December 27, 2011

Self-examination and Resolutions

by Jesse Johnson

While some may scoff at a New Year’s Resolutions, I embrace them. The scriptures are filled with various challenges to examine ourselves, and to see where we fall short God’s standards. Introspection is a healthy part of our relationship with the Lord.

Before a believer takes communion, he is to “examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Paul, in a rebuke to the Corinthians, told them to “examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Colossians 3 presents a pattern of putting off sin and putting on conduct becoming of those who love the Messiah. And in Colossians 3, Paul culminates his description of sanctification with this charge: “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

Normative Christian living contains self-examination. There is a morbid introspection that goes too far; we all know those who are Christian Eeyores, moping about, striving to uncover any hidden motive behind every action. That sort of spiritual depression is not what I am talking about. But there is a healthy self-examination that should be part of the Christian life. Self-assessment can be extremely beneficial in our quest for godliness.

And if we are honest, it is often difficult to gauge our spiritual health on a daily basis. The urgency of life clamors, and daily demands can drown out solitude and prayer. That is one of the benefits of self-examination at communion; there is a certain ceremonial stillness that forces us to ask “how have I lived this week? This month?”

For that reason, I find that an annual spiritual inventory more helpful than daily spiritual contemplation. I ask myself, “How am I doing this year? What have I read this year in the Bible? How did I lead my wife this year? What was my prayer life like? What sins have I battled this year? Am I putting to death the deeds of the flesh, or is sin winning the battle?”

This kind of annual approach avoids the normal ups and downs common in this fallen world. Excuses are muted by the wide angel lens of looking over the past twelve months. Failures are more obvious, and scapegoats more scarce.

The prophet Haggai confronted Israel when they were in the middle of a 14-year spiritual skid. The demands of daily post-exilic life had stifled the initial excitement of temple building. Israel, over a decade after their return to the land, had imported a Persian consumerist mindset, and they cultivated materialism reminiscent of America.

Haggai stepped into this world of paneled houses and lined pockets, and demanded something of the people. Four times in the tiny book of Haggai, the prophet implores the Israelites to “consider” their ways. They were to look at how they were living, look at the abandoned scaffolding of the temple, and to ask themselves “how am I living? Is God pleased?”

They were not merely to consider the past, but Haggai pointed them forward. He told them “Consider carefully from this day forward…” and he told them about the future. In light of God’s promises, how were they supposed to live?

My personal application of Haggai’s sermons is to look at the last year of my life, and ask if I am going in the right direction. What can change, how can it change, and who can help me? If I see areas of success and triumph in Christ, I mark them in my heart with mental Ebenezers. Where there are failures, I repent, and pray for grace to do better this year. And where there are possibilities, I make goals and I plan in my heart how to make the most of where God has led me over the past year.

How about you? What do you do for New Year’s resolutions? Do you make them, or mock them?

Jesse Johnson

Posts Twitter Facebook

Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.