“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:28)
Self-examination is an activity often connected—perhaps exclusively connected—to our participation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Before we go to Christ’s table, we know that we should spend time in personal reflection and prayer. But what about the rest of the year, the ordinary days that fill up so many months? Do we give thought and attention to why we’re doing what we’re doing, or consider if we should be doing something different?
Self-examination requires things that don’t come naturally to us. It means that we have to be humble before God, and we have to be honest about our sin, and we have to be prepared 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.”
Perhaps we acknowledge the need for self-examination, but there could be some question about how we are to do it. We know how to examine veggies at the grocery store for freshness—squeezing and shaking— but how to examine my self? How can I really evaluate my soul and come to the right conclusions?
First, we look with prayer. Ask God to show you his ways and to give you insight into his Word, so that you may see how better to trust in him and do his will. As you examine yourself, pray to God for open eyes.
Secondly, it is good to look in communion with others. A trusted friend can assist you, or a godly leader, your spouse—someone who can help you in examining yourself. They won’t know everything about you, but they can guide you in seeing what you need to see.
And thirdly, we should look at ourselves with Scripture in hand. In James 1:23-25 the Spirit compares the law of God to a mirror. That’s 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 is in place and you don’t have food stuck between your teeth.
In the same way, God’s Word is something we should look into on a daily basis. This is how we can correct ourselves, remind ourselves of God’s promises for our lives, and get ourselves ready for Christ’s service. 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—and the Scriptures point us to the God who forgives and sanctifies.
I once came across a list of questions for self-examination, based on an accountability quiz prepared by John Wesley (1703-91). These are some good points to reflect on. Here’s a brief selection from the list:
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, or disregard?
10. Is Christ real to me?