The apostle Paul gave the directive to “test yourselves” while dealing with serious problems of sin in the church of Corinth. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul was preparing to return to them a third time after having spent a great deal of time in Corinth already. Before his arrival, Paul sternly cautioned the congregation to prepare to face the issues he had previously raised. Part of Paul’s warning included these words: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Paul did not want to have to exercise church discipline in Corinth. He would rather see the wrongdoers repent. But many of those who had fallen into immoral practices had taken to challenging Paul’s authority as an apostle. Paul intended to firmly discipline those who did not heed his warnings and repent before his arrival (2 Corinthians 13:2–3). So he turned their challenge around, asking them to examine and test themselves to see whether they were in the faith.
This was not the first time Paul had admonished the Corinthians to examine themselves. Earlier, he had observed the church participating in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. He told them, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Believers are to examine their motives, their actions, and the current condition of their hearts to make sure they don’t bring God’s discipline on themselves.
Paul’s primary concern was to bring spiritual health and wholeness to the Christian community in Corinth. If the individuals were genuinely in the faith, then they would know that Jesus Christ lived inside them. His Holy Spirit would be at work within them, promoting sanctification and moral living. But if their lives showed no evidence of the Spirit’s activity, then Jesus Christ was not indwelling them. And if Christ was not in them, they failed the test.
Rather than cross-examining others, believers are to stick to examining their own lives: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (Galatians 6:4). In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them, “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NLT). Paul made it a practice to test himself, too. He knew that no one could skate by God’s judgment (1 Corinthians 3:13).
The words examine yourself and test yourself mean essentially the same thing. Some Bible versions have “look carefully at yourself” or “ask yourself.” One way to test yourself is to check for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). Jesus confirmed that true prophets of God are recognized by their fruits (Matthew 7:15).
A tough but spiritually beneficial question to ask ourselves regularly is, “What is my spiritual condition?” The prophet Jeremiah called God’s people to honest self-evaluation and repentance: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40). Scripture calls us to “test everything,” renounce evil, and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, ESV). We might consider making this our prayer as David did: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23–24).