In my country every car has to pass an annual road-worthiness test. As a poor student with a cheap car, I used to dread this test. Would the inspector say something about my dodgy brakes, the missing tail-light, or the cloud of black smoke coming out of the tailpipe? Would my car fail the test and be taken off the road?
You may have similar feelings of dread and anxiety when you read this verse:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor 13:5)
To the one who stands on his own performance, this is a frightening verse. It’s the sort of verse you might hear before communion or at the start of a service. “Are you saved? Really saved? Is there sin in your life? Come, let us examine our navels together!”
Before I was persuaded about my Father’s love for me, this scripture bothered me. Not anymore! How can I disqualify what Christ has qualified? How can I undo that which I never did in the first place? I am kept by grace, not self-examination.
The idea that we have to examine ourselves for sin is thoroughly humanistic. They didn’t even do this under the old covenant. Back in the day if you brought a lamb to the temple, the priest examined the lamb, not you. That was prophetic shadow of a new reality. When we do communion or worship, we’re supposed to examine Jesus, not ourselves. “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24-25).
Do you not know?
Paul is NOT saying, “Examine yourselves periodically to make sure you’re still saved.” You are not a car. You are not subject to an annual road-worthiness test. This examination is about reinforcing what you should already know: “Don’t you know that Christ is in you?”
(Incidentally, Paul often said “don’t you know?” (see Rom 6:3,16,7:1, 1 Cor 6:15,16,19). It was one of his rhetorical trademarks. “Don’t you know? By now you should know!”)
Paul wants you to know that Christ is in you. You need to know this. He’s told you several times already. You are in union with Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:5,30, 2 Cor 5:21, GNB). You have been sanctified in Christ (1 Cor 1:2), and your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).
But it’s one thing for Paul to say it, and another for you to believe it, hence his question:
Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you… (2 Cor 13:5)
Are you convinced in your own mind that you are one with the Lord? Or are you still troubled by the fear-mongers and insecurity preachers?
In context, some of the Corinthians had been a bit snarky. “Is Paul even an apostle? Who does he think he is?” Paul is calling them out. “Stop testing me, and test yourselves. Be who you are in Christ. Stop playing the judgment game.”
Grade-A certified Christian
Some people use this verse to put Christians into two boxes: good Christians and bad Christians. Good Christians have perfect teeth and come to church with immaculate hair and well-behaved children. Bad Christians are those with unconfessed sin who may find themselves ejected from the family. Such thinking appeals to our sense of fairness, but it insults our Father who loves us no matter what. Daddy-God will never unchild his children!
Unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Cor 13:5)
Who fails the test of being in Christ? The one who is not in Christ, meaning the unbeliever. If this is you, you need to repent and believe the good news about Jesus, that he loves you, died for you and now lives for you. If you are outside, the way inside is through the door of his grace. It’s turning to God and being persuaded that he loves you like a Father. It’s exchanging your broken down old life for the life of his Son. More here.
But if you pass the test, meaning you know Jesus as Lord, then don’t let the self-appointed fruit inspectors trouble you. Stop conforming to that old habit of self-examination and be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Do you not know that Christ is in you? Do you not know that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, a holy and living sacrifice, pleasing to God?
When you examine yourself, see Christ Jesus in you. He is your life. One with the Lord you are as righteous and holy as he is (1 Cor 1:30). You are pleasing and acceptable to God, able to stand, because Jesus makes you so.
You are saved by grace and kept by grace. Believe it and be at peace.