Testing for Life
2 Corinthians 13:5-10
I’ll have to apologize this morning. I know I said that we would be discussing baptism this morning, but in my study I realized that our look into baptism would be greatly helped if we thought through our topic this morning. My hope is that next week we will arrive at the topic of baptism, more fully prepared to see the glory and responsibility of baptism as an ordinance given by Jesus Christ.
To briefly recap: last week I laid out the proposition that every facet of the church’s life and existence is founded upon the new birth through salvation in Jesus Christ. We repent of sins, ask His forgiveness, commit our lives to Him, and He re-creates us. He makes us be born again into the hope that comes through His sacrifice for our sins. Specifically last week we saw that, by definition, a member of God’s church MUST be someone who is born again, and that as a local church we must be faithful to that same qualification.
So here’s the therefore for this week: By the biblical definition, every member of God’s church and the local church must be born again…THEREFORE, if membership depends upon this qualification, then the church MUST examine its members and those seeking membership to know whether or not they have been born again. If we recognize that there IS a qualification, then we must seek to KEEP that qualification.
READ 2 Corinthians 13:5-10 & PRAY
Ok, let’s think about the context in which Paul is writing this passage. We see throughout the book of Acts that Paul is going into all different places preaching the gospel, discipling more people, and building churches. Then, after the books of Acts, we see the record of Paul interacting with his churches. He goes around and plants all these churches, and then continues to support and teach them even as he goes elsewhere, and nearly half of our New Testament is a record of this correspondence between Paul and his churches. It seems as though the church at Corinth is one of his most difficult situations, and he has to deal with a lot of issues with them, both theological and practical. Through this letter in particular, we see that Paul is answering objections and accusations. They have even demanded proof that he is speaking from God, apparently (13:3)!
However, what we see Paul doing constantly is working for their good (12:14-15, 19), even though what he must do for their good is not going to be easy or fun (12:20; 13:2). And all of this is for the purpose of building them up (13:10).
Now, we know that our passage this morning is right in the middle of this. Paul is working for their good because he loves them and wants to build them up. So what does he tell the Corinthian church to do for their good, so that they might be built up?
- Examine yourselves to see if you’re in the faith (13:5)
Paul urges them to examine each other to find whether or not they are “in the faith”? This is an examination of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). The Corinthians are to examine each others’ beliefs to see whether or not they accord with true gospel teaching.
- Test yourselves to see if Christ is in you (13:5)
Again, the urge is to look at one another’s’ lives and provide accountability. Are we in the faith? Do our lives give evidence that we believe rightly? Do we live as though Christ were in us?
- Apply this same test to the apostles and teachers (13:6)
This is a necessary action which everyone takes part in and to which everyone submits. There are no exemptions. The members of the church were to be constantly examining each other.
This is how Paul the apostle, the master church planter and disciple-maker, urged the church to build itself up: to examine each other to see whether they were born again, and to see if their lives showed that Christ was living within them!
And this was not simply a practical suggestion written to one church. This is a biblical command that applies to every church. If the church is to be built up, it MUST be grounded upon Jesus Christ, and those who are born again through faith in his name. It is imperative and absolutely necessary for the life, health, and survival of the church to do this.
ILLUSTRATION – Wise man built his house upon the rock.
In the same way, the church will be endangered and unsteady if it is founded upon ANYTHING but Jesus Christ. The first and most important way to do this is to make sure that each member is grounded upon Jesus Christ. We MUST hold ourselves, AND ANYONE WHO SEEKS MEMBERSHIP, up to the biblical qualification for membership in God’s church.
OBJECTION: “Wow. You mean we’re supposed to stand here and say who is and is not born again? That’s really judgmental. ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.’”
First, I want to recognize that there have been many people through history, probably a number of people in your own life, who have overstepped their bounds and stood in judgment over you or over someone else. They condemned and passed judgment in a brutal or hurtful way. I want you to hear me say that that is evil and sinful. HOWEVER…that’s not what we’re talking about this morning. Turn over to Matthew 7 with me.
READ Mt 7:1-2
So yes, we are warned against being judgmental. But look at what Jesus says later on in the same chapter.
READ Mt 7:15-20
The testing for faith, the examining to see whether a person is born again or not, is not judgmental. It does not fall into the category of verses 1-2. The testing that we’re talking about this morning falls under the category of 15-20. We are not standing in judgment over someone in order to condemn them. We are simply walking up to the tree to observe what sort of fruit is growing there. Christians and churches are called to do this. We MUST do this.
SUPPORT: Rev 2:2…..1 Cor 2:15; 5:12…..Noble Bereans (Acts 17)
This is not being judgmental. It is being discerning in order that the truth of someone’s heart might be known. This is a MASSIVELY important thing to be assured of. Eternity is at stake on how we use our discernment in these issues. Look at the terrifying picture painted in the next verses:
READ Mt. 7:21-23
This is what we’re guarding against! If we do not hold true to the biblical qualification for church membership; if we do not examine ourselves and those who seek to be members to observe whether or not new birth has actually happened, we could be affirming salvation that does not exist! How TERRIFYING to think that when the day of judgment comes, we might see someone stand before God, hear these words, and cry out “But I was a member of so-and-so’s church!” Oh, how awful! There is a GREAT weight of responsibility for us to examine and test one another to see whether we are truly in the faith.
Now, we have seen that this is not an attempt to be condemning or judgmental. This is a biblical command for the good of the church. How does Paul say we should go about following this command? There are several things:
- Work to build up, not to exclude
The purpose of all this is not to form a “cool-kids” group. It is not for the purpose of standing as the judges of who is and isn’t getting to heaven. No, it is for the building up of the body of Christ and all who seek membership with that body!
ILLUSTRATION – Ski trip. 1st timer tries to ski down a double black. Their way is barred. Is that exclusion for the sake of meanness? No, it is for safety and well-being. In the same way, the church holds to the qualification of being born again in order to protect the body of Christ and cause no harm to those seeking membership.
ILLUSTRATION – Good Samaritan didn’t just look & say “oh you’re good to go.” He actually got the man well and ministered to his needs.
Again, the purpose of limiting membership to only those who pass the test for life is not to cloister ourselves off from the world so we can have a holy huddle. In doing this we remember what people’s deepest needs are. A person’s deepest needs are not to FEEL accepted by the church. A person’s deepest need is to be truly forgiven by God.
- Be humble (12:21)
Paul does not say that the CHURCH will be humbled if he comes. He says that HE will be humbled before them. He is not acting as a dictator or a tyrant. He is humbly crying out to them so that they might see the truth. He loves them so deeply that he is broken for their lack of faith. I think we automatically assume that limiting the membership of the church to those who show good evidence of truly being born again would end up being a witch hunt, and when we find someone who maybe isn’t truly saved we would triumphantly cry out, “Aha! Found one we can excommunicate!” No! Paul is not triumphant here. Paul loves these people so much, and so greatly desires to see their eternal good that he would sooner break down in humble weeping, begging them to see the truth.
- Realize how true love acts (Eph 4:25)
Just as a parent might speak a difficult truth to the child for their good, if we truly love people we MUST love them enough to speak the truth in love.
ILLUSTRATION – Imagine a circumstance in which there is a person who obviously does not know Jesus. They live in sin and maybe don’t even know that they need forgiveness. Then for some reason they walk by the church and decide maybe they should come in. But instead of encouraging them to seek the truth, I do everything in my power to convince them that they’re fine. “There’s no need for God. Don’t even worry about coming in the church. You’re good to go.”
The most eternally destructive and blatantly UNloving thing we could ever do to a person is allow them to continue thinking that he or she is saved by Christ when they are not. By failing to examine each other and require that members show observable evidence of being born again, we do EXACTLY that. It is the MOST loving thing we can do to examine a person’s heart and life to see if they are truly in the faith.
- Know what is right/true belief
Now, here’s another weighty truth that comes from this biblical command: if the church corporately is to examine and test one another for true faith, then the members of the church must know what true faith is! The church cannot fulfill the call to examine one another if those who are members of the church don’t know what is and is not biblical faith. This is a glorious task, but one that comes with great responsibility. It is not the task of the pastor or teachers or deacons to make these decisions – it is a corporate commitment to hold one another to the biblical standard. So, do we know the biblical standard?
ILLUSTRATION – Twilight zone: what if you blinked your eyes and came to in the middle of a massive battle between two armies. You’d be severely disoriented already. THEN you realize that you’re the medic, and people are bringing you all sorts of wounded men. You might cry out, “I can’t save these! I’m not a doctor!” And it’s true: if you don’t have the knowledge of medicine, you can’t treat people’s wounds.
In the same way, if you do not know the faith once for all delivered to the saints, you will not be well equipped to minister to the wounds of the people around you. The body of Christ is called to know what is right and true so that together we might build one another up, and administer saving spiritual medicine to those in the world whose souls are fatally wounded by sin.
- Aim for perfection (13:8, 11)
This is the goal: perfection. Perfection can only be found in Jesus Christ (Col 1:28 – “present everyone perfect in Christ.”). And so if we are aiming for perfection, we are aiming for Him! We are helping one another along, carrying each other’s burdens amidst all the spiritual warfare going on around us. We encourage and admonish one another, examining our hearts so that we might not be wounded by sin and unbelief. And we do the same for those who have not been born again. We aim them towards Christ in order that they might also become His disciples. The perfection towards which we are aiming is a Church that is fully founded upon Jesus Christ; whose members are all disciples of the Lord, growing in faith and holiness.
Dare we aim for less?
Again, the church is founded and rooted upon Jesus Christ. This means that the members of a church must be born again through faith IN Jesus. And therefore, we must test and examine the members and those seeking membership in order to make sure that all are born again. This is a qualification for membership that we cannot afford to neglect. We cannot afford to fail in this task of testing for the new birth, or we may find ourselves wracked with anguish on the day of judgment as we see those condemned appealing to US for salvation, instead of appealing to Jesus.
To carry this task out is biblical; it is obedient; it is truly and deeply loving. Thus, it will accomplish the work which God said it would accomplish: the building up of the church towards perfection.