Self-Examination: A Vital Key to Growth

Every spring, we in Charlotte, North Carolina enjoy the beauty of colorful flowers, and the buds blooming on a stunning variety of trees. Over several weeks, we see the white blossoms of the Bradford Pear trees, followed by the pink cherry blossoms that line the street in front of the Headquarters office. Soon afterward, the redbud, crepe myrtle and dogwood trees come to life throughout local neighborhoods.

God created the seasons, and His calendar reveals the weekly and annual Sabbaths. In 2009, sunset on Wednesday, March 25 marks the beginning of Godís New Year. Thirteen days later, after sunset on Tuesday, April 7, Godís people will observe the most sobering of His festivals—the New Testament Passover.

The world around us generally observes January 1 as the beginning of its new year. Many people have fun making New Yearís resolutions; some even take those resolutions seriously. As the Passover approaches, and we anticipate the start of Godís new year, what resolutions will you make? Godís people know that human beings need to overcome their carnal human nature. When we observe the Days of Unleavened Bread, we determine to put out the old leaven of human nature and replace it with the unleavened divine nature, through Godís Spirit. How can we ever overcome? One key is to understand carnal human nature, and to clearly see how it is reflected in our own personality. But often, we do not see ourselves clearly.

Eighteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns composed his famous poem "To a Louse" while looking at a tiny creature wandering through the hair of a lady seated in front of him. The eighth stanza of the poem contains a well-known phrase: "O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!" Or, in modern English: "Oh, would that some Power give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us!"

Do you and I have character flaws that others can see, but to which we are blinded? How can we see our "invisible" flaws? How can we "see ourselves as others see us"? Godís word, and His law, can help us see what we normally cannot, but are we willing to act on what He shows us? We read: "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:23–25).

Yes, we all must examine ourselves. Only baptized Church members should take the Passover, but we all should be examining ourselves during this season of the year. Younger children, teenagers, young adults and anyone else who is not yet baptized should still be setting goals for the coming year—determining how to improve, grow, change and develop! We should all deeply appreciate the vital role young people play in Godís Work, whether helping in their congregations, singing in a choir, or remaining faithful in their prayers for the Church and the Work.

Godís annual festivals reveal His awesome plan of salvation for all humanity, a plan relatively few understand! As King David wrote, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever" (Psalm 111:10).

When we observe Godís Holy Days, He gives us a good understanding of their meaning. The Passover is a time to renew our dedication and commitment to our Creator. But there is more to Passover than just showing up one evening. We need to prepare for that time by reviewing the sermons we have heard, applying their lessons to our lives, and conducting some serious introspection.

Considering the meaning and proper perspective of this festival season will help in our self-examination. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7). And remember what John the Baptist told the multitudes when the Messiah passed by: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29)!

In Egypt, the blood of the Passover Lamb was first applied to the lintel and two doorposts of each Israelite home. Why? "For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you" (Exodus 12:23).

We thank God when He passes over our sins—that is, when we have repented and accepted the blood of the Lamb. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul describes the bread and wine—symbols of the New Testament Passover—then he warns us: "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lordís body" (vv. 27–29).

What does it mean to "let a man examine himself"? How should a man—or a woman—do this? What questions should we ask ourselves? Remember, we must focus on examining self, not judging and comparing ourselves with others. As Paul wrote: "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:31–32).

Notice another key scripture: "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). The Greeks to whom Paul wrote knew the classic quote from Socrates (469–399BC): "Know thyself! The unexamined life is not worth living." Are you examining, testing and judging everyone except yourself? That is the carnal human tendency, but God tells us to judge ourselves, to discipline ourselves, and to examine ourselves, particularly for the Passover.

How well do you "know yourself"? You may have noticed that many Living Church of God ministers encourage engaged couples to complete the "Prepare and Enrich" inventories, which help couples know themselves—uncovering areas of strength in their relationships, as well as areas where they especially need to grow. Many of us have taken aptitude tests, interest inventories and personality profile analyses. Some of these tests are of greater value than others, but if you approach them with the right care, you can often learn more about yourself by using these tools.

The Bible gives us valuable tools through which we can examine ourselves. As you prepare for the Passover, pray that God will reveal to you the areas in which you have improved in the past year, as well as your weaknesses that remain and must be strengthened. Pray that He will reveal how He has blessed you in this last year, and that He will help you see the hidden sins in your life, of which you must repent. Indeed, repentance is the first of the ten points we will consider in this article, as we look for ways to analyze our spiritual condition with the help of Godís word.

REPENTANCE: Examine your attitude toward repentance. Have you repented of your sins? Do you right now have a repentant attitude? Have you made a commitment to maintain a repentant attitude to the end of your life?

Paul described the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow: "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Corinthians 7:10–11). Have you seen the fruits of repentance in your own life? Has your repentance produced indignation toward what is evil? Do you live with a godly fear, with a strong desire to do what is right, and with a zeal to do Godís Work and live Godís way of life?

Remember what John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism: "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:7–8). Ask God to produce within you the fruits of godly sorrow and repentance.

Years ago, when China was afflicted with incredible poverty, a minister asked, "Have you shed a tear for China?" That question helped me identify with the sufferings of others around the world. Have you, in recent months, shed a tear for the starving people in Darfur, and other troubled regions of our world? Have you shed a tear for the oppressed and the enslaved? Or have you hardened your heart? Ask God for the gift of repentance, acknowledge your sins, express sorrow for them and ask forgiveness: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1 John 1:9–10).

Determine to repent of your sins. Before the Passover, make a heartfelt commitment to always maintain a teachable and repentant attitude.

PRAYER: Examine your pattern and practice of prayer. During this past year, have you let a day go by without praying to your Father in Heaven? If you did, you had another god before the true God—you transgressed the first commandment.

Prayer is our lifeline to God. He wants us to rely on Him, and to make requests of Him even though He already knows our needs (Matthew 6:8). Think of the biblical examples: King David prayed three times a day (Psalm 55:17). The prophet Daniel prayed three times a day, in spite of the threat against him (Daniel 6:10). In fact, we should "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17)—we should always be in an attitude of prayer.

"I donít know what to pray about," some might say. Well, then, just open your Bible and pray about what you read. You will have practically unlimited subjects for prayer. You can also follow the outline prayer in Matthew 6:9–13. And remember to "pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16). As an aside—parents, have you taught your children to pray? Do you pray together on occasion as a family?

If you have difficulty praying, start by thanking God for all your blessings. How many times has God blessed you in this past year? When I think about my life and activities this past year, I realize that God has saved me from accidents, has healed me and has blessed me abundantly.

If you have been inconsistent, lazy and Laodicean in your prayer life, repent and get on your knees every morning! Come boldly before Godís throne of grace, that you may obtain mercy, and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Confess your sins and thank God for all His blessings this past year, and you can approach the Passover with a positive attitude.

BIBLE STUDY: Do you read the Bible daily? Or do you only read it occasionally—maybe during a congregational Bible Study, or during a Sabbath sermon? Remember what Paul wrote to the young evangelist Timothy: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

God speaks to us through Scripture. He wants us to understand His word—the truth (John 17:17)—and He wants us to live by His every word (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4)! The Bible reveals the mind of God! It reveals great mysteries about which the worldís philosophers and thinkers can only wildly speculate! You need to spend time in serious Bible study, in addition to reading thoughtfully through Scripture. The Tomorrowís World Bible Study Course is available in print and through the Internet, and you can complete it at your own pace, if you want a structured program of Bible study.

I try to make Bible reading and study a priority. When I get home from work, I generally take at least a few minutes right then to read Godís word. My wife will often join me and sit on my lap. Yes, we also take the time for serious research— and you may also want to consider using some of your Festival tithe to buy a new Bible, or a Bible dictionary, or Bible software, or Bibles for each of your children.

As we prepare for the Passover, we should examine our commitment to reading and internalizing Scripture. Remember the Bereansí example: "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:10–11).

FASTING: When was the last time you fasted? Was it on the Day of Atonement? If you have not fasted since then, you need to examine your commitment as a Christian, and you should consider humbling yourself through fasting in preparation for the Passover. Jesus made it clear that His servants would make a practice of fasting. "Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, íWhy do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?í And Jesus said to them, íCan the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast" (Matthew 9:14–15).

Christ went on to explain, using the example of the wineskins, that fasting as a mere ritual will not produce lasting changes (vv. 16–17). It must be done with a teachable heart and attitude.

The prophet Isaiah described the fruits of a true, heartfelt fast: "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard" (Isaiah 58:6–8).

If you have not fasted since the Day of Atonement, consider fasting before Passover. And remember Isaiahís spiritual approach to fasting.

LOVE FOR THE BRETHREN: How much love have you expressed toward the brethren during this past year? Have you prayed for the sick? Have you given of your physical goods to needy brethren? Have you forgiven those who have sinned against you or offended you? Have you apologized to those whom you have offended? The Apostle Peter gave us this profound principle: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart" (1 Peter 1:22).

Jesus gave us the example of serving with a humble attitude. Baptized members of Christís spiritual body, the Church, will follow His example during the foot-washing service at Passover. If you have lacked in brotherly service and attitude this past year, determine next year to grow in brotherly love. Remember Jesusí words: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down oneís life for his friends" (John 15:12–13).

Our time is our life. We must use our time in serving our brethren—praying for them, forgiving them, giving needy brethren of our physical resources as we are able, and having compassion on those experiencing trials, persecution and suffering.

Examine yourself with respect to brotherly love. Love one another fervently. And determine to grow in this special quality. As Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

PROGRESS IN OVERCOMING: The Days of Unleavened Bread teach us the need to overcome self, Satan, and society. Have you made any progress in overcoming this past year? Paul explains the spiritual meaning of this festival: "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1 Corinthians 5:8).

Ask yourself, "Have I grown spiritually this past year?" We should be able to see fruits in our lives, mainly the fruit of Godís Holy Spirit. Does your life show the fruit of active outgoing concern for others? Are you growing in patience in our stressful world? Have you grown, this last year, in emotional maturity and stability? If you have, then thank God for your progress in developing godly character.

On the other hand, are you weak and easily tempted to sin? We must heed Paulís warning to the Corinthians: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). If you are practicing any of these sins, you need to repent of them. You need to make drastic changes in your life. You can do that through fasting and seeking Godís help and power through heartfelt prayer—and you may need to seek ministerial counseling for help in overcoming.

Some of us repeat the same mistakes over and over. The world has certainly not learned the lessons of history. Have you learned any life-changing lessons this past year? Examine yourself with respect to spiritual growth and overcoming. Commit yourself to overcoming some specific weaknesses and flaws. Set goals for this next year. Then thank God for any spiritual growth and progress God has given you!

GROWTH IN THE NEW COVENANT: Have you allowed God to write His spiritual law on your heart and mind? Have you energetically sought to internalize the Ten Commandments as away of life? Many mainstream churches wrongly say that the Ten Commandments are "done away," but the truth is that we in Godís Church are pioneers of the New Covenant, allowing God to write His law on our hearts. So, examine yourself to determine how thoroughly you have internalized Godís law of love.

The Old Covenant promised physical blessings for obedience to Godís laws. But for ancient Israel, the commandments were external—they were not made a part of peopleís very character. By contrast, the prophet Jeremiah described the New Covenant: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:31–33).

Jesus instituted that new covenant at the Passover. And we are pioneers of that covenant. Ask God to write His laws on your heart and mind. Consider each of the Ten Commandments. Are you honoring your parents? Are you faithful to your spouse, and not committing adultery? Are you faithful to your spiritual Father in heaven? Do you steal, lie, cheat or lust? Repent of these sins and ask God for His forgiveness. As you identify sinful tendencies in your character, you will desire all the more to take the Passover because you need Godís forgiveness. Be sure to confess your sins. Be willing to accept Christís sacrifice, and Godís forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Meditate on Godís law. Ask God to help you apply the Ten Commandments in loving Him and your neighbor. Commit yourself to being more humble, responsive and obedient to Godís law of love. Determine to grow in Godís loving nature as He writes His law on your heart and mind.

TITHES AND OFFERINGS: Have you been faithful in paying your tithes to God this past year? Have you been faithful in giving offerings? Be honest with yourself. Stealing from God is a serious matter. "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, íIn what way have we robbed You?í In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation" (Malachi 3:8–9).

God owns the earth, and everyone and everything on it. He promises to provide our every need (Philippians 4:19). God provides for His children, but some have "little faith" and do not trust Him (Matthew 6:30). He gave this admonition: "íBring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,í Says the Lord of hosts, íIf I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive ití" (Malachi 3:10). God is the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and He promises to abundantly bless the tithe payer. Those who have faithfully saved their Festival tithe know firsthand the joy God gives at His annual festivals.

Examine your degree of faithfulness this past year with Godís tithe. Have you stolen from God? Have you saved a full Festival tithe? Ask God for the ability to give. Trust and honor Him in your tithes and offerings. If you have been a thief this past year, ask Godís forgiveness, determine to trust Him this coming year, then take the Passover in faith!

THE ADMONITIONS OF REVELATION CHAPTERS 2 AND 3: These chapters give us a special way to examine ourselves spiritually. Christ reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the seven churches. Notice the challenge God gives us: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7). The messages to the seven churches were powerful instructions to the Church of the first century, but they also reveal characteristics of the Church over time, from the first century to Christís return. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong stated it this way: "These seven messages DO apply to seven successive Church eras. BUT they also apply to the WHOLE CHURCH through ALL eras. In other words, the Ephesus characteristics DOMINATED in the first era, and the Laodicean will dominate in the last, but SOME of these characteristics are found in EVERY era. The messages apply to the WHOLE Church (and so I have said and written for more than fifty years) but certain characteristics predominate in the various eras" (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 158).

Yes, "some of these characteristics are found in every era"! We need to examine ourselves with respect to each church message. Have you, for example, "left your first love"? (Revelation 2:4). If you have lost your zeal for the Truth, you must respond to Christís command: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works"! (Revelation 2:5).

Dr. Douglas Winnailís article, "Seven Lessons from Seven Churches," can remind us of our responsibility in responding to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Dr. Winnail wrote: "The letters to the seven churches—and the seven Church eras they represent—contain important lessons! Those lessons were meant for the churches in the first century and for Christians down through the ages. But they are vital for Christians today— individuals living at the end of the age, in the Laodicean era!" (Living Church News, January-February 2006, p. 7).

Brethren, take time to examine the message to each of the churches. Acknowledge any of your weaknesses highlighted by these messages, determine to change, and thank God for the privilege of taking the Passover.

SUPPORT OF GodíS WORK: How zealous are you for Godís Work? Our Savior expressed His commitment to fulfilling His mission on the earth: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work" (John 4:34). Are you totally committed to Christís mission? We whom God has called have been given His command to preach the Gospel of the soon coming Kingdom of God, to feed the flock and to preach the Ezekiel warning to the modern descendants of ancient Israel.

How do we support Godís Work? In an important sense, we are all "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20), in that the people around us see us as representing the Church. As a supporter of the Work, are you aware of the times and stations on which the Tomorrowís World telecast is shown in your area? Do you watch the telecast, and if people ask you about the Church, do you encourage them to watch the telecast? If not, you should. If you are reading this, we thank you for your example of diligently staying in touch with what the Church is teaching its members and proclaiming to the world. Is every member of your family diligently reading each article in Tomorrowís World magazine and the Living Church News? Reading Church literature should help you be ready to give an answer when those around you ask about your faith (1 Peter 3:15).

Do you pray regularly for the Work, for open doors to preach the Gospel around the world? Do not underestimate the importance of keeping your heart in the Work. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong emphasized this key to spiritual growth: "And God has given us íthe WORKí to do as the VERY MEANS BY WHICH we may grow spiritually, so we may enter His Kingdom at Christís coming. In 47 years I have observed that ONLY those whose hearts are fully IN THE WORK continue to overcome and grow SPIRITUALLY, and ENDURE" (Co-Worker Letter, November 18, 1974).

Ask yourself, "How zealous have I been for the Work of God? Have I prayed for its success? Have I supported the mission of Godís Church? Have I personally been a light to the world, and the salt of the earth?" As we approach the Passover, now is the time for each of us to rededicate ourselves to serving Godís Work zealously!

God loves every human being who has ever lived, or who ever will live. He has demonstrated His unconditional love for His creation and for every human being. We need that love to motivate us in fulfilling our calling in life (Romans 5:5). Recall how Dr. Meredith expressed his love and compassion in one very moving co-worker letter a few years ago: "Dear Brethren and Co-Workers with Christ, Greetings from Charlotte, NC! Talk about natural disasters! Even as I write, radio and television reports tell us that tens of thousands of human beings have perished in the powerful earthquake which just struck Pakistan and parts of India. Perhaps none of these people were truly acquainted with the God of the Bible, but every human being is precious in Godís sight" (October 10, 2005). Yes, every human being is precious in Godís sight. We all need Godís love to fulfill the mission He has given us.

What Is the Result?

What will be the result of your self-examination, as you consider these ten key areas of your spiritual life? You should see your human nature more clearly, and your need to overcome it. You should see your shortcomings and flaws. You should identify weaknesses that you must determine to overcome. Finally, in seeing your inadequacies, you should more deeply than ever recognize your need for our living Savior and great High Priest. As Jesus said, "without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

One result of your self-examination is that you should desire to take the Passover. Jesus told His twelve apostles, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). Paul gave Godís instruction for keeping the Passover: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup"! (1 Corinthians 11:28). Yes, self-examination should motivate baptized Christians to take the Passover in faith, with deep appreciation for Our Savior, and for the blood that cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). As we examine our successes and failures in growing in the past year, we should take the Passover with a deep commitment to grow in the coming year in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Brethren, be thankful for Godís intervention in your life this past year. As you examine yourself, you will see how God has worked through you in a positive way to love Him, to love your neighbor, and to serve in special loving ways. You will note the many times He has saved your life, protected you, healed you, taught you, corrected you and blessed you! Be thankful for Godís mercy toward you, realizing that you deserved much more correction than you received. As a result of your self-examination, you will have seen character flaws and character weaknesses. You will see how far you have fallen short of your goals, your responsibilities, and your progress in overcoming. But through seeing your failures, you will then more deeply appreciate Godís patience and His mercy toward you, and you will be able to pray, as King David did, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).

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