Toward a Strong Soul (2)
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13.5
No true Christians
It should not surprise us to learn that there were, in the churches of the New Testament, a certain number of people, perhaps many, who did not really know the Lord Jesus. They professed to believe in Him, and in certain ways identified with His Presence and mission in the world.
They were faithful in church attendance and may have even given generously to their congregation’s needs. Some of them may have been teachers, or even pastors. But they were people with unstable souls. Some were wolves in sheep’s clothing, as Paul had warned and Peter explained, and they were leading many astray from true faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20.29-31; 2 Pet. 2.18-22).
The apostle John had to deal with a situation in which certain church leaders broke off fellowship with their local body, drew some of the members away, and set up shop in a “church” of their own. John observed that people who separated from the Body of Christ and the teaching of the apostles with such ease, probably never were true members of Christ in the first place. Quite the contrary, their readiness to split up a local church showed that they were enemies of the Lord (1 Jn. 2.18, 19).
The writer of Hebrews warned that there were many who had “tasted” of the Lord, but never truly belonged to Him, and had never come to the knowledge of salvation (Heb. 6.4-9).
And even the Lord Jesus solemnly declared that some would show up before Him on judgment day, fully confident, because of all they had done, that He would receive them gladly, only to be turned away with the words, “I never knew you; depart from me…” (Matt. 7.23).
And all the while, these pretenders to faith persuaded themselves and others that they were true followers of Jesus, strong in soul, and loyal in life.
The apostle Peter understood that, sooner or later, such false believers would show their true colors. Then they would be like dogs returning to their vomit – not really children of God by grace through faith, but mere pretenders, enjoying the good things of the Lord without truly having committed themselves to Him (2 Pet. 2.20-22). Having never become strong in their souls, they drifted easily from the Lord in the pursuit of mere self-interest.
Just as there were such people in the churches of the New Testament, so they have been present in every age of the Church. Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century preacher, recognized the problem in his own day, and acknowledged that, not only churchgoers, but even pastors can be deceived into thinking they are true followers of Christ, when, in fact, the opposite is the case. Spurgeon wrote, “Thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God, that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. He who presides over a system which aims at nothing higher than formalism, is far more a servant of the devil than a minister of God.”
By “formalism” Spurgeon meant simply going through the motions of faith – going to church, singing, giving, participating in Christian activities, and all the rest. If our Christian faith is defined by nothing more than the external environment and activities in which we participate from time to time, then we may be congratulating ourselves for being good Christians at the same time we are deceiving ourselves about the true nature of our nonexistent relationship with the Lord. Having no lasting effects to show from our profession of faith, it’s quite possible we may have believed in vain.
So Paul’s admonition to examine ourselves is one each of us should heed. It suggests that there are certain things to look for which may be indicators of an unstable soul, false hope, and unfounded assurance of salvation.
And while Paul does not develop this idea any further at this point, Peter does. In 2 Peter 2 the apostle warned the churches in Asia Minor of false teachers who would draw away many unstable souls to themselves (v. 14), enticing these false believers by appealing to them in ways no true Christian would find alluring. As we consider these points of vulnerability over the next several installments, let us look inward, waiting on the Holy Spirit to search our own souls (Ps. 139.23, 24), and asking the Lord continually, “Is it I?”
Making sure that our faith is real, our souls stable, and our lives growing into conformity to Jesus Christ requires daily vigilance and attention. If we are not willing to do even this, to examine and improve our souls daily in the Lord, then we have reason to be concerned that our faith may be something other than true and saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Strong souls that lead us to true and fruitful faith require constant attention and nurture, lest they become corrupted by our unbelieving age and seared against true faith in Jesus.
1. What is your practice of examining the state of your soul? How can you know that yours is a stable soul?
2. How can you know when someone may be leading you astray into a false faith and vain hope?
3. How should believers help one another remain firm in the faith and work continuously at stabilizing their souls in the Lord?
Next steps – Preparation: What would you suggest as a proper way of examining your soul each day?
T. M. Moore
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.