide for us. When we make confession of our sins and we ask for his help, God will surely answer us in his grace.

That’s how the Psalm ends, with a confident note of security. David knows there’s only one place that we’ll ever stand firm. It won’t be on our own strength, and it won’t be on our accomplishments, but only on the Solid Rock who is God: “My foot stands in an even place” (v 12). We confess that we’ll only stand firm on the LORD and on his salvation.

“O LORD, examine me.” We still hesitate to pray this prayer, and to place ourselves before God’s throne. But we know that our God examines us in the shining light of Christ. Indeed, I pray that God may examine you and see that you really are united to Jesus his Son by a true and living faith. Only by faith in him will you be ready for the table, and ready to live in fellowship with God.

Earlier I encouraged you to take time for self-examination, to think about what you’re doing. But now we understand that true self-examination isn’t simply looking within ourselves. It’s not a self-centered introspection, an obsession with our heart and our struggles and our goals. Self-examination without God will get us nowhere—it’ll end in either the folly of pride or the pit of despair. Every day we should take the time to look within, but then we must also remember to look up—up to our God and Father, and our Saviour in Christ. As someone once said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

Do it tomorrow too. Before you start your day, or perhaps as you finish it, meditate on your fellowship with God. Think about who you are, in yourself. Think about who you’ve become, in Christ. And think about where Christ wants you to go, and what He wants you to do.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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