Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:5, exhorts fellow believers to continually examine themselves whether they are “in the faith.” He clarifies his intent – unless we’re reprobate, Jesus is in us. So we must examine ourselves daily to make sure we are in the faith. In other words, just because Jesus dwells in a person doesn’t necessarily mean that person is standing in the faith once delivered to the saints* (Jude 1:3).
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?
One very real risk affecting our standing “in the faith” comes from obsession over the erroneous beliefs of others. As people who contend for the truth, it’s easy to become obsessed. Let me remind you that obsession over the errors of another does not equate to a legitimate discipleship. Being a Christian is about loving and following Jesus, not tearing down or attacking others. I have fallen into this pit before, and short of a Divine “eye-opening” it’s hard to rescue yourself from it. We ever stand in need of God’s grace, wisdom, and mercy.
To be very clear – we must contend for the faith. The word contend is the same root for contention and contentious. That sounds less like girlscouts selling cookies and more like Marines doing battle! Our words should be carefully selected (Ecc 12:10), properly presented in love (Prov 25:11), and to the best of our ability, true (Prov 23:23). But this isn’t our whole duty as preachers. There’s more to it.
First, our duty is to love and fear God, and keep His commandments (John 14:15, Ecc 12:13).
Then, we are to preach. We feed God’s sheep with His pure gospel (John 21:16-17). It’s often remarked that sheep drink best at “still waters” as Psalm 23 says. As sheep feeders, we shouldn’t dehydrate the flock by continually thrashing the waters. If the water is poisoned, make a splash! Run the sheep from a contaminated stream. But the sheep need to drink. In addition to feeding God’s flock, we must also reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine (2 Tim 4:2).
Finally, we stand as watchmen on the walls (Isa 62:6). We must warn God’s people against the many errors, winds of doctrine, blowing continually around us. Let relay some old wisdom a former pastor shared during a sermon: The best way to identify a counterfeit bill is to be so acquainted with the real thing that the counterfeit stands out as a fake and a sham. But when a false doctrine arises which threatens the flocks we feed, it’s time to blow the trumpet and warn the congregation. This is a part of our duty.
My concern, however, is that sometimes the part becomes the whole. We can become so obsessed over what we fight against, that it permeates each and every message, leaving gaps in the full counsel of God. Preacher or not, if our Christian experience is all about the errors of another, we stand in need of conversion. Regeneration, the new birth, is a one time happening in the life of an elect person, just as much as physical birth is a one time act. Conversion, however, happens over and over again as our sins or errors are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and we turn from our iniquity. I stand in need of conversion on a regular basis…how about you? But to the point – if all I know of church is the error of my brother, I am not standing “in the faith.” I need conversion.
May we be found in the faith once delivered to the saints, serving based upon our love for Jesus and His gospel.
*Faith is defined both as the spiritual gift imparted to man at the new birth and also as a body of truth to be believed. The latter is the sense of this text, as with Jude 1:3 and Romans 3:3.