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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Self Examination in the Mirror of God's Word
Text:2 Corinthians 13:5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Just as I Am                                                         

Holy Spirit, Light Divine                                              

Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine 

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

Pastor Ted Gray
“Self-Examination in the Mirror of God’s Word”
2 Corinthians 13:5
Those who have a yearly check up with a dermatologist know the importance of self-examination. The doctor may see a spot and tell you to keep an eye on it. He may tell you that if it changes color or becomes more irregular, you must call him (or her) for further evaluation; perhaps a biopsy or surgery will be required.
Self-examination can be a life or death experience. That applies not only to our physical life, but more importantly, it also applies to our spiritual life. Scripture repeatedly calls us to examine our self. We see that in our text, in verse 5, where the apostle writes, “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!”
But that command to examine yourself, to see whether you really are in the faith, wasn’t written just for the church at Corinth so long ago. In God’s timeless Word, that command is given to each one of us. It is a command for every Christian. (And it is especially appropriate for us in this week of preparation before taking the Lord’s supper).
But self-examination is not an easy process. In the process of self-examination we find many hindrances. Often when we examine ourselves, we come up with questions, and in the self-examination process we sometimes begin to wonder whether we truly are saved.
One hindrance to our assurance of salvation springs from reoccurring temptation. Have you ever noticed how opportunity only knocks once, but temptation is always knocking at the door?
Satan attacks the thoughts of every believer. And as that temptation repeatedly comes into our thoughts, reoccurring time after time, we can begin to doubt our salvation. The evil one whispers so convincingly, “How can a believer think such thoughts…?” And as those temptations and attacks of the evil one come our way, our assurance so often wavers.
It was Charles Haddon Spurgeon who pointed out that a Christian should expect temptation to be a part of his or her life just as much as you would expect thorns on a rose. After all, that was true for Jesus. He faced more temptation than we will ever face, for He was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was, is, and ever will be, without sin.
His power over temptation and sin is recorded repeatedly in Scripture, including His temptation in the desert, recorded in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Luke 4:13 records one of the most sinister verses in the entire Bible. The devil had come to Jesus in one of the weakest moments of His life as He was famished with hunger, having fasted extensively in the desert. The devil twisted the word of God to lead Jesus into temptation. But each time the devil tempted Him, Jesus used the word of God to refute the temptations of the evil one. And then, after describing the temptations, Luke 4:13 states: “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.”
You see, the evil one is always looking for an opportune time to tempt; he is always looking for a way to cause you to doubt your salvation, looking for a way to rob you of that blessed assurance of the forgiveness of your sins. And he knows the most opportune time to tempt. He knows your schedule better than you do. He will always come at your weakest moments.
A second hindrance to our assurance of salvation comes when we give in to temptation and knowingly disobey God. 
In Psalm 19 David prayerfully asked, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” (Psalm 19:12-13)
I wish I could say that I have never sinned presumptuously against God. But unfortunately, I have sinned against the Lord deliberately and defiantly – with presumption – more times than I could ever count. And so have you. It is exactly as Isaiah described when he wrote “we all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to our own way;” – which makes it all the more amazing that Isaiah 53:6 goes on to say, and the Lord has laid on Him” – on Christ – “the iniquity of us all.”
In 1757 a pastor named Robert Robinson wrote the hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Robinson had been converted under the preaching of George Whitfield. He became a minister, but as the years went by he began to drift. He left the ministry and traveled to France. He had lost all assurance of his salvation and was living as an unbeliever.
One night he was in a carriage and there happened to be a woman there who was a well-known socialite who had recently become a Christian. The young woman did not know who Robinson was, but she asked him if he had ever heard this beautiful piece of poetry. She said she just recently came across it, and she read to him the words he had written long before:
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it
mount of God's redeeming love.
Robinson said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”
She replied, “Sir, the ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.”
When we leave the path of obedience, as Robinson did, when we knowingly disobey God and sin with presumption, then He withholds the comfort of assurance. He does so to force us back on the right path because the streams of mercy are indeed still flowing. As the Westminster Confession of Faith points out, in chapter 13, paragraph 4: “True believers may have the assurance of their salvation (divers ways) shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit...” And that lack of assurance, brought about by sin, affects every true believer.
We are not only burdened with the sins we commit, but we are also carriers of original sin, the sin that is woven into the fabric of our being from conception onward. Consequently, we all have sin that remains in us against our will. That is the great dilemma of Romans 7. In our mind and in our heart, we desire to do God’s will and to obey His word. But because of sin which remains in us – even though we are washed in the blood of Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and adopted as children of our heavenly Father – we still sin against God.
But despite our continual sin, springing from our sinful nature, we can still have a blessed assurance of salvation. We have that blessed assurance when we do as Paul did. In Romans 7, reflecting on his sin, he exclaimed in deep sorrow, Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
But with further reflection on Christ and His redeeming work, he joyfully proclaimed in the next verse, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” And he concluded, “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)
A third hindrance to our assurance of salvation can come when we suffer. In the trials and hardships of life, God may seem distant, causing us to doubt our salvation.  
It has been pointed out that the winds of trial can either drive us closer to the Lord or drive us further from Him. In the previous chapter, Paul described how a thorn in the flesh harassed and tormented him, but through the pain he came closer to the Lord as he realized that God’s grace is greater than any thorn; he came to realize that God’s power is perfect for our every weakness. In that way, trial and suffering is often used to bring us closer to the Lord.
But at other times, just the opposite can happen. The winds of trial can shake our assurance even to the point where we question our salvation. By way of illustration, the imagery is used of a fragile plant growing next to a majestic oak tree. In a fierce storm, the oak tree protects the fragile plant as it blocks the destructive force of the wind. But the opposite can also happen. If the wind gusts from a different direction, the fragile plant can be driven away from the protection of the mighty oak and be uprooted and destroyed.
The winds of trial can shake our assurance even to the point where we are unable to pray. And in those times the evil one so effectively and persistently whispers, “If you are really one of God’s children, why are you suffering so much? If you really belong to the Lord, why is He allowing this pain in your life? You are no Christian! You can’t even find in yourself the ability to pray!”
And at those times of trial, our assurance of salvation wavers before it is strengthened again. At those times, the prayers of God’s people uphold us, and Christ Himself intercedes for us even as the Holy Spirit also intercedes with groanings too deep for words. And then we realize again, with deep gratitude, that God’s grace is all-sufficient for every thorn that cuts so deeply; and we realize again that His power is indeed made perfect in our weakness.
Back in the 1600s, a minister by the name of Thomas Hooker wrote a classic book entitled, The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ. The book sprang from his experiences in helping a woman who was convinced that she had committed the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. She had no assurance of salvation whatsoever, but Thomas Hooker was instrumental in bringing her through that deep valley of doubt and into the blessed assurance of salvation.
His book is still in publication and is widely read because it addresses a subject that affects all of us, for all of us at times struggle with doubt and with assurance, especially as we examine ourselves.  After all, our text in 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us, “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!”
Passing the Test
But how do we get the tests score? There is no SAT test with scores coming back in black and white. So how do we know that we have passed the test? How can we reach that point of blessed assurance, considering that all of us are sinners and are plagued at times with doubt?
First, we must believe the promises of God, for assurance of salvation is directly connected to saving faith in Jesus Christ alone.
God’s word is filled with promises from Him assuring us that He will save sinners who come to Him in repentance and faith. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul writes: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” In John 2:1-2 the Holy Spirit assures us, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.” Jesus Himself said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-31)  “…For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)
Those are but a few of the many promises that we must believe from then depth of our heart in order to have the blessed assurance of salvation. Assurance is an outgrowth of faith, an outgrowth of believing the promises of God in Scripture. The Heidelberg Catechism does a beautiful job of linking assurance of salvation to our faith. Question 21 asks, “What is true faith?”
A. True faith is
        not only a knowledge and conviction
          that everything God reveals in his Word is true;
     it is also a deep-rooted assurance,
       created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel,
       that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ,
          not only others, but I too,
               have had my sins forgiven,
               have been made forever right with God,
               and have been granted salvation.
But to have that deep-rooted assurance, you must take the promises of God to heart.
A man by the name of Wilbur Chapman was asked once by Dwight Moody whether he was a Christian. Chapman replied that he wasn’t sure if he was a Christian. Moody opened his Bible to John 5:24 and read these words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
Dwight Moody asked Wilbur Chapman if he believed those words that he had heard. Chapman replied that he did believe those words, and so Moody asked him again, “Are you a Christian?” And again, Chapman said, “I’m not really sure. Sometimes I think I am. Sometimes I doubt that I really am.”
Moody had him re-read the verse, and then asked again if he believed what Jesus said. And again, Chapman said he believed what Jesus said. So again, Moody asked him if he was a Christian, and when once again Chapman expressed doubt Moody became sharp with him. He turned to him with his eyes flashing and said, “See, here, who are you doubting?”
It was then that Chapman realized that to doubt his salvation was the same as doubting the words of Jesus that “whoever hears (His) word and believes Him who sent (Him) has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” An essential part of having assurance of salvation is taking to heart the promises of God.
Another aspect of assurance of salvation comes as we see that, by God’s grace, He sanctifies us by His Holy Spirit, so that we have evidence of saving faith in our lives.
In John 15 Jesus gives the analogy of Him being the vine and describes how we are the branches. As branches of the true vine of Christ, we will produce fruit. Unfortunately, our fruit is blighted by sin, and yet when we see that it is evident that Christ is living within us – that He is the Vine and that by His grace we are His branches, producing fruit, albeit blighted – it does grant us a measure of assurance. That assurance isn’t based just on the fruit, but rather on the Vine; it is based on Christ and is evident by how we live.
Jesus described how we will know other believers by their fruit. In other words, we know by their conduct whether they are believers or not. It is true that ultimately only the Lord knows who are His, and there will be surprises in heaven. But it is also true that if we genuinely believe in the Lord, it will be evident by the way we strive to live.
It has been pointed that we should not be “fruit pickers” that is, looking at the fruit and not the Vine which produces the fruit. While that is true, it also true that there is an obedience that springs from faith, as Romans 1:5 describes, and Acts 26:20 teaches that genuine repentance will be evident by deeds. In the words of James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
But self-examination, done in the mirror of God’s Word, goes far beyond looking at ourselves; true self-examination always points us to Christ. We pass the test, in the terminology of verse 5, “…not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5-7). Our assurance comes, not by looking at ourselves, but by focusing in true saving faith on Christ alone.
Tied in with that assurance of salvation is the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:16 assures us that “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…”
Part of the testimony of the Spirit, known through His sanctifying work, comes as we live out what Galatians 5 calls the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
In this life we never have the fruit of the Spirit to its fullest degree. We may have some peace, some joy, some self-control – but in every category there is so much room for improvement, and it will be that way until the day we are ushered into glory. Yet, as we see and experience the testimony of the Spirit within us, we also have increased assurance of our salvation.
In Scripture we are told to test ourselves to see whether we are really in the faith. (And as we look ahead to the Lord’s Supper next week, we are to examine ourselves in preparation for that privilege of the sacrament). As you and I honestly examine ourselves, ask:
If I were to appear before the Lord today, to what would I appeal? Am I truly resting on the promises of Jesus that whoever hears His word and believes in Him has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life?
As others look at me, and as I look at myself in the mirror of God’s word, what evidence of faith in Jesus do they see? Does my conduct reveal my faith in Christ?
And, do I know the presence – the testimony of the Holy Spirit – within me? Do I cultivate the fruit of the Spirit through prayer, through Bible study, through faithful worship with God’s people?
None of us come close to perfection in this life. All of us must acknowledge with the hymn writer, (Augustus Toplady), “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I Cling”. And then, by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone, may you and I have that blessed assurance of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
May we find what Thomas Hooker wrote about so long ago, that by God’s grace, as His Spirit works through the Word, poor doubting Christians are indeed drawn to Christ and given the blessed assurance of salvation through faith in Him alone. Amen!
                                      - bulletin outline -
“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!” - 2 Corinthians 13:5
                     “Self-Examination in the Mirror of God’s Word”
                                            2 Corinthians 13:5
I.  The Bible tells us to examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the
      faith (2 Cor. 13:5).  Every Christian doubts their salvation at times,
      even though the Bible was written so that believers may know that
      they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Hindrances to assurance of
      salvation include:
      1) Reoccurring temptations at “opportune” times (Luke 4:13)
      2) Times when we knowingly disobey God (Psalm 19:13; Romans 7:14-25)
      3) Pain from suffering trials, which may lead to doubt (John 9:1-3)
II. To have the blessed assurance of salvation, we need to believe the promises
      of God (John 5:24, 1 John 5:13). Those who have saving faith in Christ alone
      will see evidence of salvation in their lives (Matt. 7:16-20; John 15:1-17), and
      will know the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:16), as His fruit is
      produced within us (Galatians 5:22-23a)

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

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