Results tagged “Self-Examination” from Reformation21 Blog

Media Motives Matter


In this social media age, the Christian would do well to remember Christ's warning, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).

"Sound no trumpet," Jesus says, when you give (Matthew 6:2). It is quite an illustration Jesus offers. Here is a person who gives, but before they do so they blow a horn. That will gather some attention! They desire to be seen. They want to be thought well of. They long to be honored.

We don't sound trumpets (that seems a little over the top) but we have other means in our day of being recognized--especially on social media. Many master what has been called the humble brag: "I am so thankful for so and so's thankfulness for me." We are so humbled that we retweet their thankfulness! Virtue-signaling may be the greatest temptation. Of this we have we have made an art-form. It seems the louder and more recognizable, the better. Beware, Jesus warns us, be careful that you aren't doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Motives matter. Jesus warns that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is what marks the life of the hypocrite (o how that stings!). It is the hypocrite, Jesus says, who does righteous deeds to be praised by others (Matthew 6:2). Jesus is concerned with a false righteousness that is no righteousness at all. The motive proves wrong. "Give me applause. Honor me. Celebrate me." We all know that pull, because we all feel it at times and given into it at other times. The desire for the praise of others dominates like few other desires.

Here there is great danger. Here is a trap many fall into and never recover from. The praise of men, like a black hole, pull one deeper and deeper into it. Its gravitational pull is hard to break. And it has no bottom and it provides no light. Let us run from it with every fiber of our being.

Notice, that the hypocrite possesses a religious life. He/she looks alive but there is in fact no life there. Like a corpse prepared for a funeral visitation--everything is in its place. The face has been painted, the skin reflects color, the outward appearance looks living, but there is no life within. Many live such a life on social media before a watching world. We know it is watching and we live for its applause.

Let us not live for the praise of others. Others celebrating us is no sign that God celebrates us as well. Motivation matters. God cares not about the quantity of our service if it is not quality service. And doing good deeds for the praise of others, even on social media, fails to pass the quality standards of God. It proves to be false righteousness. A person living in this way is but a shell of a Christian and the acts they are doing are but a shell of Christian acts. It is all hollow on the inside.

Let it instruct us that Satan doesn't hate or work against the person who makes a show of godliness; he opposes those who are truly godly. What Satan hates, we are to love. What he loves, we are to hate. He had no problem with Balaam as a prophet or Judas as a disciple. In fact, he welcomed their professions. And he welcomed their deeds. But God did not.

Practicing righteousness before others in order is self-serving and is in fact an unrighteousness. And for this Jesus says we will receive no reward from God (Matthew 6:1).

Yet, Jesus says there is a reward. "Truly, I say to you they have received their reward" (Matthew 6:2). Those making a show of righteousness are paid in full. They received a receipt written in bold letters--paid! They should expect and will get nothing more, for they have already been paid in full. With what? Jesus answers, "The praise of men." And what a poor payment that is--a payment fleeting and vapid. And how much was lost!

What God thinks of us not only matters more than what men think of us; it is the only thing that matters. Labor for the rewards above. Set your mind on things above. What this world offers proves too fleeting and what we lose is too great. Let us not practice our righteousness before men for the approval of men, even on social media.

Shepherds and Self-Awareness

When ministers and elders gather together, it is usual for them share their ministry burdens with each other. The calling of a minister of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is high and hard; the weightiness of the calling and the sufferings experienced in it give us the need to discreetly share some criticisms we endure, oppositions we face, and brokenness we encounter. We are usually acutely aware of how these contribute to our own suffering.

It is more rare to hear ministers and elders reflect on how their congregations have suffered because of their ministries, despite the fact that this kind of self-awareness is a route to the most blessed and mature ministries. Why is it as uncommon as it is? Often because self-centeredness not only makes us shallow and blunt instruments of ministry but also blinds us to the harm done to the Lord's sheep entrusted to us. Then the sobering words of Ezekiel 34:3-4 become increasingly applicable to us: we fail to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bring back the straying, and seek the lost. We place hindrances between Christ and his sheep. Self-promotion, self-pity, apathy or harshness begin to characterize us. Evangelical writers offering counsel to pastors describe this all too common problem in varying ways. Some label it as low emotional intelligence or as narcissistic personality disorder. In the worst of cases, those who ought to be Christ-like shepherds of the sheep are self-centered abusers of the flock, and as these studies indicate, troublingly blind to themselves--and able to speak of their 'challenges in ministry' with great sincerity.

So how do we cultivate a healthy self-awareness in gospel ministry? How do we cultivate a humble and fruitful love for the flock?

Ordinary Means

First, we need to be engaged in communion with God, using the ordinary means of grace. We need to be in the Word for ourselves and in prayer for ourselves. As we come to him, the Lord uses his Word and Spirit to remove simple and overly high views of self, making us wise; his pure commands will enlighten us, including to ourselves. (Psalm 19:7-8) He will prune us for greater fruitfulness. (John 15:2) As we grow in knowing and communing with the Lord, we begin to see ourselves with far greater clarity, and realize with renewed depth how difficult it is to discern our own errors. (Psalm 19:12) We more deeply realize our need of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His perfect sufficiency for all. (Romans 7:24-25) United to Christ, and living in him, we become more like him. Through this, our ministry grows.

Communion with the People of God

Second, we need the communion of the saints for our own sanctification. We need to see ourselves as worshipping the King of kings and Lord of lords alongside them, with them. We need their love, encouragement, their concerns and wisdom. We need to be ready to listen to and heed our wives, elders, and fellow ministers. We also need to be ready to hear from our congregants. They see us, hear us, and know us from week to week. They enjoy the blessing of our ministries; they also suffer under the weaknesses and sin in our ministries. As ministers, when we receive concerns from church members, we need to guard against "circling the wagons" with sympathetic fellow ministers who don't see us day in and day out. It is all too easy to self-justify and commiserate with them rather than listening with a servant's heart to those living with our ministry. Our congregants may well see with uncomfortable accuracy that our ministry is going poorly; or they may have a gut sense that something is off, or missing in us, though they struggle to articulate it. If you want to grow in God-exalting ministry listen, reflect, and pray. Heart-searching counsel of past ministers is also a help; Charles Spurgeon's essay, "The Minister's Self-Watch", is a good place to begin.

Strict Judgment and our All-Sufficient Savior

Those who minister will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1). We need to proceed in ministry with great care and humility. We are not sufficient for our calling, but our Lord is more than sufficient for us in it. We bear the treasure of God's good news in jars of clay, so that it would be evident that God is the one who saves and sanctifies. (2 Cor. 4:7) He provides for and enables growth in faithful, fruitful ministry--including the painful blessing of coming to a more accurate self-awareness.

William VanDoodewaard has served as a church planter and is Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article is expanded from an earlier version published in the PRTS Update.

Are you too introspective?

Over at the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax has warned us against what he calls the Puritan paralysis: that crippling, morbid self-analysis - what Mr Wax calls hyper-introspection - that directs all our spiritual attention toward self and our efforts rather than toward Christ as the object of saving faith, and so cuts the nerve of Christian service as assured saints. He writes:
We can avoid this type of introspection by avoiding the pitfalls of some of the Puritans. Though the Reformers sought to emphasize the assurance we can have because of God's grace in election and salvation, their descendants sometimes undercut the beauty of assurance by stressing the fruit of sanctification more than the fact of justification. Self-examination was a "descending into our own hearts" to root out every possible sinful tendency and desire.

Beware the paralysis that comes from this type of introspection. If our goal is to discover, analyze, and root out every aspect of sinfulness in our hearts, then we will never come to the end of the task.
Of course, Mr Wax is correct to say that there can be a morbid introspection that turns our eyes upon self for the evidences and away from Christ for the foundation, and that some Puritans and others in the Puritan tradition opened a door for those so inclined to head in that direction. Some readers may know of the treatment by Thomas Shepard (1605-1649) of the parable of the ten virgins, in which he compares at length those without oil and those with oil in their lamps, emphasising how positively and creditably like one another they were outwardly, and yet some were lost when the Bridegroom arrived, prompting the lament from one wounded soul, "Oh, to be one of Shepard's hypocrites!" While there is much of value in the book, the suggestion is that the realities of faith were so parsed down that the tender conscience might look at genuine marks of salvation in the life and explain them away, so losing assurance. And, of course, we should not forget that these same charges have been laid against Jonathan Edwards book on The Religious Affections, which takes a similar approach of analysing those things which are and are not genuine indicators of the saving work of the Spirit. As the good advice goes, "For every one look at yourself, take ten looks to Jesus Christ."

Mark Jones has gone helpfully into bat in the comments to provide something of a balance. Mr Jones points back to the historic Puritan position, summarised, for example, in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith:
This certainty [that we are indeed saved] is not a bare conjectural, and probable persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel; and also upon the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit unto which promises are made, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; and as a fruit thereof keeping the heart both humble and holy.
Here there is a clear and balanced statement about the nature and foundation of the assurance of salvation, because the root of saving faith always produces in its season the fruit of good works. One of the evidences that we are in Christ is that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, we become more like Christ. If there is no fruit in the life - and, of course, that statement itself needs to be explained and qualified - then we have no grounds for concluding that a man is walking with God. Healthy saints are holy saints, not forgetting that the grounds on which their good deeds are accepted in the sight of God remains their relationship with his beloved Son.

Indeed, Mr Wax is operating on precisely this principle in his post. Again, he says,
To be clear, in warning against the Puritan paralysis, I am not saying we should never engage in self-examination. Self-examination in light of the Scriptures is appropriate and necessary for every believer. The Apostle Paul calls us to this discipline (2 Cor. 13:5).

But our self-examination needs to take place in light of Romans 8: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
But what is his premise, in terms of his post? Healthy saints are not overly introspective but properly missional, having a Biblically balanced perspective on Christ and themselves, a Scripturally informed understanding of the grounds of their relationship with God in Christ. So, are you too introspective? Have you allowed your missiological effectiveness to be thwarted by this? Are you looking too much to yourself and not enough to Christ?

The trouble is that a tender conscience might take these very questions and make them the grounds of the self-same problem that Mr Wax contends against. If "Satan loves to take the tender conscience and stir up doubt of salvation, doubt of sanctification, and doubt of progression in holiness," then he can do so as well with these things as anything else.

John Owen - a Puritan, you know - somewhere says that it is the trouble of the preacher that when the terrors of the law are proclaimed, they too often seem to wash over those who ought to tremble under them while those who have no cause to fear are deeply troubled; by the same token, when the preacher ministers comforts to believers they are swiftly embraced by those who have no right to them and rejected by the very saints who most need them, as outside their entitlement. This is the battle that every shepherd of the sheep faces: to explain and apply the truth with that proper discrimination that brings needful truth to bear on needy souls, with prayer that the Holy Spirit will so make it plain as to accomplish the purposes of almighty God in his proper time.