In I Thessalonians 5:21, Paul tells the saints of Thessalonica that they should test or prove all things. Having tested all things, they should tenaciously cling to all good things while abstaining from evil. We do this with choosing a job, a house, a car, even what we eat. We come to conclusions based on an examination process. We undergo similar scrutiny in our reputation and self-esteem – what others think of us and what we think of ourselves. In both these metrics, there may be some bias one way or another, but God sees our character, the person we are when no one else is looking.
To see what God sees, we have to honestly look inward. We cannot always rely on our opinions of ourselves, and we cannot always rely on the assessment of others. To truly examine one’s self, to test ourselves in the way of I Thessalonians 5, is to see ourselves as God sees us. When we see ourselves the way God sees us, when we examine our true character, we are more capable of growing closer to our God.
A Righteous Standard
It’s possible to divide the Old Testament into a massive list of right and wrong. In contrast, the New Testament serves as a set of guidelines and principles guiding our moral character. It divides righteousness from unrighteousness. The New Testament creates a picture of the type of person a Christian should be, and it is ours to apply those principles in our own lives.
To get a picture of how God would like to see us, we’ll start in James 1:27 where the disciple defines pure religion as behaving charitably and keeping ourselves unspotted by the world. I Timothy 5:22 records Paul writing that we should not be quick to align ourselves with those who could lead us to sin, and I Peter 1:14 admonishes to be holy in all manners of life. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul writes we should be transformed to a new mind, and Philippians 4:8 calls on us to set our minds things of purity and peace. The New Testament paints a picture of those who comes out of the world to keep themselves clean and pure, whose character is uncorrupted.
II Peter 2:20-22 warns against knowing the word of righteousness and turning away from it. I Corinthians 15:33 warn against our associations, and I Peter 2:11 encourages us to avoid worldly desires. I Corinthians 10:12 challenges us to self-examine, lest we fall without knowing. These passages leave us with a sense of responsibility for what we should do with the ability God has given us, the ability to know His will, to know ourselves, and to conform to His word.
A Work in Progress
In Philippians 2:12, Paul encourages us to work. The Christian life is a work in progress. It is never complete. Sometimes there are setbacks. Sometimes the unexpected occurs, but Paul reminds us to work on our own salvation. It’s so much easier to point out your own challenges than my own, to wish for you to carry me with you to salvation, but no one can fulfill our Christian work but ourselves. The end of this effort, though, is salvation – a home in Heaven.
What should our work look like? II Corinthians 5:17 says our work begins with a change. This means new speech, new outlook, new priorities, now attitude. This means keeping ourselves pure from the influence of sin. Our work is a transformation and a separation from the world. I Corinthians 6:17 calls on us to come out from these influences, cleansing ourselves in the hope of God’s promises. Our character should reflect righteousness in all we say and do, and Galatians 6:9-10 encourages us to endure this work, not growing weary in our spiritual conduct, and doing good to all. Paul, in Colossians 3:1, encourages us to seek things above.
We have things in this life that tie up our time and resources, that interest us, or that distract us. Other times, this life can can discourage us in its unfairness or lack of justice. When our emphasis is on the world, there is much to drag us away from God. We know the rewards of reaching toward and obtaining personal goals. We have days where we see that the work we have put into an effort is worth it. God promises that such a day will come for our spiritual efforts. In I John, John uses the phrase, “we know,” roughly twenty times. We can have confidence that we are growing closer to our God when we know we are living as we should, when we know our character reflects the picture we see in scripture. We may not always know what standards to which others hold, but we can know God’s standard as presented in His word. We can know that we know Him when we walk in His truth.
lesson by Tim Smelser